Wanted: Armed and Dangerous

As the FBI chases polygamist Prophet Warren Jeffs, work continues 24/7 on his religion's foreboding new Texas capital

"My brother Lee was just kicked out," says Bistline, referring to F. Lee Bistline, who served on the Colorado City school board for more than 40 years.

"He just stuck his tail between his legs and slunk off like a wounded dog," says Benjamin Bistline. "He left his wives and kids and everything."

With no check on his power, Jeffs appears to be inching closer to reinstituting some of the most radical aspects of early 19th-century Mormon doctrine, including "blood atonement," or ritualistic human sacrifice.

Schleicher County, Texas, Justice of the Peace James Doyle says the FLDS hasn't hurt anyone.
John Dougherty
Schleicher County, Texas, Justice of the Peace James Doyle says the FLDS hasn't hurt anyone.
Former Colorado City councilman Richard Holm says Arizona should take over Colorado City's corrupt town government.
Mark Folkerson
Former Colorado City councilman Richard Holm says Arizona should take over Colorado City's corrupt town government.

A former FLDS member who left the church in April tells New Times he believes Jeffs is building a blood-atonement room in the Texas temple where sinners' throats would be slit and their bodies burned in a DNA-incinerating crematory. It is believed by strict constructionists of FLDS doctrine that this last-gasp ritual is sometimes necessary to ensure a sinner's eternal salvation.

Robert Richter says he left the church in April while he was working on a "secret project" to build computer controls for an extremely high-temperature thermostat that he now fears could be used to operate such a crematory at the temple to dispose of the remains of blood-atonement victims.

Richter says he was told to design controls to operate a thermostat that could handle temperatures up to 2,700 degrees. At that heat level, DNA is destroyed. Richter says he felt unqualified to handle such a project and wondered why YFZ officials did not hire a licensed specialist to do the work.

Richter says he was deeply troubled when he was told his work on the thermostat controls was to be kept secret. Richter, who was working in Colorado City, says he knew the thermostat was to be used in conjunction with a furnace, but he was not allowed to speak to other FLDS technicians working in Texas about the project.

The secrecy disturbed him to the point that he decided to leave the FLDS. It was a monumental decision, especially since he had a young wife and an infant to support.

Quitting the FLDS meant he must leave his church-controlled city job that paid $31,000 a year -- a relatively high salary in Colorado City.

"When a religion goes wrong, you have to get out," Richter explains.

Soon after leaving the church, Richter says he started reflecting on Jeffs' numerous sermons calling for a return to blood atonement.

"Warren has been teaching for a long time that those who are guilty of adultery must be blood-atoned," he says. "Warren's even made comments that we have got to figure out a way that we can start doing blood atonement so we can take care of these people who have committed adultery so they can be saved."

Richter says he knows of at least three FLDS men seeking on their own to be blood-atoned so they can gain entrance to heaven.

"They have asked Warren, 'When are we able to get blood-atoned so we can be saved?'" says Richter, one of the few FLDS men to earn a college degree, in his case a bachelor of science in electrical engineering from the University of Utah.

Though FLDS doctrine calls for those who die in good standing with the church to be buried, Jeffs has said that FLDS members who commit certain sins should be cremated. Jeffs wanted a young FLDS woman living in Canada, who had left her husband and was later killed in a car accident, to be cremated.

At the time, Winston Blackmore was still the FLDS bishop in Canada.

"Warren was very cold about it," Blackmore recalls.

Warren Jeffs' father, Rulon, was still the FLDS prophet then. But the elder Jeffs had suffered several strokes and had trouble communicating. Warren had assumed day-to-day control of the FLDS and claimed he was acting as his father's interpreter. Blackmore says he rejected Warren's suggestion that a cremation be conducted instead of a traditional funeral.

Moreover, Blackmore says, "I never invited Warren to speak at the funeral. I just left him be."

Blackmore's refusal to go along with Jeffs' call for a cremation further damaged Blackmore's already-troubled relationship with the prophet-to-be.

"Our relationship went from bad to worse after that," Blackmore says. Rulon Jeffs died in September 2002, and Warren seized complete control of the FLDS. Not long after that, the new prophet excommunicated the bishop who had openly defied him.

Warren Jeffs' harsh religious doctrine combined with the tremendous financial pressure he puts on FLDS members to contribute money to the church has not diminished his strong support among polygamists. The public got a glimpse of the depth of that support late last month when the FBI arrested Jeffs' younger brother.

Seth Steed Jeffs was taken into custody after a routine traffic stop near Pueblo, Colorado, when local sheriff's deputies found money and supplies that the FBI believes were being transported to Warren.

During the search of Seth Jeffs' late-model Ford Excursion, deputies discovered $200,000 in cash, seven pre-paid cell phones, pre-paid credit cards and about 700 letters from church members addressed to "the Prophet" or "Warren Jeffs."

According to a Pueblo County Sheriff's Office report, deputies discovered paperwork indicating that Warren Jeffs and Annette B. Jeffs, presumably one of his wives, owe the Internal Revenue Service $69,000 in back taxes. Deputies found "several envelopes containing hundreds of business cards" from supporters throughout the country.

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