When a brave, 17-year-old girl climbed through a window and fled an ordinary-looking house in middle-class suburban California she lifted the lid on one of the most shocking child abuse cases in recent history.
The girl was one of 13 siblings aged two to 29 who were starved, tortured and shackled to beds in the so-called “house of horrors” by parents David, 57, and Louise Turpin, 50.
The teen’s carefully planned escape from the home in Perris, southern California was two years in the making and involved a deactivated mobile she found in the house.
Now, more than a year after her escape in January 2018, her parents are awaiting their fate.
The pair are due to be sentenced by a judge on Friday local time, after pleading guilty to 14 charges of torture, adult abuse, child endangerment, false imprisonment and more.
Under their plea deal, the couple are facing 25 years to life.
Local District Attorney Mike Hestrin has previously indicated to reporters that the sadistic couple are likely to face life behind bars.
“This is among the worst, most aggravated child abuse cases I have ever seen,” Hestrin said after the pair pleaded guilty in February.
THE CRIME THAT SHOCKED THE WORLD
At a news conference last year, Hestrin painted a bleak picture of life inside the Turpin home, which officials had described as “dark and foul-smelling.”
The children were often tied up for “weeks or even months at a time,” he told reporters.
The victims were allowed to shower once a year, according to the district attorney.
They were apparently allowed to wash their hands, but if they “were found to have washed their hands above the wrist area, they were accused of playing in the water,” Hestrin said.
The Turpins, Hestrin said, also fed their children “very little on a schedule.” The parents would buy food for themselves, but their kids weren’t allowed to eat it.
Instead, Hestrin said, “they would buy food, including pies – apple pies, pumpkin pies – leave it on the counter, let the children look at it, but not eat the food.”
According to the district attorney, only the youngest, a two-year-old, was getting enough to eat. But the child’s siblings, because of the abuse and neglect, are severely malnourished and have cognitive impairment, Hestrin said.
As a result of their isolation, Hestrin said that the children had little worldly knowledge and one had to be told what a police officer was.
WILL THE CHILDREN MAKE A STATEMENT?
Brian Rokos is a reporter with local daily newspaper the Press-Enterprise. He has been covering the Turpin story in court and since it broke last year.
Rokos told nine.com.au that none of the Turpin children had attended court during any of their parents’ hearings.
“The people who oversee the minor children and the adult children have been very careful about exposing them to public scrutiny,” he said.
Because of the guilty plea, the siblings were able to avoid testifying, and David and Louise Turpin have also avoided taking the stand.
However, Rokos said there was a chance some of the siblings may attend Friday’s sentencing.
“The big question about this Friday is whether any of the children are going to show up to court. In court here, victims are allowed to make a statement in court before sentencing and they can address the judge or the defendants,” he said.
“They can do it in person or they could write a letter to the court that they can have read for the record.
“I have worked a number of angles trying to find out whether the children are going to be there and, as of now, no-one has said yes. Honestly, I would be very surprised if they showed up given the fact that they have been largely out of sight since the arrests were made.”
There was also the possibility their parents might make a statement to the court, he said.
So far, the Turpin parents had avoided any big displays of emotion in court.
“They have showed very little emotion one way or the other in court. Before the hearings start they will be chatting with their attorneys, sometimes smiling, but not a lot, Louise more than David,” Rokos said.
“The only time when I saw any overt display of emotion was when Louise pleaded guilty and then she kind of softly cried in court and wiped her tears.
“She has been visited in jail by one of her sisters and her sister has talked about those visits and said that Louise has cried. But the sister has never said that Louise made any statements about whether she felt remorseful or if she was concerned about the kids. That doesn’t mean that she hasn’t, but the sister has never reported any kind of statements like that.”
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
With authorities doing their best to shield the children from public attention, little is known about where the siblings are and what they are doing, Rokos said.
“We know the adult children are living together. The minors are living in foster homes. The 17-year-old who escaped, she is now 18 years old.
“But the legal authorities out here have been very tight-lipped, you don’t see the leaks, the little bits of information getting out that you do in cases elsewhere.”
The children’s lawyer, Jack Osborn, told CNN last month that his clients were doing “very well” and had been relieved not to have to face their parents in court.
“They have been living together, getting their education and moving their lives forward. They are all extremely bright, incredibly strong and resilient. They have been supportive of each other.”
“They view themselves as survivors,” he said.
HOUSE OF HORRORS SOLD
Meanwhile, the house where the children were tortured went up for sale in January in an online auction.
Inside Edition reporter Diane McInerney toured the house at 160 Muir Woods Road when it was on the market and discovered a heart-wrenching sight: a plea for help drawn on the top of a cake box.
“Help Me! Pleas (sic)” someone had written, alongside a picture of a crying child.
Video filmed inside the home showed it cluttered with toys, bedding, clothing and broken furniture.
Rokos said advertising on the auction website for the house made no mention of the home’s disturbing past.
“Under Californian law you have to disclose whether there was a death there, but you don’t have to disclose whether a crime like this occurred. Although, I have talked to a real estate agent who said ethically something of this magnitude should be disclosed. But whether it was disclosed I don’t know,” he said.
The house was sold for $430,000 in the online auction, but then bizarrely put back on the market less than two weeks later.
The house was then taken off the auction site and appeared to have been sold on the open market, Rokos said.
It was still unknown if the buyer planned to live in the home or rent it out, he said.
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