Hurricane -- Concerned family members filed a missing person report Friday on the longtime bishop for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Fred Jessop.
Jessop, 94, apparently hasn't been seen since December, but the missing person report was filed Friday afternoon with the Washington County Sheriff's Office.
Washington County Sheriff Kirk Smith said Ross Chatwin, who was expelled from the FLDS church and won his home from the church trust, the United Effort Plan, in an eviction battle, arrived at the Sheriff's Office to file the report. With him, he brought an Associated Press reporter and a grandchild of Jessop. Whether the grandchild still resided within the close-knit FLDS community, Smith did not know.
The FLDS church is led by Warren Jeffs, the self-proclaimed prophet of the church, and constitutes the largest polygamist group in North America. The FLDS church traces its roots to Joseph Smith, founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The LDS church officially abandoned polygamy in the 1890s and now excommunicates those practicing the lifestyle.
Flora Jessop, who fled the polygamist lifestyle and is a step-daughter to Fred Jessop, said the family members who had left the community and were worried about Fred Jessop filed the missing person report. They filed the report eight months after Fred Jessop was last seen because they had been told he was at another compound doing "God's work," however letters allegedly from Fred Jessop started surfacing in March and they weren't in his handwriting.
FLDS and UEP attorney Rodney Parker said the missing person report was a publicity stunt by those who filed it. Those who live in the community, he said, know where Fred Jessop is and they aren't concerned.
However, Flora Jessop expressed concern for the man because she believed there wasn't a whole lot an ill, 94-year-old man could do in the way of God's work. Also, Fred Jessop didn't take any of his family with him when he went to one of the other compounds.
Smith said, as the Sheriff's Office began its investigation Friday, Undersheriff Pete Kuhlmann made phone calls to some members in the twin communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., where the FLDS church is based. Smith said one individual told Kuhlman he had spoken to Fred Jessop three weeks ago. Another person told Kuhlman Fred Jessop was on a mission for the church.
The Sheriff's Office had no allegations of foul play, Smith said.
"Why would a 94-year-old man be called upon to do God's work?" Flora Jessop said.
Flora Jessop said she personally did not feel that Fred Jessop was still alive. Community members revered Fred Jessop and looked up to him, she said, making him the single person who could have "taken down Jeffs."
Flora Jessop said from what she understood some FLDS church members affiliated with Jeffs arrived at Fred Jessop's home in January. Those men "strong-armed" Fred Jessop into a vehicle and he hadn't been seen since.
"If Warren (Jeffs) can make him (Fred Jessop) disappear, he can make anyone disappear," Flora Jessop said.
According to Flora Jessop, when Jeffs pulled Fred Jessop as bishop, a new man was assigned as residing bishop. The new bishop now apparently lives in Fred Jessop's home. To Flora Jessop, it's debatable whether or not the new bishop married Fred Jessop's family.
Parker said he did not know if Fred Jessop's house had been reassigned. Either way, Parker said those in the know wouldn't discuss that information with media.
Flora Jessop said she wanted to know Fred Jessop's whereabouts for her mother. "I admire and love my mother, and (she) is married to the man."
"A lot of what's been going on (in the polygamist community), Fred would have tempered. I know Fred was worried about what would happen to his family if Warren was in charge when he (Fred Jessop) died," Flora Jessop said.