Two Polygamist Sect Survivors Tell Their Stories

"When I Thought of My Dad, I Thought of Him Being God"

ABC News/July 7, 2008

There's been a lot in the news recently about polygamist groups, but what is it really like for the children who grow up in them? [Ms. L.] and Estephania LeBaron are two women who spent their childhoods in two very different -- and very troubled groups -- and later escaped.

The women shared with "Good Morning America" what it is like to live in and to survive the secret society of a renegade polygamist sect.

"The children were all taught that if we were ever to talk about what happened sexually inside the group, that we will go straight to hell," [Ms. L.] said of her time spent inside the Zion Society.

After she was abandoned by her mother, [Ms. L.] was adopted and her new parents joined the Zion Society, a group led by a retired landscaper and excommunicated Mormon named Arvin Shreeve.

"I always had a feeling that something wasn't right. That it wasn't normal," said [Ms. L.].

Shreeve divided the women into groups called Sister Councils in which it was their job to sew lingerie to sell to local strippers. But first they had to model the lingerie. Shreeve reportedly even hired strippers to train his wives for the sect's fashion shows.

[Ms. L.], who as part of a Sister Council learned to sew at a young age, said that she "hoped that I could stand out somehow to Arvin, and that he'll notice that I'm here too."

[Ms. L.] also said that the children suffered repeated physical and sexual abuse. "A 15-year-old girl would be instructed to teach the 9-year old girl how to sexually satisfy a man or woman," she said.

"Arvin sort of came out of nowhere. There are a lot of independent polygamists," according to senior reporter Mike Watkiss at KTVK in Phoenix. "That's what they call themselves, and they're just guys who basically put their hands up and say, 'I'm a prophet.'"

Estephania LeBaron said she knew about the horrors from a different sect. She is the daughter of polygamist Ervil LeBaron, founder of the Church of the Lamb of God.

"When I thought of my dad, I thought of him being God," she told "GMA." "I just had a huge feeling of awe." She also feared that if she deviated from her father's sect, she "might not get into heaven."

Although neither the Zion Society nor the Church of the Lamb of God were affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Ervil came to be known as the Mormon Manson, for allegedly ordering the death of 22 people. And in 1979 he was convicted of ordering a hit on rival polygamist leader Rulon Allred.

"Ervil LeBaron was crazy," said Watkiss of KTVK. "He was a bad man, and really, I think really, intoxicated with his own alleged connection to God."

His daughter Estephania was one of 52 children, and her mother was one of 13 wives. Growing up in Mexico, she was forced into marriage twice at age 13. Those who attempted to leave the group risked death, a practice Ervil called "blood atonement."

"I had my aunt and my younger sister who were blood atoned. And I was 11 years old, and it was traumatizing," Estephania said while trying to hold back her tears. "Anybody that threatened to go to the police, or young mothers who wanted to leave with their children, those were grounds to kill them."

When asked how the two women survived their cult experiences, [Ms. L.] said that it took some time. "I did a lot of drugs. I felt like I couldn't fit in. I felt different in the group and outside the group."

LeBaron said it was consoling to realize "that others had it much worse. Like with Hitler, and they went on."

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