PERRIS, Calif. — The parents of 13 sisters and brothers found malnourished in their family home were charged Thursday with torture, abuse and other counts that could keep them in prison for the rest of their lives, a prosecutor said.
Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin described a house of horrors in which David Turpin, 57, and Louise Turpin, 49, raised their children amid filth, chained to furniture and taunted with food they desperately needed but were relentlessly denied.
"There are cases that stick with you, that haunt you," Hestrin said at a press conference Thursday. "Sometimes in this business we are faced with looking at human depravity."
The Turpins each face 12 counts of torture, seven counts of abuse of a dependent adult, six counts of child abuse or neglect and 12 counts of false imprisonment. David Turpin also faces one count of committing a lewd act by force or fear, the first indication from authorities the case may involve sexual abuse.
The defendants each were being held in lieu of $9 million bail, but Hestrin said he will ask bail be raised to $13 million.
Authorities arrested the couple Sunday after their 17-year-old daughter grabbed a cellphone, jumped out a window and fled into the night. She called 911, telling police her 12 siblings were being essentially held hostage by their parents, with some padlocked to their beds.
Hestrin said the courageous teen plotted her escape for two years, and that a sibling fled with her but was frightened and returned to the home.
Officers found the children living in squalor. Hestrin said three children were chained to furniture when officers arrived, but the parents had freed two of them by the time officers entered the home.
The children ranged in age from 2 to 29, but they were so malnourished that all of them looked like minors, Hestrin said. The 29-year-old female victim weighed 82 pounds, he said.
Hestrin said that, except for the 2-year-old, all the children showed symptoms of severe malnourishment, including mental impairment. He also shed light on what life looked like inside the four-bedroom, Spanish-style residence in a sprawling development of closely packed, tidy homes.
The victims would typically go to sleep about 5 a.m., sleep all day and stay up all night, Hestrin said. They were allowed to shower only once a year, he said.
What started out as neglect became severe and prolonged abuse that eventually involved beatings and strangulations, Hestrin said. He said the victims were restrained with ropes and sometimes hogtied as punishment. Later, chains and padlocks were used.
The parents had toys wrapped in the house that they didn't give to the kids. They also bought food, such as pies, for themselves and then left it out on the counter. The children were told that they could look at the food, but could not eat it, Hestrin said.
The children were home schooled, and state records listed David Turpin, who has worked as an engineer at Northrop Grumman, as the principal. But Hestrin said they victims lacked basic knowledge, with some not knowing what a police officer was.
A primary activity was writing in journals, and Hestrin said investigators were reading through hundreds of them seeking evidence in the case.
In nearby Corona, the local Chamber of Commerce collected money, clothes and other contributions for the victims. Other items needed for the victims included crafts, Play-Doh, Legos, journals, notebooks, crayons and "books dealing with emotions and feelings," the chamber said.
“They have absolutely nothing,” Corona Mayor Karen Spiegel told The Press-Enterprise in Riverside.
Members of the extended family expressed shock at the reports, and all said they had not visited with the family in years.
David Turpin's mother, Betty Turpin, told the Southern California News Group that she last saw the family six years ago.
“They are the sweetest family,” said Turpin, 81. “They were just like any ordinary family."