ST. GEORGE, Utah – Funeral services for Fred Jessop, a former leader of the polygamist Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, drew more than 3,000 mourners, some from as far away at British Columbia.
Jessop, 94, died Tuesday at a medical facility near Denver.
The services were held Sunday at Colorado City, Ariz., which with its twin city Hildale, Utah, the border, are dominated by the FLDS church. The church also has an enclave at Bountiful, British Columbia, and is believed to have at least 6,000 members, making it one of the largest polygamist sects in the region.
Jessop’s whereabouts had been a mystery to some of his relatives for the last 15 months ago.
Jessop had been a member of the church’s First Presidency when Rulon Jeffs was president, and had thought to be one of two candidates to succeed to the presidency when Jeffs died in 2002. The other man – Jeffs’ son Warren Jeffs, who also had been a member of the First Presidency, became president.
Some believed Warren Jeffs exiled Jessop as part of efforts to consolidate power, which included ousting 21 men from the church and the community last year.
The relatives reported Jessop missing, but church attorney Rod Parker denied he been kicked out of the church and denied Jessop was missing. He said Jessop did not want his whereabouts known.
The three-hour funeral service at a meetinghouse in Colorado City was closed to outsiders. It was not known whether Jeffs attended.
Parker said Jessop was loved and respected throughout the community.
Jessop reportedly had 20 or 30 or more wives and more than 100 children, but Parker said the children all were from his wives’ previous marriages.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints abandoned polygamy a century ago, but tens of thousands of people in Utah and other western states are believed to continue the practice. The Mormon church excommunicates those who advocate it.
Polygamists have been prosecuted on and off over the last century. In recent years, there has been a renewed effort to prosecute polygamy cases involving welfare fraud, incest or underage marriage. FLDS officials deny allegations of underage marriages.
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