Teen thought to be spiritual wife of Warren Jeffs allegedly calls for help
ST. GEORGE — In the bordering polygamist towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., the report of a missing 17-year-old girl thought to be a spiritual wife of Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints prophet Warren Jeffs has prompted an investigation from the Mohave County Attorney’s Office.
The girl’s parents live on the Mohave County side of the community and an attorney with the Mohave County Attorney’s Office said he had been authorized to look into the report, although the alleged call for help occurred in Washington County.
Suzanne Johnson, the sister of 17-year-old Janetta Jessop, reported Thursday to the Washington County Sheriff’s Office that her sister called Nov. 5 asking to be picked up, yet Johnson never heard from her sister again. Washington County Sheriff Kirk Smith said Friday a deputy contacted the minor girl’s parents who said she was fine and at home with them.
That answer wasn’t good enough for Johnson and some of those researching the polygamist culture, who contacted multiple agencies.
Johnson, who said she hadn’t seen Jessop since just before her 16th birthday, said it was her mother, who came over after the Nov. 5 call and said Jessop had called her to say “never mind.”
“I could tell something was wrong (when Jessop called),” Johnson said. “I had a bad feeling.”
Now Sam Brower, a private investigator hired to find Jeffs and who has also been helping Johnson with this incident, is upset, saying the Washington County Sheriff has failed in his oath to protect the innocent and the public because he has taken the parents’ word on Jessop’s whereabouts without checking.
“I don’t know what everyone wants me to do … we deal with fact, we don’t deal with innuendo and I’m not (going to) allow this group to push their agenda,” Smith said.
A sister is concerned, and that’s great, Smith said, but the parents said Jessop was fine.
“We can’t take some sister who hasn’t seen her in awhile. … Mom and Dad say she’s fine and I’m going to defer to Mom and Dad,” he said.
Brower expressed dismay because Johnson took a risk by making a report, he said, and now the police won’t do anything.
“If she’s there, go take a look and prove us wrong,” Brower said.
Jessop’s mother declined Saturday to comment on the incident.
Brower said of course Jessop’s parents would tell police Jessop was fine, because if she was married to Jeffs and they are loyal to Jeffs they are stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Johnson said she didn’t know if Jessop was really married to Jeffs — that was just something she thought could be a possibility. All she was really concerned about was that her sister called and said “I don’t want to be here right now,” which was enough to make Johnson worry.
Being disfellowshiped from the FLDS church, Johnson has tried for two years to gain some kind of acceptance in the FLDS-dominated community. However, reporting the call, a thing she said she had to do, would most likely sever any hope for relationships with some friends and family.
Johnson also doesn’t know if something will happen to her sister or if anything will come from trying to find her. Bottom line, Johnson said, she knew something wasn’t right when her sister called with a trembling voice and Johnson had to do what she could.
“There’s a minor child calling for help and nobody is helping her,” Brower said.
While allegations of this nature — about the treatment of children in the community — don’t hurt the church as an entity or Jeffs, they do hurt the community and the people there, said FLDS attorney Rod Parker.
These allegations create a prejudice on the community, Parker said.
“(Jeffs) is focused on what he believes is a spiritual calling. The comments of the temporal world don’t hurt him, but the people are hurt,” he said.
The FLDS church is based in the twin communities of Hildale and Colorado City, often referred to as Short Creek. The church, which teaches polygamy as a basic tenet, constitutes the largest polygamist group in North America.
The FLDS church traces its roots to Joseph Smith, founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Since 1890, the LDS church officially abolished plural marriage and members practicing polygamy have been excommunicated and barred from LDS temples.