Abuse in house of torture was ‘severe, pervasive’

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — A California couple tortured a dozen of their children for years, starving them to the point that their growth was stunted, chaining them to their beds for up to months, preventing them from using the toilet at times and forbidding them from showering more than once a year, a prosecutor said Thursday.

“The victimization appeared to intensify over time,” Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said in announcing charges. “What started out as neglect became severe, pervasive, prolonged child abuse.”

David Turpin, 56, and Louise Turpin, 49, were charged with multiple counts of torture, child abuse, dependent adult abuse and false imprisonment. David Turpin was also charged with performing a lewd act on a child under age 14.

The litany of physical and emotional abuse was enough to invoke a house of horrors that apparently went unnoticed for years in California and Texas until Sunday, when a 17-year-old girl managed to escape and call 911.

The girl and her siblings had plotted the escape for two years, Hestrin said. Another girl who escaped out a window with the teen turned back out of fear.

When deputies arrived at the four-bedroom, three-bathroom house on a dead-end street in Perris, about 60 miles southeast of Los Angeles, they were shocked by what they found.

Malnutrition was so severe that it was consistent with muscle wasting and had led to cognitive impairment and nerve damage, Hestrin said. The oldest child, a 29-year-old woman, weighed 82 pounds. A 12-year-old was the weight of a typical 7-year-old.

Some of the 13 children had been isolated so long they did not know what a police officer was.