Warren Jeffs, who continues to marry young girls with impunity, seems to be the beneficiary of a lack of awareness on the part of both the public and local law enforcement officers. Perhaps there would be a greater outcry over the tremendous harm Jeffs has done if instead of being characterized as a "mere" polygamist, he were more correctly described as the head of a vast criminal organization that has long engaged in widespread sexual slavery and financial fraud, and advocates hatred for non-white races.


November 14, 2004

Janetta Jessop DOB 8/3/1987 (she is 11 yrs in this photo)

Sheriff Kirk Smith of Washington County (Utah) called a halt on Friday to his department's investigation of 17-year-old Janetta Jessop, reported missing by her sister, Suzanne Jessop Johnson. A week earlier Janetta had phoned Suzanne and begged for help from an undisclosed location in Hildale-Colorado City-the secretive polygamist stronghold, straddling the Utah-Arizona border, which is home to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS). The FLDS Church is led by self-proclaimed prophet Warren Jeffs, who is married to some 70 women and girls, and demands absolute, unquestioning obedience from his estimated 10,000 followers.

Janetta abruptly vanished from her family home in Colorado City in August 2003, immediately after her 16th birthday. At that time, Suzanne believes, her sister was "taken as a plural wife" by Warren Jeffs, who was 47 at the time. At least two (and possibly three) of Janetta's older sisters had already been taken as wives by Jeffs.

The parents of Janetta and Suzanne are fervent members of the FLDS Church. Two years ago Suzanne, 26, and her husband were "cut off" from the church, after which Jeffs forbid her family from having further contact with her.

After hearing nothing from her sister for 15 months, Suzanne received a phone call "out of the blue" from Janetta on the evening of November 5, 2004. "I could tell right away something was wrong." Suzanne explains. "Her voice was trembling. She was talking really quiet. I asked her right off the bat if she was in trouble and needed help╔. She started telling me, 'I don't want to be here right now. I don't want to be here right now╔' She kept repeating it over and over."

During the two-to-three-minute conversation, Janetta revealed that she was somewhere in Hildale-Colorado City and made it clear that she wanted Suzanne to rescue her. According to Suzanne, "Janetta told me, 'I don't want Father and Mother to know about this, but I'll call you right back with a place to meet me.'"

But that was the last Suzanne heard from her little sister. Janetta never called back. Instead, their mother drove over to Suzanne's house in Hildale to say that Janetta had asked her, the mother, to deliver a message to Suzanne. "I don't know what's going on or what," the mother declared curtly, "but Janetta told me to tell you, 'Never mind.'"

According to Suzanne, "The first thing that crossed my mind when Janetta called me asking for help was that Warren or somebody was doing something really bad to her, or making her do things that she didn't want to do, and it was scaring her. It scared her enough that she was willing to risk calling me after all t

hat time and ask me to help her get out of her situation." If Suzanne is correct in speculating that Jeffs has taken Janetta into his marital bed (and considerable evidence appears to confirm that Janetta became one of Jeffs' "spiritual wives" directly after her 16th birthday), the fundamentalist prophet has committed a criminal act. According to Utah law, when sexual contact occurs between an adult and a 16- or 17-year-old, if the adult is ten or more years older than the minor, a felony has been committed unless the couples are legally married-and in Utah it happens to be illegal to be married to more than one spouse.

On November 11 of this year Suzanne went to the Washington County Sheriff's Office with her husband and private investigator Sam Brower to file a missing-person report on Janetta. The deputy who took the report indicated it would be thoroughly investigated. A day later, however, Sheriff Kirk Smith halted further action on the case. When this reporter contacted the sheriff's office to ask why, Sheriff Smith was unavailable. Sergeant Reg Browne explained on his behalf that a deputy had "called the parents and they told him they know where Janetta is. Therefore Janetta isn't missing, so there are no grounds to submit the report."

Suzanne Jessop Johnson is troubled by this decision, and frightened.

Sheriff Smith's refusal to take further action is astonishing when one considers that the individuals who vouched for Janetta's well-being-her parents-are fanatical followers of Warren Jeffs. These are the very people who allegedly gave their 16-year-old daughter to the prophet as a sexual concubine, knowingly and enthusiastically, thus aiding and abetting in the commission of one or more felonies. Despite the fact that Janetta made an impassioned, unambiguous plea for help, nobody from the Washington County Sheriff's Office made any attempt to interview the girl face to face, away from her family and other members of the FLDS Church. Indeed, nobody even bothered to talk to Janetta on the phone. In the sheriff's opinion, her parents' perfunctory reassurances were sufficient.

"I don't want to make my parents look like bad guys," says Suzanne. "My parents are good people, but they're as deep into this religion as you could get. They believe all that stuff Warren preaches. I mean, my father believes in Warren so much that, well, he'd do anything Warren asked. Anything! And that really scares me! It scares me that one man could have so much control over so many people. There are young men in this religion who would kill for Warren. Back when I used to attend the meetings, before I was cut off, I remember hearing Warren preach the doctrine of Blood Atonement. He even wrote a book that has six pages just about blood atonement itself. He said that for some people, the only way they could obtain forgiveness was to cry to their brothers to take their lives."

[The book referred to above is titled "Purity in the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage," published in 1997 and disseminated to every FLDS household. In the passage Suzanne alluded to, Jeffs is quoting the words of the second LDS prophet, Brigham Young, who in 1856 declared, "I do know that there are sins committed╔. And furthermore, I know that there are transgressors who, if they knew themselves, and the only condition upon which they can obtain forgiveness, would beg their brethren to shed their blood, that the smoke thereof might ascend to God as an offering to appease the wrath that is kindled against them╔; there are sins that the blood of a lamb, of a calf, or of turtle doves, cannot remit, but they must be atoned for by the blood of man."]

Sheriff Smith's refusal to conduct more than a token investigation of Janetta Jessop's call for help is part of a troubling pattern in Washington County. There is the case of Caroline Cooke, for example. In April 2001, when she was 15, Caroline ran away from her polygamous family in Colorado City because her parents intended to force her to marry Warren Jeffs. Initially she received refuge from anti-polygamy activists, but word of this was leaked to Caroline's father, who in turn notified Sheriff Kirk Smith. Sheriff Smith summoned the activists to his office, at which time he granted custody of Caroline to her father and ordered that the girl be returned to Colorado City-despite that fact that the father is a practicing polygamist with three wives (one of whom was his own stepdaughter). Thanks to determined efforts by the activists, eventually the Sheriff was overruled and a deal was struck allowing Caroline to live with an uncle in southwestern Colorado instead of being sent home. Although her story had a happy ending, according to activist Jay Beswick, "If it had been left up to Sheriff Smith, Caroline would have gone back to Colorado City and been married to Warren. I have very little trust in Smith or his administration."

The case of Ruby Jessop (a distant cousin to Janetta), alas, did not end as happily as Caroline Cooke's. When Ruby was 14 she was observed innocently kissing a boy she fancied in Colorado City. For this transgression she was forced to marry an older member of her extended family, whom she despised, in a fundamentalist ceremony presided over by Warren Jeffs. Ruby was raped immediately after the wedding ceremony-so brutally that she spent her "wedding night" hemorrhaging copious amounts of blood. Ruby attempted to flee the coerced marriage but was caught and imprisoned in the home of her stepfather. Ruby's sister Flora Jessop-who had fled Colorado City on the day Ruby was born in 1986-called the Washington County Sheriff to report that her sister had been kidnapped. When a sheriff's deputy went to Colorado City to look into the alleged crime, he was told by leaders of the church that the girl was "on vacation;" the deputy accepted this unskeptically and departed. Flora, furious at this apparent dereliction of duty, redoubled her efforts to persuade someone in a position of state authority to take action on behalf of her little sister. A month later, thanks to Flora's agitation, FLDS members were compelled by the Utah Department of Child and Family Services to bring Ruby to nearby St. George and meet with a social worker. Interviewed in the intimidating presence of one of her alleged captors, Ruby told the social worker that "everything was fine," and was promptly returned to members of the faith. Two years after that, as a sixteen-year-old, she gave birth to a child. Despite Flora's ongoing efforts to rescue her, Ruby has effectively vanished into the folds of the Fundamentalist church.

* * *

In 2002, when the notorious Utah polygamist Tom Green was found guilty of first-degree felony child rape for marrying and impregnating a 13-year-old girl, the judge gave him the minimum possible sentence of five years, to be served concurrently with a five-year sentence he was already serving for bigamy. David O. Leavitt, the Juab County prosecutor who won the conviction, was dismayed by the light sentence. "People in the state of Utah," he lamented, "simply do not understand, and have not understood for fifty years, the devastating effect that the practice of polygamy has on young girls in our society."

Warren Jeffs, who continues to marry young girls with impunity, seems to be the beneficiary of this lack of public awareness. Perhaps there would be a greater outcry over the tremendous harm Jeffs has done if instead of being characterized as a "mere" polygamist, he were more correctly described as the head of a vast criminal organization that has long engaged in widespread sexual slavery and financial fraud, and advocates hatred for non-white races.

Last July a nephew of Warren Jeffs filed a civil claim against the FLDS prophet alleging that Jeffs "repeatedly sodomized and otherwise sexually abused" him when the nephew was a five-year-old student at the Alta Academy-a private FLDS school in Sandy Utah that is no longer in existence. Jeffs was the principal of the school at the time. The abuse was said to have occurred in a basement lavatory during Sunday church services. The nephew was told that the abuse was "God's work," and that if he ever mentioned the abuse to anyone he would be damned by God for eternity. Warren Jeffs has been in hiding ever since this lawsuit was filed.

In August 2003, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff declared, "I don't mind telling Warren Jeffs that I'm coming after him╔. We have seen compelling evidence that crimes are being committed, children are being hurt, and taxpayers are footing the bill." Although Shurtleff's office continues to investigate Jeffs very actively, thus far no criminal charges have been filed against him in Utah. Nor have criminal charges been filed against Jeffs in Arizona, Texas, British Columbia, or anywhere else where the FLDS prophet has allegedly committed felonies.

One of the major challenges faced by those who are trying to bring Warren Jeffs to justice is that a pervasive, Mafia-like code of silence has been instilled in his followers. Thus far, thanks to the FLDS omerta, it has proved nearly impossible to persuade Jeffs' victims to testify against him in court.

On Saturday, when he learned that Washington County Sheriff Kirk Smith had refused to investigate the plight of Janetta Jessop, private investigator Sam Brower (who has been investigating Jeffs on behalf of the aforementioned nephew and other plaintiffs in civil actions against the FLDS prophet) was angry. "Time and time again," Brower fumed, "when Warren's victims have had the courage to break away and ask for protection, the government authorities who are supposed to protect them send them right back to their families-which is just like sending them back to Warren. Is it really any wonder people from this religion are afraid to come forward and testify?"

This press release was written by Jon Krakauer. It is based in part on interviews with Suzanne Jessop Johnson on November 11 and 13; on multiple interviews with private investigator Sam Brower on November 11 and 13; on an interview with Washington County Sheriff's Sergeant Reg Browne on November 13; on email correspondence with Jay Beswick; and on extensive research conducted for the book, Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith.