Deseret News, Mar. 16, 2003
By Jerry D. Spangler and Bob Bernick Jr., Deseret News staff writers
Many homegrown zealots have turned the national media spotlight on Utah over the past 30 years, usually because of horrific murders. Among the most notorious incidents that resulted in national attention:
1972 — Followers of polygamous cult leader Ervil LeBaron killed Joel LeBaron as part of a plot for Ervil to wrest control of the dominant polygamous church of the time, based in Mexico but with followers in Utah. Ervil renamed the church the Church of the Lamb of God, and began ordering his followers to kill rival polygamists.
The highest-profile victim was Murray naturopath Dr. Rulon Allred, whose 1977 murder in Murray eventually led to Ervil LeBaron’s conviction on homicide charges. LeBaron died in prison in 1981, but his followers continued to commit murders in Mexico, Texas and Utah throughout the 1980s.
The tales of murder are meticulously documented in several books, including “Prophet of Blood,” co-written by former Deseret News reporter Dale Van Atta.
1975 — Polygamist Alex Joseph starts the Church of Jesus Christ of Solemn Assembly and immediately clashes with federal authorities opposed to the group’s “homesteading” on federal land in southern Utah. The standoff generated international headlines, and Joseph was soon joined by more than 100 individuals, most with anti-government beliefs, and scores of reporters.
The standoff with Joseph, a dozen wives and several followers was settled when the group agreed to move to Glen Canyon City, today called Big Water, where some of Joseph’s wives and children still live. Joseph died several years ago after serving as Big Water mayor.
1978 — A man calling himself Immanuel David (he named himself, as did Brian David Mitchell, after the Old Testament reference to Jesus), led a family religious cult in which David claimed he was God.
David, 38, drove his truck up Emigration Canyon, stuck a hose from the tailpipe into the passenger compartment, and killed himself. Three days later, his wife, Rachel, coerced or threw their seven children from an 11-story balcony railing of what is now the Shilo Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City, where the family had been living. Rachel then jumped herself, as horrified high-rise construction workers, building a hotel across the street, screamed at her to stop killing the children.
One daughter, also named Rachel, then 15, survived, although today she suffers mental and physical disabilities.
David, a former LDS missionary who was excommunicated from the church, was well-known in the Utah religious subculture. He bought religious texts at Sam Weller Books and held religious debates with those who would listen.
Even though most of the David family died on West Temple below the hotel balcony, the cult lives on, members still believing David was God. Rachel, now 40 and in a wheelchair from her injuries, lives with other cult and family members in Aurora, Colo. Another group lives in Spokane, the Spokane Spokesman Review reported in 2000.
1979 — Summit County and state law enforcement officers, impersonating news reporters, tried to arrest John Singer, a polygamist and Mormon fundamentalist in trouble with the law for refusing to allow his children to attend public schools.
When Singer turned to run from arrest, he was shot in the back — a shooting that was labeled murder by other religious fundamentalists and anti-government conspiracy theorists. Police said he brandished a gun.
In 1988, Singer’s son-in-law Addam Swapp, bombed an LDS stake center in Kamas in retaliation for Singer’s death. A 13-day standoff with police ensued and a Department of Corrections officer was killed. Swapp and members of the Singer family believed John Singer would be resurrected and save them from the siege.
Timothy Singer was recently released from a federal prison in Arizona and was advertising in a local publication for female companionships.
1984 — Two of Utah’s most infamous religious zealots, Ron and Dan Lafferty, founded a group called School of the Prophets.
Ron Lafferty said God ordered them to kill their sister-in-law, Brenda Wright Lafferty, because she would not allow a third brother to join the sect. Brenda and her 18-month old daughter were found with their throats slashed in their American Fork home.
State prosecutors said Ron Lafferty was exacting revenge on those who encouraged his wife, Diana, to divorce him in 1983.
In separate trials, Ron Lafferty was sentenced to death and Dan Lafferty to life in prison.
In an interview this month with the Deseret News, Dan Lafferty expressed no remorse for the killings.
“Oh, yeah, I’m convinced that it was God’s business. . . . I don’t have any regrets about the events. I felt there was a purpose for it all.”
Ron Lafferty was known to stuff a towel under the door of his jail cell to keep evil spirits he called “travelers” from entering.
1985 — Mark Hofmann’s conspiracy to forge hundreds of historical documents, including much-sought-after early American pieces and others said to pertain to LDS Church doctrine, unraveled with the bombing murders of two individuals. One victim was about to blow the whistle on Hofmann and the other was killed to throw police off Hofmann’s trail.
Hofmann, an atheist who kept up all appearances of being a good member of the LDS Church, was known for his historical “discoveries,” many of which were intended to cast doubt on the official history of the church.
“Atheists have the same kind of zealots” as religious circles have, Sanders said. “Strong beliefs permeate the actions of a few, even atheists.”
Hofmann’s world, which also involved forgery of American history documents, began to collapse when he could not produce certain documents he claimed to have and which had been paid for.