Rulon T. Jeffs, the self-styled prophet of thousands of polygamists in B.C. and the U.S., has died, triggering a three-way power struggle for control of hundreds of millions of dollars in church assets.
Jeffs, 93, died Sunday in Utah.
His Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has between 10,000 and 20,000 members, mostly in Utah and Arizona, and about 1,000 in the East Kootenay community of Lister.
Jeffs, who had 75 wives and scores of children, was also the head of the church’s financial arm, the United Effort Plan. It reportedly controls more than $200 million US in assets.
The fundamentalists broke away from the Mormon Church after it was pressured into disavowing polygamy. Their commune at Lister, called Bountiful, is headed by Winston Blackmore, 46.
In 1992, B.C. said it would not prosecute polygamists.
Weeks before his death, Jeffs visited Bountiful to denounce Blackmore and to consolidate a power base for his son Warren Jeffs, his chosen successor. Jeffs ordered followers not to listen to Blackmore’s sermons, ordered Blackmore to relinquish control of his junior wives, and place his assets under the control of the United Effort Plan.
Blackmore, who has 30 wives and more than 100 children, is Bountiful’s bishop, chief executive officer of its businesses and trustee of its property.
Now Warren Jeffs has removed Blackmore as a United Effort trustee. And another Bountiful elder, Jim Oler, has been named the head of the B.C. commune.
The third person fighting for control of the church is Fred Jessop. He is in his 90s and considered by many as the true replacement for the “prophet” because of his seniority.
He controls more than $34 million US in church assets.
Neither Blackmore, Jessop or Jeffs would comment.
“This whole power struggle is going to impact on the lives of thousand of people, many of them young women and children,” said Debbie Palmer of the Committee Concerned with Child Abuse in Polygamy, which wants to recriminalize polygamy in B.C.