It started in February 2007 with a letter by a former member of Davis County's secretive Kingston clan to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other prominent national leaders. The letter, signed by anti-polygamy crusader Victoria Prunty, then executive director of Tapestry Against Polygamy, supported Reid's call for a federal investigation of crime within polygamy groups and charged Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff with not doing enough to stop the abuses.
"A few months after Tapestry was organized," the letter said of the Kingston clan, "a 16-year-old girl who was the 15th wife of her uncle made national headlines when her father maliciously beat her for running away from the forced marriage. This incident shone an ominous light onto the hidden abuses that are endemic in the Mormon polygamist subculture, inspiring newspapers around the country to conduct a series of investigative reporting. However, state and local law enforcement turned a blind eye to the results."
Last week, the letter's hope for federal action became a reality when Reid, D-Nev., and other government officials met in Washington, D.C., before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he denounced polygamist groups as a form of "organized crime" suspected of offenses against young women and children.
That hearing, and the federal investigations that are likely to follow, could reverberate all the way to Davis County.
Utahns have battled the stigma of polygamy for years. Most people know it still exists in places like Hilldale, Utah; Colorado City, Ariz.; and now in Texas.
But it's an open secret that the roots of the large Kingston polygamist group took shape and grew in *Bountiful*.
LDS author Brian C. Hales has extensively studied the topic of polygamy based on original journals, historical documents and books by other researchers, which he cites on his Web site, :mormonfundamentalism.com.
He says that when Lorin Woolley, Joseph Musser and other fundamentalists started preaching in the 1920s, Charles W. Kingston became interested in their cause.
Some years later, in 1935, his son Charles "Elden" Kingston made his own claim that he had been set apart as a "Second Elder" to J. Leslie Broadbent, another fundamentalist preacher. Musser's journals show that from that time on, the Kingston clan espoused being led by a form of priesthood council similar to the Woolley/Broadbent teachings. Some say, however, that the council was simply a figurehead for decisions made by senior members.
According to Hales, Elden Kingston reported receiving a revelation from an angel after praying for divine guidance in a cave in Davis County, while other accounts say it occurred on the top of the highest mountain east of Bountiful. Elden, he says, was directed to form a "united order" organization in the Bountiful area.
In 1941, Elden developed the Davis County Cooperative Society. Hales cites the incorporation statement, which states that its goals were: "To establish the long-looked-for ideal condition known as the Golden Rule 'Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.' The corporation shall produce goods and services to be used by members, and to be exchanged with and sold to other cooperatives and the public for other goods, services, or cash."
Hales and Rowenna Erickson, currently the leader of Tapestry Against Polygamy, also say Elden preached of a hierarchy system called the Law of Satisfaction which would be required of all members. He reportedly said leaders and members would be called "Brother No. 1," "Brother No. 2," etc., with the idea that every person must answer to the one above him because he was the ultimate "key holder" of power.
"He believed in a one-above-another system," said Erickson. "The wife and children were beneath the husband, and the first wife was above the second wife."
Along with this way of thinking, most women and children had status of near servitude. Although they were expected to work for the Co-op, they received little compensation. Most women in polygamy lived in poverty despite the vast wealth polygamous groups such as the Kingstons were amassing, according to "God's Brothel," a book by Andrea Moore-Emmett cited by Hales. It purports to be the story of 18 women who escaped modern polygamy and its "extortion of sex for salvation."
Erickson and Hales said Elden professed to be of a special lineage linked directly to the Savior. After Elden's death, Merlin Kingston, his brother, was listed as the head of the group. But John "Ortell" Kingston, another brother, made most decisions, and followers started looking to him as their prophet.
Hales cites another book, "The Secret Story of Polygamy," by Kathleen Tracy which contends that while working on the Co-op dairy farm, Ortell started developing a theory on genetics that he later applied to his own family bloodline. Hales said John Ortell apparently believed he was directly descended from Jesus Christ and soon condoned marriages between close relatives to maintain a pure bloodline that the state would later deem incestuous, according to "God's Brothel."
"John Ortell was not a nice person," said Erickson. "Abuse was going on, but at the time no one knew what to do so they ignored it." Erickson believes that many births were not recorded so the incest wouldn't be discovered. "We have worked our socks off to get the Kingstons' DNA to prove incest," she said. "But it gets so difficult to sort all these things out. They would do it because they believed they were of royal lineage - it was just crazy."
After John Ortell died in 1987, leaving a reported 25 wives and numerous children, his son Paul Elden Kingston took over the mantle. He also encouraged intra-family unions, and many underage girls were allegedly forced to marry men in the Co-op. One such union was between Jason Ortell and his half-sister Andrea Johnson, according to a 1998 copyrighted story in the Salt Lake Tribune. Andrea became pregnant in 1992 and, suffering from preeclampsia (toxemia), was apparently not given medical care until she was close to death.
"Andrea was having seizures and cried out, 'Help me, I can't see,'" Andrea's sister told Erickson. Despite an emergency caesarean section which saved the baby, Andrea died, her body swollen beyond recognition, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. Erickson believes that a fear of prosecution for incest was the reason for not getting medical treatment sooner.
In more recent years, Mary Ann Kingston - the young girl cited in the letter to Sen. Reid - was forced by her father, John Daniel, to marry David Ortell Kingston, her uncle. When the young girl ran away, she received a severe beating from her father when he found her. He later served seven months in jail for child abuse, and David Ortell was sentenced to four years after being convicted of incest, according to "Secret Story" and Salt Lake City newspaper accounts.
Today, Erickson says there are still members of the clan practicing poly-gamy, but she has made it her mission to stop it. Tapestry Against Polygamy sent its letter to Harry Reid in an effort to help bring the problem to the surface following the initial attention given to the FLDS church.
"The FLDS (arrests) have brought it to light," said Erickson. "I applaud Texas for the courage to do this. Nobody knows what to do, but it has to begin somewhere. They need to be punished."