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Tortured, starved California children rarely seen outside home, say neighbours

David Allen Turpin, 57, and Louise Anna Turpin, 49, were arrested on Sunday and each charged with nine counts of torture and 10 counts of child endangerment after a 17-year-old, emaciated girl escaped the house in Perris, about 70 miles (115 km) east of Los Angeles and called police, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office said on Monday.

world Updated: Jan 17, 2018 00:09 IST
Reuters
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California children,David Allen Turpin,California news
This combination of pictures shows booking photos from the Riverside County Sheriff's Department of David Allen Turpin (R), 57, and Louise Anna Turpin, 49.(AFP Photo)

The 13 California siblings who police said were starved and chained to beds by their parents rarely left their dishevelled house and, when they did, appeared small and pale and acted strangely, neighbours said.

David Allen Turpin, 57, and Louise Anna Turpin, 49, were arrested on Sunday and each charged with nine counts of torture and 10 counts of child endangerment after a 17-year-old, emaciated girl escaped the house in Perris, about 70 miles (115 km) east of Los Angeles and called police, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office said on Monday.

Police said they found several of the couple’s 13 children, ranging in age from 2 to 29, “shackled to their beds with chains and padlocks in dark and foul-smelling surroundings.”

“The victims appeared to be malnourished and very dirty,” it said.

Kimberly Milligan, 50, who lives across the street from the family, said she only saw the infant in the mother’s arms and three other children since she moved in across the street two years ago, describing them as small and pale.

The home where a couple was arrested after police discovered that 13 people had been held captive in filthy conditions with some shackled to beds with chains and padlocks. (AFP Photo)

“Why don’t we ever see the kids?” Milligan said she asked herself. “In hindsight, we would have never thought this. But there were red flags. You never don’t hear or see nine kids.”

Two years ago, while walking around the neighbourhood admiring Christmas lights and decorations, Milligan said she encountered three of the Turpin children and complimented them on the manger with a baby Jesus set up outside the house. She said the children froze, as if by doing so they could become invisible.

“Twenty-year-olds never act like that,” she said. “They didn’t want to have a social conversation.”

Nicole Gooding, 35, who has lived in the neighbourhood for three years, said the first time she saw the family was two months ago when the mother and children were cleaning up the yard that was full of weeds and overflowing trash cans.

“I had never seen them at all until that day,” she said.

The parents, who were scheduled to appear in court on Thursday, are being held on $9 million bail each, police said.

A police statement did not indicate the parents’ motives and a police spokesman said he had no further details.

Six of the couple’s children are minors, while the other seven are over 18, parents said.

Police are due to hold a news conference at 10 a.m. PST (1800 GMT) Tuesday.

RENEWED MARRIAGE VOWS THREE TIMES

David and Louise Turpin appeared to have had marriage-renewal ceremonies at least three times, in 2011, 2013 and 2015, at an Elvis Presley-themed chapel in Las Vegas, according to the chapel’s YouTube page. One video shows the couple exchanging renewal vows in front of an Elvis impersonator.

Another video showed 10 female children in matching purple plaid dresses walking down the aisle ahead of Louise toward David, who waited anxiously at the altar with two male children in suits.

A third male child dressed in a suit appeared later in the video during various dance performances with the Elvis impersonator and the family.

An Elvis Chapel representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A joint Facebook page that appeared to have been created by the parents showed the couple at the same chapel dressed in wedding clothes, surrounded by the 13 children.

David Turpin’s parents, James and Betty Turpin of West Virginia, told ABC News they were “surprised and shocked” by the allegations, saying they could not understand “any of this.”

First Published: Jan 17, 2018 00:08 IST