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California horror home: Couple shackled own children to go to bathroom, charged

California couple David Allen Turpin and wife Louise Anna were charged with multiple counts of torture and child abuse as prosecutors said the youngsters had been shackled even to go to the bathroom.

world Updated: Jan 19, 2018 14:00 IST
Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse, Los Angeles
California,California couple,Torture
David Turpin confers with attorneys Allison Lowe (back of head) and David Macher (R) as Louise Turpin confers with attorney Jeff Moore, during his court arraignment with wife Louise in Riverside, California on January 18, 2018. (AFP)

A California couple who held their 13 malnourished children captive in a suburban home were charged on Thursday with multiple counts of torture and child abuse, with prosecutors saying the youngsters had been shackled even to go to the bathroom.

David Allen Turpin, 57, and his wife Louise Anna Turpin, 49 — who had registered their home as a school — were hit with 12 counts of torture, 12 of false imprisonment, six of child abuse and six of abuse of a dependent adult ahead of their court appearance in the city of Riverside.

David Turpin was also charged with committing a lewd act against a child by force or fear or duress, district attorney Mike Hestrin told a press conference, adding that bail had been set at $13 million for each of the defendants.

“If convicted of all charges, they face 94 (years) up to life in prison,” Hestrin told reporters in Riverside.

Sheriff’s deputies in Perris, a town southeast of Los Angeles, found three children shackled with chains and padlocks in their filthy, foul-smelling home on Sunday after receiving an emergency assistance call from their 17-year-old sister who had managed to escape.

She was so emaciated that officers first thought she was a young child.

Officers also initially assumed all the other siblings to be children, but were shocked to discover seven ranging in age from 18 to 29.

All 13 are being treated for malnutrition and undergoing other diagnostic tests.

Hestrin said all the children had been subjected to “prolonged abuse” and had not been allowed to shower more than once a year, or allowed to see a dentist or doctor.

“Often, they were not released from their chains to go to the bathroom,” he told the press conference.

While the children’s ordeal began when the family was living in the Fort Worth region of Texas, it “intensified over time and worsened” when they moved to California.

“They were fed very little, on a schedule,” Hestrin added.

No indication of abuse

Mark Uffer, chief executive officer at the Corona regional medical centre where the adults were being treated, described their condition as stable.

Neither was able to immediately explain why their children were restrained, according to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.

Police said there was no initial indication of sexual abuse, but cautioned that the investigation was still going on.

Nor was there any indication that either suspect suffered from mental illness, Perris police chief Greg Fellows said, or that the children’s ordeal was linked to the family’s religious beliefs.

Initial investigations have confirmed that the couple were the biological parents of all 13 siblings, Fellows said.

According to police, the family moved in 2014 from Texas to a middle class neighbourhood of Perris, some 70 miles (110 kilometers) southeast of Los Angeles, home-schooling their children in their Spanish-style stucco house.

A sister of Louise Turpin, Elizabeth Flores, told ABC the couple kept to themselves.

“This has been going on before they even had children ... they were real private, and they didn’t come around much,” said Flores. “We begged to Skype them. We begged to see them.”

As a university student Flores lived with the Turpins for a while.

“I thought they were really strict, but I didn’t see any abuse,” Flores said.

But she said she did have disturbing memories of the husband. “If I went to get in the shower, he would come in while I was in there and watch me. It was like a joke. He never touched me or anything.”

The case recalls previous kidnapping horrors that have made global headlines in recent years.

Ariel Castro abducted three young women he repeatedly raped for a decade at his Cleveland home. He was arrested in May 2013 after one of his victims escaped.

Jaycee Dugard was kidnapped as an 11-year-old and repeatedly raped over 18 years by convicted sex offender Phillip Garrido in California. She was rescued in August 2009.

Austria has seen two high profile kidnaps — Elisabeth Fritzl was imprisoned and raped over a period of 24 years by her father Josef while Natascha Kampusch was held for eight years by Wolfgang Priklopil before her 2006 escape.

First Published: Jan 19, 2018 10:40 IST