Sisters Rescued From California ‘House of Horrors' Speak of Survival in New Interview

Two of the 13 Turpin siblings appear in a preview clip from an upcoming episode of "20/20" with Diane Sawyer interviewing the sisters

A still from am ABC News interview with children from the Turpin family, who authorities found captive inside their California home under harrowing conditions in 2018.
Christina Ng/ABC News

Two sisters, who along with their 11 siblings were held captive for years by their parents before escaping their Southern California home in 2018, are now speaking for the first time publicly about what they endured.

"The only word I know to call it is hell," one of the Turpin sisters said in a clip of an upcoming "20/20" special with Diane Sawyer.

The family's disturbing case came to light in 2018, with a desperate cry for help from a girl who had lived in such isolation for 17 years that she didn't know her address, the month of the year or what the word medication meant.

She had jumped out a window from the filthy home where she lived with her parents and 12 siblings, and she knew enough to punch the digits 9-1-1 into a barely workable cellphone and then began describing years of horrific abuse to a police dispatcher.

When investigators arrived, they found children -- ranging from age 2 to 29 at the time -- inside the home, some shackled to their beds, nearly all severely underweight and living in dark, unsanitary conditions.

In a clip of the the upcoming "20/20" interview, the sister who called 911 talked about the courage to finally escape.

"I think it was us coming so close to death so many times," she said.

"It was literally a now or never. If something happened to me, at least I died trying," the girl added.

David and Louise Turpin later pleaded guilty to torture and other abuse and neglect so severe it stunted their children's growth, led to muscle wasting and left two girls unable to bear children. They were sentenced to life in prison.

Before the then-17-year-old escaped from the home in a middle-class section of the city of Perris, about 60 miles southeast of Los Angeles, the Turpins had lived largely out of view.

David Turpin had been an engineer for Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. Louise Turpin was listed as a housewife in a 2011 bankruptcy filing.

Their home was neatly kept outside and neighbors rarely saw the kids outside the home.

When deputies arrived, they were shocked by what they discovered. A 22-year-old son was chained to a bed and two girls had just been set free from their shackles. The house was covered in filth and the stench of human waste was overwhelming.

Deputies testified that the children said they were only allowed to shower once a year. They were mainly kept in their rooms except for meals, which had been reduced from three to one per day, a combination of lunch and dinner. The 17-year-old complained that she could no longer stomach peanut butter sandwiches — they made her gag.

The Turpin boys and girls weren't allowed to play like other children. Other than an occasional family trip to Las Vegas or Disneyland, they rarely left the home. They slept during the day and were active a few hours at night.

Although the couple filed paperwork with the state to homeschool their children, learning was limited. The oldest daughter only completed third grade.

"We don't really do school. I haven't finished first grade," the then-17-year-old said, according to Deputy Manuel Campos.

Children said they were beaten, caged and shackled to beds if they didn't obey their parents.

Investigators found that the toddler had not been abused, but all of the children were hospitalized after they were discovered.

“Escape from a House of Horror — A Diane Sawyer Special Event” airs Nov. 19 at 9:01 p.m. on ABC.

The Associated Press, City News Service and NBCLA contributed to this report

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