Under Siege

Polygamists are barricading their homes in the midst of mounting legal assaults by authorities

State and county law enforcement could move in more officers at a moment's notice, but many in the area question whether authorities from either state will commit the resources necessary to dismantle a fundamentalist Mormon community that has had free rein for 52 years.

"We can't stop them like this," says Mohave County Supervisor Buster Johnson, who has been sounding the alarm about underage marriages in Colorado City for more than five years.

Johnson, a former Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy, says there must be a larger commitment by state and county governments toward righting wrongs in Colorado City and Hildale or it will be impossible to bring political and social reform to the insular area.

Colorado City Unified School District Superintendent Alvin Barlow may face criminal charges for misuse of public funds.
John Dougherty
Colorado City Unified School District Superintendent Alvin Barlow may face criminal charges for misuse of public funds.
The FLDS is nearing completion of a 90-foot-high temple in El Dorado, Texas.
The El Dorado Success
The FLDS is nearing completion of a 90-foot-high temple in El Dorado, Texas.

"You know damn good and well nobody wants to go in there," Johnson says of law enforcement authorities. "Everyone is damn afraid of another Waco."

Even without a significant incursion by state and county police, there is mounting fear that violence may erupt in the remote community where FLDS members hold obedience to their prophet as the first and most important commandment.

"The people I would be afraid of would be the young fanatics that are 100 percent behind Mr. Jeffs," says Mohave County Attorney Smith, who plans to personally prosecute the criminal cases against the Colorado City polygamists.

A July 31 exchange between ex-FLDS member and Colorado City resident Ross Chatwin and a young FLDS man captures the degree of fanaticism instilled in Jeffs' followers. The dialogue, captured on tape, begins with Chatwin asking the man if he knows Warren Jeffs.

"Yes, I do," the FLDS man replies.

"And you'll give him your life?" asks Chatwin.

"I will," replies the man.

"You'll die for him?"

"I will."

"You'd kill somebody for him?"

"I wi-- (pause), I would do what he told me to. Anything he told me to, I would do."

"Like without a doubt there is nothing?" asks Chatwin.

"Without a doubt, I will stand for him."

"You'll kill for him, too?"

"I'll do what he tells me to do."

"Even if it's kill?" asks Chatwin.

"He is inspired by [the] heavenly Father," the FLDS man says. "Whatever he tells me to do, I will do."

On the weekend of July 9, the Mohave County Sheriff's Office launched the largest manhunt for fundamentalist Mormon polygamists in more than half a century. Police swept into Colorado City, going door-to-door looking for eight FLDS men and their leader, Warren Jeffs.

"We sent a few squads up there, and [the polygamists] hid out," says Mohave County Sheriff Tom Sheahan. "They were using women and children as lookouts. We put a lot of pressure on them until they surrendered."

One man was arrested during the sweep, and the other seven turned themselves in over the next several days. Only Prophet Jeffs remains on the lam. The Arizona Attorney General's Office is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to his capture.

Jeffs was indicted by a Mohave County grand jury on June 9 on charges of sexual conduct with a minor and conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a minor.

Both charges stem from his joining Randolph J. Barlow and an underage girl in a spiritual marriage in early 2002 and his directing the couple to have children. Barlow, 28, was also indicted on June 9 on two counts of sexual assault and one count of sexual conduct with a minor.

A Mohave County grand jury returned five additional felony charges against Jeffs in early July.

Three of the charges are related to Jeffs' conducting the 1998 spiritual marriage of former Colorado City policeman Rodney Hans Holm to 16-year-old Ruth Stubbs. At the time of the ceremony, Holm was 32 and already married to two other women, including Stubbs' older sister. Holm lived with his three wives and 20 children in Hildale.

Holm was convicted of two counts of sexual conduct with a minor and one count of bigamy in a Utah state court in August 2003. He was sentenced to one year in the Washington County jail.

Mohave County is now bringing new charges against Holm. It is adding Jeffs as a co-defendant based on Stubbs' statements to investigators that she and Holm had sex on at least three occasions in Colorado City when she was 16. Stubbs left Holm before the Utah trial and now lives out of state.

The other two felony charges against Jeffs stem from his conducting the 2001 spiritual marriage between then-20-year-old Terry Darger Barlow and 15-year-old Cynthia Palmer and ordering the couple to procreate.

If convicted on all seven felony counts, Jeffs could face up to 14 years in prison. Because the leader polygamists believe is God's only true spokesman faces a possible lengthy prison sentence, many insist that the fundamentalist faithful will not give him up without a fight.

"It all depends on how we catch him," says Mohave County special investigator Engels, who has spent more than a year living in the Colorado City area investigating crimes. "Does he have bodyguards? Yes. Are they armed? Yes. Will they put their lives down for him? Yes."

The cases against Jeffs and the three co-defendants are the strongest of the nine actions, County Attorney Smith says, because either victims or witnesses have appeared before the grand jury or given sworn statements to investigators.

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1/2 a century?  Waco was the same flavor whacko

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