True crime author John Glatt turns a keen eye to California’s “house of horrors” with The Family Next Door, the first major look at the lives of David and Louise Turpin, parents arrested in 2018 for the torture and captivity of 12 of their 13 children.
Those malnourished siblings, each with a first name beginning with the letter “J,” ranged in age from 2 to 29 and were often left shackled to beds for months. But on January 14, 2018, their daughter Jordan, 17 at the time, escaped and used a deactivated cell phone to call 911, leading police back to a grotesque scene of filth and frightfulness.
In February 2019, David and Louise Turpin pleaded guilty to the crimes and in April were each sentenced to life in prison. They’ll be eligible for parole after 25 years. At the sentencing, one son testified: “I cannot describe in words what we went through growing up… But that is the past and this is now.” Glatt spoke with A&E True Crime about how the Turpin children are doing now, whether Louise’s history of abuse repeated itself with her own children and how the torture was allowed to go on for so long.
Can you bring us up to speed on how the Turpin brothers and sisters are doing now? Are the adults and minors separated?
We know they were split into two [groups] after the escape. The minors were put into various foster homes around that part of California, while the older ones were placed in their own accommodations. It’s a “best kept secret” where that could be, but from the legal guardians who are their main spokespeople, they seem to be doing very well.
A couple of them are at college and studying, and they seem be making good progress. But…they obviously haven’t made a full recovery yet.
The first section of The Family Next Door examines the sexual abuse Louise claims she and her sisters suffered in their own youth by a close family member. Were Louise’s later actions part of a generational cycle of abuse?
I think very much so. Louise came from a really tragic family, where her mother and sisters were being abused by a [family member]. I spoke to a child-abuse expert who could see the various behaviors that Louise had with David, all repeating from her mother.
Was Louise the more dominant of the two parents when it came to meting out punishments?
She was obviously the one who carried out [more of] the punishments, but I think David was the leader. If you see this as a cult—which I really did—he was the leader, and Louise went along with it. From things Louise’s sister, Elizabeth, would say, Louise would make decisions, but refer to David for his acknowledgment. So he had the ultimate say in what happened, because he was also the breadwinner. He made six figures, working for Lockheed Martin, [an aerospace and defense company). I think he was in charge…but they fed into each other, as far as things went with the children.
Louise’s sister, Elizabeth, published a tell-all not long after the arrests, purporting to explain how the family’s secrets had shaped her sister. What did you glean from that?
Elizabeth was probably the last person who lived with Louise’s children as they were growing up in Texas, before they were completely shut off from the world. So I think she saw the mental abuse of the children, the way they were being fed at mealtimes, how they were locked in their bedrooms.
And also the thing that is particularly distasteful, is where [Elizabeth claims] David and Louise broke in while she was having a shower, and would start watching her. It was very uncomfortable [for her].
The Turpins have a large extended family, all of whom eventually were cut off from contact with David and Louise. How have they responded to the case?
I’d say they were totally shocked. I did speak briefly to David’s father and he said: “You know, we are very good, religious people.” They [say they] had no idea this was going on. I think they’re sincere. Everybody I spoke to who knows the family says that they’re pillars of the community… Now then again, they did go and visit and make several trips to Rio Vista, Texas, where they did stay with the family and they say they saw nothing untoward, which is something of a head-scratcher, to be honest.
The Turpins could be brazenly public: There were visits to Disneyland and Las Vegas, with the kids in tow. How did this go on without an outsider raising a flag?
I spoke with their neighbors in Rio Vista and Perris, California, and they all say the same thing: They didn’t want to ask questions. Especially the ones in California, the ones whose window looked over [the Turpin family’s] garden. They say they never knew they had [so many] children. They thought there was one or two.
…Louise would go out with a couple of kids shopping, but nobody had any idea anything was going on. Nobody wants to invade their neighbors’ privacy.
Of all the components to this story, what’s kept you up at night?
I found it mind-boggling that somebody who grew up in that situation could think it’s totally normal. When the police came in after Jordan alerted them, one of the little boys came down, and the police were shocked, because he thought it was normal to be chained up to his bed for weeks at a time. He didn’t know anything else.
There were a couple of instances in Rio Vista where the police had to do ride-outs [to the property]. One time, one of the children got bitten by a dog and they had to call an ambulance. Another time, one of their wild pigs had escaped.
There were times when the police knocked on the door, and David Turpin came out and the police were perfectly satisfied with his apology that it would never happen again—but they never went into the house, or maybe they would’ve seen what was going on.
At her sentencing, Louise talked about her love for her children, saying she ‘looks forward to the day I can see them and hug them and tell them I’m sorry.’
I can’t see it ever happening. David and Louise are probably going to be in prison for the rest of their lives.