Torture probe launched after 13 siblings held captive in US home

This article is more than 12 months old

US couple arrested after police find their 13 malnourished children in dark, stinking rooms

PERRIS, UNITED STATES A California couple have been arrested for torture after the authorities on Monday said their 13 malnourished children were held captive in their home, with some shackled to beds in the dark.

Authorities said they were alerted after a 17-year-old girl managed to escape the house on Sunday and called police using a mobile phone she found.

She was so "emaciated" that officers said they had thought she was 10 years old.

The 13 victims at the house in Perris, California were from two to 29 in age, the Riverside County Sheriff's Department said.

"Further investigation revealed several children shackled to their beds with chains and padlocks in dark and foul-smelling surroundings, but the parents were unable to immediately provide a logical reason why their children were restrained in that manner," the statement said.

"Deputies located what they believed to be 12 children inside the house, but were shocked to discover that seven of them were actually adults, ranging in age from 18 to 29.

"The victims appeared to be malnourished and very dirty."

The sheriff's office said "the victims were provided with food and beverages after they claimed to be starving".

The parents, 57-year-old David Allen Turpin and 49-year-old Louise Anna Turpin, were charged with torture and child endangerment, with bail set at US$9 million (S$11.9m)

The Spanish-style stucco house where the victims were allegedly held is in a middle-class neighbourhood of Perris, a small city about 110 km southeast of Los Angeles.

The home had three cars and a van with tinted windows. One of the cars had a child's seat.

There are indications that the children were allowed outside the house in recent years.

A Facebook page under the name of David-Louise Turpin includes pictures of the couple attending marriage or exchange of vows ceremonies from 2011 to 2016 with their children.

In the latest set, uploaded in April-July 2016, Louise Turpin wears a long white wedding gown while her husband is dressed in a suit.

An Elvis Presley impersonator poses with the couple and children in a scene reminiscent of a Las Vegas wedding.

Nine girls, all with long dark hair, wear matching fuchsia dresses with white tights, while a baby girl is dressed in a bright pink dress.

Three boys, their dark hair in bowl cuts like David Turpin, are dressed in suits with red ties.

An April 2016 photograph shows the same smiling children and the couple wearing jeans and red t-shirts that read "Thing 1"," "Thing 2", "Thing 3" and so on - a take on the mischievous siblings in Dr Seuss' The Cat in the Hat.

A neighbour told the Los Angeles Times that the children were very pale and never played outside.

"I thought the kids were home-schooled... You know something is off, but you don't want to think bad of people," she said.

The neighbour recalled once seeing the pre-teenaged children hanging up Christmas lights at the home about two years ago, and said hello.

"They looked at us like [children] who want to make themselves invisible," she said, adding she felt guilty that the alleged cruelty went unnoticed.

"How did no one see anything?" she asked. - AFP