ST. GEORGE — A Southern Utah cult leader who allegedly kidnapped his four kids, married a 7-year-old girl as well as his own 4-year-old daughter, had allegedly been planning to kill his young son, whom he believed was an “evil spirit,” according to search warrant affidavits unsealed last week.
The pair of search warrants filed in 6th District Court revealed new details in the case of John Coltharp and Samuel Shaffer – both having been a “prophet” of the Knights of the Crystal Blade religious group – who were arrested for allegedly kidnapping Coltharp’s four children to join their purported doomsday cult, and face numerous other charges involving child abuse, child sodomy and child bigamy.
James Shaffer — the father of Samuel Shaffer — was also recently arrested and charged with obstructing justice for allegedly hiding Coltharp’s children in his home and lying to police about it.
Police believe John Coltharp, 34, of Spring City, and Samuel Shaffer, 34, of Cedar City, were planning to kidnap more children about the same time that they were preparing for the end of the world while anticipating a Muslim invasion of the United States, according to the affidavits.
The erratic behavior of the men was first brought to the attention of law enforcement in Sept. 16, 2017, when Coltharp’s now ex-wife, Micha Coltharp, called police with concerns for the safety of her children.
When the couple separated in mid-August, Micha Coltharp relocated from Spring City to Utah County, leaving the couple’s two sons and two daughters, between the ages of 8 and 4, with John Coltharp, charges state. By mid-September, John Coltharp had loaded a U-Haul in the middle of the night and left with his children. Police responded to Coltharp’s Spring City home and found it had been vacated.
Police caught a break on Dec. 1, 2017, when Spring City Police Chief Clarke Christensen noticed strange activity at the Coltharp home and subsequently found John Coltharp out front, according to court documents. At that time, he refused to tell police where his children were or where his “partner” Shaffer was.
“John refused to allow officers into the house to look for the children or to speak with his partner Sam who was inside,” the warrant states. “We knocked several times, loudly on the door, but did not get any response from Sam or anyone else inside the house.”
John Coltharp told police that “God had stricken” his ex-wife with cancer and that he was at the house to get a death certificate because she had died, according to the search warrant affidavit. Police arrested John Coltharp that night on suspicion of custodial interference.
Upon leaving the house just after midnight, a Sanpete County deputy stopped Samuel Shaffer, who had no children with him at the time but had child car seats in the vehicle, according to the warrant. Shaffer told police he didn’t know where the children were, and he was not arrested.
Officials later learned the children were inside the house while police were questioning John Coltharp, and that Samuel Shaffer had hidden them before he left and was pulled over, according to the unsealed search warrants.
“He had led them out of the back of the residence while officers were talking with John in the front of the house,” the warrant states. “Sam continually urged the children to be quiet and stay in the dark shadows and near the weeds as to avoid detection. While speaking to John Coltharp, Sam Shaffer lead the children to an old 1949 gasoline tanker … and hid them in the cab of the old truck.”
At the time of the traffic stop, the children were 50 feet away in the truck cab with temperatures dropping below 32 degrees, according to the affidavit, which notes: “They were afraid and did not let themselves be seen by officers.”
“Sam did return to the tanker truck a short time later and led the children into a field to hide them and wait until his father from Nephi could come and pick them up,” the warrant states. James Shaffer picked up the children and took them to his house in Nephi, “and told (them) to be very quiet as not to disrupt or anger the neighbors.”
Later in the day, on Dec. 2, Samuel Shaffer took the children to Iron County.
When police interviewed James Shaffer on Dec. 3, he “stated that he had no idea where the children were or anything about their location,” according to the warrant.
Samuel Shaffer was located and arrested Dec. 4. He 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.
Following an extensive search and an Amber Alert, authorities located Coltharp’s four children and Samuel Shaffer’s two daughters on Dec. 5 at a compound made up of shipping containers in a remote area of northern Iron County, approximately 1 mile west of Lund.
Two girls were recovered from what officials said was a “deplorable” single-wide trailer, and two other girls were found in an empty 50-gallon water drum, where they had been housed for 24 hours in subfreezing temperatures. The girls were taken to an area hospital, and one was flown to Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City.
After the children were interviewed, police went back to interview James Shaffer, who again denied hiding the children, the warrant states. On Jan. 30, James Shaffer was charged in 6th Distinct Court with class A misdemeanor obstructing justice.
James Shaffer gave officials two bags left by Samuel Shaffer and John Coltharp. The warrants, which were approved, sought access to the bags and their contents, including a computer and a notebook.
According to the affidavits, police expected to find “evidence in the revelations received and recorded on paper or computer for John Coltharp to murder his son. Statements received claim that John made comments that he was to kill his son because he was possessed by an evil spirit and that his son would then teach his mother the gospel in the spirit world.”
“John and Sam both believed that the end of the world was near,” according to the warrant. “Also expected in the recorded notes or revelations is the plan by John and Sam to abduct more family children about the time of the anticipated Muslim invasion of the United States, which was imminent.”
In addition to marrying each other’s daughter, the two men married their own 4-year-old daughters. Police obtained documentation of revelations recorded by John Coltharp that state he had permission to marry his 4-year-old daughter, but only to have sex with her if she initiated it, the affidavit states.
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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