Historians say the allegations of child abuse are surprising
The Sacramento Bee, Apr. 3, 2003
By Mareva Brown — Bee Staff Writer
A self-proclaimed Mormon prophet from Folsom has been charged with molesting and raping three of his daughters and a stepdaughter for nearly a quarter-century, couching the abuse in religious doctrine that he wrote for his followers.
Allen Rex Harrod, 55, faces 97 counts of child molestation stemming from abuse he wove into rituals for his polygamous sect, authorities said.
His wife, Irene Harrod, who police accuse of helping arrange the abusive acts, also has been charged in the case. Their Sacramento trial is scheduled for May.
The case’s religious overtones have surprised law enforcement investigators and Mormon scholars, who say that while polygamous sects are hardly uncommon, it is rare to see ritualized child molestation.
“It sounds to me like religion is his justification for what he wants to do. There certainly is nothing in mainstream theology that he could draw on,” said Jan Shipps, the author of two books on Mormonism and an Indiana University/Purdue University history professor.
Folsom police began investigating after Harrod’s eldest daughter, now 29, approached authorities 18 months ago. She said Harrod began molesting her almost daily when she was in preschool in Salt Lake City, Utah, and continued the abuse after the family moved to Folsom in the early 1980s, according to court documents.
The family included at least two wives and three underage sisters from a family in Texas who were sent to Harrod for “religious training.” No charges were filed on behalf of those girls, who were living with Harrod when he was arrested. The girls have been returned to their family in Texas.
Investigators searched Harrod’s home and found dozens of binders filled with religious writings, many of them based on 19th century Mormon theology, which embraces polygamy. Among those documents were journals written by the girls and the adult women in the household that referred to sexual offerings made to “Isaac,” a biblical name assumed by Harrod. The journals also chronicle chores and nonsexual favors performed for their “Lord,” Isaac.
Harrod’s attorney, Dani Williams, said she believes her client is innocent. Deputy District Attorney Del Oros did not return telephone calls seeking comment about the case. A Folsom police detective declined comment to protect the daughters’ privacy.
Legal experts and scholars of Mormon history said there are similarities between the Harrod case and that of Elizabeth Smart. Smart was abducted at age 14 from her Salt Lake City home by a self-proclaimed Mormon prophet who made her his “wife,” authorities said.
Smart’s alleged abductor, Brian D. Mitchell, and Harrod drew on 19th century Mormon doctrine that promotes polygamy by convincing others they have been chosen by God to lead sects and choose multiple wives.
But experts in Mormon history say the Mitchell and Harrod cases are bizarre and are not representative of most polygamist groups, which are prohibited by the Mormon church.
“The church would be horrified” if its leaders knew of the allegations against Harrod, said Dennis Holland, a spokesman for about 100 Mormon congregations in the Sacramento area. “Our biggest concern is in strengthening family units as we know them and certainly in protecting the children at all costs.”
Secret fundamentalist sects first appeared in the 1940s and continue today, operating independently of one another. Some estimates place membership as high as 50,000.
With no single leader or church authority, each patriarch is free to write his own interpretation of Scripture, a practice that one Mormon scholar said could lead to abuse of power.
“You have the development of sort of free-lance prophecy, where prophets are getting these so-called revelations,” Shipps said.
While it is common to see teenage brides in some sects, Shipps and other scholars say sexual exploitation of young children is practically unheard of.
“It’s really disturbing,” said Kathryn Daynes, a history professor at Brigham Young University and author of “More Wives Than One: A Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System.” “There’s nothing within Mormon theology that would underpin that at all.”
Court documents indicate Harrod’s sect included at least a dozen men, women and children in California and Texas. In interviews with Folsom police, Harrod’s daughters described him as the absolute authority at home, beating his children and slapping his wife if they disobeyed him.
Harrod created a celestial room for religious ceremonies in one corner of the living room, documents show.
Each of the four victims said the abuse began as young as age 4. Two of Harrod’s daughters and a stepdaughter are now adults living apart from Harrod. The youngest daughter was placed in protective custody by Child Protective Services.
Harrod’s wife, Irene, also remains in custody. At least two of the girls accused her of preparing them for the abuse in some instances, and observing or photographing the molestations.
Her attorney, Dean Johansson, said Irene Harrod is as much a victim as her stepdaughters or her daughter.
Irene Harrod worked several jobs to support the family, turning over all her income to Harrod, who stayed home with the children, according to documents.
Johansson said Irene Harrod became Harrod’s “second wife.” Her older sister, Ila, was Harrod’s first wife. He says she was raped by Harrod when she was 16, at meeting set up by Ila. Later, after Irene married another man and had children, she rejoined Harrod.
She was renamed “Rebekah,” and her children were sent to live with their natural father, who was not involved with the sect.
“Somebody in a position of authority in the family circle inducted her into the religion when she was a very young age,” Johansson said. “She was basically illiterate, she had little experience with the world. And there was this terrible threat, which was constant, of being thrown out of the family.”