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Couple Accused in Calif. House of Horrors Case 'Ran Away' to Marry When She Was 16 and He Was 23

KC Baker

The married couple accused of abusing their 13 children in a house of horrors in California were married more than three decades ago, when she was 16 years old and he was 23, PEOPLE confirms.

David and Louise Turpin, now 56 and 49 respectively, wed in Pearisburg, Virginia, on Feb. 11, 1985, according to the court clerk’s office in Giles County, Virginia.

Both Turpins reportedly grew up in nearby Princeton, West Virginia, just over the state line, and the nature of their years-long relationship remains a key area of scrutiny in the investigation of how the suspected abuse of their children carried on for so long, getting worse over time, without being detected.

Authorities have alleged the violence “intensified” as the family moved first from the area of Fort Worth, Texas, to Murrieta, California, in 2010, and then to Perris, California, in 2014 — where they were living when David and Louise were arrested early last week.

Before California, the Turpins lived in Texas for 17 years. Over the course of their marriage, they renewed their vows at least three times, according to the Elvis impersonator who presided over each ceremony.

Louise’s half-brother Billy Lambert tells PEOPLE she met David in church and the two “ran away” to get married when she was 16 but they were returned home to West Virginia by police, at which point Louise’s father signed off on the nuptials. At 20, Louise had her first child, Lambert says.

The couple has 13 children ranging in ages from 2 to 29, according to investigators. David and Louise were taken into custody after one of their kids, a 17-year-old girl, escaped the home on Jan. 14 and called 911.

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From left: David and Louise Turpin
The Turpin home in Perris, California

Responding officers said they found the Turpin children “severely malnourished” from lack of food, with some in chains, according to prosecutor Michael Hestrin.

A motive has not been publicly confirmed but Hestrin told reporters last week that it appears “no one [outside the family] noticed what was happening.”

“What started out as neglect became severe, pervasive, prolonged child abuse,” Hestrin said.

“This is severe emotional, physical abuse. There’s no way around that,” he said. “This is depraved conduct.”

Asked about a possible religious or cult-like motivation for the suspects’ behavior, Hestrin said, “Not that I know, no.”

“Any time I saw them I never saw [David] raise his voice, I never saw him or [Louise] angry,” Lambert tells PEOPLE. “It seemed like they had the perfect little family. They always went out to Six Flags or Disneyland. We thought, ‘Wow this is nice.’ To us it seemed normal.”

Hestrin said Thursday that David and Louise face 12 counts each of torture as well as seven counts of abuse of a dependent adult, six counts of child abuse or neglect and 12 counts of false imprisonment. David is additionally charged with one count of lewd act on a child under the age of 14 by force, fear or duress.

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The Turpin family
Louise and David Turpin (seated, first and third from left) in court in California following their arrests

The charges cover alleged behavior dating back to 2010, Hestrin said. David and Louise are not charged with torturing the 2-year-old as the toddler, for some reason, seems to have been fed enough though “we don’t know why,” Hestrin said.

He stressed that the basis for the torture charges was a combination of alleged, severe abuse over time. Among the punishments the Turpin children suffered were “frequent beatings and strangulation,” Hestrin alleged.

David and Louise were arraigned on Thursday afternoon, where they pleaded not guilty to their charges. Jail records show they remain in custody as of Monday and Hestrin said prosecutors were requesting bail be set at $13 million for each.

Speaking to reporters after their court hearing on Thursday, attorneys for David and Louise declined to comment beyond broad reactions about the allegations against them.

“The allegations carry life in state prison,” Louise’s attorney, Jeff Moore, told PEOPLE. “In terms of possible sentences, this is about as serious as it gets.”

Anyone with information about the Turpin family is urged to call 888-934-KIDS.