David Turpin (R) and Louise Turpin (L)
David Turpin (R) and Louise Turpin (L) appear in court for their arraignment in Riverside, California, U.S. January 18, 2018. Reuters/Gina Ferazzi/Pool

David and Louise Turpin have pleaded not guilty to torturing their 13 children. The American parents are accused of starving, chaining and torturing the kids, aged 2 to 29. They are facing up to 94 years to life in prison.

David, 57, and Louise, 49, each face charges of 12 counts of torture, six counts of child abuse, 12 counts of false imprisonment and six counts of abuse of a dependent adult. David is also facing one count of a lewd act on a child under the age of 14 by force. The two appeared in court on Thursday to plead not guilty on all charges. Their bail was set at US$12 million (AU$15 million) each.

On Sunday, a 17-year-old girl managed to escape from her suburban residence in California to call the emergency hotline 911 using a mobile phone she found inside the house. She told police that her 12 siblings were being held captive inside their house by their own parents.

When officers from the Perris Police Department and Riverside County Sheriff’s Department met with the girl, they thought she was only 10 years old because she was slightly emaciated. The officers went to the residence and found three of the children shackled to their beds with chains and padlocks in dark and foul-smelling surroundings. They found all 12 of the girl’s siblings but were surprised to learn that seven of them were actually adults aged 18 to 29. The youngest of the siblings was just 2 years old.

The victims, who were all found to be malnourished and dirty, were taken to the police station and interviewed. They were provided with food and beverages because they said they were starving. The six minor children were then taken to the Riverside University Hospital System for medical examinations and treatment. The adults were taken to the Corona Regional Medical Center for medical treatment as well.

Years of abuse in details

In a press conference, District Attorney Mike Hestrin said the 17-year-old daughter who alerted authorities had been planning to escape for more than two years. She took one sibling with her but the sibling backed out.

The DA said all 13 children had been subjection to “prolonged abuse.” They were often chained up or locked in different rooms. They were also not allowed to shower more than once a year.

“Circumstantial evidence in the house suggests that the victims were often not released from their chains to go to the bathroom,” Hestrin said. And if the children were found to wash their hands above the wrist area, they would be chained up again for allegedly playing in the water.

They were many toys in the house. All were still in the original package and never been opened. The children were not allowed to play with them. David and Louise also apparently brought home pies to leave on the counter. But again, the children were not allowed to eat them. They were also fed very little food and on schedule.

The abuse went on for years without anyone noticing perhaps because the Turpins slept all day and stayed awake all night. The children were home-schooled but they apparently did not know basic things, including what a police or a medication is. One of the adult children attended school but Louise would wait outside his classroom to take him home after the classes.

The couple has always been strict but it is believed their abuse toward their children started when the family was still living in Texas. It just “intensified over time and worsened” when they moved to California.