Nevada motel catered to polygamist unions

It’ll have role in church leader’s criminal case involving underage girl

CALIENTE, Nev. — Room 15 seems like an unlikely place for a wedding.

There are no flower-covered arbors, pews or unity candles waiting to be lighted. It’s just an apartment-style motel room with a bed, a dresser, a table and a couch. A door off the kitchenette leads to a small patio with a fire pit.

But there were dozens of weddings at the quaint Caliente Hot Springs Motel, “world famous” for its warm, therapeutic waters.

Dozens of religious unions were arranged between underage girls and men from a polygamist church whose leader, Warren Jeffs, stands accused of rape as an accomplice for marrying a 14-year-old to her older first cousin.

The leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Mr. Jeffs, 50, will be in a Utah court Tuesday for a hearing to determine whether prosecutors have enough evidence to try him on two first-degree felony charges.

If there’s a trial and Mr. Jeffs is convicted, the man 10,000 followers revere as a prophet could spend the rest of his life in prison.

Prosecutors allege that the bride, who is referred to in court documents as Jane Doe No. 4, told Mr. Jeffs that she didn’t want to marry — she believed she was too young. Later, she begged to be released from the union, saying she didn’t like marital relations.

But Mr. Jeffs said the marriage was her religious duty and threatened her with the loss of her salvation, court documents state.

FLDS weddings in Caliente came in bunches, said Carolyn Jessop, a former FLDS member who ran the motel for a year. Once or twice a month, beginning in spring 1999, Ms. Jessop would get a telephone call telling her to plan for a weekend of weddings — some say as many as 10 in one day.


The FLDS is also considered to be a cult of Christianity. Sociologically,the group is a high-control cult.

Wedding parties and church elders would arrive in a caravan of cars about midmorning.

“They did not want anybody on the property,” said Ms. Jessop, whose husband, Merrill, owned the 18-room motel.

Each wedding was different, but girls usually arrived with their parents, including “other mothers,” the plural wives of their fathers.

The groom might bring his own plural wives. In some ceremonies, the first wife might even hold the young bride’s hand, placing it gently in the groom’s as a symbolic gesture that she accepted the new wife into the family.

“I can’t imagine the trauma that some of these younger girls must have gone through,” said Ms. Jessop, who left the sect and her husband in 2003.

The drive between Caliente and Hildale, Utah, one of the twin border towns where most FLDS members live, is 160 miles through Utah’s Antelope Mountains and across the Escalante Desert. Why go all that way?

Because the states of Utah and Arizona were passing legislation to address underage marriage and threatening prosecutions, including putting some young girls in jail, Ms. Jessop said.

“The leaders thought [Caliente] was a way to go under the radar screen,” she said.

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Nov. 20, 2006

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This post was last updated: Wednesday, November 22, 2006 at 4:17 AM, Central European Time (CET)