law, lessons learned, psychology, true crime

More thoughts on the Turpin family…

Once again, I realize there are many topics I could write about this morning. The world is in a lot of turmoil, thanks to the pandemic. Europe, in particular, is going through upheavals as COVID-19 cases climb, and fed up Europeans take to the streets to protest new restrictions. I may write about that today or tomorrow, or maybe I’ll put it on the travel blog, which needs more love. But to be honest, what’s really on my mind is the 20/20 special about the Turpin family that Bill and I watched yesterday. I blogged about our initial thoughts yesterday, but now that we’ve had a day to discuss it, and I discovered a December 2019 book review I wrote about the case, I want to write more. The book review reminded me of some details I had forgotten, which weren’t covered in Diane Sawyer’s interview.

I’ll mention again what I wrote yesterday. I am extremely impressed by Jennifer and Jordan Turpin, and their brother, Joshua, who bravely took part in Diane Sawyer’s interview. I realize that what we saw of three of the Turpin children was heavily edited. We have no way of knowing what they are like when they’re not on camera. However, as someone who has a tendency to get very nervous on camera, I must reiterate that the adult children who did participate in the interview are astonishingly bright and resilient.

I was especially moved at the end of the interview, when Jordan and Jennifer mock interviewed each other, asking each other where they saw themselves in ten years. Jennifer Turpin said she wanted to own a house and a car, and write a book. She said she wanted to visit Paris and have tea cakes. I have no doubt she’ll be able to do that if she wants to, and I hope she does write a book.

Jordan strikes me as so very smart, motivated, and curious, and she’s clearly very courageous. She appears to be very extraverted and hungry for life. While I’m sure she’s had some tough times in the almost four years since she rescued her family, she comes across as someone victorious and inspiring. I think she will eventually be just fine.

I do wonder about the other siblings, who haven’t been identified. I don’t blame them for not participating in telling this story. The “fame” that would come from outing themselves might be very damaging. I hope they are doing well, but I am not naive enough to assume that they are.

One thing that I realized in 2018, and wrote about in my post about Elizabeth Smart’s comments regarding this family, is that their situation is more challenging than hers was, simply because the Turpin kids’ parents were the perpetrators of the abuse. Elizabeth Smart went through sheer hell, but her hellish experience lasted nine months, and she had family members, friends, church people, and really, the whole country, looking for her. The Turpin kids, by contrast, were living out their hellish experience and no one knew that they needed help. David and Louise Turpin are now in prison for the rest of their lives, and apparently no one else in the family has come forward to help the children. So they are pretty much on their own, and they don’t have the benefit of having connections with caring relatives or friends to help them navigate the world they have been abruptly thrust into.

Once those kids were finally rescued, after living so many years in that hell, the Turpins were reportedly let down by the authorities and child welfare. I alluded to that possibility in my 2018 post, too. While I haven’t worked in social work for years, I know something about the foster care system. I had a feeling that once the press coverage died down, those kids might end up on their own. In most foster care systems I’ve studied, once a child turns 18, they age out of the system. Some kids are more ready for that than others are, but when you consider that the Turpins knew almost nothing about the world when they were rescued, it becomes easier to realize why they would need more help than other foster children would. Some of the children were too old to be foster kids, anyway.

Oldest brother, Joshua, who was shown in a video that he made with his back to the camera, explains that he needed help with transportation and had asked his caseworker for assistance. She told him to “Google it”. I don’t know the qualifications of Vanessa Espinoza, the deputy public guardian who was charged with helping the six adult children, but it’s clear that she failed at her job. Espinoza also works in real estate, and apparently no longer works for Riverside County. I think that’s a good thing. She clearly didn’t care at all about her clients, and wasn’t interested in helping them. How someone could be involved with helping vulnerable adults, particularly adults from the high profile Turpin case, and let them down so egregiously is beyond my comprehension.

Turpin advocate, and Riverside County Director of Victim Services, Melissa Donaldson, reports that one of the children, who is now an adult, was told by a foster parent that they could understand why her parents chained her up. Some of the other children live in bad neighborhoods or are “couch surfing”. At least one of the minor Turpin children was in a foster home where there were allegations of child abuse and was a victim of said abuse. On the 20/20 special, which was taped in July of this year, Jordan Turpin says she doesn’t have a way to get food. At the time, Jordan had been released from the foster care system without warning, and no plans as to how she might access food, shelter, and healthcare. It was reported at the end of the special that Jordan was getting housing assistance and food stamps with help from the college where she is taking courses.

My guess is that Vanessa Espinoza is not a social worker, and was basically just working in her government job to collect a paycheck. Not to say that social workers are all benevolent and kind, but that field is literally about helping people find and navigate programs that can help them when they are in need, and pursue self-determination. Regrettably, social work, as a whole, doesn’t pay particularly well. The job is often stressful and, at times, can even be dangerous. It doesn’t always attract the best and brightest, and burn out is certainly an issue.

In any case, it sounds to me like the Turpins could use a social worker in their corner who acts as their advocate– and I mean a REAL social worker, not someone who is falsely given that title, but has never actually studied social work. In spite of what some people think, social work is an actual field that requires intensive study. My MSW program was 60 hours and required two internships. Had I continued in the field, I would have had to be supervised for two to three more years and sit for two national exams to get fully licensed.

I read a lot of comments from people who are outraged by how the Turpins have been let down by the system. I hope some of those people realize that social welfare programs are necessary and need government support. I’m sorry to bring politics into this, but the fact is, political parties that strip funding from social welfare agencies are partly to blame for situations like what the Turpins are facing. I suspect that California’s system is better than systems in “red” states, and obviously, that is not saying much. God only knows what would have happened to those children if they had been moved to Oklahoma, as was the plan. A lot of people think social work is “church work.” It’s not, and there are enough people who have been victimized by religion, as the Turpin children definitely have been, that my opinion will always be that welfare work, particularly as it pertains to children, should always be secular in nature.

Obviously, though, the Turpins have also run into some good people. Deputy Colace was a true hero to Jordan Turpin, and you can tell how grateful she still is to him. He’s an example of a really good police officer. And the 911 operator, Ms. Eckley, was also extremely helpful and kind to Jordan, as she called for help. It’s so fortunate that the dispatcher was calm and kind and didn’t assume Jordan was pulling a prank or something. As I listened to Jordan speak, and heard the outrageous story, I can understand how some operators might have thought she was lying. Even the deputy seemed to be skeptical of Jordan until she showed him the photos of her sisters in chains. The fact that Jordan thought to take those photos is incredible. She’s clearly a very bright young woman with a strong survival instinct.

And now… something else I want to bring up…

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that I discovered a 2019 book review I wrote about the Turpin case. I had completely forgotten some of the backstory regarding the Turpins. It goes all the way back to the 1980s, in West Virginia, where David and Louise Turpin grew up.

Allow me to state upfront that I am not excusing Louise Turpin for her incredibly abusive behavior. She brutalized her children, and that is putting it mildly. There’s no excuse whatsoever for the condition her children were in when they were rescued. BUT… I had forgotten about Louise Turpin’s horrifying upbringing. She and her two sisters were basically prostituted by their mother, Phyllis. Phyllis was the daughter of John Taylor, a World War II “hero” and owner of a Shell gas station in Princeton, West Virginia. The gas station was the only place to get fuel for miles around, so Taylor made a lot of money.

Phyllis was sexually abused by John Taylor. It was so bad that she decided to get married very young, so she could escape her father’s perversions. However, her husband, Wayne Robinette, was a Pentecostal preacher, and didn’t make much money. John Taylor enjoyed “tight hugs” with his daughter and his granddaughters. So, when Phyllis needed money, she would bring her daughters over for a visit with “dear old dad”. He would get his “tight hugs”, and then hand Phyllis a wad of cash. Louise reportedly sometimes protected her younger sisters from the abuse by volunteering. John Taylor’s wife, Mary Louise, apparently either didn’t know about the abuse or turned a blind eye to it. She eventually divorced John when she caught him raping fourteen year old Louise Turpin. However, because she was worried about the family’s reputation and, I suspect, losing access to Taylor’s money, she never turned him in to the police.

David Turpin married Louise when she was extremely young, probably in an attempt to get away from her grandfather. Clearly, the cycle of abuse began again with their family. Seeing the body cam footage of the house they were living in when the authorities were finally called and hearing about Louise’s obsessions with buying toys, games, and children’s clothes, I am reminded of my husband’s former wife, who had a somewhat similar upbringing. While Ex is not nearly as bad as Louise Turpin was, there are definitely some similarities in her behaviors and Louise Turpin’s. I have noticed that a lot of people with sexual trauma in their pasts have issues with shopping addictions and extreme immaturity. They have a lot of children and treat them as possessions, rather than people in and of themselves. There’s also often religious abuse involved in these cases, as religion can make for an excellent manipulation tool, as well as a way to instill fear in the victims. I have noticed that sometimes in these situations, the perpetrators marry an obsession with childhood and childish things with extreme abuse. Michael Jackson comes to mind, too. He was obsessed with childhood and suffered horrific abuse himself, and he never quite outgrew childish obsessions. And he is also alleged to have been a child abuser.

Again, I am not excusing the Turpin parents at all… but I can sort of understand the origins of how this came about. Over the past twenty years or so, I have seen and heard similar stories from Bill about living with his ex wife. Ex, who was similarly abused as a child, is obsessed with Disney, Dr. Seuss, Peanuts, and Star Wars, among other things. She would buy mounds of crap with money they didn’t have. She forced Bill’s daughters to do the housework and raise her youngest child, who has severe autism. She refused to let her children interact with people in the world who could help them, like their fathers or grandparents. Those who escaped got no help from her, and she would do whatever she could to sabotage their efforts to become independent. Ex is not as bad as Louise Turpin, but she’s definitely on the spectrum, to use an autism term (Ex seems to have incorporated raising children with autism as part of her identity– she claims that three of her five children have autism).

This is, yet again, another reason why we as a society should be more willing to employ people who can help victims of sexual trauma so that they don’t become abusers themselves. There should be much less of a stigma about mental health care, and more money to pay for it. And social welfare programs should not be fobbed off on religious organizations. Abuse victims have enough trouble as it is, without having to deal with religious dogma and potential abuse from religious leaders, too.

Anyway… it’s heartbreaking to hear that the Turpin children are still struggling and haven’t been able to access donated money intended to help them launch. It’s very disheartening, but not surprising to me, to hear that some of the foster families entrusted with their care have turned out to be abusive. I know there are some wonderful foster parents out there, but unfortunately, there are also a lot of people who do foster care so they can collect a check from the state. And it’s especially upsetting to hear that a woman who was supposed to help the adult Turpin children learn how to function in society turned out to be a lazy, uncaring, incompetent jerk. Those kids deserve so much better!

But… I am very happy to see that the Turpin children who have come forward still have a spark and want to get beyond their tragic upbringings. They still need a lot of help, though. I truly hope the 20/20 special helps them get the assistance they clearly still need, so they can go on to enjoy the “wonderful lives” fellow victim Elizabeth Smart predicts they can have. A least a few of those kids are game to take life by the horns. And I hope that the special shines a light on America’s child welfare system. It obviously needs an overhaul.

And on a final note, kudos to Jaycee Dugard, who made headlines in 2009 after she escaped her captors, Phillip and Nancy Garrido, after 18 years of hell. Jaycee Dugard, like Elizabeth Smart, has turned her ordeal into a way to help other people. She has started a foundation called JAYC, and according to the 20/20 special, she’s vowed to help the Turpin children as they continue to heal from their ordeal and adjust to living life on their own terms. I only hope that the money JAYC is raising actually gets to the Turpin children.

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4 thoughts on “More thoughts on the Turpin family…

  1. I don’t understand how anyone, trained social worker or otherwise, could turn his or her back on the Turpin offspring. It seems as though the tendency would be to err in the opposite direction where they were concerned, and to proverbially take the case home and to be too obsessed with helping.

    It makes sense to analyze what it was that created the monsters who would do such things to their children. All but the most incredibly cognitively disabled or mentally ill among us have some inherent sense of right and wrong, and it seems that the courts didn’t find the Turpin parents to be criminally insane or cognitively deficient to the point that it would excuse or mitigate such parenting. Still, something had to have influenced these people to raise their children in ways that wouldn’t have been acceptable even to treat farm animals. In some cases it may be hard wiring, but in at least as many, it’s presumably nurture.

    • I agree that it’s hard to understand how anyone could turn their backs on the Turpins. My point is that legitimate social workers are trained to help people like them. I know a lot of people think that one doesn’t need a formal education to help the poor. I actually got into a rather heated argument with someone about this uninformed belief. He doesn’t value college because he managed to make a living without ever going. Personally, I think he’s bitter because college is valued in our culture and he never went. Perhaps he thinks people look down on him for that.

      Anyway, he obviously didn’t understand what social work is, or why social workers require formal training. A lot of people think social workers are people who work with child welfare, handle adoptions, or help poor people and that anyone can do that job. I will agree that anyone can help the poor, but not everyone is trained in social work, which has a set of ethics and standards of practice. A trained social worker would have, I hope, gotten the Turpins into programs that could help them assimilate into the world, rather than just telling them to “Google” what they need.

      As for the mental health of the Turpin parents… God only really knows. They were raised in a restrictive church, though, and you and I both know what can happen when people are raised in toxic religions. Marry that with rampant sexual abuse and you can come up with some pretty fucked up stuff. It’s no excuse, of course. But I was just struck by how Ex had a similar background to Louise Turpin’s and she exhibits some of the same whacked out behaviors. Not to the same level, of course, but still noticeably similar.

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