Wanted: Armed and Dangerous

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"You can't approach that ranch from any direction without being seen," says Randy Mankin, the editor and publisher of the community's weekly newspaper, the Eldorado Success.

Mankin and his wife, Kathy, have seized on the biggest story to hit Schleicher County in decades. Their family-owned paper and Web site have carefully documented construction at YFZ with hundreds of aerial photographs. Local residents eagerly buy the paper every Thursday to read the latest update on FLDS developments.

Many Eldorado residents expressed concern about the polygamist compound, about three miles outside of town.

"They got off on the wrong foot when they came in here lying about what they were intending," Jim Runge, a local entertainer and satirist, says about the polygamists. "We can't believe anything they say."

One owner of a neighboring ranch who asked not to be identified says the community is outraged that the FLDS has settled in their midst.

"We hate that they are here, and we are very concerned about the welfare of those children and young girls out there," the ranch owner says. "I just wish the courts and law enforcement at the state and federal level could address the situation."

But most local elected officials are cautious about saying anything negative about the town's FLDS neighbors. The April 1993 federal raid on the Branch Davidian sect in nearby Waco that left about 76 people dead is on their minds.

"[The polygamists] have not bothered a soul," says Schleicher County Justice of the Peace James Doyle, one of the few public officials to have entered the YFZ compound. Doyle was allowed inside to handle official paperwork when one of Warren Jeffs' wives died of cancer.

As long as YFZ residents do not begin to register to vote in large numbers or apply for welfare, Doyle says, their presence is unlikely to generate huge opposition from local residents. Besides, Doyle says, there is little anyone can do to stop construction at the compound; there are no county building and zoning ordinances affecting the property.

At the same time, Doyle says he is aware of the FLDS practice of underage "spiritual" marriages, but until victims step forward and swear out complaints, there is nothing he can do to stop them.

Eldorado Mayor John Nickolauk has extended a friendly handshake to the FLDS, although he, too, wishes they had never come to the area.

"If I had a way, I would snap my fingers and they would be gone. But they are here, so let's try to make the best of it," says the retired Air Force pilot and Vietnam veteran.

Nickolauk saw a financial opportunity for the town and signed a contract to have YFZ dump its sewage at Eldorado's treatment plant. The mayor says the polygamists have been excellent customers for the city.

"I wish everybody was like them," he says. "We give them the rules, and they obey them."

Like the town, the county and some local businesses are starting to reap substantial economic benefits. YFZ already is the county's sixth-largest property taxpayer, with a $200,000 bill due later this year.

Dan Griffin, owner of Griffin Oil Company, a wholesale fuels distributor, is reaping a windfall from thousands of dollars a week in sales of diesel fuel to YFZ. The fuel is used to power tractors, generators, rock saws and other heavy equipment eerily operating around the clock in the remote area. Griffin complained that the community newspaper has been sensationalizing FLDS members' presence.

"They haven't made any offense against anybody in this community as far as I'm aware," Griffin says.

Schleicher County Commissioner Matt Brown, who owns property adjacent to YFZ, is one of those who is highly suspicious of the polygamists. Brown says he is very concerned that Jeffs is on the FBI's most-wanted list and hopes the prophet is soon captured.

Brown says there needs to be far more cooperation between Arizona and Texas authorities in the hunt for Jeffs. He was particularly critical of Mohave County's failure to notify the Schleicher County Sheriff's Office about the grand jury indictments against Jeffs. The local media reported the news before county officials knew what had happened.

Brown says Sheriff Doran, who has only four deputies, could have set up surveillance around YFZ and might have been able to arrest Jeffs without a major confrontation.

"I'm sure Jeffs was there at the time," Brown says. "I think he left [Yearning for Zion] right in that time period."

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty