ELDORADO, Texas – It’s unknown if fugitive polygamist Warren Jeffs has been around to see any or all of the progress made at the Yearning for Zion ranch outside this town – or the fascination with polygamy that has spread far beyond it.
After being accused of raping his young nephew years ago and of covering up other systematic rapes, as well as ordering the marriages of underage girls to church elders, Mr. Jeffs appeared on the FBI’s Most Wanted list last year.
The sect leader joined Osama bin Laden and murderous drug kingpins and mobsters in the Top 10 list last month.
FBI agents believe the 50-year-old Mr. Jeffs poses a danger to followers in at least five states, Mexico and Canada.
He has been known to travel with armed guards, but neither he nor his followers are considered violent, said FBI Special Agent Deborah McCarley.
Arizona’s attorney general told a Utah newspaper last week that he believes Mr. Jeffs has recently been to communities along the states’ border to perform more marriages involving underage girls.
The polygamist leader and his followers in a breakaway Mormon sect believe the only way to get to the highest level of heaven is to practice plural marriage. The sect split from the Mormon church more than 100 years ago after the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints renounced polygamy.
The issue has landed on the radar of mainstream culture, with 4 million people watching Big Love, a new HBO series on a polygamous family, each week. It features characters loosely based on Mr. Jeffs and his father.
A former sect member has even sold the movie rights to her life story.
While investigators from Arizona and Utah have joined the hunt for Mr. Jeffs, Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran is on the front lines.
The sheriff keeps closer tabs on the YFZ ranch than the feds do, but he can’t devote extensive resources to the group.
“I’m going to make sure we’re protected,” he said. Without evidence of Mr. Jeffs’ presence, though, Sheriff Doran remains more liaison than enforcer.