Utah couple became obsessed with killer polygamist cult leader and visited him in jail before poisoning themselves and their kids

Daily Mail, UK/January 29, 2015

By Associated Press and Josh Gardner

Thirty years ago, Dan Lafferty and his brother grew their hair long, called themselves prophets and claimed God told them to kill their sister-in-law and her baby after she resisted her husband's entry into a radical polygamous group.

Kristi Strack was 6 years old when it happened, but police said she developed an obsession with the case that turned into a close yearslong friendship with the imprisoned man.

The mindset of Strack and her husband, Benjamin, grew increasingly bizarre, culminating with a belief that the apocalypse was near just before they killed themselves with a drug overdose and took their three children with them.

Police still aren't sure exactly what led them to commit suicide in September.

Kristi Strack eventually reached out to Dan Lafferty's daughter, said Springville police Cpl. Greg Turnbow. Strack and her husband became close friends with him for several years.

'He's very fond of them,' Turnbow said. 'He wanted his remains to go to them.'

Dan Lafferty communicated with Kristi Strack like she was one of his children, police said. When she suffered a bout with ovarian cancer, there was talk about Lafferty being able to cure it, police said.

Turnbow said he talked to Lafferty as part of his investigation of the Stracks' deaths, and the inmate said he believed himself to be the biblical prophet Elijah. His role would be to announce the second coming of Christ, the Deseret News has reported, but police said he didn't generally talk about the end of the world with the Stracks.

The Stracks' close, frequent communication with Lafferty didn't raise any concerns by Utah prison officials, and there generally isn't any reason it would, said spokeswoman Brooke Adams. That changed in 2008, after Kristi Strack tried to pass her brother off as her husband so he could come on a prison visit and authorities revoked her visiting privileges, Turnbow said.

Lafferty's contact with the couple ended.

The same year, Benjamin and Kristi Strack began homeschooling their children. Court records show the couple pleaded guilty to misdemeanor forgery charges in 2008 and disorderly conduct in 2009, part of a minor criminal history that spanned about 12 years.

The couple also had gone through court-ordered drug treatment, but Elizabeth Sollis, a spokeswoman for Utah child welfare services, said Wednesday that's not necessarily a reason for state workers to intervene in a family. Police said there was no such intervention in the Stracks' case.

Kristi Strack, 36, was being prescribed methadone for opiate addiction at the time of her death, and that's how investigators believe she got the methadone used in the overdose deaths.

The children — Benson, 14, Emery, 12, and Zion, 11 — were sheltered, Turnbow said. There's no evidence the family attended any churches, and when some members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reached out to them, they would politely refuse, Turnbow said.

On Tuesday, Springville Police Chief J. Scott Finlayson said authorities have concluded their investigation into the deaths and said the cause was 'drug toxicity'.

Police didn't find any writings to show exactly what Benjamin and Kristi Strack believed when they died, but they often talked with family and friends about wanting to escape what they saw as a growing evil in the world. Friends and family thought that meant they would one day move somewhere remote and live 'off the grid,' but no one thought they'd kill themselves, police said.

Benjamin Strack, 37, hadn't been to work for a week when Kristi Strack's older son from a previous marriage found the family's bodies in a locked bedroom Sept. 27. Police found traces of a lethal drug mixture in a child's sand pail in the room.

Mr Strack had high levels of heroin in his system, while his wife had methadone, dextrorphan, diphenhydramine and doxylamine in her system, and both deaths were ruled as suicides.

All three children died from diphenhydramine and methadone; the two youngest children's deaths were ruled homicides, but the chief said Benson's manner of death 'could not be determined'.

But authorities believe he had been the last to die because he was on top of the bed, while his parents and siblings were under covers.

Finlayson said there were no signs of a struggle and no suicide notes were found.

Investigators found several empty methadone bottles, 10 empty boxes of nighttime cold medicine and two boxes of allergy medicine in their garbage, along with a red liquid substance in Pepsi cups.

They also found a pitcher of red juice, a purple bucket with yellow liquid, a bag of marijuana and other medications, including sleeping pills, inside the home.

Kristi Strack was also found with an unidentified red liquid coming out of her mouth.

She had last been seen alive at 6am that day by her son's girlfriend, who also lived in the home. 

Police said Benson wrote a goodbye letter, leaving some of his belongings to his best friend. The only other recent writing the family left behind was a notebook containing handwritten to-do lists about feeding the pets and other chores.

Finlayson said interviews with people who knew the Stracks indicated the parents were worried about evil in the world and wanted to escape from ‘impending doom.’

‘There seemed to be a concern about a pending apocalypse that the parents bought into,’ Finlayson said. ‘While some friends though that suicide may have been, or could have been, included in their plans, others believed they were going to move somewhere and live off the grid.’

After the deaths, police found a letter from Benson Strack to his best friend bequeathing some of his possessions, showing that the teen thought he might be found dead one day.

 It's not clear how much the other children knew about the lethal mixture of drugs they ingested, police said. The combination of methadone and cold medicine found in their bodies would likely have made them very sleepy just before they died. There were no signs of trauma or a struggle.

The younger children's deaths were ruled homicides since they were too young to consent to any kind of suicide plan.

The Lafferty brothers' heinous religion-motivated slayings

Dan and Ron Lafferty are both in prison for the 1984 murders of Brenda Lafferty and her 15-month-old daughter, Erica.

They slit their victims' throats with a 10-inch boning knife and later claimed God had ordered the slayings.

The men were tried separately; Dan Lafferty is serving a life sentence, and Ron Lafferty -- who claimed to have the revelation to kill -- is on death row.

The revelation to kill their brother's family came from Ron after Brenda spoke out against her husband Allen Lafferty joining his brother's radical polygamist group.

Ron said they needed to be 'removed' so that, as God put it, 'my work might go forward.'

According to investigators into the Strack case, Dan had not left behind his cult-leader mentality when Kristi first made contact with him.

Springville Police Corporal Greg Turnbow says that Dan communicated with Kristi like she was his child--a part of his flock.

Strack and her husband became close friends with Lafferty, who believes himself to be the prophet Elijah, for several years.

While the Stracks did have frequent communication with Lafferty, it did not generally include talks about the end of the world.

The communication also ended in 2008 and police still aren't sure exactly what led them to commit suicide in September.

Dan's ideology -- a 1,000-year sex party

But Dan's ideology seems to point toward why the Stracks, who'd struggled with addiction for years, might have found him so alluring.

Dan explained to the Salt Lake City Weekly in a lengthy 2014 profile that, as a devout Mormon child, he struggled with seductions of the flesh.

'When I was young and going to church, I thought because I couldn’t stop masturbating, that I might be an evil person, and it tormented me so much that I contemplated castration as a possible way to stop offending God,' he said.

So, as an adult, he began to see such desire not as a test from God, but as one of his gifts.

He believes the righteous will be treated to a 1,000-year party during which they'll be filled with the light of Jesus and have sex the likes of which have not before been experienced on Earth.

As the prophet Elijah, Dan believes it is his duty--as the only one who can see the continual cycle that begins at birth and starts over with the thousand-year party--to cull from the Earth the 'weeds' of the Devil that have grown for 6,000 years.

Only when he personally replaces these weeds with God's righteous 'wheat' can the 1,000 party begin again.

'When he comes back,' Dan says of his God of Love, 'he’s gonna be smoking a doobie, saying, "Tired of this world? Well, it’s time to party." I really believe it.'

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