Police search Californian house of horrors

Investigators have conducted an exhaustive search of the foul-smelling, filthy home east of Los Angeles where a California couple are accused of keeping captive and nearly starving 13 minor and adult children.

David Turpin, 57, and Louise Turpin, 49, were set to go before a judge in Riverside County on Thursday on charges of torture and child endangerment in the case, which came to light over the weekend after a 17-year-old girl escaped through a window and alerted police.

"We have investigators on scene, combing through everything they can find for additional evidence," Riverside Sheriff's Deputy Mike Vasquez said by telephone.

"They're trying to gather more information that may assist them in providing a full description of what was going on there.

"The whole house is a crime scene," he added.

The search comes as the aunt of the children claimed David Turpin would watch her in the shower.

Elizabeth Jane Flores, sister to the children’s mother Louise Turpin, told Good Morning America her brother-in-law would come in to the bathroom when she was showering.

“If I were to get in the shower, he would come in while I was in there and watch me,” she told Good Morning America.

Ms Flores lived with the couple for a while in another house when the couple’s eldest children were young. She said she thought they were strict but didn’t see any signs of abuse.   

Officers raided the house in the small city of Perris, on Sunday after the 17-year-old, whose name was not released, called the 911 emergency number on a mobile phone. She was so small and emaciated, officers at first thought she was about 10 years old.

On Wednesday afternoon, several investigators, some wearing black gloves, went in and out of the house, frequently carrying boxes and bags of material they placed in waiting vehicles.

Inside the garage, floor-to-ceiling shelves that appeared to be stacked with DVDs could be seen.

From the outside, the tan house did not look particularly different from the one-and two-story houses in the community. But neighbours said the thick sod of the front lawn had been put down by the children last autumn, working at night under TV-style lights as their mother looked on.

The couple is accused of keeping 13 offspring, aged two to 29, in filthy and fetid conditions, chaining some to their beds and giving them so little food the adult children were initially mistaken for minors, police said. They are believed to be the couple's biological children, Vasquez said.

On Wednesday, police and prosecutors prepared for the arraignment of each parent on nine counts of torture and 10 counts of child endangerment.

Neighbours and family members have offered little insight into the couple's motivations or actions. Experts have said it may have been easier for the parents to shield their children from scrutiny because they were home-schooled.

Reuters