Polygamist leader’s nieces say they prayed, cooked, cleaned at his compound

The Salt Lake Tribune/January 4, 2016

By Nate Carlisle

Hildale, Utah -- At Lyle Jeffs' home, the day began at 5:30 a.m.

That's when he would lead a scripture lesson for the 60 or so people living in his compound here. There would be another scripture lesson at 7 p.m., though Lyle typically didn't attend that.

In between, say sisters Kate Musser and May Jeffs, there was work. Kate taught school subjects to little boys even though her education stopped in the seventh grade. Both sisters sewed. They cooked. They cleaned.

That last task they were supposed to do only with their right hand.

"You couldn't do anything without talking to [Lyle] first," May said.

In separate interviews with The Salt Lake Tribune, Kate, now 20, and May, 18, described what life was like living with Lyle. He is the bishop of Short Creek — the collective name for Hildale and Colorado City, Ariz. — and the full brother of imprisoned Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints President Warren Jeffs.

Lyle Jeffs did not respond to multiple interview requests. He values his privacy.

He lives in what the FLDS call "The Jeffs Block," or just "The Block." It's an entire block of Hildale surrounded by 10-foot walls. Everyone there was instructed to call him "Father."

Lyle's house, referred to as "The Big House," sits in the northwest corner. The house is in the shape of an asymmetrical heptagon with a courtyard in the center. It's two stories and, according to measurements from the county assessor's office, it is nine or 10 times the size of the average American home. Anyone in Lyle's family who is in the United Order, the elite subset of the FLDS, can live there.

Normal-size houses also sit on the block. Some houses, the sisters and other Jeffs family say, were for some of Lyle's then-nine wives — the ones who have not qualified for the United Order. Another house was for some women and children who are not related to Lyle but for whom he assumed the responsibility as caretaker — because their husbands and fathers were serving missions for the church, had been evicted from the faith, or were in prison.

Kate and May are Lyle's nieces. They, their mother and three other sisters went to live on The Jeffs Block in 2012 after Lyle evicted their father from the FLDS. Lyle claimed their father committed a sin before he was married, May said, though Lyle never described the transgression.

Big House, small meals

When they arrived, Lyle told them the bishop's family had to be an example. Lyle observed dietary restrictions and, apparently, the ban Warren placed on sex between spouses in 2011. Kate says Lyle slept alone in a large bedroom; none of his wives had any newborns.

Block residents ate meals at The Big House, with women and young children in an upstairs dining room and older boys and men eating in a downstairs kitchen. Kate, who was a cook in the house, said the meals were modest. Tacos or tilapia with rice were common for lunch or supper.

Lyle never ate with the family, Kate said. Instead, she was instructed to cook him special meals, which she delivered to him at his offices in Short Creek.

The meals were nicer than those served on The Jeffs Block — steak, shrimp, salmon. FLDS rarely eat dessert, but Kate said she baked Lyle lemon chiffon cakes, caramel apple cakes and cakes with Pero substituted for cocoa. Chocolate was banned.

"There wasn't a day when I wasn't in the kitchen," Kate said.

Followers outside the block, meanwhile, were waiting in lines at the bishop's storehouse for groceries, Kate and May said. Charity workers in Short Creek often describe the towns as being in crisis, with FLDS going hungry and living in deteriorating homes without utilities.

Residents of the block also were instructed to conduct a spring cleaning once a month. At Lyle's huge house, constant cleaning was required to meet the mandate.

Block residents were told to clean with their right hand, Kate and May said. If they were holding a broom or mop that required two hands, the right hand always had to be above the left.

The Jeffs Block was loaded with people ready to report Kate and May when they broke a rule, the two said. They called three of Lyle's wives — Dianabel Barlow, Mabel Jessop and Luella Roundy — "tattletales" who would report to Lyle if Kate or May wore their hair down or talked to family who had left the FLDS. Some of Lyle's daughters tattled, too, Kate and May said.

Silence means 'no'

Kate, May, their mother and their sisters lived in a house on the southwest quadrant of The Jeffs Block. They were forbidden to leave the block without first telling Lyle where they were going, what they intended to do, and whom they intended to see.

"You have to get permission from him for everything, really," Kate said. "And he told us, 'If I don't answer, the answer is no.' "

To re-enter The Jeffs Block, the sisters needed to open the electronic doors with a pass card or code or press a button that rings the FLDS security office at the meetinghouse. The security office, Kate and May said, watched The Jeffs Block from the many cameras erected in the towns.

Lyle would lead everyone on the block in a scripture lesson in The Big House at 5:30 a.m., Kate and May said. Lyle let his sons lead another scripture lesson there at 7 p.m. The sessions occurred even on Sundays, when everyone was also expected to attend church and Sunday school.

Lyle usually would leave the block after the morning lesson and not return until 11 p.m., Kate said. Some nights he would come home and say, "The Lord had me send five people on a repentance mission today." Those are issued to FLDS members who Warren or Lyle believe had sinned. Transgressors are separated from their families and exiled.

When Lyle was around, he would warn and preach against people who sought to "bring him down," May said. Those people included sons who have left the FLDS and begun cooperating with the FBI, she said.

Kate and May said Lyle was constantly changing vehicles. Sometimes he drove or rode in an Infiniti sedan, sometimes a sports-utility vehicle, sometimes a pickup truck driven by one of his sons or someone in church security.

To remain on The Jeffs Block, Kate and May had to remain in the United Order. That meant passing monthly interviews.

Lyle, in front of two other men who were his counselors, would call each person into his office, one at a time, and ask a series of questions. The questions, according to Kate and May, included: Are you honoring Warren Jeffs as your prophet? Do you support member and nonmember separation? Do you criticize or complain or have bad feelings against anyone?

Lyle also would ask the sisters: Do you touch yourself inappropriately?

"That one always really blew me away," Kate said, "why he thought he had the right to ask that."

Block busters

May was kicked out of the United Order weeks after arriving on the block. She acknowledged not saying her prayers every day, watching movies and listening to "gentile" music — music made by people outside the FLDS. She and another sister were sent to live in a house just outside the block. Their mother was sent with them as a caretaker. Another sister was booted from the United Order and began living with them about a month later.

The demotion was fine with May. She was supposed to be heeding the same rules as inside the block, but enforcement was lax. May could listen or watch anything she could download, and she could hear the morning lessons on the intercom while still in bed — if she bothered to listen at all.

May said Lyle showed up a few mornings to see if she and her two sisters were obeying United Order directives. Lyle found the girls still in bed, May said. He asked them if they really wanted to be in the United Order and if they cared that they were hurting their mother.

May said she and her sisters responded with back talk. At one point, May said, Lyle threatened to send one of her sisters to a house of repentance in Montana.

"He uses family against family," May said. "If we did something, it would affect the rest of our family."

The meetinghouse had a bakery. May said she was given a job there baking bread for Lyle's family. One of May's friends worked there, too, but Lyle had told May not to speak to her. May and the friend subverted Lyle's instructions by leaving letters for each other.

"He's not as smart as he thinks," May said.

Kate remained on the block and was moved into her own room in Lyle's house. In the winter and spring of 2013, Kate said, she was assigned to teach English, math and priesthood history to five third-grade boys. For that last subject, she worked from a textbook about Mormon founder Joseph Smith.

Two of the boys were Lyle's sons, Kate said, and two were his grandsons. The fifth boy was from a family for whom Lyle was caring.

In addition to all the other work, Kate and May said they were expected to sew a garment once a week — either a man's shirt or one of the prairie dresses that have come to be identified with FLDS women.

United Order members also were expected to regularly write to Warren in prison, Kate said. The letters were supposed to be placed in unsealed envelopes and delivered to Lyle's office in his home or at a drop box in Colorado City.

Unsolved mystery • May left the FLDS in February 2014 and went to live with a brother in Ivins.

Kate's time in the United Order ended, she said, on July 23, 2013. She assumes she was booted because she confessed in one of her interviews with Lyle to having bad feelings toward the tattletales.

Kate soon left the block and lived in a series of other homes around Short Creek with various family members.

She departed from Short Creek in August of this year. She assumes she was evicted. An FLDS member drove her to see another sister who was in the hospital in St. George. That FLDS member then left Kate there, she said.

May continues to live in Ivins, while Kate resides with a family in Park City. They are pursuing GEDs and plan to earn college degrees.

There was one mystery of The Jeffs Block that Kate and May said they were never able to solve.

"I seriously wonder what he does all day," Kate said of Lyle. "Does he just kick people out all day?"

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.

Educational DVDs and Videos