SAN ANGELO, TEXAS — Authorities searching a remote polygamist compound for a 16-year-old girl who had claimed she was sexually abused discovered a bed inside a towering limestone temple and were told by a “confidential informant” that men used it to have sex with underage girls, according to a court document unsealed Wednesday.
The discovery of the bed, which was ruffled and contained what appeared to be a long strand of a female’s hair, was disclosed in an affidavit that Texas Rangers used to obtain a second search warrant to expand their investigation of the YFZ Ranch, a 1,700-acre guarded complex outside the tiny West Texas town of Eldorado.
YFZ, which stands for Yearning for Zion, was built by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a 10,000-member sect that broke away from the Mormon Church in the 1930s after it banned polygamy.
The allegation that sex between adult men and underage girls was occurring inside the monolithic white temple came Saturday from a confidential informant who formerly belonged to the religious sect and who had been cultivated over several years by Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran, according to the affidavit.
In addition, Texas Ranger Leslie Brooks Long disclosed in the affidavit that investigators had interviewed numerous underage girls who were pregnant or married to men with multiple wives. While inside the compound, Long saw a document “indicating marriages between one man and more than 20 wives, all of whom resided in the same residence” as of last August.
When an investigator asked one girl her age, the affidavit states, the girl turned to her husband, Lee Roy Jessop, who said, “You are 18.” The girl then told the investigator that she was the fourth wife of Jessop, 33, and that “he was still married to the other three wives” in the eyes of the sect.
The 16-year-old girl who triggered the initial complaint has yet to be found, though authorities believe she may be among the more than 400 children from the compound that Texas child welfare officials took into state custody this week.
According to court papers also made public Wednesday, the frightened girl called a family shelter March 29 and said she was the child bride of a 50-year-old man named Dale Barlow who “hits her and hurts her.”
She claimed that she had given birth to his child eight months earlier at age 15 and was pregnant again. She also claimed that if anyone learned she was making the call, she would be locked in a room without food “for her disobedience.”
Barlow, a registered sex offender on probation in Arizona for an unrelated crime involving a minor, has been located in that state and claims to not even know his accuser. He has not been apprehended despite a Texas warrant for his arrest.
Some activists who help women who leave the religious sect said Wednesday they were convinced that Texas had the wrong suspect; they believe that the Dale Barlow in Arizona is not the 16-year-old’s husband.
The records were unsealed on a day during which attorneys for the church convinced a judge that they should play a role in criminal court proceedings triggered as a result of Texas’ investigation.
In addition, the FBI confirmed that it had joined the investigation. FBI officials declined to elaborate.
In a hearing in the city of San Angelo, a phalanx of FLDS attorneys — including lawyers who represented the sect’s self-styled prophet, Warren Jeffs, in a Utah sex abuse case last year — argued that they had a right to review computer hard drives, documents and other evidence seized.
“The church has rights. Entry to the church is a sacred area,” said Gerald H. Goldstein, an attorney for church elder Lyle Jeffs. He argued that seized texts and genealogies considered holy by the FLDS should not become part of any court cases if they don’t directly relate to crimes.
Tom Green County District Judge Barbara Walther agreed that with help from an independent special master, the group should have the right to review evidence — for example, to ensure that attorney-client privilege is not violated if the evidence contains correspondence between attorneys and members of the sect.
Warren Jeffs, 50, was convicted last year of being an accomplice to rape after he arranged a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her cousin. He is jailed in Arizona, where he awaits trial on similar charges.