January 17, 2018 / 1:58 AM / 9 months ago

California parents accused of starving, shackling children tried to seem normal

(Reuters) - The California couple accused of starving and imprisoning their 13 minor and adult children tried to present a happy family image, speaking warmly of their kids and posting photos of girls in pink and boys in blue smiling with Mickey Mouse at Disneyland.

A combination photo of David Allen Turpin (L) and Louise Ann Turpin as they appear in booking photos provided by the Riverside County Sheriff's Department in Riverside County, California, U.S., January 15, 2018. Riverside County Sheriff's Department/Handout via REUTERS

David Turpin, a 57-year-old floppy-haired engineer, and his wife Louise, smiled in the pictures and shared a kiss, laughing next to Tinkerbell in one and renewing their marriage vows in Las Vegas in another. They gave little indication of the horrors police would find in their tract home in Riverside County east of Los Angeles, family members and authorities said.

“We always thought she was living the perfect life,” Louise Turpin’s sister, Teresa Robinette, told NBC News from Knoxville, Tennessee. “She would tell us they went to Disneyland all the time. They would go to Vegas.”

The Turpins will go before a judge on Thursday charged with nine counts of torture and 10 counts of child endangerment, authorities said Tuesday, even as their offspring, aged 2 to 29, were receiving food and care, authorities said.

Police raided the home in Perris on Sunday after a 17-year-old girl, so emaciated that police thought she was only 10, escaped through a window and called 911. When police arrived, they found some of the young people shackled to their beds, authorities said.

But so well did the Turpins tell their story to themselves, that Louise Turpin, 49, seemed perplexed when police arrived, Captain Greg Fellows of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said. Authorities in California and Texas, where the family also lived for a time, said they had no records of prior arrests or reports of child abuse.

David Turpin’s parents, James and Betty Turpin of West Virginia, told ABC News their son was a computer engineer who graduated from Virginia Tech. They said the family was deeply religious, homeschooling the children and requiring them to memorize long passages from the Bible.

The address where the children were found was also listed by the California Department of Education as the site of the private Sandcastle Day School, with David Turpin is listed as the principal.

As an engineer, David Turpin had worked at Lockheed Martin, the defense contractor confirmed on Tuesday, leaving in 2010. By 2011, David Turpin was making about $140,000 a year working as an engineer at Northrop Grumman, an aeronautics and defense technology company, said Ivan Trahan, an attorney who represented the couple in a bankruptcy that year. Northrop Grumman would not say whether Turpin was still employed there.

Bankruptcy documents listed Louise as a homemaker and put the couple’s debt over $240,000 with the family falling more than $1,000 short each month on expenses.

Trahan said the couple spoke warmly of their many children.

“They spoke highly of their children, and did a lot of things with them,” Trahan said.

But neighbors said there were at least some clues that all was not well.

The house was run-down, and when family members were out, they avoided contact with neighbors, Julie Olha told NBC News.

“That house right there was horrible,” she said. “And you could tell that they were cautious, that they don’t want to look at people.”

Wendy Martinez, 41, said in a telephone interview that while walking her dogs at about 9 p.m. one night in October, she saw four children installing sod in the front yard under powerful TV-style lights as the mother watched.

Martinez said hello, but got no response.

“It’s just a very odd home,” she said.

Reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, California, and Chris Kenning in Chicago. Additional reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington, D.C., and Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles.; Writing by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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