HILDALE – It’s been nine years since Warren Jeffs, leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was captured by authorities. It was on Aug. 28, 2006, that the fugitive, then 50 years old, was apprehended during a traffic stop in Las Vegas, Nevada.
In the vehicle with Jeffs at the time of his arrest were his brother and Naomi Jeffs, who was formerly married to Warren Jeffs’ father but whom Warren Jeffs took as one of his own wives after his father’s death.
“No one had any idea that he’d been running around visiting X-rated theaters, which he did in Reno … with a wife that was once his mother,” Willie Jessop, Jeffs’ former bodyguard, said.
The fact that Warren Jeffs so quickly moved in on his late father’s wives was just one of the many clues that, in retrospect, Jessop said, should have warned his followers that all was not right with their prophet.
“What was the first public statement out of Warren Jeffs’ mouth (after his father died)?” Jessop said. “That should’ve been a wake-up call to the entire city, the entire world, when he publicly got up and declared everyone was to leave his father’s wives alone, within just hours of his father’s death. No one on this planet had any desire to have any attempt … to involve themselves in Rulon’s family other than him.”
Of Escalades and empires
Jeffs’ arrest marked the beginning of the end for many once-faithful followers like Jessop. Prior to his capture, Jeffs’ ability to evade authorities had stood as a sign to his disciples that God was protecting him.
“The innocence of the people was somewhat taken at the traffic stop, in that prior to that you go back to a level of secrecy, a level of uncertainty,” Jessop said. “And what happened in the traffic stop is Mr. Jeffs was suddenly shown that he wasn’t this … immortal person that was above being captured.”
The Cadillac Escalade Jeffs was traveling in at the time of his arrest was a red vehicle. That was significant, Jessop said, because Warren Jeffs had banned the color red, and he would never have publicly ridden around his own community in a red vehicle where followers could have seen him.
“He absolutely told them (his followers) that it was the color of the devil, or it was a color that was the devil’s color,” Jessop said.
Traveling in a red vehicle wasn’t Jeffs’ only infraction of his own rules. Photos taken of Jeffs while he was a fugitive from justice show him dressed in shorts, sunglasses and a “One Size Fits All” T-shirt – a shirt Jessop said was purchased from a Las Vegas pornography shop.
“A T-shirt referring to his private parts,” Jessop said.
“And that’s your modern-day prophet,” he added.
FBI photos taken at the Las Vegas arrest scene show the Jeffses in “gentile clothing” – Naomi Jeffs in a pink V-neck shirt, her hair not in the prescribed bouffant and neat braid; Warren Jeffs in a T-shirt and shorts – the only allusions to his church-approved attire being black lace-up dress shoes and black socks that seem out of place paired with the casual clothing.
Among items inside the vehicle, authorities found walkie-talkies, 15 cell phones, a police scanner, laptops, wigs, sunglasses, credit cards and at least $54,000 in cash.
And there were other things in the vehicle, Jessop said; boxes Jeffs told his followers contained sacred religious records that were protected by law as clergy documents. But what the boxes really held was irrefutable proof of the crimes Jeffs had committed – including audio recordings of him having sex with young girls.
“That’s the first time the world gets a snapshot,” Jessop said. “He (Warren Jeffs) realizes that material (in the boxes) is going to be made public. … At the traffic stop, we were all told that that is the private writings of people’s personal lives; it was his communications and his impressions with God, and that they absolutely should be protected at all costs as a sacred record.
“What was actually in there was a horrific … exposure of someone who had taken little children and got them and a society to use religious language to gratify himself in the most sick and perverted ways. And it was … full of pornography with religious language (covering) the acts.”
FLDS followers, including Jessop himself, didn’t believe Warren Jeffs was guilty of the crimes he had been accused of; they perceived Jeffs as a holy man who was being persecuted by the U.S. government for his religion.
“You saw the Jeffs administration, particularly Warren, use that secrecy and that idea to market that this is about religious persecution,” Jessop said. “And everyone here in the community was able to detect that they believed that they were being singled out for religious persecution, which has led to the perfect storm and the perfect crisis as to: Is Mr. Jeffs in prison today because he had sex with little girls who were as young as 12 years old, or is he in prison today for religious persecution?”
In 2007, while incarcerated at Purgatory Correctional Facility in Hurricane, Jeffs was videotaped by jail officials during a visit with his brother. (See video at top of post.) On the tape, Jeffs told his brother that he was guilty of immoral acts with his own daughters and sister and that he wasn’t the prophet.
During his incarceration, Jeffs also made confessions to his church leaders, Jessop said, placing numerous phone calls to his first counselors and some of the bishops within the FLDS church.
But even these admissions from their prophet’s own mouth weren’t enough to convince many of Jeffs’ followers.
“It was pretty much a unanimous acceptance that the government’s motive was to discredit his power and him as a person,” Jessop said, “and everyone fell into the default position that with these confessions it would’ve required mind-altering drugs or something that … he would have been given while in (the government’s) custody; that they were intentionally putting him in a situation to discredit his own credibility.”
Legal battle over a red Escalade
Before his conviction, Jeffs told his disciples that if they would build new homes for him and his high council members, God would release them from prison by the end of that year. The fruits of that edict, a capacious mansion and surrounding properties, were purchased by Jessop at an auction in 2013.
Faithful followers, some already financially destitute, had sacrificed money and time and built their prophet’s requested homes within 60 days, Jessop said. But four years later – well after his promised 2011 release date – Jeffs remains in a Texas prison, serving a life sentence plus 20 years for sexually assaulting two young girls. He reportedly still leads the FLDS church from inside prison.
Like Warren Jeffs’ mansion, the infamous red Cadillac Escalade was also purchased by Jessop at a public auction.
Jessop, who said he’s “pretty content” driving his own Ford F-150, says he didn’t purchase the Escalade for personal use. In fact, the vehicle isn’t yet in his possession and may never be. He said the vehicle is currently in Salt Lake City in the possession of the FLDS church’s attorney.
Though Jessop now owns the vehicle, he said the church is currently trying to negotiate possession of the Escalade and, more importantly, the contents that were found inside the vehicle at the time of Jeffs’ arrest – contents that Jessop also purchased at the auction.
The FLDS church is trying to gain possession of the Escalade and its contents “to protect the embarrassment value” and keep the contents of the Escalade from being made public, Jessop said – which is the reason he said he purchased the vehicle in the first place: to show members of the FLDS community the same things that opened his own eyes to the truth about Warren Jeffs.
Jessop said the same tug of war happened when he purchased Warren Jeffs’ mansion – the church battled him over ownership of the property. Warren Jeffs’ brothers and brother-in-law finally agreed to back off, Jessop said, after he consented to let them remove items from the compound before he took possession.
“They don’t want people to know what was in the back room of Warren’s house,” Jessop said. “They don’t want people to know that the Escalade existed, much less what was in it.”
Deep, dark secrets
Could some of the items removed from Jeffs’ mansion be similar to things found in the Yearning For Zion ranch in Texas?
In the FLDS church’s YFZ compound, Texas authorities found, among various items of evidence, a so-called “rape bed” Warren Jeffs used to have sexual relations with young girls, telling the children they’d been chosen by God and that these intimate acts were religious ceremonies.
Audio recordings revealed Jeffs’ instructions to the children, including how they were to “help” one another during the sex acts, protocol for when they were menstruating, and how their underarm hair and pubic hair should be groomed before presenting themselves to the prophet.
In 2012, the Texas Attorney General’s Office cited excerpts from Warren Jeffs’ personal diary as part of efforts to seize the YFZ compound. Contained within thousands of pages of what Jeffs called “priesthood records” were detailed instructions regarding how his followers were to build the YFZ compound – including specific guidance for constructing the bed.
The bed would be disguised as a table with a removable top and could be stored in a closet when it wasn’t in use. The bed was to be made of wood, built sturdily so it wouldn’t make noise when Jeffs used it; made long enough to accommodate his height; and have padded sides that could be raised up to hold him in place “as the Lord does His work with me.”
Excerpts from Warren Jeffs’ journal read:
There is a table, but it will be made so it can be a table or it can be a bed. It should be made so the table top can come off. It will be on wheels. … When the mattress is in place, this bench will be to the right side of the bed. …
The bed will be a size big enough for me to lay on. … It will be covered with a sheet, but it will have a plastic cover to protect the mattress from what will happen on it.
“I do believe he truly believed he was above the law and that God was backing him,” Jessop said.
Nine years and counting
FLDS followers continue to leave the church, while still others cling to their loyalty for Warren Jeffs and the only way of life they’ve ever known.
“You see people hold onto it – not because they believe; it’s because they don’t really have any good options to make a separate decision,” Jessop said.
Many church members have been isolated in “houses of hiding” all over the country and even outside of the country, he said – some of them dying in isolation, their corpses not being found until months later.
Jessop said transparency is the only protection the FLDS community has.
“More and more of that comes out,” he said. “It gives people more and more of the tools to recognize that this wasn’t a prophet; this was nothing more than another (Brian) David Mitchell. The only difference was that instead of an Elizabeth Smart, there was hundreds of Elizabeth Smarts that this man had hijacked, put in secrecy and exploited.”
“This man was a student of mind control,” Jessop went on to say. “He understood it. It was obvious (afterward) that he totally got that. He understood the power of … ‘tell me about all your confessions so that God and I can forgive you,’ and then using those to intimidate other people around you. And that system – it is not (new); he didn’t invent it. He just proved to the entire world that it still works well.”
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