By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
A massive stone temple jutting from the crest of an oak-and-juniper knoll pierces the serenity of the broad horizon of the seductively beautiful Texas hill country.
The 90-foot-high edifice is topped with a cupola and buttressed by a grand sweeping staircase leading to the main entrance. Circular columns resembling towers from medieval castles anchor each corner of the church, giving it an imposing and foreboding stance.
The gleaming-white cathedral is getting built at breakneck speed by a platoon of religious fanatics in a race to beat the fire and brimstone they are certain will soon engulf their world.
Outsiders are forbidden to come near the temple that marks the center of a sprawling religious compound rapidly emerging on 1,600 acres of arid soil near the small west Texas town of Eldorado.
It is here that fugitive polygamist Prophet Warren Steed Jeffs and a select group of his most faithful servants are preparing to make what could be the religious leader's final stand.
The 49-year-old Jeffs is the ironfisted ruler of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a breakaway sect of the Salt Lake City-based mainstream Mormon Church. The FLDS still embraces polygamy as the central tenet of the religion. Indeed, Jeffs has as many as 70 wives, including a number of women who were once married to his father, the late Rulon Jeffs, who preceded Warren as prophet.
For more than 70 years, the fundamentalist Mormon polygamist society has been based in the adjoining towns of Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah. But now Jeffs and the polygamist zealots who worship him are building the new FLDS headquarters in Texas, which they call YFZ, short for "Yearning for Zion."
What makes Jeffs so powerful is that he has almost complete control over his 10,000-member congregation. Dissenters are dealt with swiftly and harshly.
"Warren thinks he's Jesus. The people think he's Jesus," says Winston Blackmore, who was bishop of the FLDS community in Bountiful, British Columbia, until Jeffs excommunicated him from the church in 2002. Blackmore spoke to New Times in an extensive interview in Bountiful and nearby Creston.
Though Warren Jeffs is believed among his faithful to be God's messenger on Earth, in the secular world, he is an accused pedophile on the FBI's most-wanted list who has impregnated at least two underage girls. Authorities believe he could have operated as a sexual predator for more than two decades, since his activities only became monitored closely by law enforcement after New Times began reporting on sexual atrocities and financial malfeasance among Mormon polygamists along the Arizona-Utah border in early 2003.
The New Times investigative reports brought worldwide media attention to the polygamist colony north of the Grand Canyon and south of Zion National Park. The series inspired Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard and Governor Janet Napolitano, along with Mohave County, Arizona, officials, to install a justice center in Colorado City that, for the first time in the community's history, employs law enforcement not controlled by the FLDS.
After the stories put a spotlight on activities in the fundamentalist Mormon stronghold, Warren Jeffs suspended all regular Sunday church services in August 2003, and started what has now become a steady exodus of church leadership and church-controlled businesses from Colorado City and Hildale. Thousands of polygamists still live in the two towns, but it is clear that Jeffs means to make west Texas the religion's new capital.
Jeffs has not been seen publicly since before he was indicted June 9 by a Mohave County grand jury on multiple counts of sexual misconduct with a minor. The charges stem from his performing the "spiritual" marriages of three underage girls to already married men. A federal arrest warrant was issued for Jeffs for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution on June 27, and the FBI named him one of its most notorious fugitives in August. Arizona has posted a $10,000 reward for information leading to Jeffs' arrest.
Mounting evidence suggests that Jeffs is hiding, or has hidden, from federal authorities at the YFZ compound about 180 miles northwest of San Antonio.
"If I was to zero out the most likely place where we would find him, it would be coming in and out of the temple in Eldorado," says Arizona Attorney General Goddard.
New Times' ongoing investigation of Jeffs and his followers has uncovered compelling evidence that his defiance of state and federal laws is growing bolder and more threatening, thereby increasing pressure on authorities to hunt him down. Consider:
There is a credible report that Jeffs wants to begin practicing a 19th-century Mormon doctrine calling for the ritualistic human sacrifice of "apostates" who dissent from his rules.
Colorado City's electric utility is illegally diverting power-generation and distribution equipment to the Texas compound.
Colorado City employees are receiving taxpayer-funded salaries to work on secret FLDS projects.
Colorado City officials and police have regularly used municipal phones to maintain close communication with FLDS leaders in Canada and elsewhere, raising suspicion that they are using public resources to help Jeffs avoid arrest.
A courier suspected to be on his way to Warren Jeffs with $200,000 in cash and other materials was arrested October 28, indicating to authorities that the FLDS has a network in place to support Jeffs while he is on the run.