The Disturbing True Story Behind David And Louise Turpin’s “House Of Horrors”

Published October 24, 2021
Updated March 12, 2024

David and Louise Turpin abused their 13 children for years until one daughter managed to escape and alert police in January 2018.

David and Louise Turpin‘s 13 children grew up in an environment so tightly controlled and abusive that when the media discovered what these kids had to endure to survive, they dubbed the Perris, California home a “house of horrors.”

The seemingly hyperbolic moniker was unfortunately rather fitting, as the Turpin children were so confined that neighbors rarely saw them outside and noted how pale they were on the rare occasion that they did.

David and Louise Turpin isolated their children from the world and locked them inside their home for years.

Turpin Family

CNNThe Turpin parents renew their vows before their children.

For a few of the 13 Turpin children, this lasted decades. Some of the children were so removed from the world that they didn’t know what medicine or police were when they were finally released from their confinement.

The Turpin Children Are Saved

When police officers entered the Turpin family’s home, they found the children there so malnourished that they couldn’t even tell that one of the victims was actually a 29-year-old woman when they saved her. She was the eldest of the Turpin kids but was so underfed and unwell that her muscle growth had stagnated and she clocked in at a mere 82 pounds.

Feces adorned the carpets as the Turpin parents didn’t always allow their kids to go to the bathroom. The Turpin children had even been chained or tied to their beds rather frequently.

Between only being fed once a day and being granted one shower per year, it seemed inevitable that one of the Turpin children would make a run for it. In January 2018, David and Louise Turpin’s 17-year-old daughter finally did.

She jumped out of a window and called 911 and plead for officers to save her siblings. “They will wake up at night and they will start crying and they wanted me to call somebody,” she told them. “I wanted to call y’all so y’all can help my sisters.”

That was how the disturbing Turpin family tale began to come to a close, or rather, brought the country’s attention to it.

It will be a long road to mental and physical recovery for the 13 Turpin children as their parents spend the rest of their lives likely in prison. But perhaps Louise Turpin’s own past will shed some light on the horrifying person she became to her children.

Louise Turpin’s Background

The Turpin parents were charged with multiple counts of torture, false imprisonment, child abuse, and cruelty to a dependent adult, The Desert Sun reported. David and Louise Turpin recently pleaded guilty to 14 related criminal charges and will likely spend the rest of their natural lives in prison.

How Louise arrived here, however, was through an abusive and toxic childhood of her own.

Louise Turpin

Riverside County Sheriff’s DepartmentLouise Turpin in 2018.

Louise’s sister, Teresa Robinette, told The Daily Mail that their mother, Phyllis, regularly “sold” the two girls to a wealthy pedophile who would routinely abuse them.

“He would slip money into my hand as he molested me,” Teresa recalled. “I can still feel his breath on my neck as he whispered ‘be quiet.’ We begged her not to take us to him but she would simply say: ‘I have to clothe and feed you.’ Louise was abused the worst. He destroyed my self-worth as a child and I know he destroyed hers too.”

Nonetheless, what Louise did to the Turpin family children came as a shock to Teresa. The sister said she always thought of Louise as a “good girl” who never drank, smoked, or did drugs.

Teresa’s relationship with her nieces and nephews was virtually nonexistent as she only met the four eldest kids in person once and spoke to the rest over video chat — which happened less and less over time.

“I don’t even know if you can say any of us had a relationship with the children,” said Teresa. “Never in a million years had we thought she was abusing the kids…she would just start making up excuses of why she couldn’t video chat. She would say: ‘David and I are just so busy with 13 kids, we will get to it this weekend.'”

Teresa Robinette’s shock at how her sister turned out is understandable. But their other sister, Elizabeth Flores, was less surprised, and her explanation of Louise Turpin makes for a more complete picture of who the Turpin matriarch really was and how it may have been inevitable that she becomes the torturer of her own children.

Flores’ book Sisters of Secrets contains troubling allegations against Louise Turpin. Flores not only corroborated Teresa’s claims that the siblings were repeatedly sexually abused, but that Louise also began to practice witchcraft as an adult, was consumed by gambling, obsessed with snakes, and suffered from severe alcoholism.

The book describes an unhappy home where Louise and Elizabeth covered their ears when their parents fought and a rough time at school where Louise was bullied. It was the later years, however, when Louise was in her 40s, that things really got bad, The Desert Sun reported.

“She was drinking, smoking, partying, going to bars, practicing witchcraft, gambling, handling and eating rattlesnakes, dressing and acting vulgar on MySpace, into sex practices, and it goes on and on,” said Flores. “I was really concerned for her.”

Despite all of this, Flores explained, Louise “was never even on my radar for child endangerment issues.”

Of course, Louise wasn’t alone throughout her obsessive engagement in all of these worrisome activities. To this day, the “House of Horrors” mother has remained a married woman — and in order to paint an even more clarifying picture of this bizarre, lifelong saga, a look at David Turpin is required.

The Turpin Family Patriarch: David Turpin

The abusive patriarch of the Turpin family had a rather promising childhood and early career, Collegiate Times reported. As a Virginia Tech University alumni who studied computer engineering, he reportedly worked for both Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics before retiring in 2012.

As a child who grew up 40 miles outside of Blacksburg in Mercer County, West Virginia, landing two high-level positions with two of the biggest defense companies in the world was an impressive coup. David attended the same high school as his future wife, though he was eight years older.

The school’s 1979 yearbook even lists David as an officer in the Bible Club, Chess Club, Science Club, and the Acapella Choir. By all accounts, the Turpin family patriarch was a studious, busied teen. Mike Gilbert, who knew David as a teenager, described him as “kind of nerdy,” and “kind of a homebody.”

David Turpin Yearbook Photo

Eric DiNovo/Bluefield Daily TelegraphDavid Turpin in the Princeton High School yearbook, 1979.

His parents, James and Betty Turpin, told ABC News that their son had become a computer engineer upon graduating from university. The 1984 Bugle yearbook lists him as a senior electrical engineering major, and as a member of the electrical and computer engineering honor society, Eta Kappa Nu.

David and Louise Turpin eloped when the patriarch was 24 years old and his wife 16. He had convinced her Princeton, West Virginia high school to let him sign Louise out and the two made it all the way to Texas before Phyllis Robinette and her husband Wayne’s police complaints forced the couple back home.

David Turpin

Riverside County Sheriff’s DepartmentDavid Turpin in 2018.

Louise’s father was a preacher and oddly enough, his motivation to bring her back stemmed entirely from the urge to have a proper ceremony, The Daily Mail reported. The 1,000-mile cross-country trip came to a close with David and Louise getting married back in Princeton in 1984.

“My mom allowed Louise to date David secretly because she loved him and he was from a Christian family and she trusted Louise,” said Teresa. “But she was doing it behind my dad’s back — he wasn’t aware that they were dating — and then one day, David went into the high school and they let him sign Louise out of school and they ran away. He had his car and they drove.”

Teresa recalled that this was the first time she ever noted her parents switching sides — her father wasn’t outraged, rather, told his wife that they should let their 16-year-old daughter live the life she seemingly wanted. He was, however, angry at his wife.

“So he let her marry him,” said Teresa. “They came back to Princeton and had a small intimate church wedding, just the two families. Then they went back to Texas to start their lives together.”

When Louise’s father retired in 2012, he wanted to come to visit her, but Louise told him not to. There was clearly a lasting rift between Louise and her parents, presumably from the trust being broken so viciously and early on in her life.

David and Louise Turpin had already been living in Perris, California for decades when Phyllis died in February 2016. Her father died three months after that. “On their deathbeds, both asked Louise to come to see them,” said Teresa. “She wouldn’t. She didn’t show up to their funerals.”

David Turpin did attend both ceremonies, however.

Though David was quite successful both academically and professionally, things began to sour for him as a husband.

A 2011 bankruptcy filing for $240,000 in credit card debt reflected either shoddy accounting, a lack of professional opportunities, or increased detachment from the world. In conjunction with the disturbing household revelations, of course, all of the above may have begun to seep in.

The bankruptcy documents listed his income as an engineer at Northrup Grumman, another upper league defense corporation, at $140,000 per year. He was also listed as the principal of the Sandcastle Day School — which he operated out of his home for their 13 children.

His wife, meanwhile, was listed as a “homemaker” with the Perris residence and its function as a school serving as the hub of her educational role to the 13 students. This sordid lifestyle for the Turpin family continued for years until one winter day in January of 2018, their 17-year-old daughter finally blew the whistle.

Imprisonment For The Parents

David and Louise Turpin pleaded guilty to 14 felony charges in order to avoid a trial on February 22, 2019. These included one count of torture, four counts of false imprisonment, six counts of cruelty to adult dependents, and three counts of willful child cruelty, The Los Angeles Times reported.

With their sentencing expected on April 25, the parents were eager to avoid having their children testify in court. In comparison to what the Turpin parents inflicted on their kids, of course, appearing in court might’ve been a relatively minor inconvenience for the Turpin children.

Prosecutors described how thoroughly the Turpin children were traumatized and that their cognitive impairment and nerve damage will likely affect them for the rest of their lives.

“This is among the worst, most aggravated child abuse cases that I have ever seen or been involved in in my career as a prosecutor,” said Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin. “Part of what went into the decision-making in this agreement and this sentence is that the victims in this case would not ultimately have to testify.”

Hestrin notified the Turpin children that they would not, in fact, have to testify. “It was a very good day for them to be all together,” Hestrin added.

While David and Louise Turpin are expected to be sentenced to life in prison and it can’t be easy for any child to see that, the newly-liberated Turpin children seem to be on a promising new path of physical and psychological recovery.

“I was very taken by them — by their optimism, by their hope for the future,” said Hestrin. “They have a zest for life and huge smiles. I’m optimistic for them, and I think that’s how they feel about their future.”

Jack Osborn, an attorney who represents the Turpin kids, said that they’re “not really looking back now. They’re looking forward. Working on school, working on their health and working on learning and doing basic life skills.”

Tragically, life for the Turpin children hasn’t gotten much easier. As of June 2022, many of the younfer children have been “victimized again by the system” as they were fostered by people who were later charged with abuse, according to USA Today.

That same report claims that “some of the older siblings experienced periods of housing instability and food insecurity as they transitioned to independence.” One of the elder siblings, Jordan Turpin, has turned to TikTok to garner donations and support for herself and her family.

Nonetheless, Osborn maintains that “they are all working toward their own independence…They want people to know them for who they are and what they are going to be doing.”

After this look at the Turpin family, read about Marcus Wesson, the man who turned his family into an incestuous cult and killed nine of his children. Then, read up on Sally Horner who was kidnapped and held captive — and probably inspired ‘Lolita.’

Marco Margaritoff
A former staff writer for All That’s Interesting, Marco Margaritoff holds dual Bachelor's degrees from Pace University and a Master's in journalism from New York University. He has published work at People, VICE, Complex, and serves as a staff reporter at HuffPost.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.