St. George -- Longtime bishop for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, "Uncle" Fred Jessop, reportedly died Tuesday in a Colorado medical center.
Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran heard of Jessop's death from his contacts in the Schleicher County, Texas, FLDS community. He understood Jessop died around 2:10 p.m. and there are expectations that the funeral will occur Sunday in Colorado City, Doran said.
On Wednesday, Doran was waiting for confirmation of Jessop's death from the south Denver medical center where Jessop apparently died.
Jessop's body is reportedly being sent to Washington County, where Jessop was last seen sometime around December 2003. Concerned family members filed a missing person report on Jessop in August with the Washington County Sheriff's Office.
The FLDS church, which largely controls the twin cities of Hildale and Colorado City, 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.
Ben Bistline, a historian and author on the FLDS church, said although Jessop, who was 95 when he died, was on oxygen two years ago, when Bistline last talked to him, he was clear and had a healthy mind.
He didn't believe Jessop's death would have much affect on the function of FLDS church due to the fact that Jeffs appointed a new bishop some time ago and because Jeffs previously expelled prominent church members like the Barlows.
Flora Jessop, who fled the polygamist lifestyle and is a step-daughter to Fred Jessop, said she believed his death would affect the community - how, she did not know.
"Fred was the one man who threatened Warren Jeffs' power. He was on the one person who could have taken power because of the people's love for him," Flora Jessop said.
Bistline said he didn't know where Fred Jessop had been over the past year but never believed, despite speculation and rumor, that Fred Jessop died before Tuesday.
Flora Jessop said in her personal opinion she believed Jeffs kept Fred Jessop as a way to keep some sort of hold over the heads of key people in the FLDS community. So many people loved the longtime bishop, she said there would have been influence in keeping Fred Jessop alive. With him dead, she believed Warren was in a lot more danger.
Washington County Sheriff Kirk Smith said at the time of the filed missing person report, as the sheriff's office began their investigation, Undersheriff Pete Kuhlmann made phone calls to some members of the community of Hildale/Colorado City. Smith said one individual told Kuhlmann he had spoken to Fred Jessop just a few weeks before the August report. Another person told Kuhlmann Fred Jessop was on a mission for the church.
The Sheriff's Office had no allegations of foul play during the investigation of the missing person report on Fred Jessop, Smith said.