Abduction May Be Rooted in Polygamy

Times Staff Writers

The abduction of Elizabeth Smart may have been part of a delusional plan to collect seven wives for Brian David Mitchell, a self-proclaimed prophet and polygamist who also may have tried to kidnap Elizabeth's 18-year-old cousin, authorities said Friday.

Salt Lake City police would not say whether Elizabeth, 15, was sexually abused. But more information has emerged regarding Mitchell's deep religious belief in polygamy as expressed in a 27-page manifesto police said he penned.

The practice of polygamy has haunted the state of Utah since its 19th-century founding by Mormon settlers. If polygamy turns out to be the motive in the Smart case, it would be the latest in a series of recent high-profile cases of illegal and abusive multiple marriages involving young girls.

Salt Lake City Sheriff Aaron Kennard said Friday he also had evidence suggesting Mitchell -- arrested Wednesday with his wife, Wanda Barzee, in the Smart kidnapping -- tried to pry open the bedroom window of Elizabeth's cousin Jessica Wright in July.

The attempt failed when the noise of the screen being cut woke the girl and the family called police. A chair was found beneath the window, which had been partially pried open, a method nearly identical to that used to gain entry into Smart's house, according to Kennard.

The attempted kidnapping was apparently aimed at Wright, said to be Elizabeth's favorite cousin, police said. Kennard said he will present the evidence next week to the Salt Lake City District Attorney's Office and expects prosecutors to file attempted kidnapping charges. The couple already face aggravated kidnapping charges.

"The evidence we have developed has led us to believe that the perpetrators of the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping had something to do with this incident," Kennard said. "If I wasn't confident I wouldn't let my people take it to this level."

The incident happened seven weeks after Elizabeth's abduction. On July 24, at about 3:30 a.m., Wright heard a noise that sounded like breaking wood outside her window. The family let their dog out and called 911. Detectives scoured the area but didn't find anything. They listed the incident as an attempted burglary.

A friend who visited Barzee, 57, in jail Friday said Mitchell's revelations began around Thanksgiving of 2000 and compelled him to collect women as wives. Mitchell claimed to be God and called himself Emmanuel.

In his manifesto, which he titled "The Book of Emmanuel David Isaiah," Mitchell, 49, calls polygamy -- the practice of having multiple spouses at the same time -- a lost "blessing." He refers to himself as a "just and merciful God" who can restore lost blessings to those who do not sin.

One passage, in which he appears to address his wife by a biblical name, says: "Thou wilt take into thy heart and home seven sisters, and thou wilt recognize them through the spirit as thy dearest and choicest friends from all eternity."

In another verse he writes, "And they shall take into their heart and home seven times seven sisters to love and care for forty-nine precious jewels in their crown."

The tract, written in February and March 2002, was recovered by authorities who served a search warrant on one of Mitchell's relatives in Montana.

Mitchell's adult children have labeled him potentially dangerous, with an explosive temper. In downtown Salt Lake, he wore white robes, carried a staff and was known as an aggressive panhandler.

Mitchell was once a devout Mormon but was excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for "activity promoting bizarre teachings and lifestyle far afield from the principles and doctrines of the church."

Vicki Cottrell, a local mental-health advocate who has known Barzee for 28 years, visited her in jail. Contrell said Barzee "loved" Elizabeth and took good care of her during the ordeal.

Barzee said the girl became loyal to the couple and did not try to leave even though she had many opportunities, Cottrell said in an interview.

"It horrified me," Cottrell said of her conversation with Barzee. Cottrell is executive director of the Utah chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. She spent about a half-hour in a visiting room, talking by phone with Barzee while they were separated by a thick pane of glass.

The practice of polygamy certainly isn't new to this region. Utah was largely settled by Mormons whose early religious beliefs included polygamy. Pressure from the federal government led church leaders to ban the practice in 1890.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints condemns polygamy and excommunicates members who violate that policy. Still, there are an estimated 50,000 polygamists in Utah, many of them living in polygamous rural communities that make up an entire underground subculture. They refer to polygamy as simply "the principle" or "the work."

Police say they have no indication that Mitchell was part of a established polygamist group.

Many people connected to that subculture -- such as Rowena Erickson -- have suspected from the start that polygamy was the motive behind Elizabeth's kidnapping.

Erickson, 63, was the second wife to a polygamist for 34 years before leaving and eventually leading efforts to help women escape similar situations. In 1998 she co-founded "Tapestry Against Polygamy," an advocacy group based in Salt Lake City that counsels women in polygamous relationships.

She said numerous factors raised her suspicion, and the revelations of the last few days have strengthened her belief that Elizabeth was kidnapped to be Mitchell's second wife.

The first sign, she said, was Elizabeth's age, 14 at the time of her abduction. Teen girls are considered "the target age," Erickson said -- young, but mature enough to be sexually appealing and capable of child-bearing.

Photos and video images have shown Mitchell, Barzee and Elizabeth dressed in long white robes. Barzee and Elizabeth's heads and faces are covered. Erickson said that in polygamous marriages, the men "want to cover their women so other men won't see them."

The demeanor of Barzee and Elizabeth -- subjugated, submissive to the point of almost cowering -- is another telltale symptom of women in polygamous relationships, Erickson said.

Flora Jessop, 33, also suspected polygamy in the Smart case but said she was "told in a roundabout way" by the Mormon Church to not talk about it. The church for years has tried to distance itself from its polygamist roots.

Jessop was born and raised in a polygamous family, and said that when she was 13 and tried to escape, she was beaten and locked in a small room for three years, allowed out only to do cleaning. Jessop now leads a group called "Help the Child Brides," which helps girls to escape polygamy.

"Polygamy is a religion based completely and totally on fear," Jessop said. "Physical fear, mental fear, social fear. It's total subjugation. You lose yourself."

In the polygamous communities of Utah -- made up of extended families that could number in the thousands -- girls are forced into arranged marriages at a young age. Those who try to escape are often "kidnapped back," Jessop said.

The girls often appear willing and even happy, she said, but it's all part of a mindset imposed from birth. Jessop said in Elizabeth's case, it may have been imposed upon her for nine months and, if her theory is true, Elizabeth is probably undergoing great confusion right now, contrary to her smiling pictures. She will likely enter a phase of feeling shame, Jessop said.

"She has a long, difficult road ahead of her," Jessop said.

Utah has a bigamy statute and even a so-called polygamy czar, an investigator in the state attorney general's office named Ron Barton. Barton's office has successfully prosecuted one man.

Tom Green was sentenced in 2001 to five years in prison for having five wives, one of them only 13 at the time of their marriage. There have been other cases involving polygamous men who were charged with various other crimes.

In 1998, two Utah men were sentenced to prison for severely beating a 15-year-old girl who had run away from an arranged marriage to her uncle. Both were members of the Kingston clan, one of three main polygamist groups.

David Ortell Kingston was given a 10-year term for incest and unlawful sexual conduct with his niece. The girl's father, John Daniel Kingston, was found guilty of child abuse.

While authorities continued to prepare charges against Mitchell and Barzee, residents of this rain-drenched city gathered Friday night to celebrate Elizabeth's homecoming.

The teen did not attend the gathering at a downtown park but sent along a poster reading, "I'm the luckiest girl in the world! Thank you for your love and prayers. It's a wish come true!! I'm home! I love you all."

Times staff writer Julie Cart contributed to this report.

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