Jordan Turpin, one of the 13 siblings who were rescued from a California “house of horrors” in January 2018, is speaking out, along with her eldest sister, Jennifer Turpin, about the night she escaped the house and sought help from police.
In a candid, gripping interview that aired on “20/20” Friday, Turpin described the moment she snuck out of her home. She was 17 at the time, and she and her siblings, who ranged in age from 2 to 29, were being tortured by their parents, David and Louise Turpin. For years, the Turpin children were abused and subjected to beatings and punishments that included being chained to their beds.
Turpin said that she feared for the safety of herself and her siblings and it was ultimately her fear that led her to escape the house, despite having been kept so isolated that she had never spoken to a stranger before.
“That was my only chance. At least if something happened to me, at least I died trying,” Turpin said.
Before her escape, Turpin was able to acquire a disabled cell phone, which could only be used to call 911, so she snuck out a window and called for help.
“My whole body was shaking, and when I was holding the phone, I remember … I couldn’t really dial 911,” Turpin said. “I couldn’t even get my thumb to press the buttons because I was shaking so bad.”
But eventually, Turpin managed to make the call and once she reached an emergency dispatcher, she started asking for help. She had to overcome several obstacles and had a hard time communicating her address, but she kept trying regardless.
“I literally never talked to somebody on the phone,” Turpin explained.
Once the dispatcher determined where Turpin was with the help of the cellphone’s GPS and what she was asking for, a deputy was dispatched. Turpin was instructed to wait near a stop sign so that the deputy could find her.
“I was so scared in that moment. I was actually on the road,” Turpin said. “Because I didn’t even know about the sidewalk. You’re supposed to be on the sidewalk. But I never been out there.”
Turpin said she was afraid that her parents would wake up and find her gone and end up hurting her or her siblings.
“I’m so terrified because I know the way they were,” Turpin said. “They wouldn’t care if they knew police were coming. They would just kill me right there.”
Finally, Deputy Anthony Colace arrived on the scene and spoke to Turpin. He said in the “20/20” interview that he had been nearing the end of his shift, and expected the call to be about a runaway child who needed to be returned home. Colace said that he didn’t believe some of Turpin’s claims at first, until she showed him a photo of her sisters chained to their beds.
“They looked very sad and malnourished. They were very pale,” Colace said. “Once I saw that photo, it really sealed the deal for me.”
Colace noted that Turpin did not seem to know common words like “bruise” to describe the way she and her siblings were being treated. His body camera footage from that night shows him asking Turpin if she had any injuries, a word she didn’t understand at the time. She also didn’t know how to spell her middle name, Elizabeth.
The deputy decided to call for backup, and he and other authorities went to the Turpin family home after daybreak to perform a welfare check, about an hour and a half after Turpin first escaped.
Turpin said that she was glad that police responded, because she knew that if she had gone back to the home without having successfully called for help, she would have been killed.
“I had to make sure that if I left, we wouldn’t go back and we would get the help we needed. Because if we went back, there’s no way I would be be sitting here right now,” said Turpin.
Because authorities had reason to believe children were in danger, a warrant wasn’t necessary for the officers to enter the Turpin home and after two minutes of knocking, the Turpin parents opened the door, allowing police to enter and find the children.
The children were rescued that day, thanks to Turpin’s actions. The identities of the majority of Turpin’s siblings have been kept private, out of respect for their privacy. Their parents are now serving life sentences in separate prisons.
“I saw us coming so close to death so many times,” Turpin said. “I was worried about my siblings and when I saw them crying and worried, I just felt like I had to do it. … I wanted to help everyone.”