Daughter won’t give up on polygamous dad

KANAB – When Marylyn B. Cooke was expelled from the polygamous faith led by Warren S. Jeffs years ago, her father gave up on her.

Today, she refuses to give up on him.

Cooke’s father, Dan C. Jessop, 80, is missing. He resigned from the Hildale City Council a month ago without explanation. He left his home and four wives around the same time.

Cooke’s mother has explained to family that Jessop is on a “work mission back East” and that it was something he had always wanted to do. Be at peace, she told them.

But Cooke and other relatives who are no longer in the faith fear he was sent, like so many other men, to repent from afar, never to be heard from again.

“I can’t let it go,” she said of her missing father. “I can’t be at peace with it.”

It’s a bitter irony for Cooke. She is among those who carry a cautious hope that Jeffs’ recent arrest on rape-accomplice charges may allow hundreds of families, fractured by his attempts to whittle his flock to its purest core, to begin healing. Those families are scattered from Canada to Mexico.

Most know it is too soon to expect those rifts to narrow, if they are surmountable at all. But they still are reaching out.

Ezra Draper, who moved three years ago to Bonners Ferry, Idaho, after becoming disillusioned with Jeffs, drove by the homes of or tried to call several brothers while in southern Utah for a job interview Friday. No one appeared home; no one answered or returned his calls.

“That hope that some of my other brothers would talk to me who are loyal to Warren is a little premature,” he said.

Given her father’s age, his health and the circumstances in which he left, Marylyn Cooke said she is filled with anxiety.

Her father, Marylyn learned from a sister, left in such haste that he forgot his heart medication and apparently didn’t even take a change of clothes, items Cooke’s mother later said she sent to him.

“If she’d had 15 minutes notification, she would have had a bag packed with his medications,” Cooke said.

A call to Jessop’s home Saturday was answered by a woman who would not identify herself. Before hanging up, she said: “There is no validity on that, and I have no comment.”

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office, contacted by several of Jessop’s relatives, has been unable to get anyone to answer the door at his home. It has posted a “check welfare” notice for him nationally.

“He could be in Texas, Mexico, Canada, any of those places,” said Lt. Rob Tersigni of the Sheriff’s Office.

For Cooke, 48, it all seems eerily similar to what happened to Fred Jessop, her father’s uncle and a longtime patriarch in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, who disappeared from the community in 2003. He surfaced 16 months later at a Colorado hospital, where he died at age 95.

“I feel like I’ll never see my dad again,” she said. “With my dad, I don’t know if he has anything to live for, to hang on for, without his loved ones around him.”

Cooke is one of Jessop’s 32 children, about half of whom remain in the FLDS church.

Cooke was expelled from the faith – “gained my freedom,” she said – by Jeffs in 1999, after she confessed to an indiscretion that came after years in a difficult, assigned marriage.

She was placed, at age 16, with the husband of a sister who died in a gun accident, becoming an instant mother to two small children. There were no other wives.

On the day they married, her husband, then 25, told Cooke he already had lost the love of his life and that he would never love her. The years passed, the children came – 10 in all, in addition to her sister’s two – and the problems multiplied.

The couple, with the help of Cooke’s father, brought their marital troubles to then-FLDS leader Rulon Jeffs and his son Warren, who was already taking over much of the church’s management.

Warren Jeffs read a Scripture about the sons of perdition and then looked at Cooke. “That’s the position you are in,” she said he told her, adding that “there was no hope for me.”

Jeffs told Cooke she was to give up her herbal medicine and massage practice, stop attending church and “have nothing to do with the people,” she said.

Because he had put up with her, Cooke’s husband was placed on probation; four months later he, too, was expelled from the church.

They were able to stay in their home, which stands on one of the few private pieces of property in the twin towns of Hildale and Colorado City, Ariz., where most land belongs to a communal trust once managed by the FLDS church.

Less than a year later, they joined the LDS Church. They since divorced, and Cooke has remarried and moved with her children to Kanab.

As for her family in Hildale, “They kind of shied away from me after I’d gone and talked to Warren,” she said. As the months and years passed, her parents would take her calls but never called her.

Cooke would come by occasionally but was never invited into her parents’ home, forced to visit instead on the porch or in the yard.

She understands why; because she is an apostate, her parents were skirting Jeffs’ edicts by talking to her at all. To invite her inside would have defiled the home, requiring it to be cleansed from top to bottom and rededicated with prayer.

But in mid-June, she got brave. Cooke opened the door to her parents’ home and walked in, calling out, “Hi Mom, I’m home.”

The next time she stopped by, the door was locked. Two big “No Trespassing” signs hang in her parent’s front window.

Since Jeffs’ arrest, she has had no contact with her mother, whose cell phone number is no longer working. She is trying to work up the courage to knock on her mother’s door.

And her father is still gone.

Dan Jessop, who as a boy moved to the community once known as Short Creek, had served decades on the Hildale City Council. On Tuesday, the council will consider a replacement for his now-vacant seat.

Cooke looks at the town and sees her father’s hand everywhere.

Jessop helped build the ditches, canals and reservoir that serve the community, she said, and his faith in “The Work,” as the fundamentalist version of Mormonism is sometimes called, was unwavering.

As she speaks, there is a hint of guilt and she admits she wonders if those infrequent visits caused problems for her father.

Cooke doesn’t understand either of the possible scenarios – work mission or expulsion – that might account for her father’s disappearance.

“It is unfathomable to me why he would be gone,” she said. “There is nothing . . . he could have done to be kicked out. It’s unreasonable. Why can’t we know where he is?”

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
The Salt Lake Tribune, USA
Sep. 10, 2006
Brooke Adams

Religion News Blog posted this on Sunday September 10, 2006.
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