Real Crime

The Turpin Family Abuse Case and Others: Why Do Some Parents Torture Their Children?

Louise and David Turpin
January 14, 2018 photos of Louise Anna Turpin (left) and her husband David Allen Turpin provided by the Riverside County Sheriff's Department. Authorities say the couple's daughter led deputies to a Perris, California home where her 12 brothers and sisters were locked up in filthy conditions, with some of them malnourished and chained to beds. The parents were arrested on a total of 38 charges, including counts of torture, child abuse and neglect, abuse against a dependent adult and false imprisonment. Photo: Riverside County Sheriff's Department via AP
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    The Turpin Family Abuse Case and Others: Why Do Some Parents Torture Their Children?

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      Adam Janos

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      The Turpin Family Abuse Case and Others: Why Do Some Parents Torture Their Children?

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      July 12, 2020

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      A+E Networks

Nothing about the house stood out. It was a sand-colored single-story building with a pitched roof and a three-car garage, the quintessential southern California residence. Neighbors described the outward appearance in idyllic terms: The children would help mow the green grass, or string up Christmas decorations.

But that comfortable façade was shattered when the Riverside Sheriff’s Department entered the abode on January 14, 2018 after receiving a 911 call from a 17-year-old girl claiming to have escaped from captivity at the hands of her parents: David Allen Turpin, 57, and Louise Anna Turpin, 49.

Inside, authorities found the girl’s 12 siblings, ages 2 to 29: living in squalor, some chained and padlocked to their beds and other furniture. The siblings were so malnourished that at first it was not clear to authorities that seven of the 13 were adults. The children were home-schooled, with Mr. Turpin registering himself with the State of California as principal of the Sandcastle Day School.

The parents were arrested on a total of 38 charges, including counts of torture, child abuse and neglect, abuse against a dependent adult and false imprisonment. Bail has been set at $12 million each. They have yet to be tried or convicted of any crimes, and on January 18, 2018 both pleaded not guilty to all charges.

News reports indicate that the Turpins were genuinely confused when the police came to investigate the home.

According to Christina Rodriguez, a psychologist at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, whose research focuses on parental motivation behind child abuse, it’s not uncommon for mentally disturbed abusive parents in isolated situations like the Turpins’ to justify their behavior to themselves.

“They create their own reality,” Rodriguez says. “The role of social isolation is [that] it helps you maintain your reality… If someone has convinced themselves of the justness of how they’re raising their kids, they may look down and think all the others who are doing it differently are doing it wrong.”

Tragically, the story of the Turpin family is not a singular one.

The Richters (Tucson, Arizona)

Fernando Richter, 34, and Sophia Richter, 32, held their three daughters (ages 12, 13 and 17) captive for two years in their Arizona home before police discovered the level of abuse when responding to a domestic-disturbance call in 2013.

During the time, the couple limited their children to a single meal a day, which consisted of noodle stew or fruit. At the time of the girls’ discovery, they had not showered in at least four months. Their bathroom usage was also heavily regulated: When denied permission by their parents to go, they resorted to using jars and bags inside their bedroom closets.

According to local police, the home was equipped with video cameras as well as alarms, which would alert the parents any time a door inside the home opened. In addition, deafeningly loud music was piped directly into the girls’ rooms. Thoroughly disoriented, the girls did not know what city or state they were in at the time of their parents’ arrest.

Both Fernando and Sophia Richter were found guilty on counts of child abuse and kidnapping and sentenced to 58 and 20 years, respectively.

The Fritzls (Austria)

In 2008, Kerstin Fritzl—a 19-year-old Austrian woman from the small town of Amstetten—was carried to the hospital by her 73-year-old grandfather Josef Fritzl after falling seriously ill, in need of a respirator and dialysis for kidney failure. Noting the young woman’s unusually sick appearance despite her young age, doctors were immediately suspicious of child abuse and requested through the media that her mother come forward to explain it.

Unbeknownst to them, Kerstin’s mother was also a victim, being kept locked up in Josef Fritzl’s cellar. Elisabeth Fritzl, by this point 42 years old, had been locked behind eight doors in the cellar of her father Josef’s home, raped by Mr. Fritzl thousands of times over 24 years of captivity. Kerstin, her 19-year-old daughter, had been born in the cellar, never to emerge until the illness forced him to take her in for hospitalization.

Elisabeth had seven children, all sired by her father, all born in the dirty confines of the cellar. When one child, Michael, died of respiratory problems soon after birth, Josef disposed of the body in a basement incinerator. She raised three in the basement with her. The other three were brought upstairs to the rest of Josef’s family. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, and is currently serving out his sentence in a prison ward for the criminally insane.

Susan Bardo (Michigan)

In 2007,  Susan Bardo took her 10-year-old son, Curtis Miller, out of the Detroit home he shared with his father to the small port city of Escanaba on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Joined by her boyfriend Carl Pellinen, Bardo confined the young boy to an 8’ x 10’ unheated attic room for five years.

Miller spent 23 hours per day alone. He’d be let out once a day for a singular meal: either oatmeal or rice, which he was permitted to eat in the stairwell. He was also afforded one bathroom trip per day. When the couple went out, they would duct-tape his legs together to ensure he didn’t escape. Sometimes, he’d have bathroom accidents during those times, causing rashes to build up on his body.

Bardo raped her son several times during his tenure in the attic, while Pellinen watched. Police intervened in 2013 when a relative requested a welfare check on the boy. Both Mr. Pellinen and Ms. Bardo were sentenced to 20 to 50 years each in prison on charges of child abuse and criminal sexual misconduct.


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