Wife's death 'God's will'

Calgary Herald, March 19, 2000
By Suzanne Wilton, Emma Poole

A self-described prophet who claims God speaks to him says he's at peace with the death of his wife, who starved on a remote mountainside during a quest for spiritual enlightenment.

"People die," 30-year-old Jason Lee, who calls himself Jacob after the biblical character, told the Herald Thursday. "Everybody is going to die sometime, somehow. I feel that if God had wanted her to live that he would have sustained her long enough for me to give her water. I feel very much at peace with it."

Jacob said it was divine inspiration that led him and his wife Eda Lee, 26, to the wilderness more than five months ago where they fasted and prayed in the mountains near Exshaw, about 80 kilometres west of Calgary. The fast wasn't their first; the couple had fasted off and on for months, whenever God told them to, Jacob said.

The man -- who denies that he is a cult leader and was recruiting disciples into his faith -- now faces charges of improperly disposing of a human body for leaving his wife's remains on a mountain near Canmore.

That, too, was God's will, he said.

The couple gave up all their worldly possessions and began preaching their take on the word of the Lord to anyone who would listen shortly after their excommunication from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1997. They were put out of the church, Jacob said, after he challenged church officials on their interpretation of the Bible and Book of Mormon. An official with the church confirmed the expulsion, but wouldn't elaborate. While Eda was raised in the faith, Jacob joined as a young adult after dabbling in tarot card reading and New Age religion.

"New Age fascinated me because there was a lot more to it, there was a lot more involved," said Jacob. "The results of doing that weren't what I wanted, it didn't give me happiness. That's all I was looking for was happiness."

It was an introduction to Mormon missionaries through friends of his mother, who had joined the faith two years earlier, that changed his life. "I just knew I needed to do it. I listened, and agreed to go home and pray about what they said. And I prayed, and realized that I . . . needed to join the church."

He, along with his wife, learned the scriptures inside out, but soon became disillusioned with the Mormon faith.

"The more I studied, the more I found they weren't actually teaching what was in their own scriptures and I ended up showing them that," he argued. Living by their interpretation of the scripture became their mission, and the couple began travelling North America to preach the gospel.

"God sent the apostles out to preach to the people and said don't take more than one coat, don't take money or food. Just go and accept whatever people provide for you, just receive that and be grateful. God will provide.' "

Eda's friends and family are shocked at the circumstances that led to her death. They are also concerned for the couple's 18-month-old son. Joseph is now in the custody of Jacob's mother, Marilyn Leigh.

One close family friend said Jacob always had strong ideals when it came to "appropriate" conduct in society. The family would often ask Jacob to leave functions because he would pick fights over his take on religion.

"He knows the scriptures better than anyone I know. Then he takes the meanings and literally applies them, said a family member"

He said the family feels Jacob preyed on Eda because she suffered from bipolar disorder and spent a good part of her time in a depression. "(Her) parents were really protective of her. She needed proper sleep and proper nutrition for her illness," said the friend. "In one month he convinced her that they should get married, just three weeks from the time they met."

The friend said Jacob quarrelled with Eda's father when he became suspicious of their exclusive relationship.

The family said they are ready to accept Eda's death, but want Jacob held accountable. They think he should be held responsible for her slow demise. "One of the blessings we all have in this country is to live our lives the way we want. You can't be punished for your beliefs. In harmony with that, we have a guy whose beliefs are so outrageous he caused someone else harm," said the family friend. "His responsibility as a human being was to fulfil the needs of his family. That's basic human nature. There's no doubt he could have prevented her death."

Just before leaving for the cleansing ritual high atop a Canmore mountain, the family friend said Eda called her parents and apologized for her behaviour. Soon after she disappeared, never to be seen again.

"(He) calls them religious beliefs, but what religion do you know that would demand the sacrifice of someone's life through fasting?" he said.

Eda's sister Merry Shields said her sister was very musically talented. She played the violin, piano and was an apt writer and painter. Eda even obtained a music degree from the University of Calgary in the mid- 1990s and was one year away from finishing her teaching degree.

"Eda was not stupid. She didn't just get duped, she was just totally exploited," the friend said. "I knew after a couple of months that she would either have to leave him or she would be dead."

The family first suspected Eda may have died after Jacob was spotted in Calgary without her.

"They were inseparable. For some reason they always had to be together," he said. "Once we found out that Jason was alone, we knew something was wrong."

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