The people occupying a secretive and growing compound southwest of Pringle are practicing polygamy and are likely conducting under-age marriages, say two former members of the sect led by Warren Jeffs, who was convicted last week of rape as an accessory.
Jeffs is the head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, headquartered in the twin border towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. He was convicted of the rape as an accessory charge last week in Utah, and faces similar charges in Arizona.
The people in the compound, who consider Jeffs their prophet, are practicing polygamy, which is a central tenet of the FLDS church, according to Isaac Wyler of Colorado City, an ex-FLDS member.
“That’s a no-brainer,” Wyler said of the polygamy question. “I know they’re practicing illegal, under-age marriages in there because they can get away with it. Warren has received revelations from God that he’s supposed to be marrying these girls at young ages. He would have to have a completely new revelation for that to change.”
The Journal has not been able to contact members of the compound.
Jeffs likely took refuge at the Pringle compound at some point during the years he was a fugitive, Wyler said, although he probably spent most of his time on the road.
Wyler said FLDS members in Hildale-Colorado City, as well as compounds elsewhere in the country, follow Jeffs’ teachings. Wyler said Jeffs excommunicated him, along with 19 other leaders of Colorado City-Hildale, in 2004.
Jane Blackmore, a former FLDS member from Canada who visited the Pringle compound in August in an unsuccessful attempt to see her daughter and grandchildren also said she believes the compound members are practicing polygamy.
Blackmore of Creston, British Columbia, said she can’t be certain whether the secretive compound is practicing polygamy and under-age marriage. “From the history and the past, I believe they’re still practicing both,” Blackmore said.
Blackmore, accompanied by other family members, went to the compound on Aug. 25 in an attempt to visit her daughter, Suzie Johnson, and her grandchildren, but she was turned away by several FLDS men, Blackmore said.
The compound members called the Custer County Sheriff’s Office and a deputy arrived and told them they had to leave because the compound is private property.
Blackmore said she recognized some of the men as FLDS leaders from Colorado City, even though they were wearing wigs.
Custer County Sheriff Rick Wheeler has said nobody has filed a complaint that compound members are practicing polygamy or are breaking any other laws.
Wheeler and other county officials say the compound has, in fact, met every county requirement, including building permits.
Wheeler said the compound, established about five years ago, continues to expand. He says the compound has 15-20 structures on about 140 acres and is now drilling a well. He estimates the compound could hold 75 to 100 people.
Another FLDS compound, near Eldorado, Texas, also has grown rapidly.
“It looks like to me they’re taking people out of Hildale and Colorado City and putting them into these two areas,” Wheeler said.
Bruce Wisan, a court-appointed Utah official assigned to oversee the FLDS financial arm, the United Effort Plan, said he suspects some residents of the Hildale-Colorado City community are moving out to other areas.
“The instructions that Warren has given to people are not to reveal it to anybody. All this happens late at night,” Wisan said. “I’ve heard from one source that there was a tape that they insert in the car as they’re driving away telling them where they’re driving to and why. Everything is secret.”
Sheriff Wheeler said the only complaints he has received about the Pringle compound are about noise from the constant construction work, which often goes far into the night.
Bob and Deb Hadlock live nearby in the scenic area above Red Canyon in far southern Custer County. The Hadlocks say they’re fed up with the construction noise at night and have begun to complain to the compound leaders and the local authorities. “They wake me up all hours of the night,” Bob Hadlock said. “It’s just finally gone too far.”
He said semi-trailers arrive at all hours of the day and night. “It’s ridiculous what comes in here after dark.”
Hadlock says that in addition to the surface structures, he believes the compound members are building something underground. “You look at the dirt that they got piled above ground. You tell me where it comes from, if they’re not going under.”
The compound has also built a watchtower near the entrance. Wheeler said he has seen men in the watchtower but that he doesn’t know whether they are armed.
Six children at the compound have been registered this year for home schooling with the Custer School District, the same number as last year, according to superintendent of schools Tim Creal. Creal said the children underwent testing last year, but he has not yet seen the test results.
Wisan said Friday that the compounds are probably being financed by contributions that FLDS members funnel to Jeffs and other church leaders.
Blackmore, meanwhile, continues to worry about her daughter, who she last saw in March on a visit in Rapid City supervised by her daughter’s husband. Suzie, 26, was due to have a baby about a month ago. “I’m concerned she didn’t get proper medical care,” Blackmore said
She voiced her concerns in August to Ben Johnson. “He said God is taking care of them.”
Johnson also told her that her daughter was living at the Pringle compound by choice. “I said, you know, the fence and the watchtower, they give me a different message.”