In January 2019, Jordan Turpin, then 17, used a deactivated cellphone to call 911 and reveal a truth that shocked the world: She and her 12 siblings were being imprisoned by their parents. “They abuse us, and my two little sisters right now are chained up,” she told the operator. “They chain us up if we do things we’re not supposed to.” What police found when they arrived at the Perris, Calif., home was a filthy dungeon complete with cages and chains. The children were unspeakably dirty, and the whole place reeked of human waste. In “The Family Next Door” (St. Martin’s Press), out July 23, author John Glatt reveals the bizarre years leading up to the arrests.
In early 1990, David Turpin was transferred from Southern California to Fort Worth by General Dynamics, soon to be taken over by defense contractor Lockheed Martin. He moved Louise and their now 18-month-old daughter, Jennifer, into 3225 Roddy Drive, in the fashionable Meadowcreek neighborhood. David was earning a six-figure salary in his highly specialized engineering job.
Soon after moving in, Louise invited her mother and siblings to visit. It was the start of a series of annual trips that the family would make to Texas over the next decade, with Louise and David paying for everything.
“She was paying for our airfare out there every year,” said Teresa Robinette, Louise’s sister. But soon after son Joshua was born, in 1992, David and Louise filed chapter 7 bankruptcy. Despite David’s high salary, the couple had maxed out their credit cards, racking up substantial debt.
Louise never admitted any financial problems to her family.
“It was a pride thing,” explained Teresa. “She was the only one of us that had made it in the world.”
In July 1993, Louise met her family at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, pregnant with her third child, Jessica. Once again, she insisted on paying for everything.
“That house was beautiful,” said Teresa. “It was fun and happy.”
Fifteen months later, eight-year-old Jennifer Turpin started first grade. From the start, the frail-looking girl was cruelly taunted by her peers. Not only was she a couple of years older than everybody else in her class, but she had poor personal hygiene.
She wore the same white-and-purple floral puffy top to school each day, and her long, greasy brown hair, crudely cut into bangs, was never brushed. Her classmates would hold their noses when she passed by.
In 1995, Louise Turpin gave birth to her fourth child, Jonathan. The next year, she and David brought their children back to Princeton, W. Va., for a family visit. Once again, they paid for everything, taking everyone out for lavish meals at different restaurants every night.
“We thought she had the perfect life,” said Louise’s half brother Billy Robinette Jr.
During their visit, her younger sister Elizabeth asked if she could spend the summer with Louise’s family in Fort Worth. As they all drove back through Louisiana, David suddenly took an exit off the interstate. Louise announced they were going to a casino to gamble, asking Elizabeth to look after the children while they were away. But first she made her sister promise never to tell anyone in the family they gambled.
“I was in shock,” remembered Elizabeth. “We were all raised up in a strict Christian home and taught that gambling was a sin.”
A few hours later, David returned. He seemed very upset, complaining that Louise had a serious gambling problem and refused to stop even though she was losing heavily. Then he went back into the casino, saying he hoped they would have enough gas money to reach Fort Worth. Several more hours passed before David brought Louise back to the car. They had obviously been arguing.
“Louise was upset,” said Elizabeth, “and yelled, ‘I’m not a child! Stop bossing me around!’ ”
When Elizabeth moved into 3225 Roddy Drive, she soon realized just how strict Louise and David were with their young children, especially Jennifer. “They had to ask permission to go to the bathroom,” said Elizabeth. “They had to ask permission to eat.”
During the summer Elizabeth lived there, she never once saw David and Louise kiss their children or even hold them.
She was also puzzled by Louise’s almost ritualistic mealtimes. After placing the plates of food on the table, she would call the children down to eat one at a time. Louise was always harder on Jennifer than any of the others. Before being allowed to eat, the first grader had to look her mother in the eye and smile, and then wait for it to be returned. “And then [Louise] would say, ‘Okay, sit down,’ ” Elizabeth said. “And then she would literally just sit there . . . waiting for permission to eat.”
On May 21, 1997, Louise gave birth to their fifth child, Joy. Three months later, Jennifer started second grade at Meadowcreek Elementary School. Her hygiene had deteriorated even further.
“She smelled just like dirty clothes and urine,” recalled classmate Jessica Bermejo. Jennifer also began exhibiting disturbing behavior in front of her classmates. “She was talking about things that could indicate sexual abuse,” Bermejo said. “Things that were inappropriate for that age.”
Jared Dana remembers a teacher sending Jennifer to the principal’s office for rubbing her pubic area, but apparently, no action was ever taken to investigate if there was a problem at home, and the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services have no record of the Turpins.
In 1998, Louise gave birth to her sixth child, Julianne. As Christmas approached, the Turpins were in dire financial straits. Although David was earning good money working for Lockheed Martin, he and Louise regularly drove to Louisiana to gamble, and she was still losing badly.
In late December, Elizabeth called her sister. Louise boasted that she was maxing out all her credit cards to buy as much as she could before they were declined. She proudly announced they were about to file for chapter 7 bankruptcy. The bank was foreclosing on the Roddy Drive house.
The next spring, without any explanation, Jennifer stopped coming to Meadowcreek Elementary. She would never return to public school. None of the other Turpin children would ever see the inside of a classroom, as their father had decided to home-school them.
After the Turpins moved out, the new owners of 3225 Roddy Drive were so appalled at the deplorable state the house had been left in that they took photographs. There was a terrible stench, and all the floors and carpets were caked in grime. There were also large dark stains covering the walls of every room, which appeared to be feces.
In 1999, Louise Turpin gave birth to a seventh child, Jeanetta. Several days after, the Turpin family moved into a house in Rio Vista, Texas. With a shrinking population of just 744, it was the perfect place to disappear from the world. What had started as neglect in Fort Worth turned increasingly violent over the next decade in Rio Vista.
“It started with slapping, hitting, [and] throwing around the room,” reported Riverside County deputy district attorney Kevin Beecham, who would later be involved in the couple’s prosecution. “And it aggravated to belts.”
At first, Louise and David whipped the children with the leather end of David’s belt, using the metal buckle if they still didn’t behave. Then they began using a wooden paddle or an oar.
“None of the victims were allowed to shower more than once a year,” said Riverside County district attorney Mike Hestrin.
The prosecutor added that some of the Turpin children could barely read and write. Jennifer, who only had a third-grade public school education, taught her younger siblings as much as she could, but years later, some of them still hadn’t got past the first half of the alphabet, according to prosecutors.
The children were so badly fed that their growth became stunted, and they would suffer permanent physical and cognitive damage. Still, Louise frequently sent photographs of her 10 children to family members. The children were always smiling and well dressed in matching clothes.
“The pictures we got always looked like healthy kids,” Teresa explained. “They always had smiles. They were always dressed in the nicest of clothes.”
In May 2004, a gleaming new Clayton double-wide mobile home — worth $ 63,000 — appeared on the Turpin property. David and Louise and their 10 children moved into the trailer, leaving their house empty. It was now uninhabitable, with garbage and feces strewn everywhere.
Soon after the move, Louise gave birth to their eleventh child, Jolinda. In 2006, a twelfth, Julissa, was born.
After moving into the trailer, David built a makeshift cage to imprison any children who dared to break his rules. But at some point after moving into the trailer, the couple abandoned their children for four years. They found an apartment 40 miles away, taking the babies Julissa and Jolinda with them.
Jennifer and Joshua, teenagers, were put in charge of their eight younger siblings. Every few days, David would arrive at the trailer to drop off frozen food. Louise never visited. Although they now lived almost an hour’s drive away, David and Louise still completely controlled their children over the phone.
The two oldest children were instructed to punish any of their brothers and sisters who broke their parents’ rules, by locking them in cages. For more than three years, Joshua and Jennifer were both torn by having to maintain their parents’ reign of terror in the trailer.
Early one morning, Jennifer managed to escape from the trailer. She ran across neighboring properties, scaling several fences, before doubling back to the road to summon help. A neighbor then stopped her pickup truck, and Jennifer climbed inside. The terrified girl refused to give her name or age, asking how she could get a job, an apartment, and a car. The neighbor drove Jennifer into town, where she attempted to get a job. But without a driver’s license or any identification, she never stood a chance.
“She had no real prospects,” said deputy DA Beecham. “No socialization whatsoever. So what did she do? She called her mother. And her mother came, picked her up, and took her away.”
Sheriff Rodney Watson said the runaway Turpin girl should certainly have raised red flags at the time.
“A lot of people will dismiss some things that they hear as just crazy talk, which is sad,” he said in 2018. “We could have stopped a lot of years of suffering.”
In July 2010, the Turpins moved to Perris, Calif., where the abuse escalated even more, as David and Louise began tying their children down with rope. After the parents were arrested in January 2018, Jordan told police that she and her siblings would spend 20 hours a day in their rooms.
David and Louise each pleaded guilty to 14 felony charges, including torture, false imprisonment and child cruelty. Today, the oldest children live together, while the younger ones have been placed with guardians. When announcing the parents’ sentence, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Bernard J. Schwartz told them: “To the extent that they do thrive, and it appears from today that perhaps a couple of them are, it will be not because of you both, but in spite of you both.”
Original Publication from The Family Next Door by John Glatt, Copyright © 2019 by John Glatt. Published by St. Martin’s Press.