I live behind the ‘house of horrors’
A GROUP of young kids celebrating a birthday party played games, giggled, opened presents and shared food as adults doted over them in a suburban backyard.
They had no way of knowing about the horror that was taking place right under their noses, in Perris, about 110 kms south of Los Angeles in the US.
In a modest, one-storey home over the fence, the 12 eldest Turpin family children were being viciously beaten, starved, chained to furniture and tortured by their parents. Some of them had endured the abuse from infancy into adulthood. It had been going on for years.
But it wasn't until David, 57, and Louise Turpin, 50, were arrested for the prolonged abuse and torture of their children that their neighbours discovered the truth about what officials later dubbed "the house of horrors".
One neighbour, who shares a back fence with the Turpins' former home and spoke on the condition she wasn't named, has lived in her house for about four years. Remarkably, she didn't even know there were children living in the house over the fence until after their parents were arrested and charged with 14 felony counts of abusing and imprisoning 12 of their 13 kids.
It's a revelation that has prompted feelings of intense guilt for some of those who were close to the situation but unaware of it at the time.
"We have had lots of kids' birthday parties for my son who is now seven, and my niece, out the back and never even knew kids lived over there," the woman said.
"We didn't see any of them once or hear a single voice or laugh or cry.
"It's devastating to think all of that was going on while we had kids running around, having fun basically outside their back door."
The woman's back deck, where she and her family spend hours most evenings, is just metres from the back door of the address where the Turpins subjected their children to years of hell.
While she says there were no signs of children, she did notice odd behaviour in the home.
"The lights inside the house were on all night long every night," she said.
"We thought drug dealers must have been living there because we never saw one person in that house or heard a sound from them."
"We found out in the news … I just feel so sorry for those kids.
"We are so sad we were so close to those kids and we did nothing."
Her comments come on the eve of the Turpins' sentencing. They're each face between 25 years and life in jail after pleading guilty to torture, cruelty to an adult dependent, child cruelty and false imprisonment.
The Turpin's house now sits vacant with black tarp on the front windows and overgrown grass out the back. A notice on the front window instructs people to call a contracting service company in the event of "emergency, violation or city ordinance violations". News.com.au understands the home has been sold and is undergoing internal renovations.
The siblings, aged between two years and 29, who were found severely malnourished and covered in filth inside the home are understood to be thriving in their new lives, made possible after one of them escaped and called police in January 2018.
In the 911 audio released this week, the 17-year-old girl struggles to tell the dispatcher her address because she's "never been out".
"I don't go out much so I don't know anything about the streets or anything," she says.
The call begins with her explaining, "OK, I live in a family of 15 people and my parents are abusive".
"They abuse us and my two little sisters right now are chained up. There's 13 kids and then a mother and a father," she says.
Asked if any of the brothers and sisters would need to go to hospital, she replied, "I'm not sure. Sometimes we live in filth.
"And sometimes I wake up and I can't breathe because how dirty the house is."
The siblings were soon freed and found to lack basic knowledge about medication, the police and the outside world.
Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin previously said the couple should die in jail.
"Unless a parole board … decides they should be released, they will serve the rest of their life in prison," Mr Hestrin said.
He described the Turpins' abuse as "among the worst, most aggravated child abuse cases that I have ever seen".