SALT LAKE CITY – Fugitive polygamist leader Warren Jeffs was reported seen at Lehi and Strawberry Reservoir this weekend, and the vehicles spotted in Lehi have been traced to Jeffs’ communities on the Utah-Arizona border, the FBI said.
Jeffs and a group of “bodyguard types” were reported buying fishing gear at Cabela’s outdoor store in Lehi, 26 miles south of Salt Lake City. The group was seen leaving in a GMC Yukon and a Ford pickup. Store employees got the license plate numbers.
The vehicles were found in the area of the twin cities of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, where most of Jeffs’ Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints followers live.
The owners were being interviewed and they or other possible users of the vehicles, such as family members, admitted being at Cabela’s, FBI Special Agent Brent Robbins said Monday night.
Robbins said they had not confirmed that Jeffs had been with them.
The latest spotting of Jeffs was Sunday at Strawberry Reservoir, about 55 miles southeast of Salt Lake City.
“They got away before we had a chance to find them,” Robbins said.
Agents said the group matched the description of the people at Cabela’s.
Jeffs was reported at both sites to have been in a wheelchair, possibly to divert attention from his slim physique, Robbins said.
“He’s tall – 6-foot-4 – and at 150 pounds, that’s like a walking toothpick.
“He figures if he’s in a wheelchair, that will disguise his obvious physical characteristics,” Robbins said.
Jeffs has been a fugitive since he was indicted in June in Arizona on charges of arranging a marriage between a 16-year-old girl and a man who was married.
The FBI added a charge of unlawful flight against Jeffs and joined the search for him.
Robbins said security tapes at Cabela’s showed “an image that depicts a reasonable likeness to Warren Jeffs,” confirming an employee’s account on Friday.
On Sunday morning, other witnesses reported seeing Jeffs in the wheelchair with the group of apparent loyalists at Strawberry Reservoir.
So why is a fugitive risking capture by shopping and going fishing at one of Utah’s most popular fishing holes?
After being on the run so long, fugitives “need to go out and relax, too,” Robbins said. “We’ve had crazier things. We don’t underestimate anything. We’ll cover it all.”
Robbins pointed out that Joseph Edward Duncan III, the convicted sex offender charged in a triple murder in May in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, was captured at a local Denny’s restaurant with the girl he is accused of abducting.
The FBI discounted a reported sighting of Jeffs early Friday at a grocery store in South Salt Lake City.
Robbins said the report had Jeffs with a group of women, but he’s known to travel only with men.