I shared hubby with 5 cult wives

The Sun, UK/January 22, 2008

When Carolyn Jessop sums up the first 35 years of her life, she calls it a "horror story".

But then beatings, polygamy and even child cruelty were part and parcel of her existence in the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints cult.

Carolyn's family stretches back eight generations within the sinister breakaway group of the Mormon church.

Forced to marry a 50-year-old when she was just 18, not only did Carolyn bear Merril Jessop eight kids in 15 years, she also shared him with five other wives.

Initially, Carolyn could accept sect traditions like multiple marriages, the ban on sugar, and the modest dress code.

But she couldn't accept her husband's claim that their son Harrison had been struck with cancer as God's punishment.

When Carolyn made it clear she wouldn't let the tot die, Merril launched into a violent attack and threw her across the room.

Afterwards, as she tearfully tended her wounds, the cracks in Carolyn's faith began to show.

And soon she was plotting to escape with her children from the twisted cult that had brainwashed them all.

Carolyn, now 39, says: "Merril's six wives had given him 54 children, none of whom were ill in any way.

"Within that society, to have a frail child was frowned upon.

"Merril made his outrage clear, but when I refused to sympathise, he attacked me.

"He shouted that no-one would be able to heal Harrison as he had Spinal Neuroblastoma - the most aggressive form of cancer in children.

"But I was determined not to let my son die."

Carolyn's own childhood in the isolated 10,000-strong community in Colorado City, Arizona, was not a happy one.

Carolyn says: "The community has existed in isolation for decades, so you're related to most people - in my case about 80 per cent.

"When you step out of line there's a huge extended family waiting to tell on you.

"At 10 or 11, I wore a little skirt outside and six men called my dad to say I was dressed inappropriately."

"When you're living in that mindset you don't realise you're being coerced"

In her late teens, Carolyn blossomed into a beautiful young woman.

But in order to sustain a community based on polygamy, young men were often booted into the outside world to guarantee their elders' choice of future partners.

So when it was Carolyn's turn to marry at 18, Merril, who was a pillar of the community, was chosen as her partner.

Carolyn says: "I was reading the Bible at least two hours every night and attending religious services throughout the week.

"When you're living in that mindset you don't realise you're being coerced.

"If I'd refused Merril I'd have been refusing God's will, and after the proposal, in the minds of other men I belonged to him any way."

Although Merril and Carolyn didn't enjoy a close, loving relationship, they did have regular sex.

It's little wonder they had eight children - Arthur, now 20, Betty, 18, LuAnne, 16, Patrick, 14, Andrew, 12, Merrilee, 10, Harrison, 8, and Bryson, 6.

Shockingly, Carolyn was forced to give birth in silence and without painkillers.

When Harrison came along, and Carolyn was required to spend lengthy periods in Phoenix, Arizona, during his cancer treatment, her doubts about the cult's stranglehold on her life grew.

She says: "Because of Merril my son had to be treated outside - otherwise the community would have let him die.

"I'd always been warned that anyone who isn't part of the church is bad, evil and determined to bring you down.

"But I realised there were people who'd have given me the shirt off their backs to help.

"Amazingly, Harrison was healed and is now a happy, healthy boy. "Guards were posted outside cinemas in neighbouring cities and anyone caught sneaking to a movie was immediately banished"

"It's a disgrace to think my so-called community disowned him."

Around the time of Harrison's treatment, the notorious US cult leader, Warren Jeffs, took control of Colorado City.

Each time Carolyn returned from Phoenix, she noticed the community's regulations were more extreme.

She says: "Clothes in primary colours were banned and only plain cloth was permitted.

"Movies, radio, TV and the internet were a big no-no.

"Guards were posted outside cinemas in neighbouring cities and anyone caught sneaking to a movie was immediately banished.

"Our literature was censored and destroyed at book burnings around town.

"Even dogs were banned - the pets were culled or sent to the pound.

"Eventually girls of just 14 were being married, which is of course illegal in the US.

"When Warren announced his plan to split the community into several isolated camps with him in control, that was the last straw."

Carolyn's first and last chance of escape came on April 21, 2003.

With Merril away on business, she waited until 4am to round her family up and get out of the madness.

Carolyn says: "My kids were spread around Merril's 17,000 square foot house, so it was a dangerous operation to fetch them.

"In the dark I told them Harrison wasn't well and we needed to take him to hospital.

"There's no way they'd have come with me otherwise - they were totally indoctrinated and convinced the world was evil.

"Outside, with the van's headlights off, I pulled on to some back roads, and then floored it to the highway.

"I was shaking like a leaf, but at last we were free."

Four years later, Carolyn lives in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Information she provided to the Attorney General led to Warren Jeffs' arrest and subsequent imprisonment last year for being an accomplice to the rape of a 14-year-old Colorado City girl.

Carolyn says: "Merril sent people after me and I had to hide out for several months in Salt Lake before I could live openly.

"He's still in the community, with more than 100 children and 13 wives.

"Seeing Warren brought to justice was one of the greatest moments since I left the community.

"I felt like I was living in a brand new world.

"But there have been many more precious moments.

"It was great to watch my children eat ice-cream for the first time, finally throw birthday parties and go to the movies.

"I've also met the love of my life, Brian, who has helped me come to terms with the past.

"I know nothing that can happen out here would be as bad as what would have happened if I'd stayed."

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