But even now, the number of people living there and the whereabouts of the group’s elusive leader remain a mystery to those outside the ranch’s locked gates.
Warren Jeffs is the 50-year-old “prophet” of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He’s wanted by the F-B-I and authorities in Utah and Arizona on a variety of charges, including sexual conduct with a minor and unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.
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The former accountant and private school teacher has been on the F-B-I’s “Most Wanted Fugitive” list since June. The reward for information leading to his arrest grew to 60-thousand dollars last month.
Sightings have been reported the length of North America — from Canada to Mexico. Still, he’s managed to elude authorities, and the church’s new West Texas restreat seems like a reasonable hiding place.
Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran says his deputies keep close tabs on the fortress-like Y-F-Z Ranch, and he routinely meets with church members. But without a legal reason to search the ranch for Jeffs, there’s not much else he can do.
The sect split from the Mormon church more than 100 years ago after The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints based in Salt Lake City renounced polygamy. The group migrated to a remote area along the Utah-Arizona state line, where the roughly ten-thousand members lived in almost complete seclusion.
In 2004, the group bought a former exotic game ranch in West Texas for 700-thousand dollars and began an ambitious construction program anchored by an 80-foot-tall, gleaming white temple.