Eldorado Success breaks story on Internet
MANCOS, CO — The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) has surreptitiously established a polygamous colony in the state of Colorado. Acting on behalf of the FLDS leadership, a 33-year-old Mormon Fundamentalist named David Steed Allred paid $1,394,000 for two 60-acre parcels of land six miles north of Mancos, a small community in Colorado’s southwest corner. Allred, moreover, is presently maneuvering to purchase a third 60-acre parcel lying between the other properties, which would give the FLDS Church a private inholding of 180 contiguous acres entirely surrounded by publicly owned National Forest.
The leader of the exceedingly secretive polygamist sect is a furtive man named Warren Steed Jeffs. A self-proclaimed prophet, Jeffs claims to be God’s mouthpiece on earth and is married to more than 70 women. He demands absolute, unquestioning obedience from his estimated 10,000 followers, whom he forbids to have any unnecessary contact with outsiders. Jeffs has repeatedly prophesied that the Lord will soon unleash a scourge of “pestilence, hail, famine, and earthquake” upon the earth, destroying all of humankind except the most zealous of his true believers. Notable for being the largest polygamous sect in North America, the FLDS Church is based in a pair of adjoining towns, Hildale and Colorado City, which straddle the border between Utah and Arizona in a parched expanse of desert north of the Grand Canyon.
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The man who purchased the FLDS property in Colorado, David Allred, is the same man who purchased 1,691 acres for the FLDS Church outside of Eldorado, Texas in November 2003. In both cases Allred told local residents that he was buying the properties to use as a corporate hunting retreat for entertaining clients. Shortly after the Eldorado acreage was acquired, FLDS construction crews began erecting large buildings and a grid of streets on the land. It became evident that Allred’s story about a hunting retreat was merely a ruse, and that the polygamists were in fact establishing a substantial FLDS stronghold there for Warren Jeffs’ most fanatical adherents. It now appears that more than a thousand polygamists will be living on the Eldorado property within the next few years. Indeed, the population of the FLDS colony could soon rival the population of Eldorado itself, which–because Jeffs’ followers vote according to his edicts as a uniform bloc–would have profound consequences for the governance of Eldorado and surrounding Schleicher County.
It is ot yet clear what Jeffs and his followers plan to do with the Mancos property. Although they have been putting up buildings at a rapid rate, it seems doubtful that Jeffs intends to establish a large community of polygamists there. More likely, he bought the acreage as a private hideaway for himself, his body guards, and his favorite wives–a bucolic refuge that would remain safely under the radar of nosy journalists or law officers bearing warrants for his arrest. The new compound is situated 7,900 feet above sea level, in the densely wooded foothills of the San Juan Mountains, perhaps the loveliest and most rugged peaks in Colorado. Wild game is abundant. Jeffs may have been made aware of the place by Sam Roundy, the police chief of Hildale, Utah, whose father and grandfather were raised in Durango, Colorado, 20 miles east Mancos.
Roundy is one of Jeffs’ highest ranking subordinates. All of Roundy’s police officers are polygamists utterly devoted to Warren Jeffs, despite the fact that polygamy is a felony in Utah, and police officers are sworn to uphold the law. In practice, whenever state and federal statutes run counter to the wishes of their prophet, Sam Roundy and the entire Hildale police force have demonstrated that their true allegiance is to the prophet, and the laws be damned. Although their salaries are derived from public tax dollars, for all intents and purposes the Hildale cops serve as Jeffs’ personal militia.
Although its existence came to light less than a month ago, Allred actually purchased the first 60 acres of the Mancos property on July 11, 2003–for $669,000, under his own name–some four months before he purchased the Eldorado FLDS property. Allred bought a second 60-acre parcel for $725,000 on October 8, 2004–this time attempting to disguise the purchase by buying it in the name of a shell corporation called Sherwood Management, Inc., based in Mesquite Nevada. A third 60-acre parcel, situated between the two aforementioned parcels, was purchased for $355,000 on November 22, 2000 by James and Mandy Bramble of Tucson, Arizona.
The Brambles have no affiliation whatsoever with the FLDS Church, and until now had no inkling that their neighbors were fundamentalist zealots. Indeed, James Bramble had considered David Allred “a good neighbor,” with whom he split the $8,600 cost of installing cattle guards and a fence between their properties. “He had his brother pay his share of it in cash,” Bramble says. “Pulled wads of big bills out of his pocket and handed it over.”
Bramble expressed alarm when he was informed that his new neighbors are fanatical followers of a man who preaches hatred for non-white races and has been implicated in widespread financial fraud, violence, and an epidemic of sexual crimes. Bramble also expressed anger upon learning that Allred had clandestinely purchased the 60 acres on the other side of his property–a parcel Bramble had been attempting to buy himself. “The son of a bitch went behind my back!” he lamented.
Allred, Bramble said, has asked to buy his property, as well–which lies between the two parcels Allred now owns–but thus far Bramble hasn’t been interested in selling it. Now that he knows who his neighbors really are, however, he indicated that he probably will no longer want to hold onto his acreage, so he may sell it to Allred after all. “He’s going to have to pay a lot for it,” Bramble declared angrily. “As far as I’m concerned, to hell with those people.”
Officials in Montezuma County, Colorado, initially began to wonder about Allred after Deputy Assessor Scott Davis visited the Mancos property to conduct a routine tax assessment. “During the ten years I’ve been doing this job, I’d never encountered someone who acted as secretive as Allred,” Davis says. “Everything he did was suspicious. My intuition told me something wasn’t right.” Davis’ wife Mary logged onto the Internet and “Googled” Allred’s name, which led her to articles in The Eldorado Success about the disquieting influx of the FLDS polygamists into Texas.
Troubled by what Mary Davis unearthed about the sect online, and by what he read in a book, Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith (written by this reporter), Scott Davis alerted Lt. Steve Harmon of the Montezuma County Sheriff’s office, who subsequently placed a call to Kathy Mankin at the Success on September 30 seeking information about the FLDS group. Mankin put Lt. Harmon in touch with Sheriff David Doran of Eldorado, who began briefing the apprehensive Colorado lawmen about what to expect from their new neighbors.
The Coloradans have reason to be concerned. In August 2003, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff declared, “I don’t mind telling Warren Jeffs that I’m coming after him… We have seen compelling evidence that crimes are being committed, children are being hurt, and taxpayers are footing the bill.”
Shurtleff and other authorities have been moving with caution in their efforts to bring Jeffs to justice, though. Numerous members and ex-members of the FLDS Church have insisted that Jeffs will not hesitate to order his followers to kill themselves and others rather than allow himself to be arrested. “And the majority of those followers would definitely do it,” says a woman who recently abandoned her home and all her possessions in order to make a risky escape, with her eight children, from the church and her polygamous husband. “Warren’s followers have been programmed their whole lives to sacrifice everything for him.”
This woman, who fears for her safety and has asked that her name not be revealed, wishes that government authorities would accelerate their efforts to arrest Jeffs. “Every day that something isn’t done is another day closer to a lot of people losing their lives,” she warns. “Most people probably think, ‘Well, it will just be another mass suicide; no big deal. We’ve seen it happen before with other cults.’ But people who say this don’t understand the magnitude of this catastrophe if it is allowed to happen. This won’t just be a mass suicide–it will be a mass slaughter of little kids, because the average age in the FLDS community is four and a half. The majority of who is going to end up in graves is babies.”
In recent months ex-members of the church have filed three civil lawsuits against the FLDS prophet, one of which alleges that Jeffs “repeatedly sodomized and otherwise sexually abused” a 5-year-old nephew in a basement lavatory during Sunday church services. The boy was told that the abuse was “God’s work,” and that if he ever mentioned the abuse to anyone he would be damned by God for eternity. Jeffs has been in hiding ever since this lawsuit was filed last July.
According to Utah-based private investigator Sam Brower, who has been investigating Jeffs on behalf of the plaintiffs in the civil lawsuits, “Warren claims, through his attorney, that he’s innocent of all these very serious charges. But by going underground he’s made himself appear guilty as heck. It’s also made him look like a coward–a guy who’s afraid to face his accusers and proclaim his innocence in the light of day.”
Upon discovering at the end of September that Jeffs had established a foothold in Colorado, Sheriff Doran and Montezuma County Sheriff Joey Chavez decided to keep the news under wraps in order to allow detectives time to conduct covert surveillance. Believing this was in the public interest, Randy Mankin, the editor of The Eldorado Success, voluntarily agreed to withhold public disclosure, as did this freelance reporter. But last week, when Mankin learned that news of the FLDS compound was about to be leaked to Arizona news outlets, he broke the embargo and dispatched me to Mancos. Sam Brower was informed of the FLDS property, as well, so that he could attempt to serve Jeffs with a court summons if the prophet happened to be hiding at the compound.
The acreage acquired by the FLDS came with three existing homes and several barns and other outbuildings. In 2003 an FLDS construction crew transformed one of these barns into a fourth residence. When Brower and I visited the property on October 22 we discovered two additional residences that had just been built–handsome log homes, three stories high with green metal roofs, the larger of which measures approximately 5,000 square feet. Additionally, we saw at least four vehicles (including a BMW X5 sport utility vehicle registered to one of Allred’s plural wives), a house trailer, excavating equipment, and building materials stockpiled for further construction.
According to James Bramble, the recent construction on Allred’s property usually took place after dark. “They’d start at 10 or 11 P.M. and go all night,” he said.
Both of the new homes are secreted in dense stands of pine and aspen along the back property line, and are not visible from any road. Smoke was rising from the chimneys, but blinds were drawn tightly across every window, and nobody ventured outside over the course of several hours. We had reason to believe not only that Warren Jeffs might be holed up inside one of the residences, but that we also might find “Uncle Fred” Jessop (the revered 95-year-old FLDS bishop who Jeffs regards as a rival for control of the sect) and 23-year-old Susie JoAnn Blackmore Johnson, a plural wife of one of Jeffs’ most fanatical followers, Ben Edward Johnson. Fred Jessop abruptly disappeared in December 2003, and Susie Johnson vanished from her home just as unexpectedly in May 2004. Family members fear that both are being held in a secret location against their will. Jessop and Johnson have been officially classified as missing persons by Interpol and other international law enforcement agencies.
While observing the Mancos FLDS property on October 23, Brower encountered David Allred patrolling the fence line on an all-terrain vehicle. Across the strands of barbed-wire, Brower asked him, “Is Warren here?”
“I haven’t seen Warren in months,” Allred replied, and insisted that Fred Jessop wasn’t on the property, either. Brower says he doesn’t put much stock in either assertion, however, because members of the FLDS Church are taught from birth that deceiving outsiders is a righteous act. The faithful even have a name for it: “Lying for the Lord.”
So Fred Jessop, Susie Johnson, and/or Warren Jeffs himself may yet turn up in Mancos. Or perhaps not. Maybe they will be found, instead, in Bountiful (a shadowy polygamist outpost in southeastern British Columbia), or the Harker Ranch (an even more clandestine FLDS settlement in Utah’s Escalante Desert), or a compound rumored to be somewhere in Mexico–which, if it really exists, has been concealed so effectively that no outsider even knows its exact location. On the other hand, it is entirely possible that none of the three absent individuals will ever be found. It wouldn’t be the first time that people with ties to the FLDS Church have vanished from the face of the earth.
Editor’s Note: Jon Krakauer is the author of the best selling book “Under the Banner of Heaven.” Primarily due to his exposure to the Fundamentalist Mormon community while writing the book, Krakauer has taken an active interest in the stories of the YFZ Ranch and the FLDS Church. He is also a survivor of the 1996 Mount Everest expedition that claimed the lives of four climbers and which later became the basis for another of his bestsellers “Into Thin Air.” He also wrote “Into the Wild” and “Eiger Dreams.”