Meeting sheds light on Colorado City polygamist sect

Kingman Daily Miner/May 15, 2003
By Jim Seckler

The sign unfurled over the table asked, "Where is Ruby Jessop?"

Ruby Jessop was 14 when she disappeared in April 2001 after being married to her stepbrother in the polygamist town of Hildale, Utah.

Bob Curran and Jim Ashurst talked about the controversial polygamist sect along the Arizona-Utah border during a meeting Wednesday night at the Powerhouse Visitor Center.

Curran who lives in St George, Utah, helped found "Help the Child Brides," a small group of volunteers and activists whose goal is helping young girls like Jessop escape from the sect, which is called The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Later-Day Saints.

The fundamentalist Mormon church is based in the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City at the northern tip of Mohave County.

One girl at a time, Curran said he and others are trying to help girls flee on their version of an underground railroad.

One happy story is of then-15-year-old Caroline Cook, who escaped an arranged marriage. The sad flipside is the disappearance of Ruby Jessop.

Curran and Jim Ashurst of Henderson, Nev., who created the group's Web site, have gathered numerous stories of young girls and women who have escaped from Hildale and Colorado City.

"It is a country within a country," Curran said. "Where there was once religion, sadly it has degenerated to sex, power and money."

Curran said he is perplexed why the nation has been so intrigued by the kidnapping and brainwashing of Elizabeth Smart by a polygamist couple, while no one seems to have cared about Ruby Jessop.

Curran also called Warren Jeffs, the current sect prophet who succeeded his late father, Rulon Jeffs, a thug.

Curran said Jeffs has preached "blood atonement," or messages to members of possibly killing members who leave the church.

Curran also said public officials such as Mohave County Attorney Bill Ekstrom have been lax in prosecuting underage marriage, incest and white slavery.

Curran said public officials on either side of the state line have said the problem is in each others' jurisdiction.

"It's sensitive issue," he said. "They would rather keep it a secret. Our job is to get public officials out there to get this stopped."

Ashurst said he would like to see volunteers and activists in Kingman help keep pressure on law enforcement, child protection services, public officials and school districts.

"They see themselves above the law," Ashurst said of the polygamist sect.

Curran said Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff has vigorously begun to go after child abuse violations in the community. But Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano has not done enough to enforce child abuse laws, he added.

One of the women who spoke during the meeting was Pam Black, who said she was raised in that secretive environment. Black gave a snapshot of life in polygamist Colorado City.

"It's like living behind a veil, just as the woman in Iraq," Black said. "We all lived in a constant fear. We are always expected to submit."

Black said fear and religious propaganda kept women subdued and obedient to their husbands. Books that she tried to read were taken away. She and other women were taught to fear and distrust outsiders.

She also said children were the property of the husbands. A common sign in many homes reads, 'Keep sweet, no matter what.' "It's a matter of life and death," she added.

Black, who is divorcing her husband from her own arranged marriage, said she only wants freedom to do what she wants. She still lives in the area near her parents but said her phones are tapped and her movements watched.

At the beginning of the meeting, which only a handful of people attended, a short Canadian Broadcasting Corp. documentary, "You Can Never Leave," about life in Colorado City was shown.

The documentary described Lenore Holm's refusal to allow her then-16-year-old daughter, Nicole, to marry an older church member. In 2000, church leaders arranged for Nicole to marry Wynn Jessop, 39, who already had a wife and children.

The church is evicting Holm and her husband despite a former prophet's promise in 1976 that allowed the Holms to build and live on church property in Colorado City. Holm's civil trial begins in Mohave County Superior Court today.

Judge James Chavez will decide whether the Holms must leave their six-bedroom home. The Holms have 13 other children, most still living at home.

Holm claims that the United Effort Plan, a business arm of the church, is forcing them out of their home because she refused to allow Nicole to marry Jessop.

Now 19, Nicole Holm is living with Jessop and has a child of her own. She and Jessop live in Idaho and are no longer members of the church.

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