ST. GEORGE — Two men who started a doomsday cult in Southern Utah and were arrested on kidnapping charges in December had also reportedly married each other’s 7-year-old and 8-year-old daughter, according to an unsealed search warrant.
The men, Samuel Shaffer, 34, and John Coltharp, 33, sexually assaulted their own daughters as well as daughters of each other, claiming that they were married to the children in the eyes of God, Iron County Sheriff’s Office Detective Nathan Houchen details in a search warrant affidavit following an interview with Shaffer.
Shaffer allegedly told investigators that he had married Coltharp’s 8-year-old daughter while Coltharp married Shaffer’s 7-year-old daughter, according to charging documents.
Coltharp and Shaffer considered themselves leaders of a fundamentalist Mormon offshoot called “Knights of the Crystal Blade,” which promoted polygamy and child marriage. The group established a settlement in a remote area near Lund in Iron County.
In December, the Sanpete County Attorney’s Office charged Coltharp with first-degree felony child kidnapping and class A misdemeanor obstruction of justice. On Jan. 8, an additional first-degree felony sodomy charge was filed against Coltharp.
Shaffer, who is being prosecuted in Iron County, has been charged with two first-degree felony counts of child kidnapping, along with four second-degree felony counts of child abuse. Prosecutors said additional charges may be forthcoming.
Their crimes came to light following a September missing person report filed by two of the girls’ mother, Micha Soble, who told police that her daughters and two sons, ranging in age from 4 to 8, disappeared from their home. Soble said she believed their father, Coltharp, who did not have custody of the children, had taken them to raise as part of his cult, according to court documents.
When John Coltharp was arrested Dec. 1 at his Spring City home and refused to tell authorities where the children were, Soble believed they could potentially be in Iron County with their grandparents, Keith and Catherine Coltharp, and the religious sect’s prophet, Schaffer.
On Dec. 3, 2017, Iron County Sheriff’s deputies located vehicles registered to Keith and Catherine Coltharp at a compound made up of shipping containers in a remote area of northern Iron County, approximately 1 mile west of Lund.
The next day, authorities located the two Coltharp boys at the compound with their grandparents and took them into custody. Police learned that the two Coltharp girls were last seen with Shaffer, who also had his two biological daughters, ages 7 and 5, in his custody, officials said.
Keith and Catherine Coltharp told police Shaffer had spent the last few nights with the four girls in a tent located approximately 150 yards from the shipping containers, according to the search warrant affidavit, and that Shaffer had left the compound on foot the night before.
An extensive ground and air search was conducted by law enforcement looking for the four girls and Shaffer. An Amber Alert was also issued for Coltharp’s daughters.
The four girls were recovered Dec. 5 after Shaffer was found walking a few miles from the compound. Two girls were recovered from a “deplorable” single-wide trailer, and the other two girls were found in an empty 50-gallon water drum, where they had been housed for 24 hours in subfreezing temperatures, officials said. They were shivering and hungry.
The girls were taken to an area hospital, and one was flown to Primary Children’s Hospital.
During the investigation, authorities spoke with an out-of-state man who had been in contact through social media with Shaffer and Coltharp regarding joining their religious group.
“This out of state resident traveled to Utah to investigate (Shaffer) and (Coltharp’s) religious group,” the affidavit states, “and while in Utah he was forcefully baptized by Samuel into their religion and promised a child bride.”
Preliminary hearings for the men – Shaffer in Iron County and Coltharp in Sanpete County – are scheduled for Feb. 20.
Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.
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