Mother accused of chaining and starving 13 children ‘perplexed’ after police arrived at California home
Louise Turpin and her husband David have been charged with torture over the treatment of their children, aged 2-29
The mother of 13 malnourished children and young adults who were held in filthy conditions, some chained to furniture, was “perplexed” when deputies arrived at the family’s Southern California home, a sheriff’s official said Tuesday.
Riverside County sheriff’s Capt. Greg Fellows described the reaction of the mother, Louise Anna Turpin, 49, without elaborating.
He said he did not know how the father, 57-year-old David Allen Turpin, reacted. Both have been booked on torture and child endangerment charges, and held on US$9 million (HK$70 million) bail.
The situation at the home in Perris, about 70 miles southeast of Los Angeles, was discovered when the family’s 17-year-old daughter escaped early Sunday and called 911, Fellows said.
The teen, who was so small that deputies initially thought she was 10 years old, showed them photographs that led them to believe her story so they went to the home to check on the family, he said.
“The conditions were horrific,” he added.
The children, who have not been identified, are aged 2-29 and are all believed to be the Turpins’ biological offspring, authorities said.
Fellows said the investigation has so far found no indication of sexual abuse but added: “If you can imagine being a 10-year-old and being chained to a bed … I would call that torture.”
The seven adult offspring – whom police initially thought were children because they were so small -were being cared for at Corona Regional Medical Center, said CEO Mark Uffer.
He described them as small and clearly malnourished, but in stable condition. “They’re very friendly,” he said. “They’re very cooperative, and I believe they are hopeful that life will get better for them.”
The family had lived in Perris since 2014, and deputies had never been to the residence previously for any reason, he said.
Social workers had never visited either, said Susan von Zabern, director of the county Department of Public Social Services.
A police statement said that several children were “shackled to their beds with chains and padlocks in dark and foul-smelling surroundings,” when deputies arrived.
However, “the parents were unable to immediately provide a logical reason why their children were restrained in that manner,” the statement added.
“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.”
The sheriff’s office said “the victims were provided with food and beverages after they claimed to be starving.”
David Turpin is registered in the California School Directory as head of the Sandcastle Day School, a private institution, but its address matches that of the Turpins’ home in public records.
The school, which opened in March 2011, only has six students – one each in fifth, sixth, eighth, ninth, tenth and twelfth grade, meaning for children aged about 10-18 – according to the latest state education department data.
The Turpins filed for bankruptcy the same year the school was opened, stating in court documents that they had accrued between US$100,000 and US$500,000 in debt, The New York Times reported.
It said David Turpin at the time worked as an engineer for defence contractor Northrop Grumman, earning US$140,000 a year, while his wife was listed as a homemaker.
A Facebook page under the name of David-Louise Turpin includes pictures of the couple, whose mugshots were released by police, in various stagings of a marriage ceremony or exchange of vows from 2011 to 2016.
In the latest set of photographs, uploaded in April-July 2016, Louise Turpin wears a long white wedding gown and her husband is dressed in a suit.
An Elvis Presley impersonator in a gold and silver suit holds a microphone and poses with the couple and children, in a kitsch scene reminiscent of Las Vegas weddings.
They exchange wedding bands and are surrounded by 13 smiling children and youths.
Nine girls, all with long dark hair, wear matching fuchsia plaid dresses with white tights and shoes. A baby girl is dressed in a bright pink flowery and sequinned dress. Three boys, their dark hair in bowl cuts like David Turpin, are dressed in black suits with red ties.
An April 2016 photograph shows the same smiling children and the couple wearing jeans and red T-shirts that read “Thing 1,” “Thing 2,” “Thing 3” and so on, a take on the mischievous siblings featured in the popular Dr Seuss children’s book “The Cat in the Hat.”
In another photograph, from September 2015, Louise Turpin lies on her stomach in the grass and props up the baby, who wears a T-shirt reading “Mommy loves me.”