Turpin sisters open up about their life in house of horrors: "I thought I was going to die that day"

Turpin sisters open up about their life in house of horrors: "I thought I was going to die that day"

21-year-old Jennifer Turpin and one of her sisters, Jordan Turpin, opened up about the tragic years during which their parents, David and Louise, abused them.

Trigger warning: This story contains graphic details of child abuse that readers may find disturbing. 

For over a decade, Jennifer Turpin and her 12 siblings suffered horrifying abuse and captivity at the hand of their own parents. So even when the California sheriff’s deputies finally handcuffed and took them away, Jennifer could not believe that they were actually free. It was only after they arrived at the hospital room and received clean clothes, food, medical treatment, and kindness from strangers that they understood what it was like to live. Appearing in an interview with ABC News' Diane Sawyer, 21-year-old Jennifer and one of her sisters, Jordan Turpin, opened up about the tragic years during which their parents, David and Louise, abused them.

Jennifer, who is the eldest of her siblings, revealed that her parents lived in a nice neighborhood in Fort Worth, Texas when she was an infant. Her father was an electrical engineer and her mom, a homemaker. Both grew up as devout members of the same conservative Pentecostal church. With time, Jennifer noticed that their new house kept getting filthier and was eventually covered in dirt, mold, and trash. Her mother, who she used to adore, soon began exhibiting violent mood swings when Jennifer was still very young.


"I never knew which side I was going to get of her," she called. "If I was going to ask her a question, [is] she going to call me stupid or something… and then yank me across the floor or [is] she going to be nice and answer my question." Her parents would send her to school unwashed and with dirty clothes. And after the third grade, they stopped her schooling. By 1999, Jennifer had moved to an isolated home in Rio Vista, Texas with her family which kept growing. What started as neglect turned into physical abuse, which they explained using passages from the Bible. 

"They loved to point out things in Deuteronomy, saying that, 'We have the right to do this to you.' … that they had the right to even kill us if we didn’t listen," shared the now 33-year-old. Apparently, they would throw them across the room, push them down the stairs, and whip them with belts and sticks, for the smallest of things like coloring outside the line. Being deprived of food, education, hygiene, health care, and being shackled to beds for months at a time was heartbreakingly nothing out of the ordinary in the Turpin household. They were gripped with fear every day.


"I was afraid to do one little thing wrong. If I did one little thing wrong, I was going to be beaten… until I bled," noted Jennifer. Then in 2007, when Jennifer was 18, her parents moved 10 children into a trailer deep into their property in Texas, which was further from sight, and drove away with their two youngest kids. They would drop off groceries once every week but apparently, it was never enough. Sometimes, they would even skip a week. "I would try to stretch it out and make sure that we at least had the stuff to eat each day of the week," shared Jennifer who had to shoulder the responsibility. 


"There was a lot of starving," she recalled. "I would have to figure out how to eat. I would either eat ketchup or mustard or ice." For years they only ate once a day and their diet mostly consisted of bologna, peanut butter sandwiches, a frozen burrito or chips. Meanwhile, their parents consumed fast food and other full meals. Jennifer did try to run away and find a job but her limited education and concern for her siblings made her come back. In 2015, when their parents were out, Jordan found an old smartphone and discovered Justin Bieber while living in California. "I don’t know where we would be if we didn’t watch Justin Bieber," said Jordan. "I started realizing that there is a different whole world out there… I wanted to experience that."


After watching his interviews and performances, Jordan decided to upload her own singing videos and a stranger commented on it asking why she was always inside and awake at night. After opening up to him about her situation, he said, "This isn’t right, you should call the cops." When her mom found out that she had been watching Bieber's video, she almost choked her to death. "I thought I was going to die that day," she said recalling the horrifying incident. That experience nudged her to secretly and slowly plan her escape which took about two years. In 2018, two of her sisters had been chained to their beds for four months and Jordan knew it was time to run in order to save their lives.


She clicked pictures of them and managed to slip out of a window a day before the family was supposed to move to Oklahoma. She called 911 on January 14, 2018, and less than two hours later her parents were arrested. "I knew I would die if I got caught," said Jordan Turpin, who is now 21. "I think it was us coming so close to death so many times. If something happened to me, at least I died trying." While being rescued, all of the children except for a toddler were several malnourished. The following year, the parents were sentenced to 25 years to life after they pleaded guilty to charges including torture and false imprisonment. Thanks to Jordan's courage, she and her siblings are now enjoying the little things in life. 


Cover image source: YouTube Screenshot | ABC News

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