Polygamy Possible in One Las Vegas Neighborhood

KLAS TV, Las Vegas/May 23, 2006

The fundamentalist practice of polygamy may be much closer than you know. For one Las Vegas neighborhood, it's as close as the house next door.

"There are approximately 14 children, one head of the household, and three to four wives," said Jason Randall, neighbor.

When residents on Gilbert Lane in the northwest part of the valley got a look at the sheer size of the new family on the block, they wondered about polygamy, especially when they saw the kids' clothing.

"You know, pastel Easter outfit type wear," Randall said. "They run around fully clothed in the sprinklers, hot, 110-degree weather. The neighbors all bring it up every time we have a conversation," said Mark Stertz.

The newcomers were more of a curiosity than an issue, that is, until three housing structures appeared in the backyard of the two-acre parcel almost overnight. In addition, a recreational vehicle in the back was someone's living quarters.

The structures were installed without building permits, without approval for water hookups, and with no consideration for zoning or other ordinances.

After receiving complaints, county inspectors served the owner with a notice of violation. The episode brought one name to the neighborhood's attention.

According to county records, the new owner is Jacob Jessop, who agreed to pay nearly $1 million for the elegant home and land. Records from the Nevada Contractor's Board show Jessop is licensed to run his own construction company, although the company remains based in Colorado City, Arizona, regarded as the stronghold of a fundamentalist polygamy clan led by fugitive Warren Jeffs.

The name Jessop is practically synonymous with polygamy. Decades ago, patriarch Joseph Smith Jessop helped lead the split with the Mormon Church. In the communities of Hilldale and Colorado City, nearly everyone is related to the Jessops, who are among the most devout supporters of the fugitive prophet Warren Jeffs.

Is Jacob Jessop a polygamist? Eyewitness News asked him. "I'm not going to answer that," said Jessop. He declined to answer any questions about family or religion. He said he moved to Nevada because there is plenty of construction work.

As for the houses in his yard, he said he's just storing them there temporarily. "Those come off the job of demolitions. We wanted to salvage them so we thought we'd store them here. No one's living in them," Jessop said.

Because of the FBI hunt for Warren Jeffs, the polygamist clans in Utah and Arizona are under increasing pressure and have begun to spread to other states. According to critics of the religion, the faithful follow the work to places like Nevada and then funnel financial support back to the church.

One person who believes that's why Jacob Jessop is in Las Vegas is Flora Jessop, who escaped from polygamy when she was 18 years old and now helps other girls and women to do the same.

"Jacob Jessop is one of Warren Jeff's loyalists. He's married to at least three wives that I know of," said Flora Jessop, polygamy opponent. She adds that she is Jacob's cousin.

Flora Jessop says the polygamy preached by Warren Jeffs isn't the benign type shown on the HBO show Big Love. Rather, it is based secret ceremonies in which young girls are forced to marry older men, often their own relatives.

For example, 14-year-old Ruby Jessop was forced to marry her stepbrother, ran away, but was returned to the sect three years ago; Carolyn Jessop escaped with her eight children and is still free.

"These children are not children. They are currency. The boys will be used in the labor force. The females are paraded and they are the currency of every man," said Flora Jessop. "If you think your religion gives you the right to rape children, then your religion needs to be burned to the ground," she added.

Flora Jessop does not claim that her cousin Jacob Jessop has ever entered a forced marriage with an underage girl. She says she has no information of any kind about that. But she's helped dozens of girls and young women escape from polygamy over the past several years, and most if not all of them are running away from what they say were intolerable marriages to older men, some of whom have ten or more wives. The girls live as slaves, they say.

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