Two sisters are describing for the first time the repeated torture and abuse by their parents in a “house of horrors” where the family of 15 lived in Riverside County.
In an interview on ABC’s “20/20” with Diane Sawyer, two daughters of Louise and David Turpin describe their life in a suburban home in Perris where they were beaten, starved and chained to their beds for months at a time. Almost four years after they escaped, the sisters will recount their experience in a special set to air on Nov. 19.
In a preview for the TV show, Jordan Turpin describes the night in January 2018 that she sneaked out of her family home with a disconnected cellphone and called 911 to report her parents to police.
“I just ran away from home because I live in a family of 15, and we have abusing parents,” the young woman, then 17, said in the recorded 911 phone call.
“My parents are abusive,” she told the dispatcher. “They abuse us, and my two little sisters right now are chained up.”
Twelve of the 13 children at the Turpin home, who ranged in age from 2 to 29 at the time, were tortured and starved by their parents, prosecutors said, noting that youngest child, a toddler, appeared to have been spared the lack of food.
The abuse became too much for the teen, who said that her sisters would awaken her at night, crying and saying they wanted to call somebody.
“I think it was like us coming close to death so many times,” she tells Sawyer. “It was literally now or never. If something happened to me, at least I died trying.”
During court proceedings, Turpin, who was not identified at the time, said she did not understand the difference between a ZIP Code and a street address. For years, she and her siblings were held captive in squalid conditions and shielded from the public by their parents. The children were allowed to leave their room only to brush their teeth, use the bathroom and eat, investigators said.
By the time Turpin leaped from her bedroom window, she knew she had to call for help.
“My whole body was shaking,” she recounts to Sawyer, her voice breaking. “I couldn’t really dial 911 because — I’m sorry.”
Body camera video from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department shows Turpin after deputies found her following the 911 call. In the “20/20” clip, a deputy asks, “What are your parents going to do when they find out you left?”
“They are going to want to literally kill me,” she says.
The Turpin children’s shocking story grabbed international headlines as prosecutors described how their parents physically abused them. When the children were caught “stealing” food or wasting too much water while they washed their hands, they were struck, according to testimony during the criminal trial.
“Mother, she choked me,” Jordan Turpin tells Sawyer. “I thought I was going to die.”
Her sister Jennifer Turpin says, “The only word I know to call it is ‘hell.’ ”
Later in the clip, Jennifer adds, “I want the Turpin name to be, like, ‘Wow, they’re strong, they’re not broken. ‘They’ve got this.’ ”
David and Louise Turpin each pleaded guilty to 14 felony charges in February 2019: one count of torture, two of false imprisonment and two of false imprisonment of a dependent adult, six of cruelty to adult dependents and three of willful child cruelty.
They were sentenced 25 years to life in state prison. At their sentencing in a Riverside courtroom, their son Joshua, then 27, described his life in the Turpin home.
“I cannot describe in words what we went through growing up. Sometimes I still have nightmares of things that have happened, such as my siblings being chained up or being beaten,” he said at the time. “But that is the past, and this is now. I love my parents and have forgiven them for a lot of the things that they did to us.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.