BREAKING NEWS Mississippi governor issues statewide mask mandate, delays start of middle and high schools in eight counties Full Story

Turpin case: Siblings allegedly starved, shackled and taunted with food

For years, the 13 starving children lived in squalor, shackled with padlocks while their parents taunted them with pi...

Posted: Jan 19, 2018 5:53 PM
Updated: Jan 19, 2018 5:53 PM

For years, the 13 starving children lived in squalor, shackled with padlocks while their parents taunted them with pies left on the counter of their California home, authorities say.

David and Louise Turpin lived with their children between ages 2 and 29 in Perris, southeast of Los Angeles.

David and Louise Turpin's children are between ages 2 to 29

The couple has 13 children

What started as neglect escalated into years of horrific torture, authorities said, with the parents allegedly depriving the children of water and feeding them small portions of food on a strict schedule.

They'd sleep during the day and stay awake at night, sometimes chained to their beds and not allowed to use the restroom, according to authorities.

After years of alleged abuse, one teenage girl escaped Sunday and called 911. Investigators went to the house and freed the children, prompting days of investigations that led to a series of charges Thursday.

"As a prosecutor, there are some cases that haunt you," Riverside County district attorney Mike Hestrin said Thursday. "Some deal with human depravity, and that's what we're dealing with here."

Here's what we know:

The family

David and Louise Turpin are both from Princeton, West Virginia, relatives say. Of their 13 children seized from the home, six are minors.

The reclusive family has lived in their suburban Perris neighborhood since 2014, but neighbors said they didn't see them much.

Neighbor Kimberly Milligan said one of those rare encounters occurred in 2015 and especially stood out.

Milligan said she was checking out Christmas decorations on nearby homes when she saw the older Turpin children putting up a Nativity scene outside their house and complimented their decorations.

"They just froze," Milligan recalled. "They immediately shut down. You could tell they were terrified."

The children were thin and appeared malnourished, Milligan said.

Before the Turpins moved to Southern California, they lived in Texas, where a former neighbor said they kept to themselves.

The alleged torture

The California district attorney painted a stunning picture of physical and emotional abuse Thursday.

The siblings showered once a year and were chained to their beds for weeks at a time, Hestrin said.

They were allegedly punished when they washed their hands above their wrists, and beaten regularly, according to the prosecutor. The parents would buy toys, the prosecutor said, but keep them in the packaging. They were allowed one meal a day and one shower a year, Hestrin said.

"They would buy food, including pies -- apple pies, pumpkin pies -- leave it on the counter, let the children look at it, but not eat the food," Hestrin said.

"Circumstantial evidence in the house suggests that the victims were often not released from their chains to go to the bathroom," he said.

The escape

Before police arrived to set them free, one teenage daughter made a dash for freedom Sunday by crawling out of a window at the home and calling 911 using a deactivated phone, authorities said. Another sibling came with her, but got scared and returned home.

It was a plan the 17-year-old and her siblings had planned for two years, according to Hestrin.

When police arrived, some of the children were still shackled to their beds, but the parents had unchained two, Hestrin said. Some of the victims' growth was so stunted, they looked younger than their ages, according to officials.

"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," Riverside County Sheriff's Capt. Greg Fellows said.

One of the victims is age 12 and is the weight of a 7-year-old while the 29-year-old was 82 pounds, Hestrin said.

When authorities went to the house, the mother appeared "perplexed" on why they were there, according to Fellows.

The investigation

David Turpin, 56, and Louise Turpin, 49, were charged with 12 counts of torture.

"We are not charging torture on the 2-year-old," Hestrin said. "The 2-year-old ... was getting enough to eat. The basis of torture charge is not just one thing, it's severe abuse over time."

Other charges include seven counts of abuse of a dependent adult, six counts of child abuse or neglect and 12 counts of false imprisonment. David Turpin was also charged with a lewd act on a child by force or fear of duress, Hestrin said.

The Turpins pleaded not guilty on all counts and a judge set bail at $12 million for each defendant. Their next court date is February 23.

If convicted of all charges, they face a maximum sentence of between 94 years and life in prison.

"What we would like the public to know is that our clients are presumed to be innocent, and that's a very important presumption," said David Macher, a public defender for David Turpin.

What next?

As the criminal case proceeds, the future of the children will likely be decided in another courtroom.

"When there are serious allegations of child endangerment, most likely child protective services will recommend a fast track to adoption," said Amy Heilman, director of foster care and adoption at the Children's Bureau in Los Angeles.

"However, there are times where the court may not want to make that ruling until it's further on in the criminal case."

The process to terminate parental rights is determined in dependency court, and birth parents have the right to contest the termination, she said.

In the short term, the children will be placed in foster care, she said. Foster care parents can opt to become the adoptive parents.

Meanwhile, the children are being cared for at local hospital, and face a long road of mental and physical treatment.

As a result of the alleged mistreatment and trauma over a long period of time, they could suffer from complex post-traumatic stress disorder, said psychiatrist Dr. Frank Ochberg.

"We can assume that there could be depression and nightmares," Ochberg said.

He was optimistic about the possibility of recovery down the road.

"While there can be a number of complicated and interrelated medical, social and psychological disorders, there have been amazing and heartwarming examples of people who are survivors," Ochberg said.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 61125

Reported Deaths: 1711
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds5269106
DeSoto332627
Madison229756
Harrison215232
Rankin214628
Jackson199434
Jones177457
Forrest164053
Washington149232
Lauderdale132988
Lee123930
Neshoba119788
Lamar112112
Oktibbeha105435
Lowndes98932
Warren96427
Scott95517
Bolivar94832
Copiah91724
Panola91211
Sunflower90822
Lafayette88111
Holmes84747
Leflore84059
Pike83232
Grenada81320
Yazoo78611
Leake76825
Lincoln74540
Pontotoc7377
Wayne73321
Simpson71227
Monroe70250
Coahoma66310
Tate65023
Marion60118
Covington58811
Adams58425
Marshall5718
Winston57115
George5475
Union53113
Newton51611
Attala49824
Tallahatchie49310
Pearl River48536
Walthall45318
Chickasaw43819
Noxubee41910
Claiborne40013
Smith38013
Calhoun3788
Jasper3768
Clay37013
Alcorn3574
Prentiss3426
Hancock33614
Tishomingo3204
Lawrence3135
Tippah31212
Yalobusha31210
Itawamba30710
Clarke30025
Montgomery2933
Tunica2786
Humphreys27111
Carroll24511
Greene22611
Quitman2251
Kemper22315
Perry2227
Amite2105
Jefferson Davis2026
Webster19912
Jefferson1936
Wilkinson18712
Sharkey1801
Stone1523
Choctaw1274
Benton1250
Franklin1162
Issaquena211
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 90890

Reported Deaths: 1611
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson11859225
Mobile9086191
Montgomery6249143
Madison501425
Tuscaloosa397463
Baldwin321023
Shelby305032
Marshall296630
Unassigned273453
Lee250540
Morgan222315
Etowah193026
DeKalb170113
Elmore160237
Calhoun15609
Walker147063
Houston131912
Dallas128823
Russell12331
St. Clair121712
Franklin119620
Limestone119613
Cullman114111
Colbert109312
Lauderdale107112
Autauga102420
Escambia97915
Talladega91813
Jackson8283
Chambers82138
Tallapoosa81478
Dale78520
Butler75235
Blount7363
Chilton7106
Coffee7095
Covington70920
Pike6607
Barbour5635
Lowndes55224
Marion54224
Marengo52014
Clarke4869
Hale45926
Bullock43811
Perry4294
Winston42911
Wilcox4059
Monroe3914
Randolph38810
Bibb3743
Conecuh37310
Pickens3679
Sumter36118
Lawrence3100
Washington31011
Macon30913
Crenshaw2863
Choctaw27412
Henry2453
Cherokee2427
Greene24211
Geneva2320
Clay2175
Lamar1982
Fayette1745
Cleburne1211
Coosa922
Out of AL00
Tupelo
Overcast
82° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 87°
Columbus
Few Clouds
91° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 98°
Oxford
Few Clouds
81° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 63°
Feels Like: 83°
Starkville
Scattered Clouds
88° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 89°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather