Bound by Fear: Polygamy in Arizona

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"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.

Ruth's Destination

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.

"She got [to Phoenix], and it scared the hell out of her," said her sister, Pennie Peterson, who tried to convince Ruth that she should not return.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty