PERRIS, Calif. — David and Louise Turpin projected an image of a picture perfect family on social media. They posted photos of themselves with their 13 children, smiling as they celebrated birthdays, renewed wedding vows and visited Disneyland together. In the photos, the couple’s children wore identical clothing based on gender and often had the same haircuts.
“They all dressed alike when they went out,” Betty Turpin, David’s mother, told CNN.
It was for “protective reasons,” their grandmother said. When they went out, the couple would line the children up according to age, and the parents took their positions at the front and back of the line, she told CNN.
“It was easier to keep up with the kids” that way, she said.
“They were very protective of the kids,” she added.
The parents, David Allen Turpin, 57, and Louise Anna Turpin, 49, are accused of holding their children captive in their California home in filthy conditions, with some shackled to beds with chains and padlocks.
They are charged with torture and child endangerment, and scheduled for a court hearing Thursday. Bail was set at $9 million for each. It was not immediately clear if the suspects had attorneys or whether they had entered a plea.
On Sunday, a 17-year-old girl managed to escape from their home in Perris, California, and called 911 from a cell phone she found in the house, police said. She claimed her 12 brothers and sisters were being held captive inside the home by her parents, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said.
Sheriff’s deputies went to the home and found 12 victims who “appeared malnourished and very dirty” with several shackled to their beds “in dark and foul-smelling surroundings,” the sheriff’s department said.
All of them looked like children, police said, and officers were surprised to learn that seven of them were adults. The adults are being treated at Corona Regional Medical Center in Corona, and the six children are being treated at Riverside University Health System Medical Center in Moreno Valley.
The 13 siblings ranged in age from 2 to 29.
Couple renewed vows in front of children
Neighbors said they knew a large family lived there, CNN affiliate KABC reported, but they never saw any of the younger children. They said the kids would emerge occasionally at the same time to work on the lawn and would head back in together.
One neighbor said the kids appeared “very pale-skinned, almost like they’d never seen the sun.”
Their grandmother said the entire family would go on vacation together and had yearly passes to Disneyland.
“This is a highly respectable family,” Betty Turpin said.
The entire family took several recent trips, in 2011, 2013 and 2015, to renew their vows at the Elvis Chapel in Las Vegas. The couple’s children joined them for the 2013 and 2015 renewals.
In one ceremony, the girls, wearing the same purple plaid dresses and white shoes, lead the processional, and the boys, wearing dark suits, stand with their father.
An emotional David Turpin can be seen repeating his vows in the video. The children laugh along with the Elvis impersonator, and the couple kisses as their daughters clap.
Bankruptcy didn’t seem to upset the couple
The Turpins moved into the Perris home in 2010, public records show.
The next year, they filed for bankruptcy in California, according to court records.
Ivan Trahan, an attorney who represented the couple at their bankruptcy hearing, told CNN “there was nothing out of ordinary” about the couple when he worked with them in 2011. They couple “spoke lovingly of their children and even showed me their photos from Disneyland,” he said.
David Turpin made about $140,000 per year working as an engineer at Northrop Grumman, according to the bankruptcy documents. His wife’s occupation was listed as “homemaker.”
They listed about $150,000 in assets, including about $87,000 from 401k plans from Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, according to court papers. The documents listed debts of about $240,000, which included mostly credit card debt and a foreclosed farm in Rio Vista, Texas, valued at $40,000.
Trahan said neither of the Turpins seemed upset they were going through bankruptcy.
“They came with a lot of debt. We just knew there was no way they could make their payments,” Trahan said.
David Turpin is listed as the principal of the Sandcastle Day School, according to the California Department of Education website. It was operated out of his home, and opened in March 2011.