Author says: ‘The lengths they’ve gone to to keep it secret are extraordinary’
A third outpost created by followers of fugitive polygamist leader Warren Jeffs has been discovered in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
The 100-acre, wooded property, near Pringle, S.D., features residential buildings, a large steel warehouse and outbuildings. The land was bought in October 2003 by David Steed Allred, about the same time he purchased a 1,371-acre ranch in Eldorado, Texas.
The South Dakota site appears to be on par with an FLDS development in Mancos, Colo., said author Jon Krakauer, who has visited the area twice to document the new holding. A building permit lists costs of materials at $450,000, but nothing for labor.
“By the amount of money being put into it, it is an important property,” Krakauer said. “The lengths they’ve gone to to keep it secret are extraordinary.”
Krakauer said authorities in Mohave County, Ariz. – where Jeffs is wanted on criminal charges – received an anonymous tip about the development last summer but had too little information to trace the property.
In January, the same caller contacted The Eldorado Success, a weekly newspaper in Texas, which relayed the tip to Krakauer and private investigator Sam Brower. The paper posted a story on its Web site Wednesday.
Krakauer, author of Under The Banner of Heaven, now devotes his efforts to tracking Jeffs’ activities. The 50-year-old Jeffs, head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is wanted by the FBI on an Arizona charge of arranging an underage marriage.
Krakauer found that Allred had paid $135,000 for the South Dakota land, then transferred it to a now-defunct Utah company headed by Jerald N. Williams.
“We knew right away that it was Warren’s people,” Krakauer said.
Both Allred and Williams are top advisers for Jeffs, according to Krakauer and former FLDS member Marvin Wyler of Colorado City, Ariz.
Williams “was very high up in the system of things,” Wyler said, and until a year ago oversaw work projects in FLDS enclave of Colorado City and Hildale, Utah. Williams since has moved.
The twin towns are home to the FLDS church, which also counts members in Bountiful, British Columbia and Nevada. It hews to early teachings of Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon church, including plural marriage.
The Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints discontinued the practice of polygamy in 1890.
Allred apparently told people in South Dakota he planned to use the property for a “corporate retreat” – the same description he gave when buying the Texas and Colorado properties.
Ken Hubbart, then a county inspector, said his office was told the owners planned to build a two-story dormitory-style lodge, a large stable and a caretaker’s cabin. Hubbart said the property only had access roads on it at the time.
Construction has proceeded around the clock, much to the annoyance of some neighbors.
“You can hear equipment running all the time,” said Cheryl Hadlock, who lives east of the FLDS property. “They’re digging constantly. And that’s getting us kind of worried. We don’t know what they’re digging, why they’re digging.”
But Hadlock said the new neighbors have otherwise left them alone. “They’ve been good to us. We haven’t had any problems with them. It just makes you wonder what they’re doing.”
A building permit issued for a three-story, 7,200-square-foot residential building on the property’s west side lists seven bedrooms and 10 bathrooms, though Krakauer said others who have been in the building counted as many 21 bedrooms. There also is a well house nearby.
On the east side of the property, there is a second three-story log residence and a detached garage. The permit lists the dwelling as having three bedrooms and seven bathrooms, though it, too, has more rooms, Krakauer said.
A 12,350-square-foot steel building identified as a horse stable likely includes numerous bedrooms and offices. The property has three water wells, grain silos, an irrigated orchard and a large garden.
Like the properties in Texas and Colorado, the South Dakota development is “in the middle of nowhere,” Brower, the private investigator, said. “It has been completely under the radar for a long time.”
The property is 15 miles southwest of Pringle, a tiny town that consists of little more than a post office and a bar.
It’s about 22 miles from the county seat of Custer, named after Gen. George A. Custer. Located in the southwest corner of South Dakota, the area is home to national forests, parks and monuments. Just north of Custer, a giant mountain carving of Crazy Horse is under way.
“Warren has good taste in real estate,” Krakauer said. “They are beautiful places.”
Krakauer and Brower believe the new development was designed to be a hideout for Jeffs.
Jeffs has other places of lesser significance, “but none like this,” said Krakauer, who estimates up to 80 men, women and children were at the South Dakota property when he was there in January.
Custer County Sheriff Phil Hespen said he was aware the FLDS owned property there and declined to comment about any FBI activity in the area.
“If we knew he [Warren Jeffs] was there, we would have scooped him up a long time ago,” he said.
FBI Special Agent Deborah McCarley in Phoenix said the agency is aware of the FLDS property in South Dakota. She said the agency follows up on all tips concerning Jeffs’ whereabouts.
The search continues, she said, but “any leads that suggest we’re close to him, no.”