Bound by Fear: Polygamy in Arizona
Sixteen-year-old Ruth Stubbs wanted to marry the boy down the street.
So she revealed her desire to a religious leader, a man held in the highest esteem in her rural, isolated community straddling the Arizona-Utah border.
On a December morning four years ago, Ruth sought the advice of the Prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 88-year-old Rulon Jeffs.
Polygamy in Arizona
Ruth asked the stroke-ridden Jeffs for permission to marry Carl Cooke, a young man she had been seeing secretly for several months.
Jeffs pondered the question for a moment and then delivered a startling pronouncement.
"Well," Jeffs said, gesturing toward Rodney Holm, a police officer who had escorted Ruth to the meeting, "I feel she belongs to you."
Ruth was stunned, but not surprised. She barely knew Holm, but what she did know was disturbing.
At 32, Holm was twice her age.
And Rodney was already married to two women, one of whom (his first wife) is Ruth's sister, Suzie.
"Shocked, I was," Ruth told investigators from the Arizona Attorney General's Office, after relating the story of her meeting with Jeffs.
But Ruth knew such marriages were common among fundamentalist Mormons, particularly in the towns of Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah.
In the dusty, unkempt hamlets north of the Grand Canyon and south of Zion National Park along the boundless Arizona Strip, life is controlled by a theocracy seemingly as impenetrable as the jagged El Capitan Peak that provides a dramatic backdrop for roughly 6,000 inhabitants.
The fundamentalists in control believe that their patriarchal society embracing polygamy ensures the people in their realm of reaching heaven's highest echelon. As incredible as it may seem to outsiders, they believe that men faithful to the religious doctrine will become gods and rule over a multitude of planets for eternity. Their wives if the husbands deem them worthy will join them in heaven as goddesses.
This fundamentalist theology is similar to that of the Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The difference is that the Mormon Church publicly moved away from polygamy in 1890, although some of its leaders continued the practice into the 20th century. The mainstream church does, however, still believe in polygamy in the afterlife.
With only a sixth-grade education and little experience beyond her rural upbringing, Ruth already was deeply entrenched in polygamy. Her father had three wives, and she is one of 42 children.
Ruth also knew that most of the people in town believed the old man sitting in front of her was the most powerful man on Earth. The fundamentalist Mormons hold that their Prophet is God's only true representative.
No one dared question the decisions of the Prophet in Colorado City. To do so would bring swift ruin and eternal damnation.
Ruth quickly agreed to the sudden change in grooms.
"I just said, 'kay, you know, I'll, I'll do it," she told state investigators in January 2002 according to a 56-page transcript of the interview obtained by New Times. Ruth Stubbs declined to be interviewed for this article.
There was little time for Ruth to ponder the decision. Her wedding to a man she had never kissed, let alone dated, was scheduled for the next day, December 11, 1998.
"They didn't want me to think it over," she told state investigators.
This is not to say she didn't have second thoughts. She tried to postpone the wedding for several weeks, but her sister who wanted Ruth to join the family to help her in a power struggle with the other wife pressured Ruth to move forward.
"Suzie told me I was an asshole" for wanting to delay the marriage, Ruth said. "Suzie told me that the town, the whole town, already knew I was supposed to marry Rod."
To back out now would bring unbearable social repercussions in a community where the women are raised to obey men without question.
"I was afraid of the town," Ruth admitted.
The next day, with Carl sequestered by his family, Ruth went to the Prophet's massive home, which sheltered at least a dozen some say upward of 70 of his own wives. She was joined by Holm and his two wives.
Rodney Holm had already secured permission to marry Ruth from her polygamous father although her mother hated the idea. Neither parent was allowed at the wedding.
If they had been there, they would have seen their daughter in a delusional state.
But Carl never appeared, and 16-year-old Ruth Stubbs was "sealed" to her 32-year-old brother-in-law by the Prophet in a "spiritual" ceremony. No marriage certificate was issued. Ruth had no right to community property. Even death was not to part them. Ruth was to be Rodney's possession for eternity.
Her marriage wasn't the only one conducted that day by the Prophet.
"At the time, [he was] marrying four or five couples a day," Ruth told the Attorney General's Office.
That evening, Rodney Holm took Ruth to the area's only motel the Mark Twain Inn in Hildale where his marriage to the virgin bride was consummated.
It was the beginning of a journey of physical, spiritual and mental abuse that took Ruth Stubbs to the brink of suicide.
At the time, the outlook was far brighter for Holm. He was on his way toward becoming a god in fundamentalist Mormon heaven, having acquired the crucial third wife.
He had had sexual intercourse with a girl half his age who was not his legal wife a felony in Arizona and Utah but that fact made no difference to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS).
Ruth Stubbs is among scores of teenage girls, many of whom are underage, who have been married by fundamentalist Mormon prophets into polygamy in recent years. The tally reaches hundreds of girls over the last seven decades.
The Arizona Attorney General's Office has compiled a list of more than 40 teenage girls it suspects have been coerced into polygamy by the FLDS in the last decade, state records obtained by New Times through the Arizona Public Records Law show.
A few decades ago, the FLDS routinely married girls as young as 13 into polygamy. The practice still occurs from time to time, but the girls tend to be at least 15 these days.
The state has been conducting a broad grand jury investigation into polygamy in Colorado City since at least December 2000, but no arrests have been made. One reason is that state investigators have been unable to persuade polygamous wives to testify against their husbands.
Such wives, even if they wanted to cooperate with authorities, know that assisting the government would bring retaliation from their community.
In Colorado City, women, and men, risk losing their children, their homes, their livelihoods and most terrifying to fundamentalist Mormons their salvation for uttering a single negative statement about their religion.
Underage, polygamous marriages are merely a symptom of a greater problem.
The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Colorado City is a virtual medieval fiefdom overseen by an omnipotent Prophet who is accountable to no one but presumably God.
The FLDS is subverting a wide range of civil liberties with taxpayer assistance.
Cloaked in the legitimacy of town government and public schools, FLDS polygamists receive more than $6 million a year in public funds to support these institutions.
Through his proxies, the FLDS Prophet controls all levels of local government and the Colorado City public school board. He controls ownership of virtually all the land in town and most of the businesses. He controls local law enforcement.
But, most important, the Prophet controls the minds of the faithful, convincing them that, if necessary, they must forgo happiness in this life for eternal bliss after death.
"We don't have minds of our own," former FLDS member and Colorado City High School science teacher DeLoy Bateman told New Times. "We are taught to follow."
Nowhere else in the United States is there a state-sanctioned town that is overwhelmingly controlled by a religion whose current leader performs polygamous marriages and who himself has anywhere from a dozen to 70 wives.
The unchecked power of the leaders of this dictatorial society over the past 70 years has led to a number of illegal or unconstitutional abuses that have allowed an often cruel and demeaning culture to flourish.
A five-month New Times investigation has revealed:
Women and children are considered property of the religious leadership, called the Priesthood, which, in turn, is controlled by the Prophet.
More than 50 families have been ripped apart and "reassigned" to new husbands on the Prophet's command. New husbands sometimes marry the daughters of their reassigned wives.
Many young men deemed unworthy of the Priesthood are driven out of town with police assistance so that they cannot compete with men in polygamous marriages.
Many followers of the Prophet would kill to defend him from arrest, leading Arizona authorities to fear another Waco.
The Colorado City marshal, the chief law enforcement officer in town, is a polygamist, and police routinely ignore cases where teenagers are having sex with much older men who purport to be their husbands.
Child molestation by fathers and older brothers is common.
The religion has created an economic collective called the United Effort Plan that controls land ownership and ruthlessly evicts women and men (and their families) accused of violating FLDS tenets.
Polygamy violates the Arizona Constitution and has been held illegal by the U.S. Supreme Court for 124 years, but that hasn't stopped the fundamentalist Mormon culture from thriving on the Arizona-Utah border.
Although Congress required Arizona to include an anti-polygamy clause in its Constitution as a condition for gaining statehood, the Legislature has never enacted a corresponding law making polygamy a crime. The glaring loophole has frustrated efforts to prosecute sexual-abuse crimes against teenage women in polygamous unions.
That there is no state statute banning polygamy may result from the Legislature's dominance by mainstream Mormons, whose founder, Joseph Smith, introduced polygamy to the Salt Lake City-based church in the 1840s. The mainstream Mormon Church officially eased away from polygamy in 1890, and now excommunicates polygamists.
Criminalizing the practice today could rekindle harsh family memories of persecution of polygamous Mormons for many Arizona families, including some of the state's most powerful political clans such as the Udalls, the Tenneys, the Farnsworths and the Flakes.
William J. Flake, co-founder of the town of Snowflake, is the great-grandfather of Arizona Speaker of the House Jake Flake, and the great-great-grandfather of U.S. Representative Jeff Flake. In 1884, William Flake was convicted and sentenced to the Yuma Territorial Prison on polygamy-related charges. After serving his sentence, he continued to live with his two wives.
House Majority Leader Eddie Farnsworth also hails from a prominent polygamist forefather. Flake and Farnsworth are joined in the Legislature's leadership by fellow Mormons Senate President Ken Bennett, Senate Majority Whip Marilyn Jarrett, Senate Minority Whip Jack Brown, and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Russell Pearce.
The Legislature isn't the only branch of government that has avoided the issue. Governor Janet Napolitano initiated the grand jury investigation of Colorado City when she was attorney general, but her office never filed charges. The inaction by Napolitano known as a middle-of-the-road careerist politician became a campaign issue last fall after New Times published a story based on what appeared to be an AG's special-investigations memo describing serious abuses in Colorado City and efforts by the AG's Office to keep the information from the public.
Napolitano declared the memo a fake, and called for a criminal investigation into how the document which appears to be on office stationery was generated. No arrests have been made in the memo probe.
Subsequently, New Times began its investigation into Colorado City which has included examination of AG's files that show the state has long had substantial evidence of illegal activity in the fundamentalist Mormon community.
Governor Napolitano declined to comment for this story.
New Times has found that the state's failure to criminalize polygamy has allowed the fundamentalist Mormon church unfettered access to public funds without fear of criminal prosecution or, in the case of elected officials in Colorado City, removal from public office.
This subsidy is destined to rapidly expand. With each passing year, as the FLDS population grows, the cost to state taxpayers rises. In addition to the $6 million going to FLDS-controlled governments, Arizona is footing the bill for health care in Colorado City. Nearly everyone in the area receives state-managed health-care benefits, costing taxpayers another $8 million annually.
Taxpayers are also feeding the huge families resulting from polygamous marriages. More than half the population on the Arizona side of the area receives food stamps, worth more than $2 million a year. Another $500,000 a year goes to help pay for child care.
The public funds are directed toward maintaining a community rooted in an unconstitutional practice where the ultimate power rests not with citizens, but with the FLDS Prophet.
"We treat our Prophet as God himself," says former FLDS member Pamela Black, who recently left the church after a lifetime of turmoil. "That's how much respect he has."
The Prophet controls the culture and economy in the Colorado City area for an overriding reason he is the only person under fundamentalist Mormon doctrine who can conduct plural marriages.
"The power in this operation comes from the person who decides who marries who," says DeLoy Bateman, who quit the church after it tried to take away four of his kids by his second wife.
The more blessings a man has, the greater his prestige and power in the community. A minimum of three wives is required to enter the highest levels of the complex heaven called the Celestial Kingdom.
Women, according to the religion, can't reach the Celestial Kingdom unless their husband first achieves the lofty height and then agrees to bring his concubines into paradise. The chase for plural wives dominates earthly pursuits.
"If the men don't do what the Prophet says, then [they don't] get more wives," affirmed town historian Benjamin Bistline, who has self-published a book about the town titled The Polygamists, A History of Colorado City. "It's extortion."
Warren Jeffs, the 46-year-old current Prophet and son of Rulon Jeffs (who died in September 2002), rarely makes a public appearance other than to preach Sunday sermons at the massive Leroy S. Johnson Meeting Hall. Jeffs did not return phone calls seeking comment.
The fundamentalist religion holds that the end of the world is near, while at the same time warning young girls who rarely finish high school that they won't get to heaven without the Prophet sealing them into a cohabitation.
Outsiders are considered wicked, and anyone who leaves the religion after learning its gospel is branded an "apostate" and consigned to hellfire.
The FLDS practices racism against black people that was first espoused by the early Mormon Church. They believe blacks are an inferior race descended from Cain, who was cursed by God for killing his brother.
Religious indoctrination begins at birth and never stops. Those who manage to break away from the community often do so with little or no financial support. Few are emotionally capable of living outside of the community, and many who do leave particularly the women soon return.
"It's a shitty place to come from," says Pennie Peterson, Ruth Stubbs' older sister who fled 15 years ago fearing for her life. "It messes with your mind."
Ruth Stubbs soon found herself trapped in Rodney Holm's spacious home at the mouth of Maxwell Canyon in Hildale.
The two-story, barn-styled house appears to be well above the financial means of a man who earns $29,000 a year as a Colorado City cop.
Mortgages, however, aren't something Colorado City residents worry about. Their homes are built piecemeal and paid for with cash. The land is owned by the church-controlled United Effort Plan. Residents pay only property taxes and utility bills.
But the cost of living cheap is extracted in other ways.
Soon after Ruth moved in, whatever limited freedoms she had as a single teenager were revoked. Ruth had to ask her husband for permission to leave the house, to spend money, to even eat some sugar or drink a cup of coffee.
"I couldn't do anything without asking," Ruth told AG's investigators.
Any money she earned working a $6-an-hour job at the gas station/mini-mart had to be turned over to her husband, right down to the last dime.
Her living quarters were little more than a jail cell. Ruth was consigned to a bedroom that was a converted office.
"I just had a little bed on the floor and, and [the room] had a bathroom hooked to it," she said.
It was the only place she could find respite from the ongoing power struggle between her sister, Suzie, and the second wife, Wendy Holm.
Things were already complicated in the household before Ruth arrived. Wendy had been married to Rodney Holm's brother. When that marriage ended in divorce, the Prophet gave Wendy to Rodney. Consequently, all three of Rodney's wives were sisters-in-law.
Yet this entanglement is nothing by Colorado City standards. One young woman who left the area several years ago said she figured out her family tree and found she was related to more than 1,000 people in the Colorado City area.
The Holm household was anything but content.
Wendy and Suzie had hated each other from the moment Wendy entered the home eight years earlier. Naive Ruth soon found herself a foot solider in Suzie's war.
"Suzie pitted me against Wendy," Ruth said.
The bitterness extended to the children.
"I know Suzie hits Wendy's kids sometimes, you know, when she feels like it or whatever," Ruth said to investigators. She said babies and toddlers among the 20 children in the home were sometimes left in the care of 6-year-old kids.
Ruth said Rodney Holm, meanwhile, stayed aloof from the fray, telling her to "love" her sister wives.
He spent much of his time in a laundry- and bathroom-equipped shop behind the house. He often slept in the out building, summoning whichever wife he chose to the quarters to spend the night. The wives generally followed a three-night rotation and would get hugely upset if Rodney favored one of the others on an assigned evening.
Ruth said her sister would get vicious toward her even on her assigned nights with Rodney.
"She'd call me a bitch, you know. She'd call me names and get pissed every time I was with Rod," Ruth said. "It made it miserable to live there."
Spontaneous sex was rare, but it did occur. Ruth said she sometimes had sex with Rodney at his brother Greg's Colorado City office while her husband was on police duty. This would happen on nights when Rodney was supposed to be with one of the other wives.
A month into the marriage, Ruth discovered she was pregnant.
"I cried," she said. "I felt if I wanted to leave, now . . . I couldn't."
Her daughter Maranda was born on October 5, 1999. Just more than a year later, her son Winston was born. Ruth found herself on the typical fundamentalist Mormon track that could lead to a dozen children before the age of 30.
Two years into the marriage, Ruth said, she began discussing with her sister the possibility of leaving. Suzie strongly objected.
"If you leave right now, it's going to make Wendy so happy," Ruth said her sister told her. "Don't leave! Don't leave!"
Rodney soon discovered her desire to get out and began haranguing her. "That's what the devil wants you to do," Ruth said he told her.
Rodney took Ruth to see Prophet Rulon Jeffs' son, Warren, who had become the "mouthpiece" for his ailing father.
Ruth said Warren Jeffs spat out a frightening warning: "You can either live here and live in hell, and then when you die have eternal happiness. Or else, you can go out into the world and live in hell and die and even have more eternal hell."
With each passing day after that, the now 18-year-old Ruth pregnant with her third child became more and more depressed.
"I thought a lot about, you know, maybe, you know, the Lord will love me enough to take my life, you know, and get me out of here."
The Arizona grand jury investigation into Colorado City begun under former attorney general and now governor Janet Napolitano has continued under her successor, Terry Goddard.
The probe so far has only confirmed the obvious. Polygamous marriages like Ruth Stubbses are routine in Colorado City.
"We've got quite a few names of young girls who have . . . turned 15, and they're gone. So they have been married," attorney general's investigator Ron Gibson said in a transcript obtained by New Times.
"Poofer" is the Colorado City slang for a girl who has vanished from her parents' home into a husband's abode.
"One day they would be there, and the next day they were gone poof," explains Mary Mackert, a former plural wife who left Colorado City after 16 years in a polygamous marriage as the sixth of seven wives. "When they are married is a secret [to the overall community]."
The grand jury investigation has netted no indictments because "we need a victim," maintained former assistant attorney general Leesa Morrison, who oversaw the inquiry until Governor Napolitano appointed her director of the state Department of Liquor Licenses and Control in January.
The search for an underage plural wife willing to take the stand against her fundamentalist Mormon husband has been complicated by the fact that many teenage girls want to be part of the system. In fact, many have lobbied the Prophet to pick a husband for them.
"They are champing at the bit to get married," says Craig Chatwin, a 30-year-old ex-fundamentalist who is one of the few men to leave Colorado City and pursue a college education.
The teenage girls' eagerness to "turn themselves in" to the Prophet shows how deeply ingrained the religious beliefs and customs are in the rapidly growing community.
"They know no other way," Chatwin says. "For [many], it's the most exciting thing in the world to participate in this system. Outside of it, they would crash and burn."
As a young girl, Mackert said, she remembers sitting under the kitchen table during quilting bees listening to women talk about marriage.
"The old women would talk about a poor girl who was a first wife, and how much she needed to have a sister wife," Mackert recalls. "It was talked about like it was such an awful thing to be the only wife."
Such discussions have powerful influence on young minds, particularly in a town with strict censorship of publications and where watching television is strongly discouraged.
Moreover, there is no way in and out of town for a teenage girl who has no money and no access to a car. There is no bus service, and the church will send out a posse to round up any young female trying to flee. Few girls even think about leaving.
Girls typically begin discussing marriage when they are about 12.
"That's just what you talk about. Who you're going to marry," says Jenny Kesselring, an ex-fundamentalist who left Colorado City when she was 17 and moved in with cousins in Salt Lake City.
This is even though the girls know they have no control over who becomes their mate.
"We were just scared to death it was going to be an old guy, or an ugly one," Kesselring, now 24, says. "Everybody worries about that."
In many cases, marriage is seen as a way to quell teenage rebellion. If a teenage girl is seen so much as talking to a boy, her father is likely to ask the Prophet to find her a husband.
"If she's good-looking, the Prophet might marry her [himself]," says local historian Ben Bistline.
By turning in his daughter for marriage, the father not only takes care of the problem teen, he gains favor with the Prophet, increasing his chances for future wives.
Naturally, fathers in town marry each other's daughters. The Prophet is the broker in these swaps. "They are chattel," Bistline says of the girls.
Frequently, the girls are shipped out of town, to a sister FLDS town in Creston, British Columbia. In turn, that town ships girls to the Colorado City area.
Chatwin says seven of his sisters were married to members of the Canadian FLDS congregation.
Two of Chatwin's sisters were married to the same man on the same day. The groom was Winston Blackmore, the bishop of the FLDS' Canadian church. Blackmore already had a dozen wives.
Chatwin recounted what his sisters told him about their wedding night:
Blackmore approached Zelpha, 21, and Marsha, 17, asking which one wanted to have sex with him first. He said, "We are in the business of making babies."
Zelpha pushed Marsha forward.
Chatwin said, "The next night it was Zelpha's turn. That was the extent of their romance."
Before the marriage, Chatwin had told Zelpha she would be lucky to total three years of the rest of her life with Blackmore because he was spread between so many women and also had extensive church duties.
A few months later, Zelpha wrote in a letter: "Craig, you were so wrong about what you said. I spend far less time with him. In reality, I'm married to the other women."
With arranged polygamous marriages a given, it's not surprising that nearly every aspect of life, particularly that of women, is dictated by the church and its Prophet.
The clothing women are mandated to wear is the most visible example of this control.
FLDS women look as if they just staggered off an 1850s wagon train after a month of bouncing across the Mormon Trail. They typically wear long-sleeve, neck-high, loose-fitting blouses with full-length skirts often adorned with faded floral patterns. Their feet are usually clad in ankle-high, black-leather, laced boots although the younger women and girls seem to prefer running shoes.
Women are forbidden to wear makeup or cut their hair, which is generally swept up high above their foreheads before it is pulled into elaborate braids that extend far down their backs. And many are bloated from too many pregnancies.
The fundamentalist Mormon idea is to minimize feminine beauty so it's clear that sex is a sacred duty men and women have to bring "waiting spirits" to Earth.
Mark Twain issued this snippet of sarcasm about the unfortunate appearance of fundamentalist Mormon women in a screed attacking polygamy:
"My heart was wiser than my head. It warmed toward these poor, ungainly and pathetically homely' creatures, and as I turned to hide the generous moisture in my eyes, I said, No' the man that marries one of them has done an act of Christian charity which entitles him to the kindly applause of mankind, not their harsh censure and the man that marries sixty of them has done a deed of open-handed generosity so sublime that the nations should stand uncovered in his presence and worship in silence."
Working-class men in the community almost always wear plaid, long-sleeved shirts and jeans. The handful of professionals wear conservative suits. Hair is trimmed short above the ears, and facial hair is forbidden.
Beneath their clothes, fundamentalist men and women must wear an undergarment that extends to the ankles and wrists. Except when bathing, the sacred long johns are to be worn at all times after baptism at age 8.
Once married, women seldom leave town, except for occasional forays into nearby St. George. A wife who does not submit to her husband's will risks punishment, including beatings, and possible eternal damnation.
In conformance to what the men are told, wives are taught that they must have at least two sister wives to gain admittance to the highest level of heaven.
"[This] has been drilled into them since they were babies," says Annie Bistline, who raised more than a dozen children during her monogamous marriage to Benjamin.
The pressure to accept additional wives is enormous. "I used to pray for another one," says 51-year-old Pamela Black, a former fundamentalist who raised 14 children before breaking away after the church threatened to take away some of her kids.
Growing up, Pamela Black had only one goal.
"I just wanted to get married and have babies because that is all I thought I could do."
Her biggest fear was that she was going to be damned.
"I thought that God would destroy me if I did not do what I was told," she tells New Times.
God has a very real face in Colorado City. At the time, Pamela was a comely teenager. God was embodied in FLDS Prophet Leroy Johnson, or Uncle Leroy.
Typically, girls turned over their name to the Prophet when they wanted to be married. In Pamela's case, the Prophet came to her.
Uncle Leroy showed up at school while Pamela was singing in the choir.
"Wow, he sure seems to be looking at me," Pamela recalls. "Sure enough, he was."
Later that day, 17-year-old Pamela was summoned to a meeting with the Prophet. It is a major event in a young girl's life.
"We have someone for you," Pamela says Uncle Leroy let on.
The official line is that girls can refuse a marriage.
"They give us a choice, but there's really no choice," Pamela says. "You either do what they say because [the Prophet is considered] God, or face damnation.
"So, I got married."
Her groom was 27-year-old Martin Black, a man she barely knew.
After a brief courtship of holding hands and kissing, but rarely talking, the couple were married by Uncle Leroy.
The night before the wedding, Pamela's mother told her about sex.
Pamela spent her wedding night hiding in the bathroom, hoping to avoid the matrimonial bed.
"I was brushing my teeth for an hour," she says. "Eventually, it had to happen."
She got into bed.
"Take off your nightgown," Pamela says her new husband told her. "I said, No.'"
Her new husband ignored her plea.
"And thus the sex act was performed against my will," Pamela says. "I was completely traumatized. I was raped."
The night set the tone for their marriage.
"He literally spent the night alone in the living room while I stayed in the bathroom crying," Pamela says.
That such events transpired should not be a condemnation of Martin Black, Pamela says. Martin is a kind, gentle man of high integrity who raised a huge family on $12 an hour working for the school district.
Martin, Pamela says, was as much a victim of FLDS doctrine as she was.
There is nothing more important in the fundamentalist Mormon world than obedience.
Martin had to obey the religious doctrine that he dominate his wife.
"He told me he did it because he wanted to own me," Pamela says. "He wanted to prove that I belonged to him."
Her husband expressed some backhanded regret for his hard-line stance.
"He told me later that he would never do that to his next wife," Pamela says.
From that moment on, Pamela says, she put on a "mask" in public as the happy, dutiful wife. She adopted the "keep-sweet" mantra that the religion pounds into women's heads.
Privately, with nowhere to turn, her emotions burst forth in uncontrollable fits. Her children suffered immensely.
"The children witnessed a very angry mother," she says.
Eventually, the outbursts became known to religious leaders, and pressure was directed toward Martin to divorce her.
"I knew I was in trouble," she says. "They were taking my kids away. They were taking everything from me because I would not submit.
The more she rebelled, the more the system ground on her at every turn. The FLDS assault on her free will, she says, constituted "soul murder."
Pamela's rebellion was costing Martin his shot at the highest levels of heaven. He wasn't going to get another wife if he couldn't control the one he had.
The couple traveled to Laughlin, Nevada, on a trip arranged by town officials to finalize the divorce. But something strange happened. On a walk along the banks of the Colorado River, they talked, and after a passionate night, they reconciled.
"It was one of our best moments," she recalls, saying they felt as if they were rebelling against decades of repression. "We felt like kids again."
Once the elders discovered Pamela and Martin were not divorcing, they were evicted from the home they had built on United Effort Plan property.
Now free from the church and living separately on privately owned land in a beautiful canyon perched above Colorado City, the couple is trying to piece their lives together.
Even though he was diagnosed with cancer and recently underwent brain surgery, Martin is upbeat.
"I'm too busy to die," he said, standing waist deep in a ditch he had just finished digging for a sewer line with his backhoe.
With no need to go through the Prophet anymore, Pamela and Martin say they are dealing with God directly.
"I think for myself," Pam says.
Recalling the FLDS' strong discouragement of television watching, Martin laughs.
"I've got dish," he says.
Few Colorado City women have Pamela Black's courage and stamina.
Most don't even want to consider the option she took which, according to the religion, will turn them into apostates fated to burn in hell.
In the FLDS world, there is nothing lower than an apostate.
"An apostate is the most dark person on earth," says science teacher DeLoy Bateman, himself among the damned.
Bateman says the FLDS considers apostates to be "liars from the beginning, who have made covenants to abide by the laws of God, and have turned traitor to the priesthood, and their own existence. They are led by their master, Lucifer."
Few in Colorado City will risk such a branding.
Particularly women involved in plural marriages. An outspoken female threatens not only her future in the Celestial Kingdom but also that of her sister wives and husband.
With such pressure, it is not surprising that few women are willing to testify in court about the intricacies of fundamentalist Mormon polygamy. Late last winter, several plural wives were brought before a state grand jury convened in Phoenix.
The subpoenaed women included Marsha Barlow, Linda Johnson and Louisa Johnson, who sources said are married to Dale Barlow; and Alison Fischer, LuJean Fischer and her daughter, Jenny Steed, who are reportedly married to Kelly Fischer. The sources in Colorado City said Louisa Johnson and Jenny Steed were married as young teens.
In addition to being labeled apostates, testifying would mean the church could toss them out of their homes and take away their children.
Refusing to testify, however, could lead to contempt of court charges and jail time.
The women didn't testify, their lawyers challenging the legality of the subpoenas.
On February 11, the state Supreme Court rejected their legal argument for refusing to testify, clearing the way for the grand jury to once again subpoena them.
The Colorado City plural wives' defense is being coordinated by Tom Henze, one of Arizona's top defense attorneys, according to sources in the AG's Office. Henze did not respond to telephone messages asking if he was involved in the case.
Tapping top-shelf lawyers is nothing new for the FLDS.
Former Colorado City town attorney David Nuffer, a graduate of Brigham Young University law school, is a past president of the Utah Bar Association.
Earlier this year, Nuffer was named a full-time federal magistrate judge in Utah, where he will oversee pretrial civil and criminal matters. Nuffer's jurisdiction includes Hildale, which merges seamlessly into Colorado City with the state line bisecting the towns along Uzona Avenue. Hildale has many of the community's largest and newest homes, including a fenced, one-block compound for the Prophet and his horde of wives.
The fundamentalist church has long retained Salt Lake City's Snow, Christensen & Martineau, one of Utah's oldest and most politically connected law firms. The firm represents the church in an array of issues mostly focused on defending its steadfast belief that the First Amendment protects its right to practice polygamy.
Article XX of the Arizona Constitution explicitly forbids polygamy. It states: "Polygamous or plural marriages, or polygamous co-habitation, are forever prohibited within this State."
Likewise, the United States Supreme Court has held fast in its prohibition of polygamy since its landmark case on religious freedom in the 1879 decision of Reynolds v. United States.
The Supreme Court concluded that to excuse Reynolds' practice of polygamy on the basis of religion would be to "make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect permit every citizen to become a law unto himself. Government could only exist in name under such circumstance."
While the Arizona Legislature has never enacted a criminal statute that provides for penalties for practicing polygamy, it does have a bigamy statute. Bigamy is defined as having two civil marriages that appear to be legal. The Colorado City polygamists typically only have a civil marriage for the first wife. The subsequent marriages are "spiritual" unions.
Utah, however, defines bigamy to include cohabitation while either person is legally married to somebody else. The broader definition has helped Utah successfully prosecute polygamy.
In May 2001, a Utah jury convicted polygamist Tom Green on four counts of bigamy and one count of criminal nonsupport. Green was sentenced to up to five years in prison. Last year, Green who is not associated with the FLDS in Colorado City was found guilty of child rape and sentenced from five years to life in prison.
Utah stepped up the pressure on polygamists last fall, when the state filed felony charges against Colorado City cop Rodney Holm, accusing him of bigamy and unlawful sex with a minor stemming from his spiritual marriage to Ruth Stubbs. The case is awaiting trial.
And last month, the Utah House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill that makes marrying a second wife who is under 18 a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
Arizona, meanwhile, has taken no legislative steps to address problems in Colorado City, the largest openly polygamous enclave in the United States. Though it would be naive to think that criminalizing polygamy in Arizona would eradicate the practice among fundamentalists, enforcement of such a statute would have a profound effect on life in Colorado City.
If polygamous living were criminalized, the state would have more leverage to break the religion's grip on the town council, the school board and the police which are all controlled by polygamists.
State Senator Linda Binder (R-Lake Havasu) has been leading a lonely effort to enact tougher laws to address abuses in Colorado City. She says she has found no support from the Legislature to criminalize polygamy, much less tighten bigamy laws.
"The Legislature is not interested in the least," she says flatly.
Its reluctance may be partially rooted in fear.
"I don't think they want another Waco," she says.
Attorney General Goddard says his office is working with the Utah attorney general's office to develop a comprehensive plan to deal with the problem, continuing an effort begun under Napolitano.
Goddard, however, says he has been forced to lay off several key employees who were investigating the Colorado City case because of budget reductions imposed by the Legislature. Despite the layoffs, sources say the attorney general's investigation is continuing and an arrest appears imminent of a prominent polygamist who allegedly impregnated underage "spiritual wives."
Ultimately, Binder says, she would like to find ways to get tough with the fundamentalists by cutting off state funding to Colorado City government and police.
"Maybe we can dis-incorporate the town," she speculated.
That is exactly the tack the federal government took toward the Mormon Church 120 years ago. Historian Bistline says federal laws passed in the 1880s finally forced the mainstream church in Salt Lake City to abandon polygamy in 1890. The laws, which applied only to U.S. territories, stripped the church of property, banned polygamists from holding public office and threatened the same kind of forced dis-incorporation that Binder suggested would work today.
But beyond legalizing that kind of action in Arizona, Bistline says, legislators could "enact some laws to put [fundamentalist] leaders in prison."
Colorado City Mayor Daniel Barlow pulled out a tape recorder, pressed the record button and set the machine on the conference table inside the Colorado City Town Hall.
A distinguished-looking man with a salesman's smile, he's the perfect front man to glad-hand politicians across the state while promoting Colorado City's carefully crafted, family-values image.
Behind the veneer is a man who knows how to get down and dirty.
Fifty years ago, Barlow was among a posse who set off dynamite charges before dawn to alert the town of Governor Howard Pyle's ill-fated attempt to dislodge polygamists by sending in the state police and national guard to arrest most of the men in town.
The then-21-year-old Barlow already had three wives including 15-year-old Edith Black.
Barlow takes very seriously his job of protecting fundamentalist Mormons from intruders who might be prying into the town's secrets. As an interview with New Times began, he leaned across the table and said matter-of-factly:
"I want to have a tape of it because the liability of what you do is going to come back on you. I want to have the city in the position that we have some protection against the libelous and scurrilous writing."
After laying down the gauntlet, Barlow moved toward denial.
Ignoring even his personal experience, Barlow claimed he knows nothing about the scores of teenage girls married into polygamous relationships that the Attorney General's Office has discovered.
"The people you are listening to are not credible people," he said, referring to anti-polygamist activists. "I'm just amazed that you can't tell the difference between a neurotic person and a person who has real genuine information."
Pressed to comment about Utah's filing felony sexual abuse charges against Rodney Holm stemming from his plural marriage to teenager Ruth Stubbs, Barlow ducked.
"I'm not going to speak to it because it is in the courts," he said.
Setting teenage marriages aside, Barlow acknowledged that most of the town practices polygamy.
"It is part of the basis of the fundamentalist church that they believe in patriarchal marriage," he said.
Barlow's nonchalant tone suggested the unconstitutional practice is merely a footnote, rather than the cornerstone of his community. He launched into his public relations spiel that apparently has won over political leaders across the state.
"We feel like this is small-town America. It's a wonderful opportunity for young people as well as [for] everyone else," he said. "You may not understand our lifestyle, but it really isn't important to us that you understand."
What is important, Barlow said, is that the town simply be left alone to do as it sees fit.
"Our priority is to live according to our own functions and our own guidance," he said.
In other words, town leaders expect the state of Arizona to let Colorado City set its own regulations whether they are legal or not.
Barlow's statement cuts to the heart of the 1879 U.S. Supreme Court Reynolds warning of religious freedoms becoming superior to the law of the land: "Government could only exist in name under such circumstances."
In Colorado City, all the mechanisms of government are in place. There's the town council, which appoints various committees that report their actions during regularly scheduled and posted public meetings.
Lacking, however, is vibrant political debate or, for that matter, any debate.
The town council has the same seven members it had when the body was appointed in 1985, when the town was formed.
Six of the council members, including the mayor, are polygamists. Every member of the council swore to uphold the state constitution when he or she took office an oath each polygamist is violating.
Though there are elections every two years, none has ever been contested.
Barlow has never been challenged as mayor. He is routinely reappointed to the post by other members of the council.
The political vacuum, Barlow said, is a reflection of widespread satisfaction with the council.
"You don't have to quarrel in America," he said. "If people are satisfied with the town leadership, that's good."
Anyone can take out a petition to get on the ballot, he said, even though no one has in 18 years.
The reality is, hardly anyone bothers to vote at least in town council elections. In the May 2002 election, there were 86 votes for each of the four incumbents.
Minutes from the last two years show that not once did anyone raise an issue during the public-comment period at a council meeting.
To hear Mayor Barlow tell it, Colorado City is a Garden of Eden where every problem is solved.
But, in fact, the town is practically in rack and ruin financially and otherwise.
Most of its streets are unpaved and become a quagmire when it rains. There are few sidewalks, and streetlights are rare.
Lax building codes create a bizarre landscape of occupied, yet unfinished, mostly plywood houses in various stages of completion. A Phoenix building inspector would quickly drain a ballpoint pen writing citations for blatant and dangerous violations (such as second-floor doors opening onto unfenced balconies).
Landscaping around homes and businesses is rare. Junk is piled up everywhere everything from busted cranes to airplanes to rusting trucks and tractors to discarded appliances.
A couple of feedlots packed with cows are in the center of town. The lots are adjacent to Short Creek and appear to be polluting the stream. Illegal dumps litter the creek's embankments. An asphalt plant where young children are sometimes operating heavy machinery belches thick black smoke into the sky.
The town struggles to provide basic services. Water is limited, probably because Colorado City's distribution system loses so much of it from leaky pipes. Drinking water is laced with high levels of radon. No wonder that 40 percent of the town's residents are delinquent in paying water bills.
There's a brown cloud over the town from smoke from wood-burning stoves.
The town's finances are threatened by an unwise investment in a $20 million gas-fired power plant in default on its construction bonds. The plant was built in neighboring Hildale, but Colorado City is a co-owner. It is frequently shut down because of equipment problems and because it is cheaper to purchase electricity from other sources.
There is lax enforcement of an array of public safety laws. Police ignore the widespread failure to use car seats in a population dominated by children. Police also allow kids without helmets to roar up and down the town's streets on unlicensed, all-terrain vehicles.
The town does operate a library and manages to get garbage picked up regularly.
And it has paved runways at the 1992 Arizona Airport of the Year, which is testament to the town's skill at securing state and federal grants rather than any indication of bustling activity. There are only a couple of planes parked at the airstrip that many believe was built to allow a former Prophet to fly in a Lear jet back and forth from a home in Salt Lake City.
A Colorado City resident most of his life, Ben Bistline, 72, says town residents are resigned rather than content. Bistline says anyone who challenges council authority even by simply raising questions in a public setting risks getting evicted from United Effort Plan land and losing family, home and job.
Boys Forced Out
Seventeen-year-old Robert Williams had a crush on a high school classmate named Jamie Holm.
They had chatted for a couple of months but never went on a date. That's forbidden in Colorado City. Jamie's father, Con Holm, soon learned that his daughter was flirting with a young man, and met Williams one day at the public school.
Con Holm told Williams he could see his daughter, as long as other people were around. A couple of months later, Jamie Holm gave Williams a ride home in her vehicle. Con Holm saw the couple driving down the street and pulled his daughter over, reached into the car and yanked Williams out.
"He grabbed me by the shirt and slammed me up against the car and hit me a couple of times," Robert Williams told attorney general's investigators in a May 29, 2001, taped interview obtained by New Times.
Williams said Con Holm threatened him with a more severe beating if he ever caught him with his daughter again.
A couple of months later, Williams drove by Jaime Holm's house, hoping to see her. Williams didn't see her, but Con Holm saw Williams.
A few minutes later, Con Holm rammed an all-terrain vehicle into Williams' truck, bringing the vehicle to a stop.
Con, Williams said, opened the truck door and an octopus of arms reached in and pulled him from the vehicle. Holm had gathered a group of a dozen men to help in the ambush.
"Six hands came in after me and hit me quite a few times," Williams related.
The beating continued until one of Williams' friends showed up with a baseball bat. Con Holm got control of the bat and struck Williams' ally across his shoulder, leaving a deep bruise, Williams told investigators.
Among the dozen men involved in the attack, Williams said, was Holm's brother, Colorado City policeman Rodney Holm.
Williams eventually got home and called the Washington County Sheriff's Office, not trusting the Colorado City Police Department to handle the matter, especially since Rodney Holm had been involved in the attack.
Washington County later filed charges against Con Holm, who pleaded no contest to simple assault in February 1996 and was sentenced to three months in jail.
Rodney Holm later apologized for the beating, Williams said, reportedly telling his brother, Jason Williams, that the ambush got out of hand.
Ruth Stubbs told state investigators during her January 14, 2002, interview that she asked her husband if he was involved in the Williams beating and Rodney confirmed he had been there.
"He said, I might have kicked his butt once or something,'" Ruth Stubbs told state investigators.
The Colorado City police did not return phone calls from New Times seeking comment. Rodney Holm declined to comment on the Williams matter.
Robert Williams is among many young men who have been harassed after showing interest in teenage girls. The harassment has included not only beatings, but illegal searches of vehicles and orders to stay out of town, according to state records and numerous sources in Colorado City.
In fact, the primary purpose of local police, historian Bistline and others say, is to get rid of troublesome young men to ensure a surplus of teenage girls for polygamous marriages. In other words, the polygamists, many of them middle-age and elderly, want to keep the young girls for themselves.
"I've known 13-year-old boys who have been driven off and end up sleeping in the rafters of a barn," Craig Chatwin says.
Families routinely drive their penniless young sons from home on the command of the Prophet.
The teenage boys often spiral downward into drugs, alcohol and homelessness exactly the hell that the religion predicted would befall them if they failed to subscribe to its teachings.
"I bid thee farewell," is what Ladell Pipkin, 26, said the late Prophet Rulon Jeffs told him when he was ordered to leave town a few years ago.
Pipkin is one of 37 children. His father was 54 when he married Pipkin's mother at age 19. She was one of five wives.
New Times found Pipkin living out of his decrepit SUV on an empty lot in north Phoenix. Covered with scabs and pulling hair from his face, he appeared strung out on crystal meth.
Pipkin could barely put together a sentence. But paperwork in his possession showed he had graduated from Colorado City High School in 1995, before being sent on his way.
Anti-polygamy activist Flora Jessop assisted Pipkin, getting him enrolled at Teen Challenge, a youth treatment center. The young man disappeared January 5, after leaving a disturbing, handwritten letter on his bed.
"Please help me," the letter begins. "It's just to [sic] darn late, Ladell. You have messed up everybody's life. You are a mass murderer. You are just like a Hitler. Just what in the world were you thinking when you tried to challenge God? You have killed so darn many people."
He then expresses regret at how many chances he had to pull his life together, including a second baptism. "I should just commit suicide right on the spot. I am damned for all eternity for ever and ever."
Phoenix police found Pipkin six weeks later wandering downtown streets, disheveled and disoriented. Pennie Peterson said she picked him up from police and arranged to have him sent to St. George, Utah, to live with an uncle.
"He stunk so bad I had to put a blanket down over the seat of the car," Peterson said. "His brain was gone."
Julia Thomas had a beautiful herb and flower garden around her Colorado City home.
It was a home she had built with her own hands, much to the dismay of religious leaders who don't like women displaying such independence.
She loved her little spot on Earth as much as she cherished the fundamentalist Mormon creed.
"I made a covenant a long time ago that I would give my life to the gospel," Thomas said. "I'm doing it."
The 70-something Thomas has more than 70 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. During her lifetime in Colorado City, she has seen tumultuous events in her religion. But nothing like the split that occurred 20 years ago.
At that time, a battle emerged over whether a council of seven men should lead the FLDS, or whether all power should rest with one.
Thomas opted for the council of seven, but her side lost the battle when former Prophet Leroy Johnson assumed control of the FLDS in 1984.
The congregation in Colorado City has been ruled by a single man ever since. After Uncle Leroy came the Jeffses, Rulon and then Warren. Those who had opposed one-man rule soon found themselves in trouble, even if they were still faithful to the religious doctrine.
Like many FLDS faithful, Thomas had built her home on United Effort Plan property under the assumption that she could remain as long as she wished. But soon after Rulon Jeffs assumed power in 1986, the religion notified everyone living on UEP land that they were "tenants at will" and could be evicted.
Many in the community were shocked. Eventually, 21 people filed a class-action lawsuit seeking to retain title to the homes they had paid for and built on the land.
Led by a handful of activists, including Ben Bistline, the suit cost plaintiffs more than a million dollars and dragged on for more than a decade. A Utah state court judge finally ruled that the UEP could not evict plaintiffs from their homes, unless they paid fair market value for them. Once the homeowner died, the judge ruled, the land and home would revert to the UEP.
After the suit was settled, the UEP tightened language in its charter and resumed evictions against anyone who was not in "harmony" with the Prophet.
Lenore Holm quickly found herself out of favor in August 2000, when she protested the planned spiritual marriage of her 16-year-old daughter, Nicole, to a 39-year-old man as his second wife.
The UEP immediately sought to evict Holm and her children from the Colorado City home that she and her husband, Milton, were building. The 39-year-old Lenore has 14 children nine were still in the parents' care.
Rather than turning over the property, which most people do when it is demanded by the UEP, Lenore Holm chose to fight the eviction in Mohave County Superior Court. The case is pending, and the Holms remain in the house. But Lenore's 16-year-old moved in with the man, and the couple were married soon after she turned 18.
As for the elderly Thomas, who is divorced and was not a plaintiff in the lawsuit, she wound up getting evicted from the home she had paid for and built.
"They gave me three days' notice to leave," she said.
The UEP then bulldozed her house, and the property was given to a member of the powerful Barlow family.
"I've been a good girl, and they abused me," Thomas said.
But unlike many who have had to leave town upon eviction, the elderly Thomas was lucky. She didn't have to move far. She converted an old garage on a relative's private land into a small home for less than $1,000. There, she's replanted her herb garden and counsels young FLDS women who call on her for advice despite her status as an apostate.
For a while after she was driven out, she wondered if the FLDS would come looking for her. "I was afraid for my life," she said. "But God was with me."
Supported by Taxes
At the same time the United Effort Plan was kicking what it considers homeowner dissidents including elderly women and widows off its property, church leaders were encouraging the faithful to tap welfare programs to support huge FLDS families.
Like nearly every family in Colorado City, the Rodney Holm household relied heavily on food stamps to purchase groceries.
By late 2001, the Rodney Holm clan included 20 children along with the three wives. The family's food stamp benefit was worth about $2,016 a month based on the Arizona Department of Economic Security food stamp rate of $84 a person.
According to DES, more than half the roughly 4,000 people living in the Colorado City area in Arizona are receiving food stamps worth about $172,000 a month or $2.1 million a year.
Federal and state welfare regulations do not prohibit families in polygamous marriages from receiving welfare benefits.
Food stamp eligibility is determined by income and the number of people living together in a household which is defined as a group of people who purchase food and eat meals together.
"It doesn't matter whether you are blood-related or not," says Vincent Wood, state DES director for benefits and medical eligibility.
So it's very easy to qualify for benefits. So easy that Ruth Stubbs said she never directly applied for food stamps or medical insurance through the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state agency that administers Medicare benefits. Stubbs said she and her children were enrolled by her sister, Suzie. That, too, is legal, as long as the person submitting the application has the authorization of the person receiving the benefits.
Taxpayer-supported AHCCCS provides the bulk of the medical insurance for residents in Colorado City and the surrounding area.
AHCCCS eligibility is determined by combining the income of husband and wife and considering how much money is necessary to pay for the medical care of the children produced by that relationship. The process is repeated for each of the husband's wives and children.
As might be expected, Colorado City AHCCCS medical expenses are far above the state average in pediatric care. However, expenses for other health-care categories are below the average.
Colorado City residents are increasingly tapping state child-care assistance programs.
In mid-1998, there were no children receiving child-care benefits in Colorado City. By the end of last September, 46 families with 182 children were receiving state benefits. The average monthly payment per child was $247 or about $540,000 a year.
The benefits typically are paid to state-certified day-care centers. DES officials said the benefits also can be paid to relatives of the parents, such as aunts.
In many cases, men in Colorado City are married to sisters, such as Rodney Holm's marriage to Ruth and Suzie Stubbs.
An aunt, who is also a wife, could be eligible to receive child-care benefits by taking care of the children of a sister while the mother and father are working or enrolled in school. It is unknown if this is occurring in Colorado City, DES officials said.
Young Kids Abused
While Colorado City police respected fellow cop Rodney Holm's spiritual marriage to Ruth Stubbs and winked at his apparently breaking the law by sleeping with the 16-year-old girl, Utah authorities didn't see it the same way and leveled felony charges against Holm.
Colorado City Marshal Sam Roundy, a polygamist, did not return a phone call seeking comment about Rodney Holm, who has since been transferred to the town's public works department at the same salary pending the outcome of his Utah criminal trial.
All along, Ruth and Rodney had kept their marriage secret when police from outside the area came to town. The couple would ignore each other if Rodney happened to bring outsider cops to the gas station-deli where Ruth worked.
"He says that he could get into trouble for him being a cop because he was married to somebody younger than 18," Ruth told attorney general's investigators.
He was so worried, Ruth said, that he told her "not to come outside and kiss him goodbye" because he was afraid someone might be taking photographs.
For that reason and others, the pressure of the polygamous marriage on Ruth Stubbs finally reached a breaking point. On December 9, 2001, Ruth gathered up her children and fled Colorado City. She moved into her sister's house in Phoenix.
Ten days later, she filed a remarkable affidavit in Maricopa County Superior Court seeking emergency child custody. The notarized document describes horrific living conditions for herself and the 20 children in the household:
"At the age of sixteen I was pressured to marry Rodney H. Holm, under the rule of the [FLDS] church. Since that time, I have lived in a controlling and abusive environment common in the community. The sister-wives' were physically and emotionally abusive to both myself and my children. I have scars on my face from one beating. Children were beaten and locked in rooms. On several occasions, younger children would be smothered by one of the mothers until they choked or gasped for air. . . . I was required to work and leave my children with the other 18 in the care of the other two mothers."
Ruth Stubbs continued describing general conditions in the community: "Incest is common. Marriages are arranged between close relatives including stepsiblings. Wives are required to submit fully to the husband, to the extent that permission had to be granted for every move, including trips to the grocery store and doctor.
"Punishment is severe for all who are disobedient, including beating, shunning and expulsion to a community in Canada for retraining. All children were removed from the public schools by Rulon Jeffs and placed in a church school for training. Children are not permitted to have education beyond the 8th grade.
"My husband' has threatened to take my children back to be raised with the other 18 children by his two other wives. He has also suggested that we give the children to the Prophet,' Warren Jeffs, to raise.
"It is not uncommon for children to be taken from their mothers by a Prophet' and transported to Salt Lake City for placement with more deserving' families.
"I fear that should my husband' be given custody or unsupervised parenting time with the children, they will be injured or otherwise harmed or that he will abscond with them and I will never see them again."
A month later, Ruth met with state AG's investigators, telling them she would cooperate with prosecutors and testify against Rodney Holm if criminal charges were filed.
But her main goal, she said, was to gain custody of her children.
She anxiously told investigators, "I do not want my kids to go back there."
Craig Chatwin has had a ringside seat in Colorado City. He was raised in a polygamous family; he is one of 30 children from three mothers. He is the third child of the second mother and the seventh child overall.
Articulate and outspoken, Chatwin parted with the church a few years ago after his first marriage ended. He has since carefully analyzed the political, economic and religious forces that keep the community together.
The religion teaches that righteous men will become gods and rule over many planets. The gods will have many, many women to use for bringing spirits forth to populate the planets.
"The woman's greatest achievement is if she can become a goddess and help her husband with the preparation of these worlds," says Chatwin, who attended many church sessions for men, called Priesthood meetings, while growing up in Colorado City.
"The only way a woman can get there is to be perfectly obedient to her husband," Chatwin says. "The only way a man get there is to be perfectly obedient to the next layer of organization in the priesthood, which in Colorado City is the Prophet."
If doubt creeps in to a fundamentalist's mind, he is taught to believe that the devil is at play and to ignore the thoughts. "Put it on the shelf," is the way the church puts it.
Time and time again, various Prophets have declared that the end of the world is certain.
Leaders claim that the righteous will be "lifted up" to the sky to hover above the town as the Lord comes through and destroys the wicked. They will then return to Earth and resume the "work" of building the kingdom of God.
When the liftoff fails to happen on schedule, the leaders explain that God has given followers more time to achieve righteousness.
Predictions of the end of the world trigger widespread fear in the community -- particularly among the young, unmarried women.
"The fear of death made me want to stay," says Jenny Kesselring, who remembers the end of the world predictions in 1997. At the time, Kesselring was a teenager struggling to decide whether to move to Salt Lake City to live with a cousin.
Many of the faithful are convinced their leaders have supernatural powers. It is generally believed that Prophets will live forever. Even as Rulon Jeffs was clearly fading from a series of strokes, religious leaders kept telling the congregation that he would soon rebound. When Jeffs finally died at 92, there was widespread shock in town.
Because he believed himself immortal, Rulon never bothered to anoint a successor Prophet. Though outwardly stunned that his father had died, Warren Jeffs kept a clear enough head to issue an edict of utmost importance:
"Don't put your hands on any of my father's women," Warren is said to have ordered in a prayer meeting before Rulon's body was cold. According to local lore, the about 70 wives were later divided among FLDS hierarchy, with Warren getting first pick as the new Prophet. Supporting Warren -- who refused to be interviewed for this story -- is said to be powerful FLDS bishop Fred Jessop, 95, who himself has about 30 wives.
Though Warren has assumed the mantle of power, he apparently isn't ready to let go of his father's coattails. During sermons, the faithful report, he sometimes pauses, acting as if he is listening to his father speak from the great beyond. Perhaps the younger Jeffs is keeping in such close touch with his father's ghost to quell a growing rebellion in town to his strict leadership style.
Though it may seem to the outside world like comparing prison to jail, a number of previously stalwart families in Colorado City have bolted to Canada in the last few months to join Prophet Winston Blackmore's less restrictive polygamous program.
"Warren Jeffs' philosophy of family doesn't exist," Chatwin claims. "He believes in a group commune."
Chatwin says Jeffs has told the community, "These children that you are having don't belong to you, they belong to me.' That's verbatim."
Several sources have independently recounted stories where men have confessed to Jeffs a relationship prior to marriage, or some other infraction, that has resulted in the Prophet stripping the husbands and fathers of their wives and children. In fact, more than 50 families have been busted apart, with wives and children reassigned to other men, in the last few years, records compiled by former FLDS members and turned over to the AG's Office show.
"The men are shattered," science teacher DeLoy Bateman says. Some have threatened suicide and others have suffered mental breakdowns.
It is no wonder, given that the Prophet has even been known to remarry women while they are still legally betrothed to someone else.
Unlike the spiritual marriages conducted by the FLDS, Jason Williams, 18, and Suzanne Jessop, 16, were civilly married after eloping in 1994. The couple left Colorado City after Suzanne learned that church leaders were planning to "marry her up" to someone else. They stayed out of the community for about eight months before returning as outcasts.
"Her parents wouldn't have anything to do with her because she had apostatized," Jason Williams told state investigators.
Meanwhile, two of Suzanne's sisters, 18-year-old Velva and 21-year-old Kathy, were required to marry Prophet Rulon Jeffs, who was then more than 80. Suzanne's parents soon began pressuring her to divorce Jason.
Eventually, under direct pressure from the elderly Jeffs, Suzanne filed for divorce in December 1998. The Prophet, Jason Williams later reported to AG's investigators, told him that the only way he could get back into the church would be to sign over custody of both of his children, and be rebaptized.
That Suzanne had decided she wanted to reconcile by March 1999 had no bearing on events that had already been set in motion, Jason said. "Two weeks later, they marry her to another man [as a second wife] while we were still legally married. Exactly nine months after that, she has her first child [with the new husband]."
Jason Williams has since filed a $20 million lawsuit against the FLDS in federal court after a Utah state court dismissed his case last year.
Devotion to the "principle," as polygamy is often called, inevitably leads to fanaticism.
There is a hard-core FLDS fringe, estimated by several different sources at about 10 percent of the men, who would be willing kill to protect the Prophet and the religion.
"There was a time I would have killed if asked to by the Prophet," says historian Bistline.
During their interviews with witnesses, state investigators expressed serious concern about the potential for violence in Colorado City if authorities tried to make arrests under sexual abuse laws.
"That's one thing we've been concerned about . . . Waco-effect," state investigator Ron Gibson said during the interviews with Jason Williams.
For several years, Warren Jeffs has been preaching the doctrine of "blood atonement" -- where it is the righteous person's obligation to kill a sinner to gain salvation. While rumors abound concerning the practice, there is no evidence that blood atonement has been carried out.
But there is fear that it will be applied, particularly to apostates.
"I've personally heard Warren in priesthood meeting speaking of blood atonement," Jason Williams told investigators. "That's the next step."
Jason Williams said the FLDS operates a group called Sons of Heilman that uses songs and rituals to train young combatants. Rumors of stockpiled weapons have circulated through the community for years. Jason Williams said he's been very nervous since filing his lawsuit against the FLDS.
"You're looking over your shoulder because you wonder if somebody is gonna bump you off," he said.
Stories about the Sons of Heilman and weapons caches may be apocryphal, but they are enough to terrify Lenora Spencer, who grew up in another fundamentalist Mormon group in Mexico led by Ervil Lebaron.
Blood atonement became a way of life for Lebaron and his followers. Lebaron, who died in a Utah state prison in 1981, and his followers committed 28 murders in Mexico and the United States over 20 years. The killings stemmed from a conflict between rival Mormon polygamous groups. In addition to Lebaron, 15 of his family members were sent to prison for murder, theft, racketeering and/or conspiracy.
Spencer, who has close ties to Colorado City, said the Sons of Heilman remind her of when she was a young girl, and Lebaron was training children to handle firearms. She told state investigators that if Warren Jeffs and his followers are embracing blood atonement, armed violence is a possibility.
"Every child in that town is danger, every person is," Spencer warned.
Despite the beatings, shunnings and jealousy, despite the dark thoughts that pushed her to wishing she were dead, Ruth Stubbs has moved back to Colorado City.
Peterson knows well the difficulties faced by young girls trying to flee the town, having experienced the same turmoil 15 years ago when she fled initially to Las Vegas.
"To come out . . . is like going into the twilight zone," she says. "It's scary."
Just weeks before her child-custody case in Maricopa County was to be settled late last year, Ruth moved in with another sister back in Colorado City. She had left the town 10 months earlier with two children, and returned with three -- the last also Rodney Holm's child.
A lifetime of religious indoctrination that demands strict obedience is not easily shaken.
"They still have control and power over her and can still talk her into whatever," Peterson says.
Her child-custody case has been moved to Washington County, Utah -- where the FLDS has more often than not prevailed in such matters. But Rodney Holm says he is not going to challenge Ruth over custody of the children.
Last December, Ruth hid from Utah authorities attempting to serve her a subpoena to testify in a preliminary hearing in the criminal case against Rodney.
Now that she had gone back, Ruth wasn't about to step into a courtroom full of FLDS faithful and testify against the man the Prophet had sealed her to for eternity. And Rodney doesn't expect her to cooperate with prosecutors in the trial later this year.
"My understanding is she is determined to not testify," he says.
Ruth has already gotten herself in big enough trouble; her interview with state investigators will not soon be forgotten by the FLDS. In fact, it is doubtful she can ever live down her sins.
"What she did is the worst crime that she could do [in the community]," Peterson says. "That is, she talked about their religion and exposed their secrets."
All because the Prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints wouldn't let her marry the boy she loved who lived down the street
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