Girl’s escape exposes horror of 13 siblings kept captive in California
Police said some siblings had been shackled to furniture in filthy, foul-smelling conditions.
A 17-year-old girl’s desperate escape from the window of a Southern Californian house has revealed to the world the strange and secret horror she and her 12 brothers and sisters had been enduring.
Her parents had made their suburban home a private school, a prison, and a torture chamber for the siblings, who were aged two to 29, authorities said.
Until the emaciated girl – who was said to look closer to the age of 10 than 17 – jumped out of a window with photographic evidence before calling police, it appears no-one, neither neighbours nor public officials, knew anything about what was happening inside the house.
Deputies said some siblings had been shackled to furniture amid filthy, foul-smelling conditions. They were so malnourished the older ones still looked like children, officials said.
Few details have been released about how the parents kept the siblings captive despite what appeared to be opportunities for them to leave.
The parents, 49-year-old Louise Anna Turpin and 57-year-old David Allen Turpin, have been held on nine million dollar (£6.5 million) bail. Charges including torture and child endangerment could be brought on Wednesday, with a court appearance scheduled for Thursday, authorities said.
In one of many surreal details that emerged as the investigation grew, it appears that an Elvis impersonator who performs weddings in Las Vegas is one of the few people who had direct dealings with the clan. He claims he saw a different side to the family.
“It’s very disturbing because I felt like I did know them,” said Kent Ripley, the Elvis impersonator who led the parents through at least three vow renewal ceremonies in recent years – most recently on Halloween 2015.
He looked back at YouTube videos of the ceremonies after hearing the news, including two that show all the children dancing and smiling, with matching outfits and similar haircuts.
“Watching them now it’s kind of haunting and disturbing,” Mr Ripley said.
“They all looked young and thin but I figured it was just their lifestyle. Maybe the activities they did, maybe because of their religious beliefs. I didn’t get that in depth with them, but I knew they were a fun family.”
Neighbours said the family kept to themselves and never so much as waved. No calls about trouble ever reached police or child welfare officials. Their house doubled as the Sandcastle Day School, where David Turpin is listed as principal and its roll of six includes only the couple’s younger children.
However, the house inside was a stinking mess, and conditions were “horrific,” Riverside County Sheriff’s Captain Greg Fellows said.
He said: “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.”
He said there was no indication any of the children were sexually abused, although that is still being investigated.
Mr and Mrs Turpin, who had been married 32 years, sometimes dressed their children alike in pink dresses or Dr Seuss T-shirts, kept them away from outsiders and cut the boys’ hair in a Prince Valiant-style resembling that of their father. Photos show nearly all the girls with shoulder-length brown hair parted in the middle.
Seven of the children are being cared for at the Corona Regional Medical Centre.