California horror home

Children's aunt says couple cut themselves off long ago

David and Louise Turpin each face nine counts of torture and 10 counts of child endangerment.
MS ELIZABETH FLORES, one of Louise Turpin’s sisters
David and Louise Turpin each face nine counts of torture and 10 counts of child endangerment.
David and Louise Turpin each face nine counts of torture and 10 counts of child endangerment.

She also talks of feeling uneasy around secretive brother-in-law

LOS ANGELES • The aunts of the 13 children who were found starved and held captive at home in California said the children's parents had always preferred to keep to themselves and had cut themselves off from the rest of the family.

One of the aunts also said her brother-in-law often made her feel uncomfortable and would sometimes watch her shower as "a joke".

The revelations came on Wednesday as investigators combed through Louise and David Turpin's home east of Los Angeles.

Ms Elizabeth Flores, one of Louise's sisters, said that for decades, she had begged to see her nieces and nephews even through videocalls, CNN reported.

But her sister and brother-in-law kept such a secret life that they would not let her.

"When that happens for 20 years, and it was before the kids even were there, you don't think it's abnormal," Ms Flores told ABC's Good Morning America.

"If it had been like two years ago that she cut us off, then we might think, wow, something's not right. But this has been going on before they even had children ... they were real private, and they didn't come around much."

IT DIDN'T SEEM UNUSUAL

If it had been like two years ago that she cut us off, then we might think, wow, something's not right. But this has been going on before they even had children...they were real private, and they didn't come around much.

MS ELIZABETH FLORES, one of Louise Turpin's sisters, also spoke about how her brother-in-law would watch her shower when she was young.

Officers raided the family home in the small city of Perris, about 113km east of Los Angeles, on Sunday after one of the children escaped and alerted police.

Police said they found several of the couple's children, ranging in age from 2 to 29, "shackled to their beds with chains and padlocks in dark and foul-smelling surroundings".

On Wednesday, Louise and David Turpin were each charged with nine counts of torture and 10 counts of child endangerment. They were being held on US$9 million (S$11.9 million) bail, with an initial court hearing scheduled for yesterday.

Ms Flores recalled how she lived with the Turpins for two months while in college. The couple, who had a few children then, were strict but she "didn't see any abuse".

However, she said her brother-in-law made uncomfortable, and even used to watch her shower.

"If I went to get in the shower, he would come in while I was in there and watch me. It was like a joke," Ms Flores said. "He never touched me or anything."

She said she never told anyone about it until now.

"I was young. I was scared. I was in Texas, where I knew nobody.

"Now that I'm an adult, and I look back, I see things that I didn't see then."

Ms Flores said she felt devastated when she learnt about the children's condition. She said she wants her nieces and nephews to "know they do have family... whether they know us or not".

Ms Teresa Robinette, another sister of Louise, told NBC News she was not aware of the conditions at the family's Californian home.

"We always thought she was living the perfect life," Ms Robinette said of her sister. "She would tell us they went to Disneyland all the time. They would go to Vegas."

But she said she had expressed concerns about the children before. "I always made comments to Louise when I did talk to her, about, 'Gosh, they're so skinny.' And she would laugh it off: 'Well David's so tall and lanky. They're going to be like him.'"

Family members and neighbours of the Turpins have offered little insight into the couple's possible motivations. Experts have said it may have been easier for the parents to shield their children from scrutiny because they were home-schooled.

"We have investigators on scene, combing through everything they can find for additional evidence... that may assist them in providing a full description of what was going on," Riverside Sheriff's Deputy Mike Vasquez said on Wednesday.

"The whole house is a crime scene," he added, reported Reuters.

Mr Turpin's mother Betty Turpin, said on Wednesday she was busy preparing paperwork and entering information into a computer to help her son. She said the family had engaged an attorney, who advised them not to speak about the case.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 19, 2018, with the headline 'Children's aunt says couple cut themselves off long ago'. Print Edition | Subscribe