In January of 2018, a distraught teenager called 911. The 17-year-old reported she had escaped from her parents, leaving 12 siblings held captive in their Perris, California home. Police responded to the call and found a bizarre and heinous scene: David and Louise Turpin had kept some of their kids bound in shackles and chained to the furniture in filthy bedrooms. All were severely malnourished and appeared many years younger than they were. This abuse had been going on for decades, as the children's ages ranged from 2 to 29. There were reports the Turpin parents even treated the family pets better than the children.
David and Louise Turpin are charged with multiple counts of torture and child endangerment and face life imprisonment. The parents entered "not guilty" pleas and opted not to comment. Authorities removed the children from the Turpins' custody and placed them in rehabilitation hospitals for ongoing treatment and counsel. The following can't explain why David and Louise Turpin confined their children, but the details cast light on who the Turpins are, and what exactly happened to "the Magnificent 13."
A 17-Year-Old Girl Escaped And Notified Authorities
On January 14, 2018, one of the 13 Turpin siblings escaped from the family home by climbing out of the window and calling 911. She told officers she was being held captive, along with her brothers and sisters. According to CBS News:
[The girl] spent more than two years working on the plan with her siblings, a prosecutor said. When the teen fled the house on Sunday, one of her 12 siblings accompanied her but became frightened and went back into the house.
The police initially thought the malnourished 17-year-old was only 10 because of her small size. The state of the Turpin residence came as a surprise to law enforcement, as there were no complaints made prior. Police immediately arrested parents David and Louise Turpin and charged them with suspicion of child torture and child endangerment.
The Adult-Aged Siblings Were So Emaciated They Looked Like Children
Even though seven of the imprisoned children were legal adults aged between 18 and 29, the officers mistook them for children because of their pale demeanors and sickly-looking physical conditions. When they were picked up by the police, the children relayed their extreme hunger, so deputies reportedly gave them snacks. They were treated in local hospitals upon their parents' arrest.
The Children Were Homeschooled By Their Parents
David registered his household as "Sandcastle Day School" in the California Department of Education directory, and he, as well as Louise, homeschooled the children. He gained the necessary permits to operate the non-religious and co-ed institution and functioned as their principal.
Throughout their schooling, the kids were not allowed to socialize with anyone and were kept inside for most of the time. In an interview with David's mother after the arrests, Betty admitted her son and his wife had always dressed their children in matching outfits when they left the house. According to CNN:
The couple would line the children up according to age, [Betty Turpin] said, and the parents took their positions at the front and back of the line, for 'protective reasons.'
The Turpins Were Struggling Financially
David Turpin was once reportedly an engineer who earned $140,000 a year, but he left his job in 2010. Louise was a homemaker who received no income. In 2011, they filed for bankruptcy and had approximately $240,000 in debt from credit cards and a foreclosure on their former Texas farm. Ivan Trahan, the attorney who represented them in their bankruptcy case, was surprised when child abuse allegations came to light:
To me and my wife, Nancy, who was with me during the interviews, we always thought of them as very nice people who spoke highly of their children [...] They seemed like very normal people who fell into financial problems.
At the time of arrest, the Turpins lived in a single-story home tucked in a Southern California development. While it's unclear how the unemployed Turpin parents supported the family of 15, the residence reportedly had multiple new vehicles and a well-kept exterior.