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Previously on The Secret Sits, we began our exploration into David and Louise Turpin and their ever-growing family. David and Louise Turpin are now living in Fort Worth, Texas with their 4 children while David is working at Lockheed Martin, making really good money.  Louise’s sister Elizabeth had just spent the summer with the couple and she had grown increasingly suspect of strange rules being enforced around the Turpin house.  After hostility grew between Elizabeth and her older sister Louise, Elizabeth left Texas and moved back to Tennessee.  And that is where we find ourselves while we pick up our story today.

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Welcome to The Secret Sits, I’m your host John Dodson.  Join us every Thursday as we uncover the Secrets behind the world’s most fascinating true crime cases.  You can find all episodes of The Secret Sits for free on Apple Podcast, Spotify or where ever you get your podcasts.  And if you like what you are hearing, reach out to us on Instagram and Facebook @The Secret Sits Podcast or on Twitter @SecretSitsPod. Now, on with our story.

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Baby number 5 arrived on May 21st, 1997, another girl, this one was named Joy Donna.  Jennifer was now beginning second grade and she smelled worse than ever.  Her classmates described the smell as dirty cloths mixed with urine. Jennifer’s aunt Teresa, who was Louise’s youngest sister, had recently visited the family and she recalled seeing several expensive dresses hanging in Jennifer’s closet, price tags still attached, $200, $300 dresses, and never worn.

While Jennifer was in third grade there was a lice outbreak at school and all of the students blamed her, and they began calling her the cootie girl.  Jennifer was often seen at school scratching her pubic area, she was sent to the principal’s office as this action was deemed a distraction.  The school never took any action to figure out what was happening to Jennifer, why her genital area was so irritated, why she smelled so bad and why she only wore the exact same outfit to school every day.

June 15th 1998 rang in the birth of the sixth child, Julianne Phyllis.  One month later David, Louise and their 4 oldest children made the trip back to Princeton, West Virginia one last time.  The trip was miserable for all involved and Louise just wanted to get out of that town and away from everything that brought back her childhood traumas.  This would also be the end to all of the free family vacations for the Robinette side of the family.

As the season changed and weather grew cooler, Christmas time came again.  Louise had escalated her gambling habits and the debts which came with it.  Even though David was still making significant money, the couple’s home was set to be foreclosed on for lack of payment. So, David and Louise maxed out every credit card buying Christmas presents for the children, the debt would be written off anyway when they once again filed for chapter 7 bankruptcy.  By this time Louise and Elizabeth had buried the preverbal hatchet and they often spoke on the phone.  When Louise told Elizabeth what was happening financially and how they were buying Christmas presents they would never have to pay for, Elizabeth said that it sounded a lot like stealing to her, Louise’s response was to slam the phone down in her sister’s ear.

That next spring, the bank foreclosed on the Turpin house, this is also the time Jennifer stopped attending school, she would never return to any type of formal education.  And none of the other Turpin children would ever be enrolled in public school again.

The Turpins moved out of 3225 Roddy Drive and when the owners entered the property to inspect it, they were aghast at the conditions of the property.  Every room of the house was filthy, there was a stickiness to the air, every surface was covered in dirt and grime, the house smelled so bad, some could not enter it and there were large brown patches on the walls, which seemed to be smeared human feces.

Jeanetta Betty came to this world on July 27th, 1999, she was the couple’s 7th child.  After Jeanetta was born the family moved into their new home at 595 Hill County Road in Rio Vista, Texas.  Now Rio Vista is just a speck of a town, population 744, it is rural and sparkly populated with houses, an optimal place for a family who does not want to be noticed.  None of the Turpin children were ever enrolled in school here, in fact not many residences of the town even knew the Turpin couple had children.

This is when David and Louise Turpin truly began to control every minute aspect of their children’s lives.  The couple would assert so much control over their children mentally and physically, that the children did not even attempt to escape or get help.  David was still working for Lockheed Martin and making good money, this farm also came with mineral rights, for which David would receive $577.92 a month.  Across the street from this small hobby farm lived Ricky Lee and Shelli Vinyard and their two daughters.  The couple tried to be neighborly to the new family who had just moved in and Shelli walked over to the house and knocked on the door, but no one would answer.

Eventually some of the Turpin children did play with the next-door neighbors’ daughters and that lasted for a while, but even when they could play together things were strange.  The Turpin children could not tell anyone their names, they would say “We can’t tell you our names, but if you listen to us talk long enough, you can figure them out.”  And then one day when Shelli from next door began asking too many questions, hanging out with the neighbor kids stopped.

Mother and Father, this is what the kids had to address their parents as, Mother and Father, not mom and dad, not anything else.  Louise told her kids that this was because of the bible, in the bible they say Mother and Father and so that is how they must be addressed.  And the abuse of their children began to escalate further.  Corporal punishment included a whipping with David’s belt, if that did not correct the behavior, another whipping, this time with the belt buckle, if this still did not curve the behavior the child had to remove their pants and lay face down on the bed so they could be smacked with a wooden oar, smacking the child’s thighs, buttocks and lower back until they were bright red.  Lastly, if the behavior persisted, they would use the switch, which was an old fiberglass tent pole.

The children were not allowed to take baths regularly, each child was allowed one bath per year and if they were in punishment during their bath time, they may not have a bath during the year at all.  They were allowed to wash their hands, but only their hands, if they washed too far up their wrist, they would get a whipping.

In this farm house, David converted the living room area into a make shift at home school room.  There were educational posted tacked to the walls and phonics books for learning, but the problem was, there was no teacher.  Jennifer, who was the oldest had only gone to grade 3, none of the other children had attended school at all and Louise could not be bothered.  The couple provided blank journals for their children to write in, for those that could write at all, which most could not.

November 2000 ushered in child number 8, Jordan.  David decided to try his hand at some light farming and so he bought some chickens, goats and pigs, but just like everything else around the house, it was neglected.  The problem with neglecting pigs, though, is that they are super smart and they will find some food.  So, the pigs kept breaking out of the pig pen and wondering the area looking for food.  This of course caused disturbances as neighbors kept having to shoo away pigs or return them to the Turpin house, but when people would go to the house and knock on the door, no one would answer.  The family, with the exception of David had turned nocturnal, it was an easier lifestyle to keep hidden.  The children would sleep during the day and stay up at night, when the rest of the world was asleep.

During the summer of 2001, Joy Turpin, who was now 4 years old, was bitten in the face by one of the family dogs.  The girl had the open wound for over 24 hours before her father finally called 911, she was rushed to the emergency room and the incident was reported to the Sheriff’s office, but there was no follow up and nothing was investigated.  David’s parents James and Betty Turpin spent the holidays with the family, they wanted to get to know their 8 grandchildren.  They would later report that they saw nothing strange happening and that the kids were all being homeschooled.

In the early moths of 2003 one of the pigs escaped from the Turpin farm, again.  The pig made it over to Ricky Vinyard’s uncle’s property and it eat 55 pounds of dog food from his carport.  The police were called and when they arrived at the Turpin house, David just offered to pay to replace the food and the case was dropped, another missed opportunity for anyone to see these kids being miss treated.

A few months later baby number 10 arrived, Joanna.  David and Louise were still seen around town, or the next town over at least, eating dinner at Applebee’s and attending the rodeo, which they loved so much.  For Christmas that year the couple purchased 10 brand new, top of the line bicycles for the children.  They lined them all up outside in the carport, where anyone driving by could see them.  Ten bicycles all in a perfect row, with the price tags still dangling from the handlebars, gently swaying in the winter wind.

In May 2004, David purchased a new double wide mobile home and had it moved onto the farm property, it sat just behind the farm house.  David ran an above ground water line to the double wide and installed an electric panel with a meter and everything.  The couple proceeded to move themselves and all 10 of their children from the farm house to the trailer. You see the farm house had become uninhabitable, the filth, the smell festered all over the house, there was no escaping the unpleasantness of the house.

Soon after the family had moved into the double wide, Louise gave birth to child number 11.  This baby girl would be called Jolinda.  James and Betty Turpin made another trip down to see their grandchildren, but when they arrived at the house and knocked, no one answered.  Ricky and Shelli Vinyard could see the elderly couple over at the house knocking and it was a dreadfully hot summer day in Texas.  The couple was obviously overheated and stuck out in the summer heat, so the Vinyards went out and invited the couple to come into their house and cool down while they waited on David and Louise to answer.  It was very awkward and eventually James and Betty left and drove around in their car until their children got back home for their visit.

Baby number 12, Julissa, was born in 2006.  12 children in 17 years, this couple had been busy.  David constructed a cage to imprison any of his children who misbehaved.  This was a large metal cage measuring 7 feet wide by 5 feet tall and it was split into two separate cells, so two children could be punished at the same time.  There was a five-inch gap at the bottom so food could be slid to the prisoner held within.  The children would be placed into the cage for days at a time for even the smallest infractions.  Jonathan, who was now 8 years old figured out that he could lift the cage from the gap at the bottom and escape.  To remedy this, David bought a 3x3 foot dog kennel with a padlock.  Joshua, the tallest boy was now 16 and he spent 24 hours in this 3x3 foot dog kennel for watching a Star Wars video.

After staying in the mobile home for a while, Mother and Father, moved out.  The couple found an apartment in Benbrook, Texas, which is approximately 40 minutes from the farm.  They packed up the two youngest children, Julissa and Jolinda and they just left, for four years.  The two eldest children Jennifer and Joshua were placed in charge of their 8 younger siblings and their father would come by every three or four days to drop off food.  In the four years the Turpin adults did not live with their children, Louise never visited them, not even once.

Even though the parents no longer lived with their children, they still exerted total dominance and control over the children.  They were still not allowed to wash above their wrist, the house was overflowing with trash and feces, all of the pet animals defecated inside of the house, which was also not cleaned up and the eldest children had to punish their siblings for any minor infraction, they were even forced to use the cages on their siblings, it was as if their parents were still there exerting their complete control at all times.

Joshua did not want to do these things to his brothers and sisters, at one point he had a confrontational conversation with Mother and Father, but whatever was said during this conversation made Joshua back down and he decided not to rebel, he chose instead to attempt to keep his little brothers and sisters alive.

Jennifer attempted to escape at one point, but she had a third-grade education and did not even know how the real world worked.  She ran from the house and was picked up along the road by the across the street neighbor, Shelli who was taking her child to school.  Jennifer asked Shelli how to get a driver’s license and how to get a job and an apartment.  Shelli drove Jennifer to town, but with no ID or know how, it was impossible for her to gain employment.  In the end, Jennifer was forced to call Mother, who promptly came and picked her up and took her back to the house of hell.

After Louise’s 40th birthday, which took place on May 24th, 2008, Louise and David decided to start looking into some new religions.  The two areas of religions that fascinated the couple were snake-handling and the practice of witchcraft.  The couple also began consuming alcohol at this time, Louise cut her historically long hair short, she had it dyed red and she began applying copious amounts of makeup.  The couple also wanted to try something else new, swinging.  The Turpins would drive 1200-mile trips to Las Vegas to gamble the night away, along with their money.  Louise called her little sister Teresa and told her about all of their new exploits, she even told her that she and David were driving to Huntsville, Alabama to meet a man they had met on the internet for sex.  When the couple arrived for this soiree, David waited in the car while Louise went into the room and had sex with the strange man.  Louise brought a video camera with her so she could tape the encounter for David to watch later.  She had also began handling snakes in a church where this was common practice.  Louise became obsessed with snakes, she even loved eating rattlesnakes.

Las Vegas was now a routine trip for the couple, they would go to Vegas and they stayed at Cesar’s Palace each time.  They purchased the most expensive toys, which would lay around never to be opened or enjoyed.  And David got himself a brand-new Mustang every year.  In 2009 the couple bought a new Ford Econoline van and a Ford Focus on $30,000 credit.  Now 2010 and David Turpin’s job at Lockheed Martin dries up.  The couple had no money and on April 5th the Sheriff’s office served eviction papers for the house on Hill County Road.  So, David did what any reasonable person would do, he went and got another brand-new Mustang on $22,000 worth of credit.  The couple went back out to the farm house for the last time, loaded all 12 of their children into the van, with whatever meager possessions could fit, and they left.

The Turpin family relocated to Southern California, they moved into a big beautiful house which contained 5 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms and a loft space.  Now unemployed the couple’s only source of income was the $577.92 checks they were still receiving from the mineral rights on the property in Texas.  It would take the royalty company 9 months to realize they no longer owned the property for which they were being compensated.

Homeschooling for the 12 Turpin children was a joke, actually it really did not exist at all.  Louise would teach a lesson from one of the phonics books, but then she would lose interest, it would literally be years before she would get around to doing another lesson with the kids.  David Turpin then filed paperwork to open the City Day School, David himself would act as principal.  He filed the California Department of Education’s Private School Affidavit, under penalty of perjury.

On this paperwork he stated that the City Day School taught 8 children ranging from second grade, to eleventh grade.  This made it official that the children were being homeschooled, so the state could not send truancy officers to check on the kids.  Just like all home school situations the City Day School would be subject to inspections from the fire marshal for the health and safety of the students.  No fire marshal ever did an inspection of the City Day School, ever.

The treatment of the children once again escalated with the new environment.  The kids were kept in their rooms at all times, many times the children would be tied to their own bed frames with ropes.  In a psychological turn to the parents’ manipulations, they purchased Joshua a camera and Jennifer was allowed to have a smart phone.  This made the other kids jealous of their siblings.  The kids remained in their rooms for 20 hours per day.  They were allowed out to eat, use the restroom and to brush their teeth.  The children were fed only one meal a day.  They had tried two meals per day, but the kids were not awake long enough in one day to consume two meals, so it was reduced to just one meal a day.  This one meal consisted of a choice, of a peanut butter sandwich, a jalapeno bologna sandwich or a burrito with some chips.

When some of the girls got to an age when they took an interest in their mother’s girly things, like make up and dresses, they would sneak into their parents’ bedroom and try stuff.  But they got caught.  And when they were caught David had the bright idea to chain up all 12 children to teach them a lesson.  Louise, however; disagreed, she said they should only chain up the ones she knew had taken things.  She would call these the suspects, anytime anyone was in trouble, they became a suspect.  Jonathan would get in the most trouble, he was very mischievous and he even once stole Joshua’s camera as a joke, he hid it in the garbage can and it was thrown out accidentally.  As punishment for this, Jonathan was hog-tied, but he escaped by chewing through the ropes, this is when Mother and Father decided, no more ropes, it has to be chains.

Louise was now the dominating physical authoritarian in the house and she had a very short temper.  Joanna was seven when she was caught in her parents’ room.  Louise became so enraged that she threw the small 7-year-old down the stairs.  When Joanna hit the ground, she had blinding pain shooting through her body, but Mother just left her laying at the bottom of the stairs, she received no medical attention for this incident.

After the newly minted school was opened, David and Louise took a trip to Disneyland.  The couple is posing in front of Sleeping Beauty’s castle, David has donned a T-shirt which reads, Happiest Memories are Here.  Louise is wearing a T-Shirt featuring Grumpy from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  The Turpins began focusing on what they looked like on social media.  Louise thought, if they could attract positive attention, they could be the stars of a new reality show like Kate Plus 8 or 19 kids and counting.  The children would always walk in order of their birth with Father leading in the front and Mother in the back.  All the girls would wear matching dresses and all the boys had their hair cut into the strange flock of seagulls slash Captain Kangaroo hair cut that their father had.  In 2010 the couple posted a picture of their entire family standing in a field in matching red shirts, the children held up their high school graduation certificates, which Louise had simply ordered on line and given to them.

Finally, David landed another job, this time as a computer engineer with the defense contractor Northrop Grumman.  He would make $143,000 per year at this job and it had the best work hours, 2pm – 10pm, this was perfect for the family to keep up its nocturnal lifestyle, this still allowed them to not be noticed by neighbors.

David’s brother Randy was now an ordained bishop for the Church of God.  He and his wife had five children and in July they all flew out to California to visit the Turpin family.  The two families went to Disneyland together.  Because there was not real way to keep the children separate in front of his brother, some of the children from each side of the family bonded. Randy’s daughter Miranda hung out with Jennifer during the trip and Jennifer shared song with Miranda that she had written.  Jennifer told Miranda that she had written 141 songs and Miranda videoed her singing several of her original compositions, she would later post these songs on her blog.  After this trip Randy posted a photo on his Facebook page of all 21 family members together in front of the castle in Disneyland.  The photo caption read, “A memory that I will hold on to for the rest of my life. It was so great being with you guys.”

After this family visit, David and Louise Turpin, once again, filed for chapter 7 bankruptcy.  In this filing they listed that they owed $240,564 and had assets of just $149,492.  The list of debts is staggering; $88,421 on 27 credit cards, $1,102 to AT&T, $45,283 for the double wide in Texas, $40,079 for their farm house and on and on.

The couple both had to take an online financials course and the couple agreed to pay Ford $424 a month over 4 years to keep one mustang. All of their other debts, were once again, erased.

That October, David once again registered the City Day School with the California department of education.  David then took Louise to Las Vegas to renew their wedding vows.  Having just filed for bankruptcy, and claiming to have no money, the couple spared no expense on their vow renewal.  Louise paid for a makeover and they cut her long brown hair and dyed it blond.  And Louise purchased a new sexier wedding dress than she had worn in 1985.  The couple booked the Hound Dog Package at A Elvis Chapel.  Their website describes that Elvis will sing 3 songs of your choice.  You get to hold a silk bouquet, barrow a silk boutonniere, you get 20 photos and a certificate. This package costs $325.  The Elvis impersonator’s name is, Kent Ripley and he would get to know the Turpin family a bit more over the coming years. 

David’s parents, James and Betty came out for another visit.  They stayed at the house with their family, they went out to eat and they even made another trip to Disneyland.  James and Betty were very impressed at how well adjusted the children were, how organized they were, lining up in perfect order all of the time and Betty said that she felt they were great model Christians. After the visit Louise posted photos of their trip to Disneyland on her Facebook.  These photos drew a slew of comments, people were blown away by Louise’s abilities as a mother, “Louise Turpin is a super mom” wrote one commentor.  After this David Turpin opened his own Twitter account, the only account he followed was the Disneyland Resort’s official Twitter account.

The couple decided that it was time to head back to Las Vegas, this time they wanted to mark their 28th wedding anniversary with another vow renewal.  The only difference this time was that the couple brought all 12 of their children with them.  For this ceremony David and Louise went all out on the Viva Las Vegas package, at the same Elvis Wedding Chapel, with the same Elvis performer, Kent Ripley.  This was a full concert package which cost $1195.00 plus taxes.  For this wedding Louise was now a red head and she had a new even sexier white wedding dress.  The 9 females were dressed in identical homemade pink tartan dresses, each had fresh clean white tights on and white Mary Jane shoes.  The 3 boys wore ill fitting dark suites. One highlight was that the children all got to bathe and be clean for this trip and they were staying in the Circus Circus Casino, which I’m sure was slightly cleaner than their own home.  They had a stretched limo to take them from their hotel to the chapel, it would be about a 5 -8-minute trip.  When Louise spoke to Kent Ripley at the chapel, she said something to him that made him uneasy, Louise said, “I’ve been following your career” and then she talked to him about gigs he had done, with no association with the chapel.  She had been researching Kent on line, which he found strange, how does this mother of 12 have time to look me up on line?

At the beginning of the ceremony, Kent Ripley stood at the doors, wearing a classic Elvis look in gold lame and he began singing Love Me Tender.  The nine girls walked down the aisle and then Louise entered and Kent Ripley, I mean, Elvis, walked her down the aisle.  The ceremony was held and all of the children were excited and applauded their parents in this happy moment.  David began to weep and Elvis handed him some tissue.  As David recited his vows, he playfully took on an Elvis inflection in his voice, which all the kids laughed at with great amusement. When the official ceremony ended, the concert portion of the wedding package began.  The children loved to dance around and sing with Kent Ripley, they took turns on stage with each other and everyone had quite a good time and the event concluded with everyone performing a conga line to Viva Las Vegas.  Kent Ripley turned toward the family and said, “I wish you the very best until we meet again.  God bless you, and Elvis has left the building.

Next week, in the Turpin Family Case; California, Disneyland and a 911 phone call that changes everything, join me next week for our dramatic conclusion in The Turpin Family Case: The Escape.

We are looking for hometown True Crime stories for future episodes.  Please send your stories to us at: [email protected]

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