No Tidy Stereotype : Polygamists: Tale of Two Families
“And it shall come to pass that I, the Lord God, will send one mighty and strong, holding the scepter of power in his hand whose mouth shall utter words, eternal words to set in order the house of God” --Mormon Doctrine and Covenants: Section 85
When Daniel Ben Jordan, a polygamist leader from Colorado, was murdered near here last fall while on a camping trip with his family, veteran law officers all over the state felt the chill hand of a man six years in his grave:
The Lambs of God were back, and killing again in the name of their late leader Ervil LeBaron, self-proclaimed One Mighty and Strong.
Before LeBaron died of a heart attack in Utah State Prison in 1981, his Lambs ranked among the most infamous sects of recent times, a little band of religious fanatics fully convinced that it was their divine right to murder any polygamist who refused to pay homage to LeBaron’s throne.
Tied to 16 Murders
And, although LeBaron finally was convicted of masterminding only one murder--and just one of his Lambs was ever convicted--police remain convinced that he was directly responsible for at least 16 other unsolved murders over two decades, including those of his older brother and a pregnant teen-age daughter.
There isn’t much doubt in their minds, either, about who the new Lambs are. A manhunt headed by the FBI is on throughout half a dozen Western states and Mexico for at least three of LeBaron’s children, mere toddlers when dad was put away, but big, strapping teen-age boys and girls now--one of them, Heber, already wanted for a Texas bank robbery last summer.
As for motive, authorities figure that Jordan, formerly LeBaron’s top lieutenant, was probably murdered on grounds that he was a traitor, having started his own church while the true One Mighty and Strong festered in prison.
‘It All Sounds Crazy’
“That’s how they think. I know it all sounds crazy, because it is ,” said Sheriff Chuck Ramsey in whose county Jordan was murdered. “When you get into this stuff, you walk into a whole different world. It’s hard for the average citizen to believe any of it’s for real.”
But, if the specter of a new generation of Lambs appalls police, that’s nothing compared to the current of horror and fear that shot through the polygamist world--that scattered, amorphous American minority of excommunicated Mormon fundamentalists who still believe in taking multiple wives.
From Utah to colonies throughout the West and Mexico, polygamist leaders are now double-bolting their doors at night and looking over their shoulders on the streets. In Colorado, Dan Jordan’s wives (4) and children (42) are terrified that they may be next. Rumors are rampant that the new cultists even have a hit list.
Until they’re captured, the LeBaron drama alone would be more than enough to keep polygamists everywhere in turmoil.
But Jordan was barely cold in his grave when along came another garish incident to catapult polygamists into the national spotlight.
This time, it was a well-known local family, the Singers, who snapped. Still embittered over the police shooting of their patriarch 10 years ago, the family bombed a Mormon church in January, then holed up in their farmhouse, where they vowed to remain until their fallen leader was resurrected. Divine revelation, they said, had promised this miracle.
Spooky, Flaky Crazies
After a nationally televised 13-day standoff with police, the drama finally ended in a bloody shoot-out that left a state corrections officer dead and a 26-year-old polygamist wounded--and generally reinforced the public perception of all polygamists everywhere as a bunch of spooky, flaky crazies.
In the courtroom finale earlier this week, family members were convicted on 20 charges.
And, time was, that would have been the end of it. With a few flamboyant exceptions, polygamists have always been notoriously loathe to expose or explain themselves to outsiders, public opinion be damned, hiding away instead in closed rural colonies or leading double lives behind locked doors in the cities and suburbs.
But this time it’s different. Polygamists are about as stirred up as they ever get, and, in stark departure from their usual reclusive ways, are saying so in surprising numbers.
For some, speaking out doesn’t come easy. They’re so nervous that their voices crack, they speak in whispers and, in public places, tremble like Third World refugees who expect to be seized by the secret police any minute. That’s one of the first lessons awaiting a visitor to Utah, a virtual theocracy where polygamists are not only kicked out of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for their beliefs, but also treated as social outcasts on the order of biblical lepers. Which many seem to simply accept as their lot.
“My sister has been afraid to even be seen with me for 50 years,” sighed one sweet-faced little woman whose husband has a dozen other wives. “But we talk on the phone almost every day, and sometimes I get to see her for a few minutes down at the market, or at the funerals, when somebody in the family dies. . . .”
But others are far from cowed, including several sedate old ladies and courtly polygamist patriarchs, who still remember the days when entire families, children too, were routinely assaulted in their homes by vigilantes--routed from their beds in the middle of the night, beaten, reviled and thrown into jail. They’re not only unafraid to say what’s on their minds but even willing to be publicly identified.
“Why not?” demanded Rhea Kunz, a charming, alert widow of 83, still a prolific author of fundamentalist literature. “The church I love has forsaken our highest and most beautiful principles, they’ve thrown me into jail and they’ve excommunicated me. What else can they do?”
TV Crews in Bedrooms
Some of the younger set are going still further, trotting TV crews right through the master bedroom if that’s where they want to go, which you betcha they do.
Still others, particularly educated professionals who hold down respectable jobs by day, then sneak home to a houseful of wives and children by night, even envision the day when the civil rights movement will make room for them too. If the Amish can pull their kids out of public schools on religious grounds, they ask, then why doesn’t the same constitutional protection apply to polygamy too?
Nowadays an occasional car on the freeways here even sports a bumper sticker reading: Polygs are People Too.
Last but not least are the would-be prophets who claim first-hand authority, via direct revelation from God or one of His emissaries, that they are It, the One Mighty and Strong, or, alternately, the Holder of the Keys (also mentioned in Mormon scriptures), dispatched to Earth to carry on in the tradition of Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith, who both preached and practiced polygamy as a direct revelation from God until a lynch mob murdered him for it in 1844.
Unfortunately, there are so many aspirants to title of One Mighty and Strong--alleged revelations are a dime a dozen in this state--that the average polygamist can only despair of ever selecting the Right One. Indeed, if the law hadn’t cut his career short, Ervil LeBaron might have died an old man before he eliminated all his potential rivals. Nothing divides polygamists more than their internal battles over precisely who’s God’s top man on Earth at any given moment, exclusively authorized to lead and, in particular, perform plural marriages. Most polygamist colonies argue that their leader is the One and are forever courting the multitude of unaligned independents.
At any given time, at least half a dozen self-proclaimed prophets roam the streets of Salt Lake City alone. They call in to announce themselves on radio talk shows, exhorting the populace to flock unto them. One self-proclaimed OMS, in fact, is Ross LeBaron, Ervil’s older brother, a harmless, gentle old eccentric with a hoary white beard who recently even guest-hosted a talk show on station KZZI, operated by a brazen band of Texans who take open delight in antagonizing the Mormon church leadership.
In his spare time, Ross LeBaron, 73, who says his brother Ervil was “devil-possessed,” is working on a model of the “celestial spaceships” that he says Adam and Jesus Christ, among others, used in their travels from heaven to Earth.
In any case, an outsider quickly learns, polygamists aren’t kidding when they say their population is too disparate to fit any tidy stereotype.
Since polygamy is technically illegal (although no police agency in the country even attempts to enforce the law anymore), estimates of their actual numbers vary wildly, ranging from 10,000 to 60,000 nationally (with, some say, around 1,200 in the Los Angeles area alone). The oldest, largest and best-known colony--and also still the most rigidly unfriendly to outsiders--is Colorado City, Ariz. (also called Short Creek), just across the Utah state line. But Utah, where Brigham Young finally settled with his flock, still has the largest concentration by far, estimated at anywhere from 10,000 to 30,000.
Beyond their multiple wives, however, little else appears to bind polygamists, not even religious conviction. Although many devoutly believe it is God’s will that they enter into plural marriages to “multiply and replenish the earth,” others couldn’t cite the proper scripture to save their lives.
Decent and Dignified
Amid the mind-boggling array of oddballs, eccentrics, fanatics, cultists, killers and illiterates who refuse to send their children to school are decent people of dignity, intelligence and education. For every old-fashioned fundamentalist dressed in tight collars, long sleeves and pastel floral prints is one in Calvin Klein jeans and alligator polo shirts.
Alongside the welfare freeloaders breeding with abandon are countless industrious, hard-working citizens who wouldn’t dream of having more wives or children than they can support. (One of the most fascinating clans, the Kingstons of Salt Lake City, are in fact shrewd, austere millionaires, owners of banks, mines, factories and farms, although they reportedly live and dress like paupers, still wearing old-fashioned Mormon clothing without pockets in which to carry worldly goods.)
It is a population of (believe it or not) 90-year-old fathers, pathetic 12-year-old child brides, prearranged marriages and sometimes genetically appalling inbreeding--but also one of men and women who are just as shocked by such practices as anybody else. Some are so radiantly serene they can make plural marriages sound genuinely blessed, others only make you want to throw up.
In short, it would take a lifelong scholar to generalize about polygamists. The best a casual visitor can offer is a visit with two of Utah’s most visible and articulate polygamists, diametrical opposites who, between them, provide a short course that is both fascinating and maybe even fair.
Tom Green, 37, is an outspoken independent who spent 14 years in a monogamous Mormon marriage before he “came out of the closet” four years ago, swiftly acquiring four wives. Owen Allred, 73, is a lifelong fundamentalist who became leader of the Apostolic United Brethren, Utah’s largest congregation of practicing polygamists with a membership of around 2,000, after his brother Rulon was murdered in 1977 by two of Ervil LeBaron’s assassins, cold-eyed, deadly efficient young women Charlie Manson might have admired. It was for ordering Allred’s murder that LeBaron was finally imprisoned. (The actual killers got away.)
Allred had to be cajoled into an interview, but he finally agreed to admit yet another stranger into his home, a neat little house painted bird-shell blue in a small, immaculate family compound on the outskirts of Salt Lake, surrounded by fertile fields and snow-capped mountains.
A dignified old gentleman, formally dressed for visitors in a conservative brown suit on a weekday afternoon, Allred sat erectly in a hard-backed chair, stern and stiff until he relaxed. The living room was an unpretentious place, quiet and warm, filled with well-used furniture, walls lined with dozens of family photographs, and yellow-tinctured portraits of Joseph Smith, his closest disciples, and many of those early fathers of fundamentalism who refused to abide by the Mormon church’s ban on plural marriages in 1890.
Fled to Mexico
Declaring the ban an unholy act of political expediency, aimed at winning statehood for Utah, some of those early fundamentalists fled to Mexico; others organized the present-day U.S. colonies; many simply lied about having extra wives.
But, to this day, major fundamentalist leaders like Owen Allred base their claims of authority on appointment by various of those men. Allred, who avoids the title One Mighty and Strong, preferring to call himself instead the Holder of the Keys, says he, and his brother before him, were appointed by Joseph Musser, one-time member of the church’s inner circle--although, much to Allred’s aggravation, the Johnson clan in Short Creek claims Musser passed the power on to them.
It is not, however, an in-house squabble that Allred intends to publicly discuss. The LeBarons are another matter.
“The tactics of this new LeBaron crowd are nauseating,” Allred bristled straightaway at his visitor. “And it just makes me sick the way the press keeps calling them a ‘rival sect,’ and all this talk about a ‘power struggle'--as if we’ve got a gosh darned thing in common with people like that! Just once,” he commanded, “I wish you people would get it right!” That much off his chest, he relaxed a bit in his chair.
‘After Power and Money’
“I’ve known the LeBaron family for 40 years, and some of the brothers are good men, they disowned Ervil years ago because he was crazy, only after power and money--he was always demanding that Rulon tithe to him, and he wouldn’t, that’s why they killed him. And this new bunch now,” Allred finished, sputtering for words, “why, they’re just a pack of murdering thugs. They shouldn’t even be called polygamists. . . .”
(Not incidentally, most lawmen agree. As the FBI’s Calvin Clegg says: “At least 99% of all polygamists are peaceful, law-abiding people, no threat to anybody. It’s unfortunate that they’re stigmatized by a band of renegades.”)
A couple of Allred’s wives were in the room, friendly old ladies who seldom spoke. In Allred’s household, women rarely do unless invited. One was Ora, the other Vera, both senior wives, privileged to live in the master house with Allred, one upstairs, the other in basement quarters. The affection among the three was both touching and tangible, evident in the smallest details, from the way Allred instantly stood when Vera entered the room on a cane and gently helped her into a seat, to Vera’s unconscious habit of reaching over to hold Ora’s hand.
Also present was Allred’s daughter-in-law, Dauna Sandmeyer, an attractive, quietly impressive woman of immense poise, who is the family religious scholar. She periodically prompted Allred whenever he fumbled, searching for some particular passage in the Mormon book of revelations, the Doctrine and Covenants.
12 Wives, 21 Children
As for the rest of his family, no way did Owen Allred intend to cater to public curiosity by revealing precisely how many wives he’s got (12, according to his sister, and 21 children). It always winds up in some “tasteless” headline.
“Just say I’ve got enough that I don’t need to chase after my neighbor’s wives,” he chortled, with pleasant finality.
It’s an entirely different scene over at the Tom Green household, where almost no subject is taboo.
Green has no problems whatsoever with media attention. To the contrary, the more the better. Green has long since discovered what a few flamboyant polygamists have always known: being a high profile iconoclast can be both profitable and fun.
He especially loves the all-expense paid trips about the nation to appear on TV talk shows, from San Francisco to New York (recently, he grins happily, even “Donahue” has expressed interest). He thoroughly enjoys all the lesser perks, too, including free dinners in fancy restaurants for himself and his brood (only 16 so far, wives and children, seven of them inherited from one wife’s prior marriage).
The Greens live in a comfortable, four-bedroom ranch-style house in an ordinary, middle-income suburban Salt Lake housing tract, which he says he affords as a door-to-door magazine salesman, with the whole family pitching in.
Cake With Three Brides
In his living room, prominently displayed, is a cute little pasteboard wedding cake with a groom and three brides atop, which a freckle-faced boy of maybe 6 promptly points out for the amusement of visitors. Along with a tidy packet of press clippings on his family, Green also has an introductory presentation waiting, a two-hour taped compilation of most of the TV shows he and his wives have been on. He finds it a handy time-saver, since most reporters ask the same questions anyway.
Thus briefed, the visitor then gets to meet Green, a big, nice-looking man with piercing green eyes, casually dressed in blue jeans. A religious history major at the state university, he instantly impresses as both smart and smooth, tailor-made for the electronic age.
“It’s time fundamentalists were seen for what they are--not a bunch of crazy sex perverts hopping from bed to bed, but an overwhelmingly dignified, responsible group of people,” he declares. “This is the most unselfish, Christian way of life there is.”
Maybe so. But Tom Green, the consummate public performer, has apparently decided nevertheless that sex is what sells, and he doesn’t waste much time getting to it.
“Unlike some polygamists, I don’t think it’s a good idea to have my wives scattered around, in different houses,” he volunteers. “In those situations, you miss part of the joy of plural marriage, having a lot of loving people together, under one room, sharing chores, enjoying each other.
Wives Take Turns
“So I’ve arranged it so that each of my wives has her own room, and when it’s their turn, they come to me at night, in my master bedroom.” Each wife, he explains, has her own bureau drawer in his room, where she stores her “special nighties” and other female paraphernalia. “And next morning, we generally sleep in, and have breakfast in bed.” That breakfast, he explains, is prepared and served by whichever wife’s turn it is to do the daily cooking. The “sister wives” rotate all domestic chores.
“And, frankly,” Green always adds, “I almost never know who’s night it is. The schedule is posted on the refrigerator door, but they keep track of it better than I do.”
What Green doesn’t say is that he’s married to a pair of mothers and their respective teen-age daughters from former marriages. It was Green’s youngest bride, Linda, instead, who innocently spilled the beans one afternoon as she sat on the living room couch watching a soap opera.
A pretty little blonde, 16 and three months pregnant, Linda is the daughter of Green’s senior wife, Beth, 42, a fact she volunteered out of the blue. Furthermore, she added absently, sister wife Shirley, 18, a frail little thing who looks closer to 11, also only just pregnant, is the daughter of Green’s most recent wife, June, 37, who looked ready to give birth any minute herself as she lay on the floor, sweating and sometimes groaning through clenched teeth, as sister wife Beth gently stroked her bulging stomach and placed cool compresses on her forehead.
Meantime, a swarm of noisy kids darted in and out, ignoring the prostrate woman. Polygamist children are apparently so accustomed to childbirth, commonly a household event supervised in the back bedroom by the sister wives, that nothing short of deathbed cries gives them pause.
Wives Also Half-Sisters
Compounding the confusion, June and Beth, according to Linda, are also half-sisters. So figure it out yourself, if you can, precisely what the relationship between all these upcoming babies will be. Little Linda certainly couldn’t and only giggled at the question.
Likewise, she found nothing troublesome about her marriage, at age 14, to mother’s husband.
“Oh, it’s no problem,” she shrugged, eyes still glued to the TV. “Your relationship just changes, is all. It’s like, well, you become good friends instead of mother-daughter. I mean, mom doesn’t have authority over me anymore, Tom does.”
Mom then spoke up, which she rarely does. A large, reticent woman, Beth Green is the only one of Green’s wives who doesn’t even pretend to enjoy the unending parade of reporters tromping through her house. But, speaking in the listless voice of a woman trying to do her duty, she had this to say about the rotational sex routine:
“It’s really so much more exciting than being in a monogamous marriage. I mean, I wait four nights for my turn with him, so I’m more excited about it than I would be if, well, uh, I had him every night all to myself. He takes us out on dates too, at least once a month, so you look forward to that too, your night out on the town, you know--getting all dressed up, and stuff. I’d be bored in a monogamous marriage.”
Married Off at Age 12
Besides that, June contributed weakly from her place on the floor, Green is “such an exciting man,” he’s shown them all a whole new world. “None of us had ever even been on an airplane before Tom took us to that (TV) program in San Francisco, and it was so exciting, the big, fancy hotel and all,” she managed. (Three of Green’s wives are products of the sheltered, rigidly programmed world of Short Creek, where June herself was first married off at age 12, in a prearranged marriage, to an old boy who only recently died at age 82. Beth was first married there too, although she got an early divorce and fled.)
Tom Green, understandably enough, was visibly ruffled to walk into his living room and find this particular conversation under way. But the guy’s quick on his feet, and made the best of the situation.
“What I offer them is knowledge, of the outside world, and of the scriptures. And though they may be young, they’ve been bred to be wives and mothers at an early age. In fact, their innocence is one of the things about them that I find most appealing,” he says casually, patting June on the stomach in passing, then settling onto the couch.
“Besides,” adds Green, stroking a wife with each hand, “just think how much easier it is for a teen-age mother here, than in a monogamous marriage. Here, she’s got three other women to help her out, to teach her what she doesn’t know. You can’t beat motherhood under conditions like these.”
‘May Be Double Standard’
Green’s long-term ambition is to someday “have at least 50 children and a dozen wives.” And, “I agree, it may be a double standard,” he says pleasantly, “but I didn’t make the rules, God did.”
It’s a good thing that Tom Green is an independent. If he were a part of Owen Allred’s congregation he’d be lucky to get even one wife, much less a boudoir of mothers and daughters.
Although Allred does his best not to criticize other fundamentalists, he can’t conceal his tight-lipped disapproval of Green’s brand of polygamy. Nor can his wives and daughters. They’re so revolted that Allred temporarily took a back seat and let the women talk.
“Our life style is based on genuine religious conviction and, if you have that going for you, it’s a truly beautiful thing. I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” said Dauna Sandmeyer quietly. “But one of the first principles is that sister wives must be absolute equals. And how,” she asks with a sad smile, “can mothers and daughters ever be equals? Human nature prevents it.”
Likewise, Allred’s group insists marriage partners be at least 18.
‘You Deal With Jealousy’
“It’s a tremendously serious decision,” said Sandmeyer, who grew up in a traditional Mormon household and did not choose to become a fundamentalist until she was well into her 20s. “And it can cause problems for many women, whether they come to plural marriage from a polygamist background or not, because this life style forces you to come face to face with yourself. You may think you’re a stable person but find out that you were more selfish than you thought. Or vice versa. It makes you deal with jealousy, false pride and all our other personality shortcomings. So for women who can handle it, plural marriage can make you into a better human being.”
She picked her next words carefully, mindful of sounding the hypocrite. “I don’t know why, but jealousy has simply never been a problem for me. So what if my husband has other wives? I’ve always regarded my marriage as normal in every respect, apart from the fact that he isn’t home every night.”
A sister wife, Bonnie, who had just arrived, laughed. “What Dauna’s saying is, we’ve found a cheaper solution to high-priced psychiatrists and pills.”
Clearly the two women are fond of one another. Both agree that among the special benefits of plural marriage are the close friendships between many sister wives. They help each other out with housework and baby-sitting; they’re always there, a shoulder to cry on, somebody to laugh with. Which is a lot more than most women, or men, have to rely on.
“As an added plus,” Sandmeyer said, “we’ve got more free time to explore careers, to take classes, or do whatever else we want than women in monogamous marriages who have to do everything at home alone. Plural marriage is just the exact opposite of what most people think--it’s liberating, not enslaving.”
But if the Allreds are model fundamentalists, others are far from it.
“In fact, I’d say that today, at least 80% of all polygamists are doing it simply because they like having more than one wife, there’s no religion concerned with it at all,” sniffed Owen Allred. And that includes members of his own flock.
Has to Prove Himself
“I make it plain . I won’t give anyone permission to have a plural wife unless I feel sure that the man’s practically a saint . That man’s gotta prove to me that he’s qualified to support them and is kind, sweet, hard-working, honest, and just a darned good man who’ll make a fine husband and father, otherwise I won’t let him have even one wife.”
As a result, he says, probably no more than 10% of his followers, although all believe in the principle of plural marriage, actually have multiple wives.
For all their differences in ego, life style and personal position in the polygamist community, Tom Green and Owen Allred share, in common with every other even remotely serious polygamist, an unyielding conviction that, as fundamentalists, they are in fact better Mormons than the Mormons, revolutionaries in their own time. As they see it, they are in a historic league with Jesus, Spartacus, Socrates, Joan of Arc, Gandhi, Patrick Henry, Nat Turner, and anybody else, past or present, who refuses to sacrifice personal conviction for political expediency.
“I believe with all my heart that the LDS is the church of God,” Allred says. “But I also believe it is out of order. The church today is ashamed of its own founders, and the reason we’re so hated is because we’re living all of Mormonism, just as it was taught by Joseph Smith.”
On another topic, Allred, as well as most other fundamentalists, is also indignant over what he sees as the one-sided media coverage of the Singer shoot-out. According to Allred, John Singer’s widow, Vicki, had been steadily harassed by her Mormon neighbors for years over land and water rights to her farm. “I don’t condone violent tactics, but if the Singers went crazy, the LDS drove them crazy,” Allred declares.
Although Tom Green agrees, he’s more cautious in his remarks about the Singers, having nearly gotten himself tossed off a local talk show recently by an LDS host. He prefers to stick with broader generalizations about the “the hypocrisy of the church, which any Mormon today would see if he only read the scriptures.”
As he spoke, Ross LeBaron was dozing on his living room floor. As it turns out, he and Green are the closest of friends. In fact, LeBaron announced sleepily, “Tom’s a member of my high council, you know. He’s gonna be at my side for All Time.”
Green was obviously embarrassed, his pleasant demeanor collapsing for a split second into a face tight with resentment, directly aimed at poor LeBaron.
” . . . The LeBaron family are direct descendants of Jesus and Mary Magdalene,” LeBaron mumbled on. “Funny how people don’t know that Jesus was a polygamist, Lordy, the man had dozens of wives . . . . " He started to snore. Green headed for his den.
‘Kill and Kill and Kill’
” . . . It’s gonna be terrible, a blood bath, I’ve had the revelation . . . Ervil’s kids, they’re just gonna kill and kill and kill. . . . " The old man, it appeared, was now talking in his sleep.
In his den, Green, composure regained, chose to speak of his buddy LeBaron with gentle sympathy. “He’s not crazy, just eccentric, and he’s a lonely old man. So I let him hang around, but who would ever think I could take him seriously?”
Young Shirley rendered the whole conversation moot. She sauntered in, her blouse half unbuttoned, and fell languidly across Green’s big bed. This was “her night,” she announced, casting Green a loose, wet grin.
He flushed like a teen-ager. “Talk about sex,” he breathed. “Now there’s the little gal in this house who really loves it.”
It was enough to conclude Tom Green’s busy media day until tomorrow.
Meantime, the hunt goes on for Ervil LeBaron’s children. Police are evidently not having much luck. In a measure of their frustration, FBI agent Don Rogers, who said he couldn’t comment on the case, even wondered if the media could round up some mug shots of the suspects (he has none), particularly young Heber, the apparent ringleader and, who knows, maybe even the LeBaron clan’s latest self-anointed One Mighty and Strong.
On the other hand, police have heard, another LeBaron son, Aaron, also sees himself as the newest One Mighty and Strong. According to Arapaho County Sheriff Joe Dempsey in suburban Denver, Aaron even revealed himself as such to the bereaved Jordan clan on the night of their patriarch’s burial. What apparently resulted was a knockdown, drag-out power struggle among half a dozen young LeBarons and Jordans in the main family home in the tiny rural community of Bennett. Finally, somebody called the police to haul Aaron away, and he hasn’t been seen since.
At the same time, four more LeBaron minors, teen-age boys and girls who had been living with Jordan’s various wives, all ran away from court-appointed foster homes shortly after the murder. As Dempsey figures it: “They probably ran off with Aaron to join up with the others someplace.”
“But all I know for sure is what the wives told me,” says Dempsey, a cynical, transplanted New York cop who usually sounds hard-pressed to keep from snickering at the whole business. “And, it appears that the older gals, the wives, were ready to hand over everything to Aaron, property deeds, leadership of the church, the whole shebang, until some of Jordan’s kids protested and ran Aaron off . . . . What’s fascinating is, these women apparently just can’t handle it, being without a man to lead them. It’s really a wild scene.”
Utah’s Problem for Now
What Dempsey doesn’t find the least bit amusing, however, is the idea that the whole LeBaron mess might wind up in his lap. For the time being, although Jordan lived in Colorado, his murder is Utah’s problem. Until and unless somebody gets murdered in Colorado.
“Just the thought of it gives me shivers, I don’t even wanna think about it,” Dempsey says. “I got problems enough with these wives, a couple of ‘em call me practically every day, just to tell me how the others are rippin’ them off, stealing their property, cutting off their telephones, you name it, they’re all at each other’s throats, from what I can gather. And besides that stuff, a couple of ‘em are really scared that they’re on the LeBaron hit list.”
One of Jordan’s wives, who doesn’t want to be named but has been estranged from the rest of the family for years for lack of sufficient religious fervor, she says, is especially terrified that she and her whole family (10 children) are in terrible danger. Particularly her oldest son.
“You don’t understand--these people get that crazy stuff in their heads, they don’t think like normal people! They’re crazy, killers!” she said, shrill with strain. A Latina, 36, attractive and well-groomed--as, it turned out, all Jordan’s wives are--she rocked nervously back and forth in her small, neat living room in a Denver suburb, miles from the homes where Jordan’s other women live. A large wedding picture of her and Jordan, taken 23 years ago, dominated one wall; atop the piano was a small portrait of Jordan, who looked just like a benign Mormon deacon, his history as Ervil LeBaron’s henchman not withstanding.
Distrust of Outsider
Occasionally, one of her children passed through, all wearing sullen expressions of distrust at the presence of an outsider--and most of them, the females in particular, extraordinarily pretty.
“I’ve been scared of the LeBarons for years! One time I even left Dan because I couldn’t take it anymore, there are so many of them in the family. Who knows, maybe they’ll decide my son’s a rival, that he thinks he’s the next One Mighty and Strong, that he wants the power, and that’s what they’re after--just like Ervil, they want to control everybody, they want Dan’s church, all the property.” Her voice cracked. “And they can have it,” she shrieked. “I don’t want nothing! All I want is out!”
Jordan’s other wives are less forthcoming. The senior wife, in fact, wouldn’t even answer the doorbell. The youngest wife, 28, whose mother was one of LeBaron’s wives, politely explained as she stood at the door of her tidy suburban home, holding two babies on either hip, that “I’d love to talk to you, because all this stuff about Dan being Ervil’s hit man is such crap. But the lawyers won’t let me. I don’t know why.”
And the fourth wife, LeBaron’s daughter and a surprisingly lively, garrulous woman of maybe 30, stood in a snowdrift in front of her small house on an isolated rural road south of Bennett, cussing the dead battery in her van as she declared that she too would not discuss her husband’s murder, but then did. Not that she had anything particularly new to add. She thinks her brothers and sisters “for sure had a hand in it, and, even if we’re family, I loved Dan, so I want them caught.” Further, she added, she’s afraid of what they may do next. But she sure didn’t act like a woman either afraid or in mourning. No widow’s weeds here, but a woman in bright red instead, cosmetics carefully applied.
‘Got to Get Married Again’
“We believe that marriage is forever,” she said, pausing in her labors over the jumper cables. “But I’ve got 10 kids, I can’t raise them alone, so I’ve got to get married again.” Problem was, she said, clapping her hands as the engine finally came to life, “how can you find another man to equal Dan? He was the One Mighty and Strong, and he didn’t authorize anybody to take his place.”
Meantime, down at the Road Runner cafe, a truck stop on the interstate outside of Denver, manager Dottie Boyer, a plump, bustling little woman of perhaps 60, was saying that she’s never seen anything to match it in all her years.
“You know, I always did think it was funny, the way Jordan would come in here for gas with a whole caravan of cars,” she exclaimed. “I mean, he’d always pay for each car with money from a bunch of different envelopes in his pocket. I guess that’s how he kept track of the different family budgets, but my land,” she breathed, “nobody around here ever figured he was, well, you know--a polygamist. And to think that he was into all that LeBaron stuff, murder and such! Why, if anybody had ever told me Mr. Jordan killed anybody, I’d of slapped ‘em to sleep. He just didn’t seem like that kind of man!”
She was so overcome she sat down in a booth and ordered a raspberry Danish. “Just goes to show you,” she mused between mouthfuls, “you just never really know. . . . “