The disappearance of six children of dead polygamist leader Ervil LeBaron dims hopes of breaking two decades of religious violence in which more than 20 people were slain, authorities say.
The six fled foster homes in Salt Lake City the last of September and may be headed to a family hide-out in Mexico, authorities said.
“It’s sad,” said assistant U.S. Atty. Dave Schwendiman, who heads a “LeBaron Crime Family” task force. “You think maybe you have a chance to stop the violence and give these kids a chance for a normal life . . . and then it blows up on you.”
The children were identified as Norma LeBaron, 18; Nikki LeBaron, 17; Jessica LeBaron, 15; Jerod LeBaron, 14; Daniel LeBaron, 13, and Joshua LeBaron, 12.
Authorities believe LeBaron’s eldest surviving son and clan patriarch, Andrew, may have organized their escapes, Salt Lake County Attorney’s Investigator Lt. Dick Forbes said.
Andrew, 29, and brothers Aaron, 22, and Heber, 25, are believed to have led the clan in a recent series of killings that followed the practice of blood atonement preached by their father, authorities said. Heber and Aaron are in custody.
Relatives believe the three brothers are executing a hit list written by their father, who founded the violent Church of the Lamb of God and was convicted of ordering the 1977 slaying of a rival Utah polygamist.
LeBaron, who had a dozen wives and fathered more than 50 children, died of a heart attack in 1981 at age 56 in the Utah State Prison. Authorities and relatives describe his “Book of New Covenants,” written in prison, as a blueprint for revenge against those LeBaron believed abandoned him after his arrest.
The clan is a radical offshoot of the Mormon Church, which now bans polygamy.
The six children were placed in foster homes after being subpoenaed along with other family members by the U.S. attorney’s office in Salt Lake City for a grand jury investigation into the Oct. 16, 1987, killing of Daniel Ben Jordan, a Colorado polygamist and former LeBaron lieutenant.
Authorities said the children refused to cooperate with the investigation out of fear of retribution from other family members.
The clan has been dealt a series of blows in the last two years with the arrests of more than a dozen members.
Heber LeBaron and four others are in prison in Arizona, convicted of operating a truck theft ring to finance the family. Heber also is wanted in Houston for attempting to kill a guard in a credit union holdup.
Aaron LeBaron and two other members are being held in Chicago on federal charges of possessing false identification papers.
Andrew may have sought to gather remaining family members and regroup in Mexico, said Forbes, who has tracked the clan for more than a decade.
The three brothers remain suspects in the killings of three former LeBaron followers and the daughter of one of the victims in Houston and the Dallas suburb of Irving on June 27, 1988. They also are suspects in the disappearance of former LeBaron apostle Leo P. Evoniuk near Santa Cruz, Calif., in May, 1987.
Other members are in hiding, believing they are on the hit list, Forbes said. They include Rena Chynoweth, a former wife of Evril LeBaron, and her mother, Thelma, who were trying to adopt the six youngsters when they disappeared.
Rena’s brothers, Mark and Duane Chynoweth, were killed in Houston, along with Duane’s 8-year-old daughter, Jennifer.
“They killed my brothers and my sister and my niece,” said Glenn Chynoweth, Rena’s brother, who lives in Sunset. “I wanted to break that chain so we don’t have some up and coming young ones to be trained in violence.”