A California husband and wife are in custody on suspicion of torture and child abuse after police found several of the couple’s children chained to beds in putrid surroundings, authorities said Monday.
The nightmarish discovery came Sunday after one of the children, a 17-year-old girl, escaped from the house in the 100 block of Muir Woods Road in Perris and called 911 on a cellphone she found in the home, according to an account released by Perris police.
When officers from Perris and deputies from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department met the girl, she appeared to be about 10 years old and emaciated, police said.
Inside the house, officers found “several children shackled to their beds with chains and padlocks in dark and foul-smelling surroundings,” the statement said.
In all, police counted 13 siblings living at the house, including the teen who escaped.
The youngest was 2 years old. Like their sister, the 12 others in the house all appeared to police to be minors and malnourished, but authorities determined seven of them were in fact adults from the ages of 18 to 29, police said.
It was not clear from the police statement how many of the children were found locked to their beds.
Police provided food and drinks to the children, who “claimed to be starving,” before they were admitted to hospitals.
The parents, David Allen Turpin, 57, and Louise Anna Turpin, 49, were being held in jail in lieu of $9 million bail.
Public records show the couple own the tract house. Its address is also listed in a state Department of Education directory as the location of the Sandcastle Day School, a private K-12 campus that opened in 2011. David Allen Turpin is listed as the principal.
Public records indicate the couple have lived at the address since 2010 and lived in Texas for many years before coming to California. They declared bankruptcy twice, public records show
The neighborhood where the children were found is a new development of neat ranch-style homes built in recent years, residents said.
Kimberly Milligan, 50, who lives across the street, said that when she first moved in she was told by a person doing construction work on her home that the family had 12 children.
At first, she said, she would see a woman with an infant, but she eventually stopped seeing the child.
Over the years, she also occasionally saw three children who looked like preteens coming out of the house to get into a car with their parents.
A lot about the family struck her as strange, she said. The children she saw were very pale. And she often wondered why, if there were so many children in the house, they never came out to play.
“I thought the kids were home-schooled,” she said. “You know something is off, but you don’t want to think bad of people.”
Once about two years ago, she said, she came across the preteens putting up Christmas lights at the home and said hello.
“They looked at us like a child who wants to make themselves invisible,” she said.
On Monday, Milligan was struggling to grasp how the alleged cruelty could have gone unnoticed in the neighborhood.
“We’re not acres apart,” she said. “How did no one see anything?”
As neighbors gathered in disbelief and news trucks descended on the neighborhood Monday afternoon, an ice cream truck roamed the streets and little boys rode skateboards on the sidewalk.
Several neighbors recalled an incident several months ago in which a number of children were out in front of the house late at night working under floodlights to put sod in the yard.
Code enforcement had visited the neighborhood and was citing homes with unkempt yards, said Gary Stein, 32, who lives on the street.
There were two adults and maybe four or five kids who looked relatively young — maybe around 10 years old, Stein said.
“I thought it was weird, but I’m the kind of guy that doesn’t want to get in anybody’s business,” he said.