Ex-wife of polygamist tells tales of greed, murder and escape

SPOKANE — When Susan Ray Schmidt’s parents decided to join what she calls a cult, Schmidt says she had no choice but to grow up with Fundamentalist Mormon teachings.

“You live in a situation like this, and there’s a lot of fanaticism and brainwashing,” she says.

Schmidt’s story unfolds like any dramatic Hollywood film, except this is based on real life. It’s a life she details in her new book, “His Favorite Wife“. Her story captures the greed, envy and murders that drover her once and for all to escape.

“I was just a young girl when my mom and dad joined a fundamentalist offshoot of the Mormon church,” Schmidt says. “I was 15 when I became the sixth wife of one of the leaders of the church. His name was Verlan LeBaron.”

In the 1940s the excommunicated LeBaron clan formed the Church of the First Born in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. Verlan was one of five LeBaron brothers who started the church. It was Ervil LeBaron who first convinced Susan that God wanted her to become part of the clan.

“He was called the “Mormon Manson,” Schmidt says. Ervil LeBaron masterminded 30 murders, including his pregnant daughter, Rebecca, and the church patriarch, Joel LeBaron.

“He did what was called blood atonement killings,” Schmidt says. “It was a power thing. He wanted to take leadership of the church.”

Her husband, Verlan LeBaron, went into hiding, in fear that he would be next on the hit list. For Susan, even before this breaking point, she says she was jaded with the church teachings and lifestyle. She planned her escape.

“I was very disillusioned, for the church cared for my husband,” Schmidt said. “I did not want my children raised in polygamy.

“Unbeknownst to him, when I asked my father, ‘Please, take me with you on a trip to Utah’, he thought I was going on vacation. I packed my bags and knew I was leaving.”

Schmidt says Verlan LeBaron couldn’t come after her because she knew the law would be on her side. With five children in tow, she decided to start a new life. She now lives in Twin Falls, Idaho.

“Lonely wives, children without a father…I don’t believe that’s God’s perfect will,” Schmidt says.

Schmidt says she wants people to understand what drives people to live a life of polygamy, and what it was like being a part of the LeBaron cult. She hopes her story of strength inspires other young girls from getting trapped in her situation.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday November 6, 2006.
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