Longform

Bound by Fear: Polygamy in Arizona

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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."

Girls Brainwashed

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."

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty