Polygamist Flourishing in Phoenix

Salt Lake Tribune/May 20, 2001

Phoenix -- Anyone thinking that polygamy is limited to a remote and obscure strip along the Arizona-Utah line beyond the Grand Canyon should think again: How about metro Phoenix?

Take James Timpson of suburban Tempe, a 26-year-old Arizona State University psychology major who wears his hair in a surfer's ponytail, drinks Corona beer and puts in long hours at his job as a computer sales- man.

Timpson is a practicing polygamist, one of several in metropolitan Phoenix who believe keeping more than one wife is a mandate from heaven. Timpson has three.

Arizona authorities have taken no significant action toward consensual polygamist marriages since 1953, when a disastrous police raid on the polygamist settlement of Short Creek -- now Colorado City, just across the border from the Utah town of Hildale -- resulted in a wave of negative publicity that helped drive Republican Gov. Howard Pyle from office.

"Polygamous or plural marriages, or polygamist cohabitation, are forever prohibited within this state," says Arizona's constitution, written in 1910.

But the Maricopa County Attorney's Office will prosecute only if there is evidence the husband defrauded his wives financially, spokesman Bill FitzGerald said.

"We don't think the public interest is served by prosecuting polygamy," added Bill Ekstrom, the top prosecutor in Mohave County, where an estimated 5,000 practicing polygamists still live in what was Short Creek.

Tens of thousands of people in the western United States practice polygamy. There is no way to gauge how many of them are in Phoenix, The Arizona Republic said.

"It's both a rural and urban phenomenon," a former Utah police officer who is working on a book about polygamy, John Lewellyn, told the newspaper.

"They are typical Americans. They go out of their way to be inconspicuous. They send their kids to public school, pay their taxes, volunteer for the draft. They are law-abiding citizens in every respect but one," Lewellyn said.

Timpson was raised with 65 biological brothers and sisters in Colorado City, said to be the home of the largest polygamist assembly in North America today.

"They have cell phones, Learjets and the Internet in Colorado City," he told The Republic.

Timpson shares a two-bedroom apartment with his first wife and his two baby daughters. The other two wives live as roommates nearby and Timpson divides time among them.

"It's wonderful to know that we are there to take care of each other," he said of himself and his wives. "If you look at the animal kingdom, if you look at human sexuality, we are naturally polygamist."

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