Did she or didn’t she? Writer spins her own mystery
Here’s a mystery: Did a lesbian author of detective novels really infiltrate the polygamous sect led by Warren S. Jeffs as research for her latest book?
Jennifer Fulton makes that claim in an interview published recently on AfterEllen.com, a Web site that covers lesbian and bisexual women who work in entertainment and media.
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The author said she spent two weeks living with a family in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, posing as a widow with two daughters in search of a husband who practices The Principle, as plural marriage is called. Fulton said the ploy helped her bring authenticity to her novel Grave Silence – at risk to her life.
The FLDS are a notoriously closed polygamous sect whose members shun outsiders and do not proselytize. Women who have left the community said Fulton’s claim is pure fiction.
“I don’t think there is a remote possibility that could be accurate,” said Carolyn Jessop, a former plural wife who left the FLDS faith in 2003. “It is absolutely taboo to bring outsiders in.”
Adds LuAnn Fischer, who left the FLDS in 2000: “There is no way that would happen. They don’t convert anybody because The Principle is so hard to live.”
Fulton declined an interview request with The Salt Lake Tribune, saying she never intended to go public with her escapade but did so only to please her publisher.
“Were I to provide now what verification I can to a reporter like yourself for a formal interview, I would have no choice but to compromise people who have done me no harm including sources whose anonymity was the basis of their advice and help to me,” Fulton wrote in an e-mail. “I already feel bad about the manner in which I gained access to this community, so I don’t want to make matters worse.”
Fulton, who wrote Grave Silence under the name Rose Beecham, said she spent six years researching the FLDS sect. She told AfterEllen.com that her interest was tripped after she stumbled onto the community during a road trip and that every detail in the book is as she “witnessed” it.
Grave Silence, published in December, follows Montezuma County Sheriff’s detective Jude Devine as she investigates the murder of a pregnant teenager. The trail leads to a polygamous FLDS sect in Utah, and one family in particular that lives on the “Gathering for Zion Ranch.”
Current events involving the FLDS and their society – widely covered in daily media – figure prominently in the story line, from the sect’s purchase of properties in Mancos, Colo., and elsewhere, to Jeffs’ debut on the FBI’s “Most Wanted” fugitive list and Utah’s move to decertify polygamous police officers.
Utah gets a drubbing in the story, described as unwilling to go after polygamists because fundamentalist Mormons are “a snapshot of what the Mormon church used to be before they reinvented themselves.”
Fulton told AfterEllen.com she first contacted Mormon friends who introduced her to teens who had fled the FLDS community. She then corresponded with a woman who had left the faith and that woman arranged for her to meet relatives who, in turn, introduced her to other relatives.
That family allowed her to become a “participant” in their household, where she carried out household chores and baby-sat under the direction of the “head wife.” Fulton said she witnessed a “high level of psychological and physical abuse,” though the family tried to make a good impression.
“I was inspected and ‘interviewed’ by a couple of powerful men in the community, and then introduced to several men willing to become my husband,” Fulton told AfterEllen.com. “Usually a husband is assigned, but in my case they made quite a thing out of how I would have a choice.”
She also claimed that the host family would have “curried favor” with Jeffs if it had been able to bring her daughters into the faith.
Fulton told the online publication that “silence and complicity have enabled this Taliban-like community to flourish on American soil, and I will not be a party to that.”
However, Fulton apparently now has decided silence is necessary. She also admitted fabricating a few things in her AfterEllen.com interview.
In her e-mail to the Tribune Fulton said she “tossed in” remarks aimed at “convincing insiders that this is probably bogus.
“Anyone who has researched the FLDS for six years, as I have, does not make such ‘mistakes’ unless with a purpose. Mine was to ensure my sources are never compromised,” wrote Fulton, who is the author of 12 lesbian novels and lives in Colorado. She also writes under the name Grace Lennox.
Jessop and Fischer believe that is all a shtick to help Fulton sell her book and that the “mistakes” she made are with the facts, particularly in her interview.
An example: Fulton describes helping a woman give birth in “filthy conditions” because the FLDS don’t use doctors. The community in fact operates a birth clinic and, when problems occur, go to hospitals in St. George and in Salt Lake City for help.
Another: Fulton said she is “haunted” by a baby graveyard and repeats an unfounded rumor that it is filled mostly with children “murdered by their parents.”
There is no factual basis for the claim about the cemetery, where children and even stillborn babies have been buried since the 1950s.
In a recent story about the cemetery, the St. George Spectrum quoted Mohave County, Ariz., Investigator Gary Engels as saying the rumors are unfounded.
“There is no indication of anything wrong going on there,” Engels said. “I think it’s a combination of a very high birth rate for the population and maybe the health of the mothers.”
And one more: Faithful FLDS men currently don’t choose their wives. The FLDS practice placement marriages, with women and men assigned to matches by Jeffs, who is believed to be guided by God in his matchmaking.
“She’s done her research and read enough books to come up with generalities,” said Fischer. “The psychological or whatever abuse, wouldn’t people be on their best behavior? It’s just unbelievable.”
Jessop said that the FLDS “is not a cult that goes out and recruits people in. These men are not going to bring a gentile [as outsiders are called] into their families.”
Or even allow strangers into their homes. Most FLDS consecrate their homes – and often their vehicles and yards – in a religious ceremony and believe allowing an outsider to come in will defile the residences.
“If someone comes into the home with an unclean spirit it contaminates the home and they would have to go through and completely clean and rededicate that home,” said Jessop, describing it as a laborious process.
So, the plot thickens.