These men are self-proclaimed prophets who based their polygamous practices on the early teachings of the Mormon Church. The first prophets preached that only through plural marriage could members reach the highest level of heaven and become gods of their own worlds. They conveniently received a revelation to stop practicing polygamy at around the time Utah became a state, but some members felt it was such a basic part of their religion that they parted ways with the Church to continue their personal quests for godhood. Numerous men have since embarked on their own versions of that polygamous “principle” with dire results.
Clyde Mackert practiced polygamy with the Fundamentalist Latter-day Saints (FLDS) in Colorado City, also known as “Short Creek.” In 1953, the cult was raided under direction of Arizona’s governor at the time, Howard Pyle, on suspicion of child abuse and welfare fraud. The raid was a debacle: The polygamists were perceived by the public as victims of “Big Brother,” and the governor’s reputation suffered as a result.
In the Life article about the incident, Clyde, his wives, and their 31 children are portrayed as hardy, wholesome farming folk, canning corn and smiling for the cameras. Clyde is described as a local schoolteacher and upright citizen just following his faith. Though the men were arrested and the children placed in protective custody for a short time, the charges didn’t stick, and most of them returned to their little community with an air of righteous indignation.
After many years, Clyde’s daughters eventually came forward with allegations of child molestation, claiming that he sneaked into the girls’ shared room at night for incestuous abuse. One of his sons also described a neglectful childhood in which his father never even acknowledged him unless it was for some corporal punishment, as there were too many children vying for their parents’ attention.
Ervil LeBaron broke away from his family’s polygamist community in Mexico in the 1970s. Not wanting to play second fiddle to his brothers anymore, he started his own sect called the Church of the Firstborn of the Lamb of God.
Ervil was a power-hungry, narcissistic creep with 13 wives and at least 50 children. He believed that since Mary gave birth to Jesus when she was 14, he was justified in taking adolescent girls as wives, too. Though most of his family lived in abject poverty, he was constantly chasing new brides. He wore expensive clothes, drove fancy cars, and presented a slick front for recruiting new members. He threatened members of the sect that they would be considered “Sons of Perdition” and killed if they left.
At least 25 people were murdered under his authority. Much like Charles Manson, he ordered sect members to carry out the murders, leading the press to dub him the “Mormon Manson.” Among those killed were defected members, leaders of other polygamous groups who failed to bow to his authority, and even his own pregnant daughter. Ervil was eventually convicted for the murder of his brother, but after he died in a Utah state prison in 1981 of a heart attack, his few remaining followers continued killing in his name. Former members lived in fear, and no one knows for sure even how many deaths have actually resulted from Ervil’s orders.
In the 1960s, Stan King was a preacher in Canada for the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, another offshoot of Mormonism. In the 1970s, he broke away from that sect and started his own cult, the Church of Jesus Christ Restored, based on the Church’s original doctrine of polygamy. Church members called him “The Prophet,” and it was his privilege to have a harem of wives.
At first, he ran his church out of his house. He was an effective preacher, though, even converting a community in India, and his flock soon outgrew the little farmhouse. In 1982, he bought a conveniently isolated, bankrupt ski resort in Canada and moved the commune there. One member and former sister-wife, Carol Christie, described the cult’s existence at the ski resort as “just filled with bizarre, insane everything. It was a living hell.” She herself had been drugged and coerced by her unstable, fanatically religious mother into marrying Stan when she was only 18 and he was more than twice her age. When she tried to refuse Stan’s sexual advances, she was beaten into submission by a female friend of her mother. Carol joined two other “wives,” one of whom was only 14 years old.
Stan enjoyed group sex and eventually married three more “wives,” ranging in age from 10—17 years old. When he died following a stroke in 1986, his faithful followers didn’t bury him but let him lie in state, praying around him for a week. They believed that he would somehow be resurrected. Eventually, when the stench of his rotting corpse became unbearable, someone from within the cult finally called the police, who arrived with a coroner and had his remains buried without ceremony.
Fred King is the youngest of three sons born to Stan King’s only legal wife. When Stan died, this son took over the role of “Prophet,” as well as his fathers’ illicit “wives.” Though Stan had been creepy, Fred was downright sadistic. He enacted a policy of secrecy, and visitors were no longer welcome. He even severed ties with the commune in India. Soon, he began to physically assault church members, and the congregation lived in fear. Stan’s former wife, Carol, was certain that Fred was insane and that she would die as a result of one of his beatings.
These beatings often took place at all-night Sunday church services with everyone in the congregation, even children, present for the cruel spectacle. Fred apparently felt that humiliation was a necessary tool for obedience, and some individuals were forced to sit through hours of church services with their pants down around their ankles. Six members eventually left the cult and sued its printing business, winning “sizable settlements” in 2010. In April 2014, a 16-month probe finally led to Fred’s arrest in Canada on more than 20 charges, ranging from sexual and physical assault to uttering death threats, sexual interference, and exploitation.
James Harmston was the leader of another offshoot of Mormonism called the True and Living Church (TLC). Those unfortunate enough to be born into this sect, located in central Utah, were taught that James was the reincarnation of Joseph Smith himself, the founder of Mormonism and its polygamous doctrines. Members believe that James traveled to other planets in his sleep and spoke with the authority of God. His followers were terrified of him, and he promised that if any wife disobeyed him, he would send her to hell for 1,000 years.
When his youngest wife, who was 43 years his junior, refused to consummate their “marriage,” he sent her a letter threatening fire and brimstone. He said she would have “a lonely, miserable life” in this world, and that after she died, it would get even worse. “The facts are, whether you want to believe or not, the end is coming and judgment will be executed in severity, especially for those who have broken their covenants,” he wrote. “For certain I will deal with you in the future eternity.” It was signed “Your Husband, King, and Priest.” He sent copies of this letter to five of his other 18 wives, which included the girl’s mother. He died of a heart attack in 2013.
Unlike most practitioners, Tom Green is proud of his polygamy and never had any reason to hide it. In fact, it was his pride that led to his downfall after the Utah County Prosecutor, David Leavitt, saw Tom on television flaunting his multiple wives. It was immediately apparent that Tom had five wives, all of whom he had “married” when they were just 14 or 15 years old. They lived in an odd assortment of trailers in the southwestern Utah desert and supported their 25 children with a combination of odd jobs and welfare. He called this “a good chunk of heaven on Earth.”
At his trial, Tom’s wives refused to testify against him. They admitted to being married when they were young but claimed they did not have sexual relations with Tom until they were 18. However, the prosecutor found proof that Tom had impregnated a stepdaughter, who was now one of his wives, when she was just 13 years old. He never denied the charge but explained that they were in Mexico—and outside of the state’s jurisdiction—at the time of the conception. He was eventually convicted of four counts of bigamy, failure to pay child support, and child rape. He spent six years in prison and was released in 2007, having promised to only cohabitate with one wife from now on.
Allen Harrod moved from Salt Lake City, Utah to Folsom, California in the 1980s to spread his interpretation of the original Mormon gospel. Soon, he started his own polygamous sect there called the Universal Church of Jesus Christ. It was initially a relatively small cult, consisting only of his and one other family. He was the “Patriarch,” and the other family’s husband was the “Bishop.” The other family later moved to Texas but kept up their relations with Allen’s cult.
Amazingly, with only two alleged “wives” in his family, Allen racked up a whopping 97 counts of child molestation when he was finally investigated around 2002. The investigation was launched after his eldest daughter approached the authorities at age 29 with allegations that Allen had been molesting her since she was in preschool. The police found journals in Allen’s home that referred to sexual “offerings” from the girls and women as well as other chores they carried out for their “Lord,” who had adopted the biblical name of “Isaac.” When an act was performed satisfactorily, the girls would receive an anklet charm in recognition. They also learned that the Texas family had sent three of their underage daughters to live with Allen for “spiritual” training, one of whom was pregnant with his child when the police arrived.
Though Allen’s first wife left him when she discovered his polygamous ways, he soon found companionship with her sister, who also faced abuse charges. Allen’s daughters claimed that she would prepare them for molestation and even took pictures of the vile acts. In 2009, Allen and the father of the family in Texas were sentenced to life in prison for six counts of the interstate transport of four minors for the purpose of engaging in unlawful sexual conduct and one count each for the transfer of Allen’s seven-year-old son to the Texas father for the purpose of producing sexually explicit images of the boy.
Warren Jeffs is probably the most notorious of the creepy polygamist “prophets” due to the national attention he received when his Texas compound, the Yearning for Zion ranch, was raided by police in 2008. The raid was prompted by a call to local authorities from an underage girl pleading for help. The girl was never found, but the raid turned up enough twisted evidence to put Warren in prison for the rest of his life.
Warren took control of the FLDS polygamist community in Colorado City, Arizona after his father, the previous “prophet,” passed away in 2002. When Warren took the reins, he slowly handed down increasingly bizarre edicts and expelled more and more members from the cult. He also began marrying younger and younger girls, some of whom were as young as 12, to the few old men he did keep in the polygamous sect as good followers.
At the Texas compound, Warren built a massive temple, in which authorities found what is described as the “rape bed” where he would consummate marriages to underage girls. They also found perverted audiotapes featuring Warren explaining to groups of young women the biblical justification for why they were there to have sex with him and how it should proceed. These tapes all but sealed his guilty verdict in the eyes of the jury.
2Brian David Mitchell
Brian David Mitchell is especially interesting to me due to my own personal anecdote. Though his cult was small, with only his wife as a follower, the couple became infamous for abducting Elizabeth Smart. She was just 14 years old when she was kidnapped to be his second, virgin wife in polygamy. They didn’t take her very far, simply camping out in the foothills of Salt Lake City, keeping Elizabeth docile by threatening to kill her family if she tried to escape. Mrs. Mitchell kept watch and helped brainwash Elizabeth, while her husband’s quest toward godhood inspired him to rape Elizabeth almost daily.
At the time, you couldn’t go anywhere in Salt Lake City, where I lived, without seeing a “missing child” poster for Elizabeth. Everyone was looking for her, yet she was hidden in plain sight among us. Apparently, if you kidnap a girl and dress her in a burka, you can walk around Salt Lake City unquestioned, which is what happened when she showed up at a house party attended by hundreds of people, including me, in the middle of the nationwide search.
Since the home’s owner, Bub, is a playwright originally from New York, and his house, locally known as “China Blue,” always attracted a motley crew of musicians, artists, actors, and punks, I didn’t think much of the strange-looking guests. I do remember thinking it strange, however, that the women weren’t talking at all or drinking anything. They were eventually expelled for what Bub deemed poor party behavior. Only later, after Elizabeth was found, did the story come out that she had been in attendance at one of the most decadent spots in Salt Lake City that night, and nobody realized it.
Joseph Smith is the founder of the Mormon Church and the one who started the whole philosophy of polygamy in America. Mormons believe he was a true prophet and spoke directly to God, while skeptics believe he was simply a master forger and con artist. Whatever the case, historical records do show that Joseph was a convicted fraud before he founded his successful new religion. Testimony from articles and letters of the time state that as he wooed new followers back east, he left a trail of angry men who claimed he had tried to have sex with their daughters or wives. He was almost castrated in Hiram, Ohio, but the surgeon in that angry mob didn’t have the heart to go through with it. Instead, Smith was tarred and feathered before being run out of yet another town.
Though he preached that polygamy was the only way to the “celestial” kingdom, he publicly denied practicing it. In secret, he took on 33 wives, some of whom were as young as 14, before being murdered by a lynch mob while imprisoned on charges of inciting a riot and treason. His legal wife, Emma, was understandably against the idea of polygamy, but luckily, God sent him a personal revelation to be delivered to Emma. “A commandment I give unto mine handmaid, Emma Smith, your wife . . . receive all those that have been given unto my servant Joseph . . . And I command mine handmaid, Emma Smith, to abide and cleave unto my servant Joseph, and to none else. But if she will not abide this commandment she shall be destroyed . . . And again, verily I say, let mine handmaid forgive my servant Joseph his trespasses . . . Emma Smith is counseled to be faithful and true.” Apparently, in Smith’s case, God really was his wingman.
Charity is an artist who lives by the Big Rock Candy Mountain in central Utah. You can check out her style on Facebook or her man’s cool sculptures and festival exhibits at www.chriscolemanstudio.com. Enjoy!