Your neighbors’ door is always closed, firmly.
Being stick-to-themselves kind of people, they don’t chit-chat across lawns or stop by to borrow a tool, and they never wave when you see them. They’re hard to figure out, but, as in “The Family Next Door” by John Glatt, you don’t know what happens behind closed doors.
When 17-year-old David Turpin met 10-year-old Louise Robinette, it was love at first sight: He “showered the shy girl with attention” and they courted by holding hands in church. When she was 16 and he was 23, the pair ran away to Texas, got married and moved to California, hoping to start the big family that Louise always said she wanted.
Their first daughter was born in mid-1988 and by all accounts, Louise was overjoyed at becoming a mother. A son arrived in early 1992, and another child in late 1993. Fifteen months later, the eldest, Jennifer, started first grade and trouble began immediately: She was taunted by peers for “poor personal hygiene.” While she was enduring social agony at school, another baby arrived at home, and another, and another…
By early 2015, there were 13 Turpin children. David and Louise — who’d insisted on being called “Father” and “Mother” — had moved the family several times, leaving homes in terrible states of filth with each move. The children were “homeschooled,” but they weren’t even taught the basics; when she was displeased, Mother would “pitch” them across the room, and fear kept them in line. If that didn’t work, they were chained to their beds, starved, often with no access to bathrooms, showers or the outdoors.
And yet, curiously, pricey gifts were given for “good behavior,” including smartphones for the older children. In January 2018, those devices proved to be life-saving, as one of the Turpin girls worked a plan she’d concocted, borrowed a phone, crawled out a window and called 911…
For the last 18 months, much about the Turpin case was shrouded in necessary secrecy, and who’d blame you for being curious? Nobody — so author John Glatt takes the lid off the whole sensational story, but alas, “The Family Next Door” leaves as many questions as it answers and many threads are left hanging.
There’s also a lot of repetition here, specifically, explanations of something within the timeline and the same, often identical, words inside the trial account. New information then feels muddy, perhaps due to the sheer overload of it all. Don’t, in other words, be surprised if this book feels like too much, because it is.
And yet, there are moments of this book that will astound you for their strength and grip you in total astonishment. The former will hit you in the heart; the latter will make you think of a train wreck: You can’t look, but you can’t not.
Super-sensitive readers, please pass on this book because it’s riveting but also very disturbing. For true-crime buffs, though, it’s a gigantic “yes”: “The Family Next Door” will have you in its clutches until its back cover is closed.