Parents accused of torturing 13 kids dreamed of reality show
District Attorney Michael Hestrin speaks on charges against David and Louise Turpin, who are accused of abusing 13 children, in January 2018.
PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — A Perris couple who have been accused of starving and torturing their 13 children dreamed of becoming household names through a reality show that focused on a large, picturesque family, according to a relative who says he spoke with the couple as recently as a month ago.
But, instead of finding the fame they craved, David and Louise Turpin, 56 and 49, are now infamous, facing accusations of committing sadistic crimes. The couple was arrested last week after authorities found their malnourished, abused children captive in their filthy home. Some of the children were chained to beds when police arrived. The Turpins have also been accused of taunting the children with food as they starved.
Both parents are now facing life in prison.
The family’s reality TV aspirations were revealed this week by Louise Turpin’s brother, Billy Lambert, who gave interviews to Inside Edition and The Mirror, a United Kingdom tabloid. In those interviews, Lambert said his sister was obsessed with Kate Plus 8, a reality show about a couple with eight children, and dreamed of having a similar show about her family.
Court documents show that the Turpins had also given all of their children names that begin with the letter J, just like the large family featured in another reality show, 19 Kids and Counting.
“I believe that my sister wanted a reality show because the very last conversation that I had with her before all this happened — she did actually say that she feels that they would be perfect for TV at one point," Lambert said, according to Inside Edition.
The draw of reality TV may have also been what brought the family to California in the first place. In his interview with The Mirror, Lambert said the Turpins moved from Texas to California “to be nearer to Hollywood.” The family moved to Murrieta in 2010, then relocated to Perris in 2011.
And, most alarming of all, Lambert said his sister told him she wanted another child — her fourteenth.
“I asked her why on earth they wanted more children and she said about wanting a reality TV show,” Lambert told The Mirror. “They didn’t care about the kids — it was all about them.”
The husband and wife also were wannabe swingers, a relative claimed Monday.
Louise Turpin went through a spiritual and sexual awakening around the time of her 40th birthday, and she was all too eager to share it with her sister Teresa Robinette, the sibling revealed on NBC’s Megyn Kelly Today.
In one particularly bizarre call between 2008 and 2010, Louise claimed she and husband David met a strange man online and arranged a hotel rendezvous with him in Huntsville, Ala., Robinette said.
David allegedly dropped her off for the tryst.
“What makes it even worse and even weirder is that exactly one year to the date of the anniversary that she did that, she called me and thought it was funny that David was taking her back to the exact same hotel room, the exact same bed she slept with this man in, so David could sleep with her in the same bed,” the sister said.
The Turpins' captive children were discovered Jan. 14 after a 17-year-old girl escaped the Perris house through a window and called for help. Police rushed to the house, rescuing 12 other siblings — ages 2 to 29.
Except for the youngest, all of the captives were severely malnourished, said District Attorney Mike Hestrin. One victim, age 12, had the weight of an average 7-year-old. The 29-year-old daughter weighs just 82 pounds, Hestrin said.
Hestrin also said the children had been beaten and strangled, and severe physical abuse had left them with cognitive impairment and nerve damage. The children were supposedly home schooled, but some lacked “basic knowledge of life,” including awareness of what a police officer or medication was.
The children were allowed to shower only once a year, Hestrin said.
Sometimes they were chained up for weeks or months at a time as punishment, he added.
"I will tell you as a prosecutor, there are cases that stick with you, they haunt you," Hestrin said. "Sometimes in this business we are faced with human depravity. That is what we are looking at here."
More than $106,000 has been donated to help the 13 victims quantifying how the horrific crime has led others to a desire to help.
Donations are being collected by the Riverside University Health System Foundation, which says all funds will be put in a trust to help the victims' long term needs. As of Monday morning, the foundation had received 1,314 gifts totaling $106,574, said spokeswoman Kim Trone.
Donations can be made at the Perris Sibling Support Fund website. Authorities have stressed that this is the only official fund collecting donations for the Perris children, so donors should be wary of impostors.
Contributing: The Associated Press. Follow Brett Kelman on Twitter: @TDSbrettkelman