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Crime

‘Torture house’ parents charged with abusing, starving and imprisoning their 13 children

The children were only allowed to shower once a year, and were so malnourished they suffered cognitive impairment a prosecutor said. Meanwhile, their grandfather says he doesn’t believe the claims

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 January, 2018, 3:57am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 January, 2018, 10:00am

The California couple accused of keeping their 13 children captive in the family’s squalid home were charged on Thursday with torture, child abuse and false imprisonment, as prosecutors said the victims were beaten, starved and chained.

David Turpin, 57, and his wife Louise Turpin, 49, each face 94 years to life in prison if convicted on the more than two dozen charges against them, Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin told reporters at a press conference.

“We’re fully prepared to seek justice in this case and do so in a way that protects these victims from further harm,” Hestrin said.

David Turpin was also charged with one count of committing a lewd act on a child by force or duress, Hestrin said. Meanwhile, his father, James Turpin, has told reporters that he doesn’t believe the claims made by police.

Both David and Louise Turpin were arrested after their emaciated 17-year-old daughter climbed out of a window of the family home in Perris, California and called police.

Hestrin say police found the children padlocked to beds and severely malnourished - so much so that they have some cognitive impairment and a lack of basic knowledge of life.

One 29-year-old woman weighed just 82 pounds, he said, and the victims were only allowed to shower once a year.

But James Turpin, David’s father, says that he doesn’t believe the reports, and that he is going to talk to his son’s children to “find out the real story” as soon as he can get a call through to them.

13 malnourished siblings rescued from California ‘torture’ house, face tough road to recovery

The California Department of Education lists the Perris address, where the family has lived since 2014, as the location of the Sandcastle Day School, with David Turpin as principal.

Experts say it may have been easier for the parents to shield their children from scrutiny because they were home-schooled.

The couple have been married for 32 years, and have renewed their marriage at least three times at a Las Vegas chapel with services performed by an Elvis Presley impersonator.

The impersonator said he got physically ill when he learned of the abuse.

“I really got sick to my stomach and couldn’t believe it,” Kent Ripley told The New York Daily News. “I was shocked and stunned and very saddened.”

He recalled the children as being “very soft-spoken and well-mannered,” and “very close” to one another.

Police have previously described how officers initially thought that the couple’s daughter, who contacted them after allegedly escaping from the home, she was so emaciated that officers first thought she was a young child.

Mother accused of chaining and starving 13 children ‘perplexed’ after police arrived at California home

“If you can imagine being 17 years old and appearing to be a 10-year-old, being chained to a bed, being malnourished and injuries associated with that, I would call that torture,” Perris police chief Greg Fellows told reporters on Wednesday.

Officers also initially assumed all the other siblings to be children, but were “shocked” to discover seven were actually adults, ranging in age from 18 to 29.

All 13 were currently being treated for malnutrition and undergoing other diagnostic tests.

“The long-term needs of these kids are going to be the psychological and psychiatric needs due to the prolonged periods of starvation and maltreatment,” said Sophia Grant, medical director of the child abuse unit at Riverside University Health System.

Mark Uffer, chief executive officer at the Corona regional medical centre where the adults were being treated, described their condition as “stable.”

“I believe that they’re hopeful that life will get better for them after this event,” he said, adding they were now in a “very safe and secure environment.”

Neither of the Turpins was able to immediately explain why their children were restrained, according to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.

There was no indication that either suspect suffered from mental illness, Fellows said, or that the children’s ordeal was linked to the family’s religious beliefs.

Initial investigations have confirmed that the couple were the biological parents of all 13 siblings, Fellows said.

According to police, the family moved in 2014 from Texas to a middle class neighbourhood of Perris, 110km southeast of Los Angeles, home-schooling their children in their Spanish-style stucco house.

A grey van with tinted windows and three cars were parked outside the house, now surrounded by satellite transmission trucks and hundreds of cameras and journalists.

Their personalised number plates related to Disney Land – DL4EVER, DSLAND and 4EVERDL.

“They looked vampire pale and very skinny,” one neighbour, Kimberly Milligan, said of the few children she had seen. “They never had friends or family over.”

“A lot of things were strange, but not enough to call the police … There’s a special place in hell for people like that,” she said.