The aunt of the 13 malnourished children allegedly held captive in a Californian home says the kids' father used to watch her in the shower when she briefly lived with the family.

Elizabeth Jane Flores, sister to the children's mother Louise Turpin, said her brother-in-law, David Turpin, made her feel uncomfortable when she stayed with the family for about two months in their previous Texas home while she attended college.

Elizabeth Flores says she briefly lived with her sister Louise Turpin and brother-in-law David in Texas.
Elizabeth Flores says she briefly lived with her sister Louise Turpin and brother-in-law David in Texas.

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

"It was like a joke. He never touched me or anything."

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And while she found the behaviour disturbing, she kept it to herself.

"I was young, I was scared," she said.

"I was in Texas where I knew nobody; I had no family."

Flores, now 41, moved in with the Turpins when they had just started their large family.

"I was treated like one of the kids, kinda, so I had rules," she said.

"I thought they were really strict but I didn't see any type of abuse.

"Now that I'm an adult and I look back I see things I didn't see then."

Flores was surprised by the revelation that her sister and brother-in-law had kept their 13 children shackled inside their home in such squalid conditions.

"I was shocked because my sister and I really haven't had a sister relationship for about 20 years, other than maybe a call every once in a while and sometimes those calls were like a year apart," she told GMA.

"I was shocked, I was devastated, just much like the rest of the world.

"We all want explanations just like everyone else, probably more so."

Flores also revealed that the Turpins cut themselves off from the rest of her family and did not allow them to contact the children.

Elizabeth Flores says she was shocked, just much like the rest of the world, when she found out how her neices and nephews had been treated.
Elizabeth Flores says she was shocked, just much like the rest of the world, when she found out how her neices and nephews had been treated.

Mrs Turpin went so far as to stop her late father from visiting in 2012 — even after he had bought a plane ticket.

"He was so hurt," Flores said.

"He got the ticket, he was going to surprise her and he called her to tell her he was coming and she told him not to come."

Because the wider family was estranged from the Turpins for two decades, they had no indication that the children were in danger.

"When that happens for 20 years, and it was before the kids even were there, you don't think it's abnormal. They were always funny and private anyway, even before they ever had children," she said.

Flores broke down in tears when asked whether she had a message for her sister.

"I want her to know that she's still my blood and I love her," she said.

"I don't agree with what she did and her actions have made the whole family suffer.

"But I want her to know that I'm praying for her salvation and that we do love her."

She was also emotional when asked about her 17-year-old niece, who jumped out of window and called emergency services with a mobile phone, which led police to expose her siblings' horrific reality.

David and Louise Turpin cut themselves off from Louise's family and did not allow them to contact the children.
David and Louise Turpin cut themselves off from Louise's family and did not allow them to contact the children.

"I'm so proud of her. What was so neat is, if I did the calculation in my hand right, I think it was the [child] that was named after me that did that," Flores said.

She said she wanted to reach out to the children to offer her support.

"I want them to know that when they feel alone and they feel like nobody cared and they felt like they had no family, that wasn't true," she said.

"I don't know that Louise and David told them that we have asked repeatedly, repeatedly to have them Skype. I wanted the kids to know that there's people that love them and that there's family that love them and I hope to be able to see the children. That's my goal."

Mr Turpin, 57, and Mrs Turpin, 49, were arrested on Sunday with bail set at $9 million each. Charges of torture and child endangerment are likely to be laid, authorities said.

Meanwhile, Mrs Turbin's other sister has revealed on a rival US morning show that her nephews and nieces, aged 2 to 29, lived a completely isolated existence.

"They weren't allowed to date, or they didn't have a social life," the children's aunt, Teresa Robinette, told NBC's Today show.

"They weren't allowed to watch TV. They weren't allowed to talk on the phone, have friends over, stuff like that. Normal things that kids do."

Officers said some siblings were shackled to furniture in the foul-smelling home in suburban Southern California, about 100km southeast of Los Angeles.

They were so malnourished that the older ones still looked like children.

Robinette said she voiced concerns to her sister about the children's health.

California authorities said the mother of 13 children kept locked in filthy conditions was "perplexed" about why police came to their home. Source: AP

"I always made comments to Louise when I did talk to her, about, gosh, they are so skinny," she said.

"She would laugh it off and say 'David's so tall and lanky, they are going to be like him'."

Her parents had made the home a private school, a prison, and a veritable torture chamber for the siblings, authorities said on Tuesday.

Riverside County Sheriff's captain Greg Fellows described the stinking conditions inside the home as "horrific".

"If you can imagine being 17 years old and appearing to be a 10-year-old, being chained to a bed, being malnourished and injuries associated with that, I would call that torture," he said.

— with AP