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“I thought I was going to die.” The Turpin sisters speak for the first time about their “house of horrors”.

The following contains details of child abuse and neglect, which may be triggering for survivors. If you are in need of support, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

The Turpin family is associated with unfathomable cruelty, the 13 Turpin children enduring significant abuse at the hands of their parents, David and Louise Turpin, who have been sentenced to life in prison.

Dubbed the “house of horrors” by millions across the world, two of the Turpin siblings have now come forward for their first public interview.

Sisters Jennifer Turpin, 33, and Jordan Turpin, 21, sat down with Diane Sawyer on ABC’s 20/20 this week, detailing their experience and how they are trying to move forward with their lives.

Watch: “My parents are abusive.” Jordan Turpin's 911 call. Post continues below.

For as long as she can remember, Jennifer knew her mother to be extremely violent, with unpredictable mood swings. 

“I never knew which side I was going to get of her,” she said to Sawyer. “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.”

Jennifer attended school from the first to third grade, but then her parents decided to take her out of the public education system, and home school their children instead. 

During her schooling years, Jennifer was sent to school unwashed, always wearing dirty clothes, something that her peers soon pointed out. 

“They called me skinny bones and acted like they didn’t want to be around me. I probably smelled. But I didn’t realise at the time I smelled, but that stench clings to you… because we would literally live in houses piled with trash.”

The Turpin's home looked unremarkable from the outside. Image: Getty.
 

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As the Turpin parents began to have more children, it was at that point that the neglect began to turn into physical abuse, says Jennifer. 

According to the sisters, their parents often used the Bible as a means of explaining their abuse. “They loved to point out things 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.”

If one of the children coloured outside the lines when painting or drawing, it would result in abuse. If one of the children was found in the parent’s bedroom, it would result in corporal punishment involving belts, whips and sticks. If one of the children was “misbehaving”, the parents would force the eldest child to lock up their sibling in a dog kennel. 

“I was afraid to do one little thing wrong,” Jennifer said. “If I did one little thing wrong, I was going to be beaten… until I bled.”

Image: ABC 20/20. Food deprivation was just another horrific tactic used by the Turpin parents to hurt their children.

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“There was a lot of starving,” said one of Jennifer’s younger sisters Jordan. “I would have to figure out how to eat. I would either eat ketchup or mustard or ice.”

In 2015, while their parents were away, Jordan got hold of an old smartphone and began to see what the outside world offered. She would watch Justin Bieber music videos to mentally escape from her surroundings. 

When her mother caught her watching music videos, she choked her daughter. 

“I thought I was going to die that day,” Jordan said. “After that whole day happened, I kept having nightmares that… she was going to kill me.” It was from that moment, Jordan began planning her escape. 

By 2018, the abuse had escalated further. Some of the children were chained to their beds for months at a time. 

On January 14, 2018, a then 17-year-old Jordan called 911. She had fled through an open window in the house and used her brother’s old deactivated mobile to dial the only number it would allow. 

Image: ABC 20/20. 

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“I knew I would die if I got caught,” Jordan said to Sawyer. “I think it was us coming so close to death so many times. If something happened to me, at least I died trying.”

Jordan had also taken pictures of her siblings chained to their beds as evidence, with her siblings’ consent. 

The audio of the 911 call was released during the Turpin parents’ trial, Jordan telling the operator she lived with her family consisting of 15 people and that her parents were abusive. 

“My two little sisters, right now, are chained up… with chains. They’re chained to the bed,” she said.

When the authorities arrived, they found what District Attorney Mike Hestrin described as
“among the worst, most aggravated child abuse cases I have ever seen”.

The house was in squalor, and all of the children, apart from the toddler, were malnourished. The eldest (Jennifer), who was then 29 years old, weighed just 37 kilograms — the weight of a typical 11 or 12-year-old.

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The siblings were then rescued and taken to hospital for treatment.

Jennifer only truly felt free the next morning, waking up in a clean hospital bed with music playing through the loudspeaker.

“I made sure there was a little bit of a floor cleared out and I danced.”

As the news broke around the world, donations began to pour in for the siblings to assist in their rehabilitation. 

However, the adult siblings have faced significant challenges in accessing these funds or even social services. The donations were placed in a trust controlled by a court-appointed public guardian.

Joshua Turpin, 29, told ABC News he couldn’t access funds to cover transportation needs and when he asked for help, the public guardian simply told him: “just go Google it.” An investigation is now underway, to ensure the Turpin siblings receive the best support possible. A report is due by March 2022. 

Many of the siblings are still “living in squalor,” the Riverside County District Attorney said to Sawyer. “That is unimaginable to me: that we could have the very worst case of child abuse that I’ve ever seen, and then that we would then not be able to get it together to give them basic needs.”

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During the interview, Jordan said: “right now, I don’t really have a way to get food. I also don’t really have a place to go right now, but I have my older siblings helping me out.”

Jordan is currently in a school program that provides temporary housing. She also received her high school diploma in one year, and is now taking college classes. 

Jennifer is working at a local restaurant and is writing Christian pop music. She also hopes to become a published author one day.

Image: ABC 20/20. Both Jordan and Jennifer declined to discuss their other siblings with Sawyer, wanting to protect their privacy. They did however share, they all do see each other often.

“Every time we’re together, it's a very special moment, because we always know at the end of the day, we’re always gonna have each other.”

Lifeline: 13 11 14
1800 RESPECT (domestic violence counselling service): 1800 737 732
Blue Knot Foundation (support for survivors of childhood trauma): 1300 657 380
 
Kids Helpline:
 1800 55 1800

Feature Image: ABC 20/20.