California House of Horrors: How Could this have Happened?

Odds are you’ve heard the story of the horrific incident involving the torture and abuse of 13 children by their parents in Perris, CA.


To recap, here are some of the disturbing facts of the case:

  • 13 children aged between 2-29 were found to be tortured, abused, neglected, malnourished, and some shackled to beds (some reports are saying 12 children, that the 2-year-old appeared completely unharmed).
  • The parents, David and Louise Turpin, have pled not guilty to 37 charges including torture, child abuse, dependent adult abuse, and false imprisonment, and David has pled not guilty to lewd conduct with a minor under 14.
  • One of the children, a 17-year-old girl, escaped through a window to find help. Her and her siblings allegedly took photos with an old, deactivated cell phone to show police evidence.
  • The eldest daughter, 29, reportedly weighed 82 pounds upon discovery by authorities, and a 12-year-old girl was the typical weight of a 7-year-old.

How did this go undetected?

Like most people who have heard this story, you’re probably wondering how prolonged and severe child abuse of this nature could have gone undetected for over 20 years. According to several reports, the family relocated more frequently than most. The group lived in Fort Worth and then Rio Vista, Texas before moving to Murrieta, California in 2010, and then again to Perris, CA in 2014. They were allegedly just days away from moving to Oklahoma when a daughter escaped to find help.

Countless neighbors have expressed their disappointment and guilt, with many noting the family was a bit odd, but they never could have expected anything of this nature occurring, particularly in a neighborhood like Monument Park.

“We were quite here,” explained resident Josh Tiedman-Bell in a recent CNN article. “We couldn’t even get noticed by the city council.”

Perris, CA is known to many as little more than a skydiving destination in Southern California, a city located just 70 miles outside of L.A. “Really Perris is a globally famous location, for 40 years, a skydiver’s paradise,” notes local Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld, manager at tourist company Skydive Perris. It will certainly be known in a much different light going forward.

The horrific idea of this abuse occurring for such an extended period of time is magnified when you consider that a child allegedly escaped from the family home in Texas years earlier, but was later returned to the home with no further investigation, and a 4-year-old child was hospitalized, again in Texas, in 2001 after a dog bite.

Were there signs? How could it have been prevented?

Neighbors of the Turbin family, particularly those that are parents, are beating themselves up for living so near to such devastation and horror without seeing any signs. But, knowing what we do now, can we learn any lessons from this case to prevent more in the future?

Here are a few things multiple witnesses reported as seeming off about the family:

1. The children looked abnormally thin.

Multiple Perris locals stated feeling concerned when seeing how thin the children’s arms looked. They did not, unfortunately, know how old the children actually were, which likely would have escalated their concerns significantly.

2. The children rarely spoke to anyone.

One neighbor described an encounter she had with the family while walking past the home:

“It was about 9PM at night,” neighbor Wendy Martinez said. “At the gate we saw four children…on their knees. It was odd at that time of night. Their mother was in the archway, and I said ‘hi.’ There was like no movement, not even to look over to see who’s saying hi…like if they were told not to speak to anybody. The mom, no movement at all.”

Another neighbor reported she saw some of the kids hanging Christmas decorations in 2015. “We stopped and said, ‘Oh, the decorations look so nice,’ and they froze. Like when young children want to divert a threat they think they can pretend to be invisible…That was the last time the family put out Christmas lights.”

3. The children dressed the same.

The family reportedly loved attending Disneyland in Anaheim, CA. According to one article, “on each trip, they seemed to be wearing the same clothes.” On one trip, the younger girls wore a Wizards of Waverly Place t-shirt, the older girls Mickey and Minnie shirts, and the boys Toy Story (OK, I know what you’re thinking. And, admittedly, I’ve worn a shirt to match a group when in Disneyworld before. But stay with me…).

They were also said to have been seen at school performances and other social outings wearing what looked like uniforms, and all of them with the same haircut as their dad. Tiedeman-Bell describes them as looking “like pilgrims.”

4. The children were homeschooled.

Of course, I’m not suggesting all children who are homeschooled are also being abused. But this further limited their contact with the outside world.

Other facts that may have been red flags:

  1. Louise and David Turbin married in 1985…when she was 16 and he was 23. (I was actually quite appalled by this, but even more shocking was my discovery that the marriage of minors is still legal in the majority of states in our nation).
  2. Louise Turbin admitted, out loud, that she thought Kate Plus 8 was a “cool reality show.”
  3. The sister of Louise Turbin recollects, rather nonchalantly, that while she was living with the family while attending university, that David would come and 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. He never touched me or anything.” She does not, however, remember seeing any child abuse.

So, what can we learn from the House of Horrors?

After completing my research for this article, and considering any silver lining, like what we, as a society, can learn from this and how can we prevent future cases. Sadly, I haven’t been able to come up with many hopeful conclusions, but here are a few final thoughts:

Trust your instincts.

If you see a child or children, particularly with their family, acting paralyzed with fear, take notice and do what you can to make contact with them. If you get a bad feeling after seeing the parents interacting with their kids, do what you can to monitor future interactions and ensure the children are safe.

Horrendous abuse can happen anywhere.

The Turbins lived in a populated residential neighborhood in the United States. Yes, their city is considered ‘rural,’ but let’s not forget the Ariel Castro case that happened on an urban street in Cleveland. Unfortunately, this type of thing can happen anywhere in the world. It seems it has become human nature to keep to yourself and focus on your own problems. Hey, I commiserate.

When do you report suspicious behavior to the police?

This is not a question I honestly feel comfortable mentoring on, and it seems from my online searching I am not alone. But, in general, police need much more than reasonable doubt to search a home, and there is much to risk from ‘ratting’ out a neighbor because of a feeling you can’t exactly validate. So, the best I can say is to again, trust your instincts.

To close with some good news: all 13 children are being well-taken care of by authorities and medical personnel and have already reportedly received multiple offers of adoption, including reality TV star, Amy Duggar.

Lauren Witte

Lauren M. Witte is a freelance writer specializing in corporate content, MarTech, and lifestyle pieces.She also works as the Director of Marketing at the Arizona Technology Council, a private, not-for- profit technology trade association. She received Bachelor of Arts degrees in both Creative Writing: Nonfiction and Studio Art: Photography from the University of Redlands in Southern California, earning Departmental Honors in both disciplines and graduating Summa Cum Laude. She currently resides in Phoenix, Arizona with her partner, Ian and their corgi, Conan.

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