I remember that day in January 2018 well. The news trumpeted headlines about a seventeen year old girl who’d escaped her parents’ home in Perris, California and used a deactivated cell phone to call 911. Jordan Turpin, one of thirteen siblings between 30 and 2 years old, didn’t even know the alphabet and was covered in months of filth. She and another sister, aged 13, had planned, for two years, to escape the hell of their parents’ house. The sister got scared and ran home again, but Jordan was determined. She called 911 and, within minutes, the authorities were there at her house with their blue lights flashing. Jordan’s mother, Louise Turpin, ordered one of her eldest daughters to unchain the two younger siblings who had been restrained for months to their beds. There was no time to unchain their elder brother, a grown man in his 20s, who had spent months chained up in his parents’ filthy house.
I was fascinated and horrified by the Turpin family, but details about them were kind of scant. I saw the pictures of David Turpin, a tall man with a ridiculous hairstyle, who had a well paid job at Northrup Grumman. I saw his wife, a woman just four years older than me, with long, dark, salt and pepper hair and a malevolent affect. These were the parents who had starved, beaten, chained, and terrorized their children… even the ones who were well over the age of adulthood. Eldest daughter, Jennifer Turpin, tried to escape once, but had no prospects. She had no skills, no identification, and a third grade education, even though her father had graduated with honors from Virginia Tech with a degree in electrical engineering. She could go nowhere and do nothing, so she called her mother, who came and got her. I’m sure she paid dearly for her escape attempt.
John Glatt, a well-known true crime author, has written about the Turpin family in his new book, The Family Next Door: The Heartbreaking Imprisonment of the 13 Turpin Siblings and Their Extraordinary Rescue. I’m a fan of true crime books, so I’ve read a few of his over the years. I can’t say he’s my favorite true crime author, but he gets the job done. He’s done a competent job of writing about the horrors the Turpin children endured at the hands of their parents. The book is easy to read and fairly comprehensive, although a lot of what I read, I could have, and actually did, read online. He’s done a pretty good of compiling the information, though, and included some information I didn’t know, such as the history behind David Turpin and Louise Robinette, as they were known in Princeton, West Virginia, before they got married when she was sixteen and he was twenty-three.
David and Louise Turpin grew up attending the same Pentecostal church in Princeton, West Virginia, the Church of God. David knew Louise when she was just a baby; in fact, he’d even held her. He decided he liked her as a woman when she was just ten years old. David was bookish, academically gifted, and loved chess. Louise was the granddaughter of the wealthiest man in Princeton, John Taylor, who had been a hero in World War II. He came back from the war in World War II and opened a Shell gas station, which was the only place to gas up for miles. Taylor made a lot of money, but he was also a lech. He hit on his customers, even though he was a married man. He and his wife, Mary Louise, had three sons and a daughter, Phyllis. Phyllis was Louise’s mother. She was also a victim of sexual abuse. Her father abused her for years, until she married Louise’s father, Wayne Allen Robinette, when they were teens.
Phyllis was keen to get out of her father’s house, and Wayne provided just the right opportunity. But he was a preacher, and that job didn’t pay so well. Phyllis was left without as much money as she needed. Phyllis and Wayne had three daughters: Louise, Elizabeth, and Teresa. They were far apart in age, and Louise used to protect Elizabeth from her parents’ fights, as well as the unwanted attention they got from their grandfather, John Taylor, who would ask them for “tight hugs”. “Tight hug” was a euphemism for the sexual abuse that had destroyed Phyllis’s childhood. And yet, even though Phyllis had been abused and hated it, she subjected her daughters to her father’s abuse. She’d bring them over to his house; he’d have his way with them; then he’d hand their mother a wad of cash.
Mary Louse divorced John Taylor when she caught him raping fourteen year old Louise one day. But she didn’t turn him into the police, because he was such well-known businessman and she worried about the family’s reputation. So although John Taylor moved out of the home, he still had his granddaughters come over for “tight hugs”. He was never brought to justice.
With an upbringing like that, it almost seems like the conditions were just right for Louise Turpin to go off the rails. She ran away with David, who had busted her out of school one day, posing as her dad David had a job in Fort Worth, Texas, and he took fifteen year old Louise there. Her parents were furious, but her father, Wayne, decided he’d rather see them marry than prosecute David for technically kidnapping his daughter. He didn’t want her having premarital sex. So they went back to West Virginia, got married, and began popping out children, starting with Jennifer in 1988, and ending with Janna in 2015.
According to Glatt, things were somewhat normal at first. The Turpins lived in comfortable homes and they sent their eldest children to school, although Jennifer would wear the same dirty, stinky clothes every day. Kids picked on her. She wasn’t allowed to have any friends, anyway. As the family expanded, things got weirder. Louise and David stopped inviting and paying for family to visit. They moved to different homes, trashing them all, leaving creditors unpaid, and making the few people who interacted with them think they were extremely weird people. Louise and David liked visiting places like Disneyland and Las Vegas. They’d bring the kids, let them shower and wear identical clean clothes for photos, then force them back into their nasty, putrid clothes when the trip was over. The children slept during the day and marched at night, hiding from anyone who might betray their secret to the authorities.
I’m not sure how much information John Glatt got from sources other than the news and Facebook. Other books have been written about this case and I suspect he read them, gathering bits and pieces of the story from those sources. I didn’t get the idea that Glatt did a lot of interviewing or looking for fresh information. However, I didn’t think his book was a bad read, since it strings everything together now that the Turpins have each been sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. He also includes photos of the Turpins and the children, as well as the names of the kids.
Some of the facts regarding this case are truly heartbreaking. It’s amazing to me that no one died, although several of the children will suffer lifelong ill effects from being starved and beaten, denied medical and dental care, and not being taught life skills. There was an outpouring of support for the Turpin children, particularly from their caregivers, healthcare professionals who were specifically chosen because they were so compassionate. The community also came together to help and protect them.
Glatt does make it sound like Louise Turpin was the chief perpetrator of the abuse, although David certainly was guilty of a lot of it. For instance, he was the one who had decided to start chaining the children. Prior to chaining them, the kids were tied with rope. They were also sometimes put in dog kennels. And the children were so filthy that the chains left clean spots on their skin, which along with bruises, served as evidence of their ordeals.
I think this book could have been better, but it’s not bad if you just want a run down of what happened. You could probably find most of what’s in this book in several articles on the Internet. But finding and reading those would require more effort than just reading Glatt’s book. Anyway, I’d give it three stars out of five.
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