House of Horrors: The True Story of the Turpin Family

David and Louise Turpin came to national attention in 2018 when one of their daughters escaped captivity and alerted authorities that her parents were holding her 13 siblings hostage. The Turpin children grew up in an environment that was so abusive and controlling that the media dubbed the home a “house of horrors.”

David Turpin / Louise Turpin / Jennifer Turpin, Jordan Turpin / Turpin Family.
Source: Getty Images

From the outside, the Turpin house looked like any other home on the block, but inside it was a nightmare. David and Louise Turpin abused and isolated their children from the world for years. Two of the sisters recently spoke out about what really happened inside the “house of horrors.”

It Really Was a “House of Horrors”

When police entered the Turpin family home in January 2018, they couldn’t believe what they saw. The children were so dangerously malnourished that they couldn’t even tell that one of them was 29 years old. She was only 82 pounds. As the eldest of the Turpin children, she had suffered the abuse the longest.

A photo of the Turpin family.
Source: ABC News

The house was filthy as the Turpin parents didn’t allow their children to use the bathroom. Some of them were chained or tied to their beds for long periods. It was revealed that they were only fed once a day and were allowed one shower per year.

A Moment of Opportunity

It was only a matter of time before one of them found an opportunity to go for help. After two years of planning their escape, two of the Turpin daughters, aged 13 and 17, left the house through a window. The younger girl became frightened and turned back.

Two Turpin sisters speak on a broadcast interview.
Source: ABC News

However, the 17-year-old got far enough to call 9-1-1 with a cell phone she had brought. She showed the police pictures when they arrived, and they raided the Turpin home. The 13 children were finally rescued, but everyone would soon find out there was more to this horrifying story as details of the Turpin family came to light.

Generations of Abuse

Louise Turpin will likely spend the rest of her life in prison, but how she got there was through an abusive and horrific childhood of her own. As a young girl, Louise’s mother, Phyllis Robinette, regularly “sold” Louise, her sister, and cousin to their grandfather, who would routinely abuse them.

A mugshot of Louise / A mugshot of David.
Photo by Riverside County Sheriff’s Department/Getty Images

Louise and her sister Teresa would beg their mother not to take them to him, but she would tell them she needed the money for clothes and food. Teresa said Louise was abused the worst, and it destroyed her self-worth. However, Teresa was still shocked to find out what her sister did to her own children.

Not Surprising to Others

Teresa might have been surprised by the news, but their other sister, Elizabeth, knew her sister would do something horrible inevitably. Elizabeth painted a picture of who Louise really was and how it might have been predictable that she would hurt her own children.

A picture of David and Louise.
Source: Pinterest

Elizabeth validated Teresa’s story that the siblings were repeatedly abused. She also revealed that Louise became obsessed with witchcraft, Satanic rituals, and Ouija boards. Louise was consumed by her obsession with snakes and gambling, and she suffered from alcoholism. She would do anything to escape the memories of her abuse.

An Unhappy Home

In Elizabeth’s book, Sisters of Secrets, she described an unhappy home life where she and Louise would cover their ears as their parents fought. Louise was the oldest, and she would try to protect her younger siblings from hearing their parents fight.

A photo of a young Louise with her family.
Source: YouTube

However, there was no relief from the torment outside of her home. Louise was also bullied at school, according to her siblings. Despite being the only one to come to her sisters’ rescue, Louise started to act out and became rebellious as she entered high school.

A So-Called “Prince Charming”

In 1985, Louise was 16, and her boyfriend, David Turpin, was 24. One day, David somehow signed Louise out of school and took her across state lines, kidnapping her to force her into marriage. Louise’s family thought David was like a Prince Charming, who would give her a rich and perfect life.

A picture of David and Louise renewing their wedding vows.
Source: YouTube

Louise’s father, Wayne Robinette, a preacher, wasn’t aware that his daughter was dating David because his wife kept it a secret. Phyllis loved David because he came from a Christian family, and she trusted Louise. Her mother wanted her to get married to him despite the age gap.

The Secret Is Blown

When David took Louise from school, they traveled from West Virginia to Texas, but the police caught up with them and made Louise call home. Phyllis insisted they return immediately. Louise’s father was furious that the relationship had been kept a secret.

A picture of Louise sitting in court.
Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

However, when Louise and David returned, Wayne told his daughter that she had made her decision and she was “now an adult.” Louise got her parents’ blessing, and she got married that same year in a small church wedding. She was still just a child.

He Could Have Done Something With His Life

Unlike his wife’s troubled early life, David Turpin had a good childhood and a promising early career. He attended the same high school as Louise, although he was eight years older. In his high school yearbook, David is listed as a member of the Bible club, chess club, and acapella choir.

A photo of David sitting in court.
Photo by Mike Blake/Pool/Getty Images

On paper, David was studious and kept himself busy. One of his former classmates described him as a nerdy homebody. David then attended Virginia Tech to study computer engineering and became a member of the honor society. He could have done more with his life.

He Had Other Ideas

Shortly after graduating, David married Louise, and they moved to Texas to start their new life together. David started working for Lockheed Martin, the aerospace and defense technology company. To get a high-level job with a top defense company was an accomplishment for a boy from West Virginia.

An exterior shot of the Turpin Home.
Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

However, soon things began to change at home. Louise gave birth to their daughter Jennifer, and they moved into an upscale neighborhood because David was earning a six-figure salary. Louise invited her mother and siblings to visit to show off her new lavish life.

Putting on a Show

Louise and David paid for the airfare and everything when her family came to visit each year. However, when their son Joshua was born in 1992, the couple filed for chapter 7 bankruptcy, despite his high salary, and they kept their financial problems a secret.

An interior shot of the mess and dirt at the Turpin home.
Source: ABC News

When Louise was pregnant with her third child, Jessica, in 1993, she met her family at the airport in Texas and insisted on paying for everything. It was all about pride for Louise because she was the only sibling who had made a better life, or so it seemed.

The Abuse Began Slowly

When the eldest Turpin child, Jennifer, started first grade, she was two years older than her classmates. Her parents started her in school at eight years old, and there was clearly something wrong at home. She was frail and had poor personal hygiene.

Jennifer Turpin speaks during an interview.
Source: ABC News

She wore the same shirt to school every day, and it looked like she never showered. Her hair was tangled and greasy, and classmates made fun of her. The teachers never thought to look into Jennifer’s home situation, even though they could see she wasn’t properly cared for.

Too Good to Be True

When Louise had her fourth child, Jonathan, she and David visited her family in West Virginia. They paid for all the fancy meals each night, trying to keep up the image of a rich life. Her siblings thought she had this perfect dream life.

A photo of a pregnant Louise Turpin.
Source: Pinterest

During their visit home, Louise’s younger sister Elizabeth was so amazed by the life the Turpins had created, and she wanted to know what it was like. Elizabeth asked to spend the summer with them in Texas, but as they drove back she realized their life wasn’t as it seemed.

Taking an Unexpected Turn

On the drive back to Texas from West Virginia, David took a sudden exit off the interstate in Louisiana. Louise told Elizabeth they were going to gamble and asked her to look after the children while they were away. She also made her sister promise to keep it a secret.

A photo of David, Louise, and their first child.
Source: Pinterest

Elizabeth was shocked because they grew up learning that gambling was a sin. She thought David and Louise were practicing Christians, so this was bizarre behavior. When the couple returned to the car hours later, it was clear they had been arguing.

Elizabeth Witnessed Troubling Behavior

During the summer Elizabeth lived with her sister, she noticed their lifestyle was strange. They never hugged or kissed their children, and the mealtime ritual was unusual. Louise would place food on the table and call the children to eat one by one.

The Turpin sisters embrace one another while crying on live television.
Source: ABC News

When they got to the table, they needed to smile at their mother before sitting down. Then, the children would need permission before they could start eating. Elizabeth said that Louise was the hardest on Jennifer. She didn’t know how to help her nieces and nephews.

Elizabeth Wanted to Help

After witnessing the beginning of the torture, the Turpin children would suffer for years, Elizabeth wanted to do something, but she was just 19 at the time. She was also nervous around her sister and David because of what Louise allowed him to do.

A picture of a bed with chains inside the Turpin home.
Source: ABC News

In an interview after her sister was arrested, Elizabeth admitted that she realized what her sister was capable of after staying with them for the summer. Although Louise protected her sister from abuse as a child, she would happily unlock the bathroom door and let David watch Elizabeth shower.

The School Didn’t Take Action

When Jennifer started second grade, her hygiene deteriorated further. Classmates said she smelled like dirty clothes and urine. She talked about inappropriate things that indicated there was abuse going on at home. In one instance, Jennifer was sent to the principal’s office.

Press and neighbors stand outside the Turpin home.
Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

Jennifer did something inappropriate to herself in class, but the school didn’t investigate if there was a problem at home despite all the warning signs. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services had no records of the Turpins.

The Family Grew and the Money Ran Low

Between 1997 and 1998, Louise gave birth to their fifth and sixth children, Joy and Julianna. As the holidays approached in 1998, the Turpins were running low on money. David still had a well-paying job, but they would regularly gamble it away in Louisiana.

An interior shot of the wrecked floors in the Turpin home.
Source: ABC

When Elizabeth spoke to her sister, Louise bragged about how much money they were spending before their cards were declined. Instead of hiding their financial woes like before, Louise proudly said their house was foreclosing, and they had to file for bankruptcy.

Running From Their Problems

By 1999, Jennifer had stopped attending school. She would never return to public school, and her siblings would never see the inside of a classroom because David decided to homeschool them. As they continued to lose money, the Turpins had to move out of their home.

A picture of Louise and David embracing one another.
Source: Facebook

When the Turpins moved out, the new owners were appalled by the condition of the home. The house was deplorable; stains and grime covered the walls and carpets.

Disappearing From the World

After giving birth to their seventh child, Jeanetta, in 1999, the Turpin family moved to Rio Vista, Texas. The town was tiny, and the Turpins saw it as the perfect place to disappear from the world. In their new house, the neglect turned to violent abuse.

A photo of a scratched door inside the Turpin home.
Source: ABC News

Louise and David started slapping, hitting, and throwing the children around the room. It escalated to whipping with belts and wooden paddles. The children weren’t allowed to shower except once a year, and they had no education besides what Jennifer could teach them with her little knowledge.

No One Knew Anything Was Wrong

The children were barely fed, which stunted their growth, causing permanent physical and cognitive damage. However, Louise frequently sent pictures of her children to family members. They always looked happy and well-dressed in matching clothes. To everyone else, they looked healthy.

A picture of the Turpin family.
Source: YouTube

Louise’s sister Teresa said, “The pictures we got always looked like healthy kids. They all had smiles. They were always dressed in the nicest of clothes.” The Turpins made their family think they had a picture-perfect life but distanced themselves from everyone as they hurt their children more.

They Left Their Children Alone

In May 2004, David and Louise moved their ten children into a double-wide mobile home in the backyard. They left their home empty because it was uninhabitable, with garbage and feces. David also built a cage to put the children in if they broke the rules.

Interior shots of the Turpin house.
Source: YouTube

However, after Louise had their 11th and 12th children, they abandoned their children for four years. The couple took the two babies and found an apartment 40 miles away. The oldest children were put in charge. David would stop by to drop off frozen food, but Louise never visited.

Jennifer Almost Escaped

Although their parents lived almost an hour away, they still controlled the children over the phone. Joshua and Jennifer were forced to maintain their parents’ reign of terror in the trailer. Jennifer wanted to do something, so she escaped one morning and ran across neighboring properties.

Diane Sawyer with two of the Turpin sisters.
Source: ABC News

She ran out to the road to get help, and a neighbor stopped. Jennifer got in their car, terrified, refusing to give her name or age, but asked how she could get a job, apartment, and car. The neighbor drove Jennifer to town, but she didn’t stand a chance without a license or identification.

Someone Could Have Helped

Jennifer had no choice but to call her mom, who picked her up and took her back to the trailer. Unfortunately, the neighbor didn’t report the incident. This should have raised many red flags, but people dismissed what they heard as nonsense.

Photos of the Turpin siblings at their house.
Source: YouTube

If the neighbor had reported Jennifer, the police could have prevented years of suffering. Sadly, no one came to their rescue, and the Turpins slipped under the radar once again. Shortly after Jennifer’s attempted escape, the family moved to Perris, California. The children’s lives got much worse.

Leaving Texas Behind

In 2010, David left his job and moved the family to California. He started working at another large company, where he received another high salary. They continued to gamble and spend frivolously, even taking their children to Disneyland a few times, but they were still cruel.

A photo of David and Louise.
Source: Pinterest

In their new home, the children would be tied or shackled to their beds if they “misbehaved.” The neighbors noticed how quiet all the children were unless they were spoken to. The Turpins refused to let family members visit, and Louise stopped talking to her sister Elizabeth.

Desperate for Money

After her parents died in 2015 and 2016, Louise called her half-brother to ask if any inheritance was left for her, but there was nothing. While they struggled for cash, Louise came up with the idea of having a 14th child and getting a TV show.

Louise’s sister speaks during an interview.
Source: YouTube

Louise revealed this plan to her half-brother on Skype just days before her arrest. During the call, she made excuses about why the children couldn’t come to the computer. Louise thought the world would be fascinated by their lives, but she didn’t care about her children; it was all about her.

Finally Free

When Jordan Turpin escaped in 2018 and called the police, she didn’t care if she died trying to get away. She revealed that they had come close to death many times, so it was now or never. Her siblings begged for her to get help.

A photo from police officers entering the Turpin home.
Source: ABC News

For years, the Turpin children were deprived of food, sleep, hygiene, education, and health care. Joshua Turpin was still chained to his bed when the police found him. The children thought their mom tied them up because they had too much sugar or caffeine.

Jordan Revealed More Details

Jordan revealed that she and her siblings would be chained up for one or two months at a time. They were only freed to brush their teeth or occasionally use the bathroom.

A surveillance tape recording of Jordan’s escape.
Source: YouTube

The teen said they were never given breakfast and would only eat peanut butter, a frozen burrito, or chips for lunch and dinner. They would be tied up if they washed their hands above the wrist, and Jordan said she couldn’t breathe at times because the house was so dirty.

The Rescue

Louise was perplexed when authorities entered her home. The house contained hundreds of journals written by the children about their lives. After being removed from their home, the 13 siblings spent weeks in hospitals, even though they would need years to recover.

Footage from the police entering the Turpin home.
Source: ABC News

Six of the younger children were sent to foster homes, while the state was made guardians of the older siblings. Although there were some over 18, they had the mentality of children because of the abuse they suffered. Many of them live together today, and the younger ones were placed with guardians.

They Will Never Get out of Prison

David and Louise were charged with 12 counts of torture, 12 counts of false imprisonment, seven counts of abuse of a dependent adult, and six counts of child abuse. Davis received an additional charge of a lewd act on a child under 14.

A photo of Louise crying in court.
Source: ABC News

A year after their arrest, David and Louise pled guilty and were both sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 25 years. However, experts believe they will never get parole because of the severity of the crimes. Surprisingly, some of their children forgave them.

The Children Had Strong Words for Their Parents

During the sentencing phase of the trial, some of the Turpin children read statements to their parents. Jennifer said, “My parents took my whole life from me, but now I’m taking my life back.” Despite the abuse, some of the children’s statements spoke positively about their parents.

Jordan cries during a televised interview.
Source: ABC News

In Jessica’s statement, she said she loved and forgave her parents and thanked them for teaching her about faith. Joshua also forgave his parents even though he still has nightmares about being chained to his bed. The others had their statements read in private.

How Did They Get Away With It for so Long?

When news broke about the Turpin family, friends and neighbors were shocked. Social media depicted a typical, loving family, but that was not the truth. No one noticed anything out of the ordinary because there were trips to Disneyland, birthday celebrations, and three vow-renewals for Louise and David.

A photo of Louise sitting in court.
Photo by Terry Pierson/Pool/Getty Images

Louise posted pictures of her children in matching outfits in Las Vegas and at Disneyland to convince the world everything was fine. However, some neighbors admitted that they had never seen the younger children in person, and the older kids were pale and skinny when they were occasionally outside.

David Lied to the State

On top of all his other charges, David committed perjury by filing affidavits with the state department of education. He stated that the children in his home were receiving full-time education in private day school. He filed these from 2010 to 2017.

A picture of David Turpin speaking to his lawyer.
Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

He claimed the children attended Sandcastle Day School, which was just their home. He was reportedly the principal, but it was just another lie. The children had no idea what medicine or police were when they were rescued. The only one who hadn’t been abused was the two-year-old.

They Left Two Homes in Shambles

For eight years after they left Texas, the Turpins continued to torture their children, but they left evidence behind. It seems that everyone turned a blind eye to the obvious red flags of the Turpin family. The homes they left behind in Texas had plenty of evidence of abuse.

An exterior shot of the house in Texas.
Source: CNN

In their Rio Vista home, people found dead animals, filth, and ropes tied to beds. There was trash and dirt everywhere. The rooms where the children slept were set up like barracks with one bunk bed after the other. However, everyone kept quiet and let them get away with it.

Reflecting on Their Lives

Nearly four years after escaping what they describe as H*ll, Jennifer and Jordan Turpin spoke about their horrifying experience. The sisters talked about the fear they experienced every day. Jordan said Louise once choked her, and she thought she was going to die.

A portrait of Jordan Turpin today.
Source: Pinterest

When they were rescued, they never asked about their parents. The children were just excited to be away from the torture finally. Since 2018, Jennifer and Jordan revealed that all their siblings are moving forward and healing. They want to be known as strong, not broken.

There Was an Earlier Escape Plan

Several of the Turpin siblings knew about the escape plan (which was actually their second attempt to flee). A photo of the family in Vegas for their parents’ vow-renewal is an experience they never forgot. It was a happy memory, so they wanted to return to Vegas.

A dated picture of the Turpin siblings.
Source: Pinterest

The children managed to contact a taxi company for a ride, but the escape attempt failed because they didn’t know where the driver could pick them up or where they wanted to go. They had no education about the outside world, so they waited for another chance.

Moving on With Their Lives

At the time of their rescue, the Turpin children ranged from two to 29 years old. Most of them didn’t even know the second half of the alphabet because they had had no education. Since their rescue, the children have started to go to school and have plans for the future.

A photo of one of the Turpin sisters.
Source: Pinterest

Joshua, the second oldest, said he was getting his bachelor’s degree in software engineering and wants to pursue a master’s degree after. In a statement, he said he has learned to advocate for himself, swim, cook healthy meals, and manage his money wisely.

Jennifer Is Making a Life for Herself

As the oldest of the Turpin children and the longest sufferer of the abuse, Jennifer has started to make a new life. After three decades of being held captive, she started college and lives on her own. She has made friends, and life is great.

A still of Jennifer and Jordan speaking on a televised interview.
Source: ABC News

Jennifer fought to become the person she is today and said she is strong because of what she went through. She revealed that her parents almost changed her when they forced her to be the abuser while they lived far away, but she fought and refused to turn into her parents.

They Stayed Positive Through the Pandemic

Having spent most of their lives indoors avoiding other people, the Turpin siblings handled the pandemic well. Although it made school and living everyday life challenging, they managed to get through it by assimilating into traditional lifestyles. Many of them live close enough to visit each other.

A picture of Turpin siblings.
Source: Pinterest

Little information has been revealed about the six younger siblings because they are minors, but they have all been adopted. It might seem weird to them now to stay inside, but all the Turpin children are coping well with the support of mental health professionals.

They Apologized to Their Children

While it doesn’t make up for the years of abuse they inflicted on their children, David and Louise have since apologized for their actions. It might have been done to get sympathy in court, but they both made statements expressing remorse for what they did during their sentencing.

A picture of Louise talking to her lawyer in court.
Photo by Watchara Phomicinda/The Press-Enterprise/Getty Images

David said, “I never intended any harm to come to my children. I’m sorry if I’ve done anything to cause them harm. I love my children and hope the best for them in the future.” Louise said she was sorry and hoped she would see, hug, and apologize to them one day.