Life after Jeffs: Hotel debuts in FLDS prophet’s former mansion

The former Warren Jeffs mansion has been converted into a public bed and breakfast, Hildale, Utah, July 23, 2014 | Photo by Cami Cox Jim, St. George News

HILDALE – In a community once tightly closed to the outside world and ever shrouded in controversy, one man says big changes are on the horizon – beginning with the drastic repurposing of a mansion that was originally built for Warren Jeffs.

A cursory glance from Highway 389 may not reveal that much has changed in the twin cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona, since Jeffs, former leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was imprisoned. But behind the high walls surrounding Jeffs’ former compound, Willie Jessop says nothing is the same.

Outside the former Warren Jeffs compound, Hildale, Utah, July 23, 2014 | Photo by Cami Cox Jim, St. George News
Outside the former Warren Jeffs compound, Hildale, Utah, July 23, 2014 | Photo by Cami Cox Jim, St. George News

“I will never tear down the walls, as a reminder of what can happen, similar to the Berlin Wall,” Jessop said. “If we tear down the wall, we have a tendency of repeating the acts that created the problems to begin with.”

Jessop, who formerly served as Warren Jeffs’ bodyguard and “his father’s before him,” said he is now actively involved in many changes that are taking place as a new day slowly dawns in the twin border communities known as “Short Creek.”

“We didn’t create this mess overnight; we’re not going to fix it overnight,” Jessop said. “But we’ve sure got a great facility to get started.”

America’s Most Wanted Bed & Breakfast

In the form of a new Hildale business, Jessop said he has taken a step forward on a personal mission to see estranged families reunited; literal and metaphoric walls torn down between Short Creek residents and the outside world; and community members in need – who have lost homes, jobs and more in the past months and years – get on their feet again.

This week, America’s Most Wanted Suites and Bed & Breakfast, a new hotel owned by Jessop on the northeast side of Hildale, will open to the public. The inn is framed by majestic red cliffs and filled with luxury rooms – but it’s not the lavish accommodations or scenic views that particularly make this facility unique; the bed and breakfast is housed within Warren Jeffs’ former mansion.

“Trying to find a way to turn something that was built for such a sinister purpose into something that will bless people instead of hurt them has been a personal quest,” Jessop said.

Surrounded by high, white walls originally built to keep outsiders away – “a miniature YFZ (Yearning for Zion) in the middle of Hildale,” Jessop said – the mansion and surrounding compound have been transformed into a place of welcome for anyone traveling to, or through, the once tightly controlled and isolated Short Creek community.

Willie Jessop descends the stairs in his new bed and breakfast, housed inside the former Warren Jeffs mansion, Hildale, Utah, July 26, 2014 | Photo by Cami Cox Jim, St. George News
Willie Jessop descends the stairs in his new bed and breakfast, housed inside the former Warren Jeffs mansion, Hildale, Utah, July 26, 2014 | Photo by Cami Cox Jim, St. George News

“The fear was (the compound) would become used for the same purposes it was built for, and that was unacceptable,” Jessop said.

The name America’s Most Wanted is, of course, a pun alluding to former fugitive Jeffs – but Jessop said it’s more than that.

“We wanted the ‘Most Wanted’ name because the most wanted thing we want is people,” he said.

In addition to serving as a symbol to outsiders that they’re now welcome in the community, Jessop said the facility represents a slowly changing regime and a homeward-beckoning hand for the prodigal sons and daughters of the FLDS community – hundreds of men, women and children who have been ejected from Short Creek over the years.

“Basically, we’ve taken down all the ‘no trespassing’ signs to say ‘welcome home’ to all the hundreds of people who have been removed and isolated from the community,” Jessop said.

The hotel is additionally providing jobs for residents of Short Creek who have lost homes and incomes in the aftermath of Warren Jeffs’ leadership.

“Ultimately, we’re trying to use the facility to have a good life after Jeffs,” Jessop said.

Inside Warren Jeffs’ mansion

The mansion-turned-bed-and-breakfast boasts 14 opulent guest rooms, three lobbies, an office guests can utilize, a dining area, conference rooms and even an exercise room complete with a nine-person spa. In one wing of the house, suites containing full kitchens, dining areas and laundry facilities can be rented for extended stays; individual suites can be rented out, or the entire wing.

Adjacent to the mansion are several residences – now converted into apartments – that were originally intended to serve as homes for Jeffs’ high council members.

"Zion" placards above some of the exterior doors are among the few reminders of the bed and breakfast's former church ties, Hildale, Utah, July 26, 2014 | Photo by Cami Cox Jim, St. George News
“Zion” placards above some of the exterior doors are among the few reminders of the bed and breakfast’s former church ties, Hildale, Utah, July 26, 2014 | Photo by Cami Cox Jim, St. George News

In adorning the vast hotel, Jessop removed some art pieces and furnishings from his own home to be included in the décor. Large religious paintings hang in several rooms; these and a few placards bearing the word “Zion,” mounted above some of the exterior doors, are the only decorations that allude to the mansion’s former church ties.

“It brings me a personal satisfaction to see every walk of life come and to use the facilities and know that they’re welcome for who and what they are instead of what the property was designed for, which was to isolate and judge people,” Jessop said.

In preparing the mansion for its new life and eradicating the spirit, so to speak, of Warren Jeffs, Jessop didn’t call in the Ghostbusters – but he said a ritual cleansing of sorts did take place.

“We gutted this place with rock ‘n’ roll to make sure it was clean,” Jessop said with a laugh.

“Bon Jovi, ‘Livin’ on a Prayer,’” he said. “We’re halfway there.”

History of the house

In 2011, before the imprisoned Jeffs was convicted and sentenced to life plus 20 years for sexually assaulting two young girls he took as brides, Jessop said Jeffs communicated to his followers in the Utah/Arizona border towns that if they would build new homes for him and his high council members, God would free them all from prison by the end of 2011.

“He’d been in prison for more than five years – told the people his homes had been desecrated by evil men,” Jessop said.

A music and recreation room inside America's Most Wanted Suites and Bed & Breakfast, housed in the former Warren Jeffs mansion, Hildale, Utah, July 26, 2014 | Photo by Cami Cox Jim, St. George News
A music and recreation room inside America’s Most Wanted Suites and Bed & Breakfast, housed in the former Warren Jeffs mansion, Hildale, Utah, July 26, 2014 | Photo by Cami Cox Jim, St. George News

Firm in the belief that their prophet would be freed if they followed his command, Jeffs’ followers – many of them already financially strained – sacrificed and contributed money and labor to build the new compound on a property Jessop had helped purchase many years prior from the Washington County School District – land that was never part of the United Effort Plan trust. The compound included a new mansion for Jeffs and adjacent homes for the other imprisoned church leaders. Church members completed the compound in less than 60 days.

“They built it on the faith that he would come and live in it,” Jessop said.

But not only did Jeffs not return to Short Creek to live in the mansion, he was convicted and sentenced for sexual crimes against two young girls – one 12 years old and the other 15 – shortly after construction was completed, thus breaking his “if you build it I will come” promise to church members that God would release him from prison after the compound was completed.

“Somehow, God didn’t get the email,” Jessop said.

In the wake of Jeffs’ conviction and sentencing, his band of followers is gradually disintegrating, Jessop said, and Jessop has become determined that the compound, which he now fully owns, will never be used for its original purposes – namely, to isolate FLDS members, exert dictatorship and foster abuse of children and families.

“This is not about Warren Jeffs,” Jessop said. “This is about people that gave their heart in a belief that Mr. Jeffs was innocent prior to his conviction, and they made a religious contribution and devotion to build it, and with that I have a personal level of respect and also a level of responsibility to do what I can to give back to the people that lost so much to build it.”

In addition to providing needed jobs for community members through the bed and breakfast, Jessop said he has used other former church-owned properties to provide housing for local families in need – one of them a Hildale family whose house recently burned down.

Walking through the bed and breakfast, a professional-grade stove was visibly missing from the kitchen area of one of the suites; when asked about it, Jessop said it was given to a local family that needed a stove and will be replaced.

While the bed and breakfast is a visible sign that the times are a-changin’ in Short Creek, Jessop said there is one thing that will not be altered: The walls around the compound will remain – a reminder to community members of the harm that comes with isolation and secrecy.

“If people need those kinds of walls, there’s probably abuse that’s taking place,” Jessop said.

“One of the things I’ve tried to do is take these from being the walls of shame to the walls of fame,” he added.

Inside America's Most Wanted Suites and Bed & Breakfast, Hildale, Utah, July 26, 2014 | Photo by Cami Cox Jim, St. George News
Inside America’s Most Wanted Suites and Bed & Breakfast, Hildale, Utah, July 26, 2014 | Photo by Cami Cox Jim, St. George News

As Warren Jeffs’ stronghold weakens, Jessop said a restructuring has begun taking place within the FLDS church – and, along with it, a bit of an identity crisis is occurring, he said.

“That restructuring is going to take time,” Jessop said, “but I think as long as people have the support of their friends and their family, they’ll get through it.”

Another change that has recently made headlines is the effort of Arizona’s attorney general, with the recent public backing of Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, to disband the Colorado City/Hildale Marshal’s Office, which has historically been the enforcement arm of the FLDS church and riddled with corruption, as was recently made public following the court proceedings in a lawsuit against Colorado City.

The disbandment of the Marshal’s Office will be another step forward in separating the community from the control of Warren Jeffs.

“We welcome that day,” Jessop said.

A long overdue reunion

Though it hasn’t officially opened yet, America’s Most Wanted has already been a catalyst for some of the healing and reunification Jessop said he has hoped for.

Last week, faces long absent from the Short Creek community reappeared in their former hometown as a historical event took place, organized by local resident Harvey Dockstader: a class reunion.

Members of the last classes to graduate from the Colorado City Academy, the classes of ’84 and ’85, traveled from all across the United States in response to what was, for many of them, their first invitation home in decades.

“It was people from Missouri to North Dakota – you know, all walks of life that have been isolated and uninvited,” Jessop said. “(For them) to be able to come back and feel welcome was such a personal satisfaction.”

Reunion attendees were the first to stay as guests in the new America’s Most Wanted Suites and Bed & Breakfast.

“It’s the only place this town has ever seen that’s going to have a welcome sign for real,” Dockstader said.

As he and Dockstader looked through photo after photo from the recently concluded reunion, Jessop became emotional.

“These are incredible,” he said as he and Dockstader watched a slideshow of reunion photos, commenting on seeing cousins and acquaintances they hadn’t talked to in 30 years.

A backyard view of the surrounding hills from behind the walls of the former Warren Jeffs mansion, Hildale, Utah, July 26, 2014 | Photo by Cami Cox Jim, St. George News
A backyard view of the surrounding hills from behind the walls of the former Warren Jeffs mansion, Hildale, Utah, July 26, 2014 | Photo by Cami Cox Jim, St. George News

“It was like coming back here and having it be like it was 30 years ago,” Dockstader said.

“There was no animosity, no hate,” he added. “It was just like, ‘Wow, it’s great to see you again.’”

“The people at the reunion, 10-15 years ago they were all being told to hate each other,” Jessop said.

During the reunion, Jessop said it was deeply satisfying to see the walls of the compound, originally built to segregate, now being used to display photos and memorabilia.

“The walls being used to show slideshows, versus division, is one of the top 10 greatest hits of my life,” he said.

As literal walls are repurposed and figurative walls are slowly taken down, Jessop said he hopes old wounds can heal in Colorado City and Hildale – and that family members long estranged from one another as a result of Jeffs’ regime can keep moving forward on the road to reconciliation.

“It’s something that’s been a long time coming,” he said.

Resources

  • To reserve a room at America’s Most Wanted Suites and Bed & Breakfast, or for more information, visit the hotel’s website or call 800-368-9682

Click on photo to enlarge it, then use your left-right arrow keys to cycle through the gallery. 

Related posts

Email: cjim@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!

33 Comments

  • Debi July 27, 2014 at 8:14 pm

    Very nice article.

  • Red Rocker July 27, 2014 at 8:46 pm

    Eeewww!

  • Insana Dee July 27, 2014 at 9:04 pm

    This is pretty dang good news. If you had asked me a year ago if this was possible I would never have believed it. Congrats on the FLDS community in starting to repair some of the painful damage done to so many families.

    But seriously Brother Jessop, could you all get some of our fabulous gay friends to do a makeover for that place? I’ve been in LDS ward houses that were more interesting than those rooms. Wall to wall blue carpet? Lets bring this baby into the 20th Century and then ease it into the 21’st.

    • Charity September 15, 2014 at 3:10 pm

      I stayed in this hotel and it was excellent! I thought it would be awkward but it was very cozy. It had the most comfortable bed and the rooms are large. Of course it’s odd looking but that’s part of the charm. Willie was a delight to meet and so was Mattie who helped us with our reservation. They were very friendly and welcoming. I think it’s great what Willie is doing by helping the community in various ways including a new school. It’s also quite brave for him to stand up to so many people he knows are against him. I believe his intentions are to improve the quality of CC’s future and I say keep it up Willie! champagnevie@live.com

  • Merril Barlow July 27, 2014 at 9:24 pm

    Willy is a puke and he’s doing worse than what Warren Jeffs has done to this community , and a …* , and I’m embarest that he would even have the idasity to do what he’s doing , he’s a horses …* and has been in justly enriched! Not pleasant to the people ……
    Ed. ellipses: …*

    • Miriam July 28, 2014 at 9:30 am

      Could you do better Merrill? I highly doubt it! How can you hate so much. It’s a … shame that we haven’t had enough of that in this community. Get over it already! It’s high time we moved on and got over that seed of judging that our community is so adept at sowing.
      Ed. ellipsis.

  • Sunbeep July 27, 2014 at 9:57 pm

    Very nice article, I’m glad to see things such as this. I’m sure that there will be those who disagree with Willie but I think he has done a good thing here. I wonder if the guest rooms will have numbers or names, oh the possibilities.

    • PEEKAY July 28, 2014 at 8:35 am

      Willie is just trying to fund FLDs version 2.0

  • tiff July 27, 2014 at 10:13 pm

    I think this is awesome, nice use of the place. I’m proud of the people for making so many positive changes.

  • Jeff B July 27, 2014 at 10:59 pm

    So Disgusting! Why would anyone want to stay in this Creepy Town! They don’t welcome outsiders! The feeling you get just driving by the town is enough to make your skin fall off! And now they make a Hotel out of the same place Warren had sex with little girls! They need to Bulldoze the place down and clean up this So called Piligville town. They thrive on the government on Food Stamps and never finish their houses so they don’t have to pay taxes. They steal cars and never pay for them after a year! The list goes on! I’m ashamed anyone would support this place! STAY CLEAR!!!

    • DesertBill July 28, 2014 at 7:07 am

      Warren Jeffs was arrested five years before this hotel was even built. Having said that, I think I’ll follow your last advice.

    • PEEKAY July 28, 2014 at 8:42 am

      “And now they make a Hotel out of the same place Warren had sex with little girls!”

      The building was built after Warren was arrested.

    • Miriam July 28, 2014 at 9:46 am

      Warren NEVER lived there! He was in prison at the time this was built. The article explains that. Houses weren’t finished because we were dumping money into Warrens church. Now maybe we can concentrate on our own places instead of his escapades. Sure we have people that take advantage of others just like ANY place in America does. I live here and have never stolen a vehicle. I’ve paid for 6 though through hard work. Where is your compassion! When I was in the Flds, I had NO IDEA of what Warren was doing. I did not know of anyone that was married under age. That was kept very secret and only involved those closest to him. The general populace was and is completely in the dark. You must realize that people are living in a real fear of the judgements of God. It may sound strange to most but it is all they know until they get sick of it like I did and get out from under. I am sorry that you get the creeps here. We are working hard to get rid of that stigma of “you are not welcome here”. Some encouragement would be nice. Try driving through the town and stopping at some of the local shops. People really are friendly.

      • jan July 28, 2014 at 9:53 pm

        I really appreciate your response to their close minded comment. I can only imagine how hard it is to flip your world upside down. People need to have compassion here for those trying to make change and move on. I’m not going to lie… even hearing the name warren jeffs makes me want to dry heave, but I think it’s important we encourage and support change. I am a Christian and not Mormon at all, so I can’t say I understand or support a lot of the beliefs, but I pray for change for the better. I’ve been following this scandal right from the beginning and people need to understand that people were born into this community and were raised with these ideologies and beliefs. The flds wasn’t born over night and change will not happen over night. It takes time. We should be praying for this community and supporting them.

      • Mandy July 29, 2014 at 12:56 pm

        Miriam, I read your comment with interest. You seem open, honest and friendly. I see so many families shopping in the area and when near them in the store aisles they look through me as if I am not there. The ladies I see would do a great service to appearing friendly if they smiled back or said good morning in reply to my greeting sometimes.

  • HUMMYNBYRD July 28, 2014 at 12:03 am

    Satan couldn’t have done any worse than Warren Jeffs, child molester and overall monster Merril Barlow. I’m glad to see these people are finally realizing that Jeffs is not and never was what he claimed to be and never will be, the man was pure evil. Good luck Mr Jessop

  • Joseph Jessop July 28, 2014 at 12:05 am

    This is good news indeed. Though I would caution people, specially currant FLDS members. The last thing we want is another “Prophet.” Willy Jessop is know as an opportunist. And I mean this respectfully as possible. I take Willy at his word, that he has done much to help the community. Though there is too much bad blood brewing there still. I give him an A± for effort though. You have to start somewhere. We need people who aren’t afraid to try. To this I give him credit. But I think things need more time to settle. These folks have been brought to their knees literally. There are two many tender and broken hearts. They are looking for a new leader to follow. And if that person isn’t sufficiently humble. It will only lead to more pain and suffering.
    That said I’m not a pessimist. I believe in hope. It is my humble opinion that this is a great opportunity to reconnect with family. Those of us who have been kicked out have the responsible, to forgive the wrongs they have suffered. And reach out with respect and love to their estranged Families. To offer all the support they can. With patience all can be healed. The reunions are a great start. I offer my assistance how ever I’m able. But for know my email is jjessop48@gmail.com

    Thank you for reading this, I hope you have been inspired to act.

  • Scott July 28, 2014 at 12:43 am

    That blue carpet is absolutely hideous

    • Dana July 28, 2014 at 8:28 am

      The whole place is hideous. Why didn’t they name it “The No-Tell Motel?”

  • SAGEMOON July 28, 2014 at 9:19 am

    I think the blue carpet is rather peaceful looking.

  • Matthew Sevald July 28, 2014 at 9:42 am

    Very conflicted.
    .
    On the surface, this looks like an attempt to begin to reintegrate into the rest of modern society (so much as can be done in Utah which is itself a repressive theocracy and 20 years behind the rest of America). But can so many decades of brainwashing and habit be erased so quickly? I would think not. I’m sure there are plenty of people in Hildale who never really bought into the whole cult thing and went along with the crowd in order to survive, but I am also quite sure there are still thousands of fanatics there who believe Warren Jeffs speaks directly to God and are nearly apoplectic with the destruction of their only known, and beloved way of life which they believe to be mandated by God for their very salvation.
    .
    I’ve read the comments about this Willie Jessop being an “opportunist” and without knowing the man, this is the first thing I thought of when I heard about the AMWB&B. Is there anything wrong with opportunism? It’s not like he’s a “carpet bagger” going somewhere new to take advantage of a devastated economy so he can make a buck off of impoverished folks. Instead, he’s being entrepreneurial within his own home, providing jobs, and seemingly attempting to “right the course”, so to speak. Is that just a matter of perspective? Is this indeed the method which will unwittingly finance the resurrection of “FLDS 2.0” as another commenter hypothesized? At what point are we responsible for the way other people use the money we give them?
    .
    Additionally, the choice of venue is rather creepy in spite of Mr. Jessop’s intentions to use the facility as a reminder of past wrongs. Nobody turned Auschwitz into a B&B; rather it was left pretty much as it was and is a museum instead. I think that that would be a more fitting method of “remembering the past”, but perhaps it would be too painful for the folks in Hildale to bash their recent past on daily basis for gawkers willing to pay a few bucks to see the freak show. Yet even 50-60 years ago this very way of life was a valid choice to make a living for thousands of circus performers who decided to cash in on their uniqueness and not live in shame…
    .
    Only time will tell if this is a legitimate enterprise, but in the mean time, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if angry locals decided to storm the place and burn it down. Best of luck to anyone deciding to stay there. I’ve been chased out of that town once for stopping to get gas and I won’t ever go back.

    • PEEKAY July 28, 2014 at 12:56 pm

      “At what point are we responsible for the way other people use the money we give them?”

      It’s not about being responsible for the way other people use the money we give them. It’s more like feeding a culture that is damaging to people. If I buy a soda at the store I have no idea nor do I care too much where that dollar ends up, but it something else entirely when you use a contractor for example that you know does not pay his employees and they are underage. Your are willingly supporting slavery. In this case I have seen nothing that leads me to believe that any of the offshoots are any different in a great number of ways.

      I was once one of those underage kids out there working slave labor. I know for a fact the general contractors that hired our crew knew what was going on. The people of southern Utah have supported them/us for years. All the money saved ended up in Warren’s pocket to keep him on the run and riding his fancy cars and enabled him to do what he did. Southern Utah supported Warren’s antics and knew it and just chose to look the other way because they were saving a buck.
      Last thing that’s good for anyone out there would to be enable Willie.

  • A July 28, 2014 at 10:34 am

    From someone who was kicked out by Jeffs and saw the article: Lol the willie jessop that talks in the story is a slicked tongued son of a … that will do and say anything for a buck. Hopefully the families will be more important than a buck and that they will figure out that separating families shouldn’t be part of anyone’s religion.
    Ed. ellipsis.

  • SSfreeze July 28, 2014 at 11:54 am

    Can you say, “Bates Motel”?

  • TRVTH July 28, 2014 at 1:02 pm

    Looks like a high class cat house to me. Does AZ allow brothels now?

  • Whoshat July 28, 2014 at 6:35 pm

    You can tell what pligs ignore their leaders (you should never look at the internet and have discussions with out side world. This home reminds me of other leaders that take from common folks then live like kings. Mr Sharpton, Mr. Jackson , come to mind. So much complaining from the lost boys who have lost their way and causing others to lost their way. Wo unto you keep away from … before you end up the uncle Warren old wrinkled and shriveled.
    Ed. ellipsis

  • a reader July 28, 2014 at 11:09 pm

    PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE say, “April Fools!”

  • M Anderson August 19, 2014 at 10:32 pm

    I wouldn’t stay in this dreadfully decorated place even if I was paid. It looks like a prison. Who would stay here?

  • Mark August 29, 2014 at 9:06 pm

    I’m looking forward in stay there.
    I’ve wanted to go to area for some time now.

    Mark

  • Lisa November 29, 2014 at 11:57 pm

    I tried to give it the benifit of doubt. Reunions…welcoming ex FDLS back to reunite families….then I read an article written a month before this one able how they had block excommunicated members from seeing their mother before she was buried. Yup, that sounds more like them. This is just white wash.

  • Chandie Bartell November 30, 2014 at 10:42 pm

    Growing up in Idaho for generations there are a lot of LDS, especially in Central and Southern Idaho. I live in N. Idaho so their aren’t a lot of Mormons in N. Idaho and if there are they are LDS. For decades you would hear rumors about Short Creek’s Twin Cities. We all thought these were righteous men that had maybe 3 or 4 wives at the most and believed in Joseph Smith.

    Never in our wildest dreams or imaginations could anyone have imagined a more evil depraved community that twisted scriptures to enslave innocent women, children, and young men.

    There is no excuse for the FLDS elders. There is no excuse for the men that are commanded by God to protect their wives and innocent children to have allowed a false tongue like Jefferies to mislead and manipulate them from the true word of God.

    There is reason to believe in hope though because there is a God our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I pray for this community to get to know the real Jesus Christ in the Old and New Testaments. I pray for the intercession of all Saints to intercede to our Lord Jesus Christ and grace this New Zion with his holy blessings.

    God Bless all of Short Creek’s flock and family that live there and were scattered during the time of the ill-winds.

    The Lord smile down on you Mr. Jessop and your community. I pray you feel this prayer and our love.

    This wouldn’t of happened without these brave witnesses listed below. Welcome them back into your community because this day wouldn’t of happened without their bravery.

    Elizabeth Jessop!!! Elissa Wall!!!! Brent Jeffs!!!!!

Leave a Reply