RIVERSIDE (CBSLA/AP) – A couple accused of torturing their 13 children, ages 2 to 29, and keeping them captive in depraved conditions were charged Thursday as authorities revealed more appalling details regarding the treatment and living conditions of the children that lasted several years.
David Turpin, 57, and Louis Ann Turpin, 49, were each charged with 12 counts of torture, seven counts of abuse of a dependent, six counts of child abuse and neglect and 12 counts of child imprisonment. David Turpin also faces one count of lewd acts on a child under the age of 14.
The charges relate to behavior going back to at least 2010 and apply to to the cities of Murrieta and Perris.
The couple pleaded not guilty at their arraignment Thursday afternoon in Riverside County Superior Court. Their bail was set at $12 million each. They are due back in court Feb. 23.
In a packed news conference, Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin told reporters that the children were severely malnourished and punished. When they were not chained up, they were kept in different rooms. None of the children were allowed to shower more than once a year, Hestrin said.
“There was prolonged abuse; it did involve beatings and strangulations,” Hestrin disclosed.
Beginning many years ago, the children would be tied up with rope. Then the couple began using chains and padlocks. The children would often be chained to their beds.
“Circumstantial evidence in the house suggests the victims were often not released from their chains to go to the bathroom,” Hestrin said.
The punishments would last for weeks and months at a time, the DA said. The children were also not allowed to have toys.
“This is depraved conduct,” Hestrin said bluntly.
Hestrin added that what started out as neglect over the years developed into full-fledged “pervasive” and “severe” child abuse.
All the children had “severe caloric malnutrition associated with muscle wasting,” Hestrin said, adding that several of them have “cognitive impairment” due to the torture.
The abuse started when the family resided in Fort Worth, Texas, the DA said.
“With the parents at one point living apart from most of the children and dropping off food from time to time,” Hestrin said.
The family moved to Murrieta in 2010 after living in Texas for 17 years.
“The family, these individuals, slept all day, and they were up all night, all of them.”
Only one of the siblings attended classes outside the home. He was always accompanied by his mother, who waited outside the class and then took him home afterwards, Hestrin said.
The children were found after one of them escaped at around 6 a.m. on Jan. 14.
According to Hestrin, the siblings had planned an escape from their parents for more than two years. However, when the two siblings escaped through a window, one of them became frightened and turned back.
The other, a 17-year-old girl, call 911 from a deactivated phone and met with deputies. She was so emaciated that they initially believed she was about 10 years old.
Based on photos and information from the girl, deputies conducted a welfare check at the home in the 100 block of Muir Woods Road, where they found her parents and 12 siblings — six of whom are under the age of 18 — living in dirty, deplorable conditions. The siblings were so malnourished many of them appeared younger than their actual ages.
When deputies entered, at least three of the children were shackled to furniture inside the home, officials said.
“The defendants were able to get two of the victims unchained before the police actually entered,” Hestrin said. “An 11 and 14-year-old were unchained as the police stood at the door, while a 22-year-old remained chained to the bed while the police entered the home.
Meanwhile, the six minor children are recovering at Riverside University Hospital System and admitted for treatment, whereas the seven adult children were taken to Corona Regional Medical Center.
All 13 siblings are believed to be the Turpins’ biological children.
Authorities have emphasized that law enforcement had never received any calls about the home prior to Sunday’s welfare check.
The grandparents of 13 children told the media Wednesday that their son’s family looked happy and healthy when they last visited California six years ago.
“They were just like any ordinary family,” said Betty Turpin, the 81-year-old mother of David Turpin. “And they had such good relationships. I’m not just saying this stuff. These kids, we were amazed. They were ‘sweetie’ this and ‘sweetie’ that to each other.”
Betty Turpin and her husband James Turpin of Princeton, West Virginia visited her son’s family for five days at their previous home in Murrieta.
“I feel they were model Christians,” she said. “It’s hard to believe all of this. Over the years, the Lord knows what happened.”
The new owners of the Texas home where the Turpins previously lived released yellowed photographs of what they found after the large family vacated the property, which had been foreclosed. The photos showed beds tied together, boarded up doors, smashed windows, and even covered vents.
The children were all home-schooled. According to the California Department of Education, the home was registered as a private school called Sandcastle Day School. David Turpin was listed as the principal.
Private schools in California are not licensed by the state education department and no agency regulates or oversees them. The schools are only required to file an affidavit with the state each year that lists the number of students, staff members and information about administrators.
Full-time private schools must register with the state to record their students’ exemption from mandatory attendance at public schools, but the education department lacks the authority to monitor, inspect or oversee private schools, according to Bill Ainsworth, a spokesman for the California Department of Education.
They are, however, subject to an annual inspection by the state or local fire marshal. In response to a public records request by The Associated Press, Perris assistant city clerk Judy Haughney said Wednesday there were no records of any fire inspections conducted at the home. The city’s fire marshal, Dave Martinez, did not return repeated phone messages seeking comment.
According to legal documents obtained by CBS2, the couple declared bankruptcy while living in Murrieta. The bankruptcy filing indicates David Turpin worked as an engineer for Northrop Grumman in San Diego.
The Corona Chamber of Commerce has set up a fund for donations for the abuse victims here.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)