Louise and David Turpin were married 33 years ago but have since renewed their wedding vows in Las Vegas at least three times — most recently in 2015.
After hearing that the couple were accused of starving their 13 children and chaining them to their beds, Kent Ripley, the Elvis impersonator who presided over their ceremonies, pulled up videos of the occasions, where the siblings, in matching outfits and similar haircuts, smiled and danced.
“Watching them now it’s kind of haunting and disturbing,” Ripley told the Associated Press. “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.”
In the four days since Louise and David Turpin were charged with multiple felony counts of torture, child abuse, abuse of dependent adults and false imprisonment, the people who knew or met them are reexamining their interactions with the family, trying to figure out how the siblings’ alleged abuse went undiscovered for so long. The siblings, who range in age from 2 to 29, were severely malnourished when they were rescued from the Turpins’ Perris, Calif., home on Jan. 14, according to police. When they weren’t chained they were fed very little food on a schedule, officials said.
Before moving to California in 2010, the Turpins lived in Texas.
A neighbor in Fort Worth, Ricky Vinyard, remembers how when the family lived there earlier, the siblings rarely left the house. The lights were always on and the blinds were drawn, according to the Los Angeles Times. On Christmas, eight new children’s bicycles appeared outside but sat unused until they became discolored.
Louise Turpin’s sister, Teresa Robinette, recalls how the nature of her video calls with her nieces and nephews changed over time, until she was no longer allowed to speak with them at all.
“They were very friendly, but it was a very weird conversation every time because they weren’t real talkative,” she said Monday on NBC’s “Megyn Kelly Today.” “When she let me video-Skype to them, it got to where instead of having them all together like we did years and years ago, it got to where she would bring in one or two or three at a time, and then she would send them out and tell them to send down so-and-so.”
The last time she spoke with the siblings, Robinette said, was about seven or eight years ago — not long before the last time the children’s grandparents, Betty and James Turpin, visited the family for five days at their previous home in Murrieta, Calif. The family moved to their current home in Perris, Calif., in 2014.
“They were just like any ordinary family,” Betty Turpin, David Turpin’s 81-year-old mother, told the Southern California News Group last week. “And they had such good relationships. I’m not just saying this stuff. These kids, we were amazed. They were ‘sweetie’ this and ‘sweetie’ that to each other.”
What began at first as neglect, officials said, became dangerous and pervasive child abuse over the years. If the siblings misbehaved, they would be tied to their beds as punishment — first with ropes, until a child whose limbs were strung together was able to wriggle free. Then, David and Louise Turpin began using chains and padlocks, Riverside County District Attorney Michael Hestrin said at a news conference last week.
Over time, the periods in which the siblings were confined grew longer, and they would not be released to use the bathroom, Hestrin said. The family dogs, however, appeared to be healthy.
These disturbing living conditions for years went unnoticed, police say, until the Turpins’ 17-year-old daughter escaped from the house last week. Her 12 siblings were freed soon after, and her parents were arrested.
Authorities last week said that David and Louise Turpin were “unable to immediately provide a logical reason” why the siblings were shackled and chained and that Louise Turpin seemed “perplexed” by the investigators’ questions. A public defender for David Turpin said outside the courthouse last week that “our clients are presumed to be innocent — and that’s a very important presumption.” The lawyer, David Macher, told reporters that “the case will be tried in court. It will not be tried in the media.”
But he added that defending Turpin against so many serious charges “is going to be a challenge.”
Officials said the parents would buy food for themselves but prohibit the children from having any, with the exception of the 2-year-old, who was getting enough to eat. Sometimes, authorities said, the parents would buy apple or pumpkin pies, leave them on the counter and let them go uneaten, prohibiting the children from tasting them. One 12-year-old is so malnourished that his weight was that of an average 7-year-old, and the 29-year-old female victim weighs 82 pounds, Hestrin said.
The siblings rarely left their Perris house and did not go to school. Instead, they were taught at home, Hestrin said, but were forced to sleep all day and stay up at night, typically going to sleep at 4 or 5 a.m. The eldest son was allowed to attend a local community college, Mt. San Jacinto College, for six semesters under his mother’s supervision. He held a 3.93 grade-point average, according to ABC News.
They were permitted to bathe just once a year, Hestrin said, and if they washed their hands above their wrists, they would be chained up as punishment for playing with water. Other punishments for misbehavior included beatings and strangulation, Hestrin said.
The abuse began when the family lived in Fort Worth, Hestrin said. The parents lived apart and would deliver food to the children from time to time.
Not long after the family arrived in Fort Worth, an older girl tried to run away but was returned by a local resident, Vinyard, the Turpins’ former neighbor, told the L.A. Times. He said he and his wife thought about reporting the Turpins to the authorities but feared the repercussions, in part because David Turpin was armed.
Vinyard’s daughter, 19-year-old Barbara Vinyard, remembers playing with the siblings a few times in a nearby creek, according to the L.A. Times:
Sometimes in the evenings she would hear the Turpin children playing in their yard, so one day she grabbed a jump rope and knocked on the door of the trailer.
“I knew they were really strange, but I was willing to get over the strangeness to be friends,” she said.
A skinny, pale girl with long brown hair opened the door and just stared, she said. “Her eyes just got real wide. She closed the door back in my face,” Vinyard recalled. ” … She came around the back, looked at me and then ran back away into the house, through the back door.”
Once the family moved, their house was foreclosed. The man who bought the house, Billy Baldwin, found a stack of Polaroids from when the Turpins lived there. One showed a bed with a rope tied to its metal rail, he told the L.A. Times.
Vinyard recalls walking through the family’s trailer, which was “waist-deep in filth. There were dead dogs and cats in there,” he said.
He also remembers a feces-littered living room that looked almost like a classroom, with eight small desks and a chalkboard, he told the L.A. Times. Many things — the closet and the refrigerator, for example — had locks on them.
“There were no beds, just mattresses,” Vinyard told the L.A. Times. “There wasn’t a place in that house that wasn’t filthy.”
The family moved to California in 2010, first to Murrieta, also in Riverside County, then in 2014 to Perris. It was around this time that Louise Turpin’s sister, Teresa Robinette, last spoke with the siblings. She told Megyn Kelly on Monday that she, Louise and other members of the family suffered sexual abuse by a close family member growing up.
After hearing the news about the treatment of the Turpins’ children, Robinette said her sister is “dead to me.”
“I hope that when [the siblings] come out from where they’re at now, our hope is that they all can lead some sort of normal or happy existence,” she told Kelly. “My main hope is that I can put my arm around them and just tell them that they have family that loves them. That’s not deranged.”