Starved, isolated, shackled: Extreme conditions faced by 13 captive children in California

Authorities rescued 13 malnourished children held captive by their parents in this house in Perris, California.
Authorities rescued 13 malnourished children held captive by their parents in this house in Perris, California. PHOTO: AFP

Officials in California have revealed more details about the horrific conditions faced by 13 children who were held captive by their parents for years.

"Sometimes in this business we're faced with looking at human depravity," Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin told reporters at a news conference on Thursday (Jan 19). "And that's what we're looking at."

David Allen Turpin, 57, and his wife Louise Anna Turpin, 49, were arrested last Sunday after police raided their home in Perris, southeast of Los Angeles.

The couple pleaded not guilty on Thursday to multiple charges, including torture, false imprisonment and child abuse.

These are the extreme conditions the 13 children, aged two to 29, had to endure:

1. They were shackled with ropes

The children were often tied up with ropes to their beds for "weeks or even months at a time", authorities said.

The alleged abuse started many years ago when the family was living in Texas, but had intensified over time and worsened when they moved to California.

When they were not chained to their beds, the children were locked in separate rooms.

2. They were punished with chains and padlocks

When one of the children tried to escape, the couple began to use chains and padlocks, which they had said was "a form of punishment".

When police officers arrived at their home, several of the children were found still chained to their beds.

3. They could only shower once a year

The children were allowed to shower only once a year, but were reportedly able to wash their hands.

However, if they were found to have washed their hands above the wrist area, they would be accused of "playing in the water" - an "offence" that could attract punishment from their parents.

"Often, they were not released from their chains to go to the bathroom," Mr Hestrin added.

4. They ate very little and were given food on schedule

Over the years, the children ate "very little on a schedule", authorities said, while their parents would buy food for themselves and put the items out to tempt them.


The California couple accused of starving and imprisoning their 13 minor and adult children tried to present a happy family image. PHOTO: FACEBOOK/DAVID-LOUISE TURPIN   

Food items included pies, such as apple pies and pumpkin pies, which the couple would leave on the counter, "let the children look at it, but not eat the food".

Only the youngest child, a two-year-old, reportedly had enough to eat.

The others were found severely malnourished with cognitive impairment as a result of the neglect. A 29-year-old reportedly weighed just 82 pounds (37 kg).

5. They have never visited a dentist or doctor

None of children have ever seen a dentist. They have also not been treated by a doctor for over four years.

A 17-year-old, when questioned by the police, said that she did not even know what medication or pills were.

6. They knew nothing about the outside world

The children were home-schooled and adhered to a strict, nocturnal schedule, going to bed only at 4am or 5am. This allowed them to minimise their contact with others.

They were not allowed to play with toys, and were only able to write in journals while they were kept isolated from each other.

Mr Hestrin said "the children lack a basic knowledge of life", and when the police came to rescue them, many of them did not even know what a police officer was.