On Friday inside an auto parts store in Hildale, Utah, Musser saw Vivian Barlow Musser and their 18-month-old son Levi _ but his wife rejected admonitions of love and refused to let the 22-year-old father cradle his son.
“He was crushed when he came out,” said Greg Hoole, Musser’s attorney, who waited outside the store during the 90-minute meeting.
Musser hadn’t seen his family since leaving the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints last July. A nephew of Jeffs, Musser was once a caretaker for the church president’s many wives, living for seven months in hiding in a series of Colorado cities beginning in December 2005.
At the time, Jeffs was on the run from lawsuits in Utah and criminal charges in Arizona.
Out of favor after a DUI arrest in Colorado Springs, Colo., Musser was sent away by Jeffs to repent and had his family taken from him. He was been told by his father that Vivian and Levi had been given to another man, a practice common in the FLDS church.
Musser filed a civil lawsuit against Jeffs May 4 in St. George’s 5th District Court. The lawsuit asks the court to force Jeffs to disclose Vivian and Levi’s whereabouts.
Jeffs, 51, has led the church since 2002. He is in jail charged with rape as an accomplice in connection with the 2001 spiritual marriage of a 14-year-old FLDS girl to her 19-year-old cousin.
The church, which is based in the twin communities of Hildale and Colorado City, Ariz., has an estimated 10,000 followers. They are said to be blindly obedient and consider Jeffs a prophet who communicates with God.
Musser was traveling from Hildale to his home in Payette, Idaho Saturday and could not be reached by The Associated Press.
Friday was the deadline for Jeffs to respond to the lawsuit. He didn’t, but the meeting arranged by Musser’s father, David Musser, could only have happened with church approval, Hoole said.
“They proved our point _ that they control every aspect of these people’s lives,” he said.
“They can make her appear when they want her to appear,” Hoole’s brother and legal practice partner Roger Hoole said.
Like much of what happens inside the secretive, insular FLDS community, the meeting was arranged and carried out with a kind of spy novel flavor.
David Musser called his son early last week, inviting him for visit and a “talk,” the attorneys said. Pressed for details about the conversation to be had, David Musser was vague, but instructed his son “not to bring anyone,” and sent Wendell a one-way plane ticket, Roger Hoole said.
Watching outside the airport, Greg Hoole admits he had sentimental thoughts about a reunion between a father and son whose relationship had gone chilly and who hadn’t seen each other in months.
“As soon as the plane landed and taxied up to the gate, his father flipped out his cell phone,” Greg Hoole said. “And to me it was clear he was reporting back on the status of things and all that sentimentality went out the window. This was not a reunion … it was someone telling Wendell’s father ‘Do this’.”
In a separate car, Greg Hoole followed the Mussers the 50 miles east to Hildale. Roger Hoole and private investigator Sam Brower were farther behind, wanting to be close should Wendell need assistance.
Streamline Automotive is owned by Vivian Musser’s father, Anthus Barlow. It was he who led his 20-year-old daughter and grandson into the store, Greg Hoole said.
A telephone number for Anthus Barlow in the Hildale phone book was disconnected Saturday and no one answered the phone at the business.
Also present were Helaman Barlow, an officer with the Colorado City town marshal’s office and two Washington County sheriff’s deputies in the area by coincidence and invited to participate for an unknown reason, the attorneys said.
“She wouldn’t look at him at first. He said she was like a robot,” Roger Hoole said. “She was very well coached. She wouldn’t let him hold the baby.”
After refusing to meet privately, Vivian, who in 2004 married Wendell Musser in a hastily arranged religious ceremony in a Kanab, Utah, motel, peppered her husband with questions and accusations.
“She asked, why are you persecuting the prophet?” Greg Hoole said.
She also said that because the couple never held a valid marriage license, Musser was no longer the child’s father and that he had no rights to the boy, Roger Hoole said.
“And he’s saying, actually I do … we didn’t have to be married,” Greg Hoole said.
In the end, Vivian resisted Musser’s expressions of love and looked away when he told her ‘you know this isn’t you’,” Greg Hoole said.
The meeting ended after Vivian refused to take Levi and leave Hildale with Musser.
“At least we know she’s OK, the baby’s OK and she knows he’s trying really hard to see her, that he still loves her and that he’s not going to give this up,” Roger Hoole said.
Colorado City police refused to provide Musser with an address and phone number for Vivian and Levi, despite being told the child is the subject of an active missing persons report, the attorneys said.
Washington County authorities, who made an audio recording of the meeting, are attempting to get the information.
If nothing changes, Friday’s outcome leaves Musser to decide if he will seek legal action to establish his parental rights.
That can be a disheartening, difficult experience, said Richard Holm, a former FLDS member who sued for custody of his 20 children after being kicked out of the church in 2003. Holm’s story is eerily similar _ a wife who disavows her husband and a hovering, powerful church.
“It’s damn criminal on the part of the local cops and her dad and others,” said Holm, who spoke to Musser Friday. “I told Wendell it’s worth fighting the battle, no matter what it takes.”
Original title: Polygamous sect leader’s caretaker has reunion with family