From a Desperate Escape to Revelations of Shocking Abuse: How House of Horrors Case Unfolded
TEEN'S ESCAPE REVEALS HORRIFIC ABUSE
The California child abuse investigation into a house of horrors that has made international headlines began early on Jan. 14, 2018, when a 17-year-old girl — so small she looked seven years younger — escaped her family’s home in Perris and called 911. The teen said her 12 siblings, ages 2 to 29, were being held captive by parents David and Louise Turpin, 56 and 49.
“Further investigation revealed several children shackled to their beds with chains and padlocks in dark and foul-smelling surroundings, but the parents were unable to immediately provide a logical reason why their children were restrained in that manner,” authorities with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said in a news release.
“Deputies located what they believed to be 12 children inside the house, but were shocked to discover that [seven] of them were actually adults, ranging in age from 18 to 29. The victims appeared to be malnourished and very dirty.”
As authorities would later explain, the 17-year-old’s call to authorities was the culmination of a plan more than two years in the making.
PARENTS ARRESTED, KIDS HOSPITALIZED
Following their discoveries at the Turpin home, authorities took parents David and Louise (left and right) into custody and charged both with a dozen counts of torture, among other criminal accusations, to which they pleaded not guilty.
All 13 children were transported to local hospitals — the seven adults to one facility and the six minors to another.
'SHOCKED' RELATIVES SPEAK OUT
The paternal grandparents of the Turpin children soon spoke out to say they were “surprised and shocked” by the charges against David and Louise.
Reacting to the news, James and Betty Turpin, David’s parents, spoke to ABC News of their disbelief. They said they talked to David once or twice a month, though they had not visited their son or their grandchildren in four or five years.
The last time they did, James and Betty said the kids “looked thin” but seemed like a “happy family.”
“We are as hurt and shocked and angry and disappointed as everybody else,” Teresa Robinette, Louise’s sister (right), said through tears in an interview with NBC News.
Robinette said her sister would dismiss her sisters’ concerns the children weren’t eating enough.
“I always made comments to Louise when I did talk to her about, ‘Gosh, they’re so skinny,’ ” Robinette said. “And she would laugh it off: ‘Well, David is so tall and lanky — they’re gonna be like him.’ ”
A neighbor of the family told PEOPLE the parents and children exhibited “odd” behaviors.
WITNESS AT SUSPECTS' VOW RENEWALS DESCRIBES INTERACTIONS
An Elvis impersonator who oversaw three wedding vow renewals for David and Louise told PEOPLE the allegations were “sad, disturbing, upsetting, sickening.”
But Kent Ripley, the entertainer who performed as Elvis for the family, said he saw nothing to indicate any abuse of the children or tension between them and their parents.
He said the Turpins’ name immediately leapt out at him following reports of the parents’ arrest because he recalled their large collection of kids — and David’s unusual haircut.
“I definitely didn’t want people to think that I saw something and didn’t say something,” said Ripley, who first performed a marriage renewal ceremony for the couple on Oct. 29, 2011, to mark their 26th anniversary, according to video of the event shared by A Elvis Chapel.
When the couple returned to the same chapel for another vow renewal on Sept. 2, 2013 — and yet again on Oct. 31, 2015 — their children joined them.
In 2013, the girls served as bridesmaids and flower girls in matching plaid dresses, with the boys in black suits, and they all jumped in afterward to sing “Hound Dog.”
After the more recent ceremony in 2015, Ripley counted out the kids. “Lucky 13!” he said, the video shows.
HOSPITAL OFFICIAL: 'VERY SOBERING EXPERIENCE TO SEE'
A California hospital official told PEOPLE shortly after their rescue that the siblings faced a long road to recovery.
“They have undergone a horrible period in their life,” said Mark Uffer, chief executive officer of Corona Regional Medical Center, where the seven adult Turpin children were being treated.
The six minors taken from the home were being treated at a separate facility, Uffer said.
“As I have talked to the nurses — some are the same ages as some of these people — I think everyone of us has a sense of how fortunate we are in our lives that we never have had to endure what they have had to endure,” Uffer explained. “It is a very sobering experience to see.”
Uffer told PEOPLE the adult children — five girls and two boys between the ages of 18 and 29 — “are actually pretty stable” considering what they have been through. “We are keeping them all together; we have tried to recreate a positive family environment for them so they are with their siblings, and they appear to be doing well in that environment,” he said.
PROSECUTOR DETAILS 'DEPRAVED CONDUCT'
“Severe, pervasive, prolonged.”
That is how a California prosecutor characterized the abuse David and Louise inflicted on their 13 children over a period of at least seven years — torture, the prosecutor said, that included beatings, starvation and strangulation.
At a news conference, Riverside County District Attorney Michael Hestrin (right) laid out a series of startling accusations about the conditions authorities discovered in Perris.
Hestrin described at length the nature of the alleged abuse while noting it was only a “snapshot” of the case thus far. He said it appears “no one [outside the family] noticed what was happening.”
Hestrin said the abuse the couple’s children faced intensified over time, as the family moved first from the Fort Worth area in Texas, in 2010, to Murrieta, California, and then to Perris in 2014. “What started out as neglect became severe, pervasive, prolonged child abuse,” Hestrin said.
“This is severe emotional, physical abuse. There’s no way around that,” he said. “This is depraved conduct.”
Among other behaviors, Hestrin said the Turpins, including parents and children, slept all day and were “up all through the night,” going to bed about 4 or 5 a.m.
The children were allowed to shower no more than once a year and none had “ever” seen a dentist, he said. They last saw a doctor more than four years ago, he said, and were fed very little.
FAMILY'S DOGS WERE 'HEALTHY'
Authorities said in January that two dogs found in the Turpin home are healthy and trained, at odds with the conditions of the children around them.
The two female 1-year-old pups — one of whom is named Fluffy — are not only healthy, someone has taken the time to train them.
“The animals, one white and one black, appear healthy and friendly and are leash-trained,” an animal control official said in a news release from the City of Perris.
Authorities released images of the two seemingly well-fed, sweater-wearing dogs as they are being put up for adoption.
Expecting high interest in the pair, who must be adopted together, the city will hold a raffle to place them in a new home, according to the release.
CHILDREN KEPT JOURNALS OF ABUSE
The Turpin children were deprived of many things by their parents including regular meals, access to lavatories, and daily showers.
But there’s one thing investigators have found they were given: journals to write their stories.
In an interview with ABC News, prosecutor Michael Hestrin said that “hundreds of journals” were recovered from the children’s home — material he thinks will likely be able to document what was happening inside the house in real time.
“My guess is that’s going to be powerful evidence about what was happening from the perspective of the victims,” he said.
COUPLE MARRIED WHEN SHE WAS 16 AND HE WAS 23
David and Louise wed in Pearisburg, Virginia, on Feb. 11, 1985, according to the court clerk’s office in Giles County, Virginia.
She was 16 years old and he was 23.
Both Turpins reportedly grew up in nearby Princeton, West Virginia, just over the state line, and the nature of their years-long relationship remains a key area of scrutiny in the investigation of how the suspected abuse of their children carried on for so long, getting worse over time, without being detected.
Authorities have said the violence “intensified” as the family moved first from the area of Fort Worth, Texas, to Murrieta, California, in 2010, and then to Perris in 2014.
Before California, the Turpins lived in Texas for 17 years.
Louise’s half-brother Billy Lambert told PEOPLE she met David in church and the two “ran away” together to get married when she was 16 but were returned home to West Virginia by police, at which point Louise’s father signed off on the nuptials. At 20, Louise had her first child, Lambert said.
COUPLE KEPT ABUSE HIDDEN
A motive has not been publicly confirmed but Hestrin, the Riverside district attorney, told reporters it appears “no one [outside the family] noticed what was happening.”
Asked about a possible religious or cult-like motivation for the suspects’ behavior, Hestrin said, “Not that I know, no.”
Lambert, Louise’s brother, said he had not seen his nieces and nephews in years and while he had noticed social awkwardness in some of them, there weren’t other warning signs.
“Any time I saw them I never saw [David] raise his voice, I never saw him or [Louise] angry,” Lambert told PEOPLE. “It seemed like they had the perfect little family.”
“They always went out to Six Flags or Disneyland,” he said. “We thought, ‘Wow this is nice.’ To us it seemed normal.”
CHILD TRIED ESCAPING YEARS EARLIER
A former neighbor of the Turpins told PEOPLE that one of the family’s kids tried escaping years ago when they lived in Rio Vista, Texas.
“One of the girls escaped and I was always told that the police returned her,” said Rick Vinyard. “One of the girls did try to run away. It was probably three or four years after they moved in.”
Vinyard said that the Turpins first lived in a brick house across the street from him. In time, though, the family moved out of that home and into a double-wide trailer, which was parked on the same lot.
“They moved out of the brick house because the family had trashed it so bad, it was unlivable,” Vinyard claimed. “They had left pets in there that starved to death. We found a dead dog and a dead cat in that house. The kitchen just looked horrible. There were dirty diapers piled waste-high.”
The Turpins then moved to California after 10 years in the neighborhood, Vinyard said.
SIBLINGS ARE 'WARM AND LOVING'
Corona Mayor Karen Spiegel, who worked closely with the nurses caring for the siblings, told PEOPLE that local supporters didn’t refer to them as the Turpins because they didn’t want to associate them with their parents.
(At right are supporters of the kids during a local donation drive for them in Corona.)
Describing the seven adult children, who were released from the hospital in mid-March, Spiegel said, “They are warm and loving kids, even though they’re adults, we keep calling [them] kids; they just have some growing up to do. They’re just behind but they’ll get through.”
The older and younger Turpin children were housed in separate facilities but they connected via Skype, according to Jack Osborn, an attorney representing the adult siblings.
TEEN WHO ESCAPED POSTED VIDEOS OF HERSELF SINGING
In early March 2018, it came to light that a video had been reportedly posted to YouTube by one of David and Louise’s teenage daughters. The footage provides a brief glimpse into what life was like in the family’s California home.
ABC News found a YouTube account allegedly created under an alias by the 17-year-old daughter who escaped from the house on Jan. 14. Her most recent video was allegedly posted a week before the parents were arrested. (PEOPLE was unable to locate the YouTube page.)
The videos show the teen singing songs she says she wrote. They also show her interactions with the family’s two dogs. In the footage, dirt can be seen smearing the walls, and huge piles of clothes appear on the floors.
TURPIN MOM DIDN'T UNDERSTAND SEVERITY OF SITUATION: SISTER
Speaking to Good Morning Britain on nearly two months after the arrest, Louise’s sister Elizabeth Flores alleged that Louise was so disconnected from reality while in jail that she thought she was “going to get out and we’re going to play board games again,” like the pair did as children.
Speaking with The Dr. Oz Show a few days after her Good Morning Britain interview, Flores claimed Louise appeared “almost at peace” and “in a daze” during a recent jail visit.
“She’s not who I grew up with. Something’s not clicking right in the head, something’s not right,” Flores said. “It’s all ‘woe is me.’ ”
Flores has previously said she and Louise were not close, telling ABC News in January: “My sister and I haven’t really had a sister relationship for about 20 years."
TURPIN DAD 'BROKE DOWN IN SOBS' DURING PRISON VISIT
Speaking with The Dr. Oz Show in March 2018, Flores and cousin Tricia Andreassen said they also met with David in jail and they said he acted in a strikingly different manner from his wife.
“He broke down in sobs at one point,” Andreassen said.
“I was absolutely shocked,” Flores said. “I am so glad that Louise asked me to see him. I needed that, for me. When I went in there, I immediately saw that he knew he had done wrong, he was remorseful, he cried the whole entire time. It wasn’t fake.”
“He kept saying, ‘I wish I could tell you about what we’ve done, what happened.’ … He had been advised not to,” Flores claimed.
TURPIN SIBLINGS SEEKING GEDs, COLLEGE
Osborn, an attorney for the older Turpin kids, told ABC that in March his clients moved from the hospital to a home in rural California in an undisclosed location, where they were to be reunited with their family dogs and able to make decisions for themselves.
“They are all bright and articulate and incredibly eager to study,” Caleb Mason, another attorney for the seven siblings, told PEOPLE in March. “The thing they want more than anything else is an education.”
The first step, Mason said, would be obtaining their GED or high-school diploma. He said he was working with local university officials to “put together an educational plan for all of them” and said the siblings “for the most part have not had any kind of formal schooling.”
“We are hoping that we can find them within the next couple of years sitting in a college campus taking notes like anybody else,” Mason said. “They have the same spectrum of hopes and dreams and educational aspirations as any other group of young adults.”
ADULT SIBLINGS 'NOT BITTER': LAWYER
In Jan. 2019, Osborn, the attorney for the seven adult children told NBC that the siblings were “not bitter. They really take every day as it is, as a gift.”
Osborn said the children “came from a situation that seemed normal to them. And now they’re in a new normal. And so I think they may spend a long time processing the two.”
He added, “For really the first time they’re able to make their own decisions, and decide what they’re going to eat. They decide where they’re going to go, what they’re going to study.”
PARENTS PLEAD GUILTY TO IMPRISONING, TORTURING KIDS
In Feb. 2019, David and Louise Turpin pleaded guilty to multiple charges, including torture.
The couple agreed to plead guilty as part of a plea deal with prosecutors. They face life in prison with the possibility of parole in 25 years.
“This is among the worst, most aggravated child abuse cases I have ever seen," Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said at a morning press conference.