Former member of Warren Jeffs' polygamous Mormon cult who grew up with 35 SIBLINGS and four moms returns to the Arizona town which he fled at the age of 18

Daily Mail, UK/July 2, 2024

By Sadie Whitelocks

A man who grew up in polygamist family with 35 siblings and four moms as part of Warren Jeffs' abusive religious cult has spoken out about what his unusual upbringing was like.

In a YouTube documentary made by filmmaker Drew Binsky, Sam Zitting Wyson returns to Colorado City in Arizona for a confronting trip down memory lane.

He left the secretive community when he was 18 years old and is now based in Las Vegas with wife Melissa and their two children.

Today, half of Sam's siblings still believe in Jeffs' cult and they do not have any contact with him as a result.

This includes one sister who married Jeffs' father Rulon when she was aged 18 and he was 80.

Sam explains in the film that once someone chooses to leave the community, 'you're not welcome back and so you lose your family basically.'

As he strolls through a local park where he played as a child, Sam touches on what his thoughts were on Jeffs, who served as the president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) from 2002 onwards following Rulon's retirement.

He explains: 'Warren Jeffs was as a king, a ruler, a God... People would obey everything he said to do, including law enforcement.

'He owned everything. People had big companies, like construction companies, and he made all of them sign those companies over to the trust so that he could even own that.

'No one felt like they were being scammed including myself, until you left. Once you left and look back, then you realize.'

Throughout the years that Jeffs ran FLDS - which has bases in Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona, collectively known as Short Creek, as well as one in Eldorado, Texas, which is called the Yearning for Zion Ranch - he brainwashed, imprisoned, and abused multiple women and children, earning him a spot on the FBI's Top 10 Most Wanted List.

He is currently serving a life sentence in Texas for sexually assaulting underage girls he considered brides.

In his absence, his religious group has been weakened amid government crackdowns and an exodus of members who were kicked out or decided to leave but there is still somewhat of a strong following in Colorado City.

Sam likens growing up in Jeffs' cult to being subjected to North Korea's dynastic totalitarian dictatorship.

He explains when Jeffs got into power as the 'prophet,' he even went about shutting the city's library down as he only wanted residents to 'read and listen to music from the church.'

Sam said there were various other restrictions, and he was not allowed to hike to a local mountain as he was told there would be negative consequences if he did.  

In the YouTube film, the camera crew visit Jeffs' former home, which has since been converted into a sober living center by his 65th wife Briell Decker.

In the property, Briell shows the team one room where dozens of wires are coming out of the wall and she explains that this was a network installed by Jeffs to illegally tap everyone's phones.

By doing this, he pretended to 'mindread' and hear 'messages from God' at church.

Sam says in reaction to seeing the tapping system: 'It just goes to show that that's how he was able to convince so many people that he was hearing from God and he was being directed by God... he was listening in and spying off us.'

Moving upstairs, the team go into Jeffs' room, which they describe as 'super small' with extra sound proofing and an intercom panel on the wall.

Sam says in reaction to seeing the tapping system: 'It just goes to show that that's how he was able to convince so many people that he was hearing from God'

Another spot they visit during the documentary is a compound where Jeffs was planning to house all of his 80 wives.

The gated complex now serves as a hotel, called Zion's Most Wanted.

Sam says when he was growing up, the fact Jeffs had so many wives was kept secret.

He suspected there could have been 20 women as part of his household, but 80 was a number that shocked him.

The duo proceed to explore one of the properties following the hotel conversion.  

When they enter a living room, there is a stage in the room and Sam explains that these were 'pretty common in big homes as a place for people to perform.'

He adds: 'For some reason, it was common in the FLDS for families to get up and do performances, like singing or instruments.'

In another scene, the camera crew pass by the city's former 'meeting house.'

Detailing the building's significance, Sam says: 'This meeting house is so iconic to me and to this community because of all of the memories here.

'I mean meeting was a big part of being a member of the FLDS church.

'Every Sunday and every Saturday we would hold meetings here.'

Sam also reveals how the building was constructed with back doors, so the 'leaders of the church could escape law enforcement.'

Recounting one such incident, he says: 'I remember very specifically one day, we were in a meeting and it was during the closing prayer and all of a sudden we heard just a loud commotion from the doors.

'[All of a sudden] we had FLDS bodyguards not allowing FBI or law enforcement to come in.

'By the time we looked up to see what was going on, all of the leaders of the church were gone off the stand... they disappeared out these back doors here... and jumped on their vehicles and went down into the the creek that runs through town and escaped law enforcement.'

One of the more poignant parts of the documentary sees Sam return to his family home.

He says that as a child, multiple siblings lived in the same rooms, as the property 'wasn't a massive house by any means.'

As he passes by his basement-level bedroom window, Sam explains that he escaped from there many times but 'don't tell my father.'

After doing a walk around, Sam muses: 'I'm just looking at these windows here and the amount of memories and stories it's just bizarre.

'I walked by this property but I haven't walked onto the property [in years].'

Opening up about family life, he said he had to call his dad 'father' and his mom 'mother.'

In terms of the sleeping arrangements, his father and his four wives all had separate bedrooms.

He explains: 'Father never slept in the mothers' rooms with them. I never saw that and I know that things like that were very secretive in the FLDS.

'We weren't given any type of education on sexual stuff at all, that just wasn't a topic.

'But I I know that sometimes the mothers might go to his room but the mothers in a lot of cases would have young kids in their room sleeping.'

With so many siblings, Sam said money was tight and he couldn't just go and grab snacks from the kitchen.

Instead, the mealtimes were done in an ordered manner so each child got their fair share.

It was only when Sam was older and he started doing construction work outside of the city, he started realizing his upbringing was not 'normal' and it was after this realization that he decided to leave.  

After fleeing the community, Sam says having more than one wife is an 'absolute no' for him and he doesn't understand the FLDS system.  

Wrapping up the film, filmmaker Drew says: 'As I leave Colorado City the echoes of its past still linger but this isn't just a story of a cult's downfall, it's an account of a place once dominated by fear and control now fighting for a future filled with hope.

'The survivors I met inspire me to keep making videos about marginalized people. The path to healing is long but it's lit by those who refuse to be silenced.'

To help with his own healing process, Sam runs a popular YouTube channel with his wife called Growing Up in Polygamy, where they interview others who have similar stories around their upbringing.

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