Teenage girl talks of FLDS wedding
Editor’s note: The Salt Lake Tribune is using the pseudonym “Mary” in this story because the newspaper generally does not identify alleged sexual assault victims.As Mary tells the story of how she became a plural wife at age 16, the shock of it all is still fresh.
On March 27, 2002, her father announced she would be married the next day. To whom? Mary asked. Her father told her it was “a Barlow boy” but could not recall his first name.
“I was scared. I thought, ‘Whatever,’ I mean, I just kind of didn’t understand because my father didn’t even know who he was,” Mary said.
She said her mother later supplied the man’s full name: Randolph Barlow, then 28 – a man she had never talked to or even met.
The next morning, Mary and her father, accompanied by his six wives, made the 2 1/2 hour drive from Colorado City, Ariz., to the Hot Springs Motel in Caliente, Nev. Shortly after arriving at the motel, Mary was spiritually married to Barlow as his first wife stood by.
The man she says conducted the ceremony? Warren Steed Jeffs, president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a religious sect located at the Utah/Arizona border that practices polygamy. Jeffs is wanted by Arizona authorities on charges related to Mary’s marriage, and a federal fugitive warrant has been issued for his arrest.
Mary told her story to a grand jury last summer, a transcript of which was found in public court files of several men from Colorado City now facing sex-related felony charges in Mohave County Superior Court in Kingman, Ariz. A judge refused to let The Salt Lake Tribune have a copy of the document, but agreed a reporter could read it.
The woman’s testimony sheds rare light on the furtive underage marriages that are said to be commonplace in the FLDS church. It also highlights the key role Jeffs has played in pairing men with child brides – among them, one of his own teenage daughters.
Raised for marriage: Mary, now 20, left her husband after 18 months and is no longer a member of the FLDS community. She may be the only woman who testified before the grand jury – and she did not come forward voluntarily, appearing only after she was subpoenaed.
She said she has 56 siblings, though at the time of her marriage 30 family members shared a home with 20 bedrooms and 16 bathrooms.
Growing up, she said, “We’re taught that we’re supposed to be good mothers, grow up and get married. . . . We were taught that we’re here to bring children onto the earth and raise them as sweet as possible.”
In late 2001, about four months before her “marriage,” Mary accompanied an older sister and their father to see Jeffs and his father, Rulon Jeffs, then the FLDS prophet. Rulon Jeffs was “very ill. He couldn’t stand without help,” she said.
One of the men asked her sister’s name, age and about her belief in plural marriage. Warren Jeffs jotted the information down in “his little black book.” They then asked Mary her full name and age.
That was it until March 27, when her father delivered the stunning news she was to be married the next day.
“When I married him . . . I actually thought it was the right thing to do because of how I was raised,” Mary said.
According to Mary, Jeffs conducted eight to 10 marriage ceremonies that day. Among the brides was one of his own 16-year-old daughters, she said.
Each session likely ended the same way Mary’s did, with a pronouncement from Jeffs that the couple “go and be fruitful and replenish the earth.”
Mary testified her union was consummated two days later, after she returned to the two-bedroom trailer home that Barlow shared with his first wife and their four children – despite her protests that she was not ready to have children. About six months later, she again tried but failed to fight him off, she alleged.
A year later, after turning 18, Mary had an affair with another man in order to sever her relationship with Barlow. “I did it to break the curse,” Mary told grand jurors.
Fear of hell: The reluctance of Mary and the other women to speak out about these arranged pairings mystified some jury members.
“Why is it here in court in the first place if there’s not a complaint by one of the people?” one juror asked.
Mary tried to help the jury understand the women’s silence. “We were taught that we would go to hell” for speaking out, she said. “After I got away from that religion, I still felt like I would be damned if I ‘spoke out” because that’s just how I was raised.”
So ingrained is that belief that Mary wavered after her grand jury appearance. She failed to show up at Barlow’s original trial, which was set for March 13. Arizona authorities issued a subpoena for Mary, who was picked up days later.
She now has been ordered to attend a June 5 trial for Barlow, who faces two felony counts of sexual assault.
Seven other men from the FLDS community are charged with sexual conduct with a minor and conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a minor. They, as well as Barlow, have entered not guilty pleas (see graphic).
The Mohave County grand jury that indicted Barlow last June after hearing Mary’s story also issued a two-count indictment against Jeffs for sexual conduct with a minor and conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a minor, for his role in setting up these marriages.
The women who were assigned to the men by Jeffs ranged in age from 15 to 17; their “spiritual marriages” took place between December 1998 and March 2002, the charges allege.
While other polygamous groups in Utah and Arizona say they now discourage – even prohibit – plural marriages involving women under the age of 18, the FLDS have apparently refused to budge on the issue.
Outside pressure: At an FLDS priesthood meeting taped in April 2002, Jeffs told followers the two states were “trying to stop the work of God” by interfering with the church’s practice of plural marriage. Former town marshal Sam Barlow also spoke, sharing what he had learned in meetings with authorities in Arizona and Utah and giving a spirited defense of the FLDS approach to plural marriage.
“They have taken this on under a pretense that they are going to protect young women from being coerced or levered or pressured into a marriage union with men that are older than them,” Barlow said.
Barlow said the states would call women before a grand jury and “ask them to betray themselves, their sister wives, their husbands and their religious leaders and from there expand the fight.” He called on the women to “take that kind of pressure” and gave examples of forbears who withstood similar scrutiny during anti-polygamy raids in 1944 and 1953.
“We should stand faithful and should have women that are as converted as we are,” Barlow said.
Ironically, Mary’s marriage took place days before this church meeting.
Arizona’s constitution, like Utah’s, includes a specific ban on polygamy. But in Arizona there is no criminal statute outlawing the practice. So state authorities have based the charges on a statute that makes it a crime to engage in sexual activity with someone under the age of 18.
During a court hearing in March for six of the men, Mohave County Superior Court Judge Steven F. Conn summed up the issue this way: “It is whether underage girls are going to be protected by society from engaging in sexual relationships outside of the marital relationship.”
The current cases signal the most concerted effort in decades to crack down on polygamous marriages involving older men and young girls in the FLDS community.
“What it took was being there,” said Gary Engels, a Mohave County special investigator based in Colorado City. “That was the biggest thing. That is why there has never been much success in the past.”
In most of the cases, Arizona authorities have used birth certificates and “backwards math” to calculate the women’s ages at the time they conceived children with the men.
“It’s all there in black and white,” Engels said.
We appreciate your support
Our website includes affiliate links, which means we get a small commission — at no additional cost to you — for each qualifying purpose. For instance, as an Amazon Associate Religion News Blog earns from qualifying purchases. That is one reason why we can provide this service free of charge.