Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Relocates to Eldorado, Texas Ranch
By Susy Buchanan
"There is not another town, municipality or city that is anything like this. There is nothing like this in America," says Gary Engels, the investigator with the Mohave, Ariz., county attorney's office who has been working in Short Creek since last fall. Engels had done his polygamy homework before his arrival, but still was surprised at the extent of control Jeffs has over the population.
"It's like a fiefdom and everyone lives and survives by the will of Warren Jeffs. He can take away your family, your business, and your home. What king has ever had that power?" he asks.
At first glance, Engels looks and acts like a cop out of central casting. His hardened exterior comes from years on the streets as a homicide cop, and it's precisely this stubbornness that makes him an ideal man for what has to be one of the loneliest jobs in the county. No one in Short Creek wants him there.
"I'm here to investigate any and all crimes that may or may not have taken place," Engels says from behind his desk in the trailer Mohave County installed him in last fall. The trailer is shared by Child Protective Services and social service workers, the idea being that a distraught polygamist could come in for benefits and use the opportunity to talk with Engels about spousal abuse, statutory rape, forced marriage or any other crimes without arousing suspicion.
Well, that's the idea. It hasn't happened as of yet, and Engels doubts it will anytime soon. He hopes that "over time they will get used to me."
It's a tough town for Engels. The police are followers of Jeffs and are not warm to Engels' presence among them. They follow him regularly, and they carry guns.
Rumors about a cave in the cliffs filled with a stockpile of weapons have been circulating for years. The cave exists, but Engels can't say for sure what's inside. He does offer this: "We do know that in 1982, 150 assault rifles were brought here as well as a few hundred thousand rounds of ammunition."
What happened to the weapons is unclear.
Threats come Engels' way every so often, which he takes as a sign he's getting to the locals. Still, he is cautious.
"They are totally, completely, 120% loyal to Warren. If he told them someone needed to be killed, the fringe people would take it upon themselves to do so." Engels says. "The biggest thing they are taught is obedience and to not question anything." Anything at all.
Gary Engels estimates more than 300 men have been excommunicated under Jeffs' rule. With staggering birth rates and multiple wives, the number of people whose lives have been torn apart is in the thousands.
Richard Holm lost his $700,000 home, two wives and 10 children to excommunication in November 2003, and the experience has nearly broken him. Needless to say, Warren Jeffs is a bit of a sore subject.
Holm squints into the sun as he tells his story, doing his best to curse like a sailor. Despite the intensity of his anger, he doesn't have the appropriate vocabulary to let it emerge. He's been taught all his life to be subservient, to push strong emotion from his soul and "keep sweet" for the Lord.
And so, when rage comes roiling out of the balding 50-year-old, the best he can muster is to call the man who stole his wives and children a "stinkin' bastard." The words fly from his mouth like bullets.
Holm had not only pledged his life to this religion, but also a good chunk of money. Over the past 25 years, Holm estimates he's tithed upwards of $10 million, profits from construction and other businesses he has overseen.
And then one day, in one phone call, the world as he knew it ceased to exist.
The call came from his wives' father (Holm had married sisters), and it let him know, third-hand, that God had deemed him unworthy of the priesthood.
Apparently, the Lord woke Jeffs that morning and delivered a list of sins that Holm had committed. Jeffs then called Holm's father-in-law, who was asked to relay the bad news to Holm. Holm was ordered to give up his wives and children and leave the community immediately to "repent from afar."
Jeffs tells men he excommunicates that if they can come up with a list of their sins that matches the list Jeffs received from the Lord, they can return.
It's a cruel game. Of course, the lists submitted by the hopeful men never quite equal what the Lord said, and Jeffs amasses a collection of deep, dark secrets as the men describe in detail, on paper, every bad thing they have ever done.
Holm was no exception. "I packed an overnight bag, hugged my family and went to my motel fully expecting to only be gone a day or two. I wrote [Jeffs] a letter that night and dropped it off at his house. Then I tried calling him. Warren would not answer my calls. I wrote him six detailed letters about my life, not only my challenges but also my faithfulness."
Six weeks later, Holm changed his mind about trying to get back in favor with Jeffs.
Holm learned his wife and children had been reassigned.
"I got a phone call from that little bastard brother of mine saying he was now married to my two wives," Holm remembers, tightening his shoulders.
"I told him how rotten and wrong he was. Then I had to get out of town or I would have killed the bastard."
Holm suspects his brother, Edson, received his wives as a reward.
"Edson had given one 17- and two 18-year-old daughters to Warren, who married them to three of his buddies." Looking back, it all made sense.
"Ed turned in three daughters in one fell swoop and here was a way to reward him. That was so stinkin' wrong, and it convinced me that we're dealing with an evil stinkin' bastard."
Holm has visitation with his children each week. The visits are loving, but tense.
The prophet tells Holm's children that apostates like their father are "the worst of beings, and the terror and pain they will suffer cannot be described."
For his part, Holm says he is buying a home with a swimming pool, a pool table and a big-screen TV, all things that are forbidden to his children. He hopes to offer the kids glimpses of a different world, and allow them to choose which to be a part of when the time comes.
But he is not overly optimistic about their fates.
Holm has three daughters and one son who are in polygamous relationships and won't have anything to do with him, including grandchildren he is not allowed to see.
And lately he's become especially fearful of losing his 18-year-old daughter.
He's told her he wants her to experience courtship and to marry someone of her own age and choosing. He's told her that if Jeffs marries her off against her will, he'll come for her, even if she is taken to Texas. But Holm fears she is "leaning the wrong direction."
Swimming pools and big-screen TVs can't compete with the influence of Warren Jeffs, who says polygamy and obedience can turn young women into goddesses.
"There's been a seduction taking place where [Jeffs] seems to represent this exotic celestial world in a compound where everything you want is at your fingertips," says Holm. "But it's a mirage, and she doesn't seem to realize that those walls are there to keep her in as much as they are there to keep the world out."
Holm says each of the girls at school received a special note last fall.
"There is a place for each one of you in Zion. When you are ready, I will come and get you personally," it said.
The note was signed "Warren S. Jeffs."