RIO VISTA, Texas — Nellie Baldwin has been buying rental properties for decades. In April 2011, she bought a foreclosed home in Rio Vista, Texas. She told CNN it was “nasty” and “looked like it was uninhabitable.”
“They had smeared feces on the walls,” Baldwin said, “in the living room and every room just had a terrible odor.”
She said she’d always wondered what happened to the family who lived in the home before she bought it.
Nearly two weeks ago, she finally found out.
The home belonged to David and Louise Turpin, the California couple accused of torturing and starving their 13 children, whom they kept shackled to their beds for weeks or months at a time, according to prosecutors. Evidence from inside their Perris, California, home suggests the children “were often not released from their chains to go to the bathroom,” Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said at a news conference last Thursday.
“I’m shocked,” said Baldwin, 78.
The Rio Vista home was in such terrible condition, she said, that bankers wouldn’t let her look at the property unless they signed a “harmless clause,” which said that if she or her family got sick in the house, the bank was not responsible.
“But we didn’t think anything about it,” Baldwin said. She’d purchased properties in the past that “stunk” and needed work, so she didn’t give it a second thought.
The home, she told CNN, was foreclosed on in April 2010 and sat on the 36-acre property for a year before Baldwin bought it. The bank had done some cleaning inside the home before the purchase, but the inside was still filthy.
Besides the feces on the wall, there was “trash all over, everywhere you looked,” and the drywall had holes in it. The smell inside was so terrible that after a day of cleaning the house, Baldwin would pour two or three gallons of bleach on the floors just to combat the stench for the next day, when she’d do it again.
“Makes you sick inside to think that people lived like that, you know?” Baldwin said. “That that many children were living in such deprived conditions for 12 years and nobody around there knowed it.”
Authorities say David and Louise Turpin beat and choked their children, feeding them small portions of food on a strict schedule and allowing them to shower only once a year. The children ranged in age from 2 to 29; the oldest weighed only 82 pounds.
The parents were arrested after their 17-year-old daughter escaped their Perris home and called police to tell them her siblings were being held captive inside. The parents have pleaded not guilty to 37 charges.
“It’s heartbreaking. It’s really sad to think that children lived in that house,” Baldwin said of the Rio Vista home. She hopes the children are able to recover and that they will have a more promising future.
“All we could do is pray for them kids,” she said, “and hope that now that they get a better life, that they’ll be in a place where there’s happiness and love and they’ll be able to forget the past.”