Polygamist Owen Allred dies

Longtime AUB church leader, 91, had been on house arrest

Deseret Morning News/February 16, 2005
By Leigh Dethman and Lucinda Dillon-Kinkead

Bluffdale -- The leader of a prominent Utah polygamous group died Monday night.

Owen Allred, 91, died just under two hours after he left the hospital and was taken off life support Monday night, his son, Carl Allred, said Tuesday.

As leader of the Apostolic United Brethren polygamous church, Allred taught followers to obey all the laws of the land, except for one - polygamy.

"We have nothing to hide," said another son, Larry Allred. "Papa taught us honesty, integrity, truthfulness and moral standards. We're here to obey the laws of the land, except that."

In the late '90s, Allred publicly condemned other polygamous groups that fostered abuse and other crimes. Again, a few months ago, Allred told the Utah Attorney General's Office that he would continue to instruct church leaders and members to report child abuse, domestic violence and other crimes.

"Even though we didn't agree on everything, Mr. Allred showed that it was possible for a fundamentalist leader to serve his people and cooperate with the government," said Paul Murphy, spokesman for the Utah Attorney General's Office.

The religious leader had fallen and broken a hip about 10 days ago while walking in his Bluffdale home at night, Carl Allred said. Since then, Allred had been in the hospital on a respirator until Monday night, when his family followed his wishes and took him home.

Allred had been confined to a wheelchair on house arrest for the past year-and-a-half in frail condition, Carl Allred said.

"There were a lot of people that respected him and loved him as a religious leader," Larry Allred said. "Father has taken the fall for many, many, many people. Like a loving father, a loving religious leader, he's taken the fall."

In preparation for his passing, the group named J. LaMoine Jensen as Allred's successor last year, said Dave Watson, a member of the church's presiding council.

Jensen has been a member of the presiding council for 36 years, Watson said. A former member of the group said Jensen got the leadership nod over a presiding council member with more seniority.

"There might be a power struggle that is yet to be seen," said John Llewellyn, who left the AUB in 1994 after 20 years with the group.

In recent years, it has been mostly quiet on the Bluffdale front, where the West's largest polygamous clan has lived at the edge of the growing Salt Lake Valley.

But the late 1990s marked a period of unusual openness and public attention for the octogenarian, then in charge of the 5,000-member AUB.

The spotlight on Owen Allred followed renewed attention to the topic of polygamy, kick-started in the spring of 1998 when several former polygamist women formed "Tapestry of Polygamy." They revealed details of systemic abuses in all of the state's largest polygamous communities, including Allred's AUB.

A flurry of polygamy-related news dotted newspaper front pages during that time.

First, responding to questions from reporters at a monthly televised news conference, former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt acknowledged plural marriages in his family tree and the tradition of polygamy in Utah.

"For the most part, they are very hard-working, good people," Leavitt said. He also reaffirmed polygamists' rights to religious freedoms.

Later that summer, Owen Allred called a press conference to denounce abuses within polygamous cultures and distinguish his group from others.

The then-84-year-old leader wrote letters to newspapers and members of the Utah Legislature, lauding efforts to raise the minimum marriage age from 14 to 16 and reasserting the group's adherence to all laws.

"For 50 years now . . . the rule among our people has definitely been that girls should not even start courting until they are at least 17 years of age," Allred wrote in a letter to the Deseret News.

"Our policy is to allow our young girls and young men to seek the mates of their own choice, but to do it with wisdom and wait until they are old enough to know what they really want in life," he wrote.

"Of course this will not stop girls younger than 16 who want to get pregnant in order to get state support."

At the time of the fracas, Mike King was an investigator for the Attorney General's Office. King spent more than 10 years studying the state's polygamous communities and worked closely with Owen Allred in what turned out to be a landmark meeting between state investigators and the polygamous compound.

"We did make some pretty good progress," King said Tuesday.

In the fall of 1998, Allred lived up to his promise to allow state officials access to his followers and approved a visit from 10 criminal and domestic abuse experts from the Utah Attorney General's Office. The team spent three hours on a Sunday on the Bluffdale property owned by the Apostolic United Brethren.

More than 900 followers, dressed in their Sunday best, attended a "special meeting" called by Allred, who did not reveal who would be visiting the church.

"He invited them out to make sure they knew we have nothing to hide," Carl Allred said Tuesday.

In an interview with the Deseret News just after the gathering, Allred said his people had "accepted" information from state officials, who divided AUB followers into groups for men, women and young people, and talked about family violence, domestic abuse, appropriate conduct between children and adults, power and control issues, and the effects of emotional abuse.

Allred said then he was committed to eradicating any of the bad behaviors associated with polygamous communities.

"If we have such a thing among our people, we want to help to correct it," he said.

The meeting did create contention within AUB's leadership, and some members said privately at the time Allred came close to losing control over his community.

There were a few who didn't believe the state should be allowed to look in on AUB families, Allred told a reporter after the 1998 visit from state officials.

"But that is contrary to my wishes, to my beliefs, and it's something I want to fight against," he said.

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