PERRIS — From the outside, the brown-and-beige four-bedroom home looked fairly orderly. The couple who owned it had purchased the house new in 2014 and soon arrived in this Los Angeles suburb with their 12 children.
They lived there quietly for at least three years and had another baby. Then on Sunday, one of the children jumped out of a window, called 911 and led authorities to what they described as a torture chamber.
Sheriff’s deputies said they found 13 children ranging from 2 to 29 years old, some of them chained to furniture, all of them thin and malnourished. The 17-year-old girl who escaped was so tiny that deputies initially mistook her for a ten-year-old.
When authorities confronted the girl’s mother, Louise Anna Turpin, sheriff’s captain Greg Fellows said she appeared “perplexed” about why officers had come to the home.
Turpin, 49, and her husband, David Allen Turpin, 57, were jailed on $9 million bail. They were scheduled for an initial court appearance on Thursday, and authorities say the pair could face charges of torture and child endangerment.
“If you can imagine being 17 years old and appearing to be a ten-year-old, being chained to a bed, being malnourished and injuries associated with that, I would call that torture,” Fallows said, explaining the possible charge.
He said there was no indication any of the children were sexually abused, although that was still being investigated.
Neither sheriff’s deputies nor child-welfare officials received a single call over the years about the Turpin home, he said.
The investigation, still in its early stages, has already begun to unravel a bizarre tale of a couple married 32 years who dressed their children alike, kept them away from outsiders and cut most of the boys’ hair in a Prince Valiant-style resembling that of their graying father.
Videos posted on YouTube show the couple renewed their vows at the Elvis Chapel in Las Vegas at least three times in recent years, most recently on Halloween 2015. An Elvis impersonator performed the ceremony between songs. Most of the children, dressed in matching outfits, took part.
Numerous photos on the couple’s Facebook page show the children dancing at the ceremony, visiting an amusement park that appears to be Disneyland and going on other outings, looking thin but often smiling.
Although their home appeared nondescript from the outside, it was a stinking mess inside, Fellows said.
Deputies reported that the home was very dirty and reeked — a condition that Fallows called “horrific”.
State Department of Education records show the home’s address is the same as the Sandcastle Day School, where David Turpin is listed as principal. In the 2016-17 school year it had an enrollment of six with one student each in the fifth, sixth, eighth, ninth, 10th and 12th grades.
Fellows told reporters there is no indication any student other than the couple’s children were enrolled there. He said six of those children are under 18.
No state agency regulates or oversees private schools in California, and they are not licensed by the state Education Department. Private school operators are required to file an affidavit with the state annually, listing the number of students, staff members and information about the school’s administrators.
Private schools are also subject to an annual inspection by state fire officials.
Representatives for the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the Riverside County Fire Department would not immediately say whether the Turpins’ home was ever inspected.
Mark Uffer, chief executive officer at Corona Regional Medical Center, said seven of the children were there Tuesday.
“I can tell you that they’re very friendly. They’re very cooperative, and I believe that they’re hopeful that life will get better for them after this event,” he said.
Before moving to Perris, a rapidly growing suburb of 76,000 people, the family lived for a time in nearby Murrieta, Fellows said. Property records show they moved to Southern California in 2011 from Johnson County, Texas, near Dallas.
The Turpins filed for bankruptcy that same year, stating in court documents that they owed between $100,000 and $500,000. At that time, Turpin worked as an engineer at the Northrop Grumman aerospace company and earned $140,000 annually and his wife was a homemaker, records showed.
Neighbor Kimberly Milligan said the developer who built the tract where they lived told her the family had a dozen kids when they moved in, although she never saw that many.
She described the family as “standoffish” hoarders who had their garage filled with books and who often let the grass in their front yard grow out of control, unlike other families on the block.
“I got an impression, that, you know, ’You stay in your lane, I’ll stay in my lane,” she said. “It was never, ‘Hi.’ Never a wave. Nothing.”
Her 26-year-old son, Robert Perkins, said he only recalled seeing four children outside the home, recalling they all appeared pale and skinny as if they never ventured outside.
“I feel sorry for the kids,” said Perkins, a warehouse worker. “Who knows how this is going to affect them.”
Dr Sophia Grant, medical director of the child abuse and neglect unit for the Riverside University Health System, said it will take lengthy physical and emotional therapy for the children to recover.
“You have to imagine that these kids are going to need a lot of support. It’s not going to be anything that you go to, you know, a few sessions of therapy and you’re all better,” she said. “This is going to be long term.”