House of Horrors photos spark ‘gasps’ in court
THE 17-year-old Turpin daughter who saved her 12 brothers and sisters from a lifetime of alleged abuse at the hands of their parents did everything she could to gather evidence before calling police.
That included taking photographs of her tortured siblings, including close-ups of their painfully thin wrists, raw from rubbing against the chains binding them to their beds and pieces of furniture.
She did it because, even while the children had been conditioned to abuse, she understood their treatment was cruel and unusual to the extent that others might not believe her.
The pictures she took were shown in court for the first time last week as prosecutors presented evidence at California's Riverside County Superior Court during the preliminary hearing against David Turpin, 57 and Louise Turpin, 49.
Journalists covering the hearing reported that many attendees, among them staff members who would have seen no shortage of horror in that courtroom, "gasped" when the photos were produced.
They showed two pale, severely malnourished little girls, aged 11 and 14, shackled to bunk beds.
Investigator Patrick Morris testified that the 11-year-old's growth was so stunted that her arms "were the size of an infant's".
In one photo, described in a report published in the El Paso Times on Monday a girl is "tightly chained around her frail torso".
"Her long dark hair covers the pale skin of her face, her eyes cast down and away," the reporter wrote.
"She sits on her knees on a filthy mattress thrown on the floor in front of a pair of bunk beds. Two open padlocks are visible on the mattress in a photo taken after the rescue.
An additional photo showed another girl "chained to a bedpost, sitting on the floor with her thin wrists shackled tightly".
The 17-year-old, who had been planning her escape and rescue mission for two years, had surreptitiously taken the pictures using an old mobile phone she had managed to keep hidden.
She would use the same phone to make the 911 call that would blow the lid off California's House of Horrors on January 14 this year.
"They are chained up in their bed," the teen told the emergency operator.
"I wanted to call y'all so you can help my sisters. They will wake up at night and they will start crying and they wanted me to call somebody."
A recording of the call was played in court for the first time last week and journalists described the girl's voice as "quivering" and "childlike".
The children had been kept so isolated that the 17-year-old was unable to provide their address, so the dispatcher kept her on the line for 20 minutes while the call was traced, listening as she tried to explain the horrendous treatment they had endured at the hands of their parents.
By the time police cars pulled up to the Turpins' Muir Woods Rd home in Perris, California, and the officers made their way inside, the shackled sisters had been hastily freed from their chains.
Their 22-year-old brother remained chained, however, telling officers that he and his sisters were being punished for "stealing food" and being "disrespectful".
Riverside County Detective Thomas Salisbury said the young man told police he had initially been tied up with ropes but, after learning how to wriggle free, was restrained with increasingly larger chains on and off over a six-year period.
Sheriff's deputy Daniel Brown said one daughter told him that she knew her sister had contacted police when she heard a knock at the door and saw flashing lights outside the window.
"She said she was finally going to become free," he told the court.
After so many years of abuse, the tipping point for the 17-year-old had been an incident almost two years earlier in which her mother had caught her watching a Justin Bieber video and beat and choked her until she thought she was "going to die".
The girl later told sheriff's Deputy Manuel Campos that she hadn't bathed in a year and that she didn't know the date or the month, he testified.
She told him her parents never gave them breakfast and had recently combined lunch and dinner into one meal that included peanut butter and bologna sandwiches or a frozen burrito and chips.
Investigators testified that the 13 Turpin children, who ranged in age from two to 29, had lived mostly in locked rooms and were deprived of food, toys, games, schooling and most outside contact, barring two family visits to Disneyland and Las Vegas.
The oldest son attended classes at a local community college but investigators have said his mother waited outside the classroom and immediately brought him home after classes.
Senior investigators with the Riverside County District Attorney's Office testified that doctors and medical records all of the children, bar the youngest, were severely malnourished.
Most had muscle wasting, with some adult children up to 14.5kg underweight. Two daughters will never be able to have children and several suffer from psychosocial dwarfism - growth disorder caused by severe stress.
The evidence presented at last week's hearing was enough for the judge to commit David and Louise Turpin to trial.
They have been charged with multiple counts of child abuse, torture and false imprisonment and face life in jail if convicted.
David Turpin is also charged with sexual abuse stemming from incidents that allegedly began about five years ago.
The daughter who escaped told authorities she was 12 years old when her father pulled her underwear down, sat her in his lap and tried to kiss her on the lips.
She told investigators the encounter abruptly ended when her father heard his wife walking towards the room, and he advised the child not to talk about it, according to prosecutors.