Salt Lake City -- Rulon T. Jeffs, the leader of what may be the nation's largest polygamist sect, has died, a church spokesman said. Jeffs died Sunday of natural causes at Dixie Medical Center in St. George, said R. Scott Berry, attorney for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Berry said Jeffs was 92 or 93.
Jeffs' church has thousands of members, mostly in the twin border communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. Estimates of the membership have ranged as high as 12,000, but Berry said it probably was 6,000 to 8,000.
Jeffs, an accountant, was rumored to have had 19 to 75 wives and dozens of children, KSL Radio said. Berry said no information on that would be disclosed.
His son Warren Jeffs was the No. 2 man in the church, but KSL TV said there may be a struggle for the leadership of the church. Berry said no decision has been made about the succession.
The church is highly secretive and its leaders rarely grant interviews. It is one of the polygamist sects that have been the target of allegations of welfare abuse and forced marriages of teen girls. Two years ago, the leaders told parents to pull their children out of public schools and teach them at home.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints abandoned polygamy a century ago, but tens of thousands of people in Utah and other western states continue to practice it. Those who belong to the Mormon church are excommunicated when their beliefs become known.
Colorado City and Hildale have been dominated since 1935 by polygamists, who used the border to escape raids by either Arizona or Utah law enforcement officers. The raids ended in 1953 after an attempt to break up the hundreds of illegal marriages drew public scorn.