Key Players in a Polygamous Drama

By Daphne Bramham
The Vancouver Sun
August 30, 2006

In B.C. and the U.S., the legal net is closing on the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.


Since his appointment more than a year ago, Oppal has repeatedly expressed his concern about sexual and physical abuse of women and children in Bountiful. Unlike his predecessors, he has indicated he would not shy away from a case that would test Canada's 115-year-old polygamy law. Encouraged by Jeffs's arrest, Oppal hopes witnesses will step forward from Bountiful.


Under him, Arizona has investigated and reorganized the school district, worked with Utah to reform the FLDS's trust, thrown out FLDS police officers who did not enforce the law, and established helplines and shelters for victims. In addition to Jeffs, Arizona has charged eight other FLDS men with sexual offences and has five others in jail for contempt after they refused to testify before a grand jury.


Shurtleff has broken Utah's long silence on polygamy. In addition to going to court to get the FLDS's financial trust reformed and getting charges against Jeffs, his office has set up programs for victims and regular meetings with various polygamy groups. He also brought in a child emancipation law to ensure that children escaping polygamy aren't returned to their families.


The 51-year-old former bishop of Bountiful was excommunicated by Warren Jeffs in 2002. He continues to be spiritual leader to about 700 people there and clusters of excommunicated FLDS in Idaho, Colorado, Utah, Arizona and Mexico. He has more than 20 wives and 103 children. Last spring he told reporters he expected to be arrested when the RCMP concludes its investigation into child brides.


In 1981, Nielsen founded Western Precision, a lucrative company with contracts spanning a range of fields: Aerospace, military, automotive, mining, health and fitness and medical. Nielsen disappeared from Colorado City in 2003 around the same time that Warren Jeffs began building the massive YFZ Ranch in Eldorado, Tex. He's unlikely to go for power unless Jeffs is convicted.


The 70-year-old patriarch has survived several dynasty changes and likely will again. He currently controls the 2,000-acre gated FLDS commune in Eldorado, Tex. that includes the first-ever fundamentalist Mormon tabernacle. He has had at least six wives and has 46 children. His ex-wife Carolyn Jessop describes him as charismatic, hard-working and "obsessed with power."


In August 2004, Brent Jeffs filed a civil suit against his three uncles, Warren Jeffs, Blaine Jeffs and Leslie Jeffs accusing them of repeatedly sodomizing him as a child. The lawsuit alleged a coverup of widespread sexual abuse of children in the FLDS communities. Brent, now 23, said it was because of the sexual abuse that his brother Clayne committed suicide. The suit forced Utah into action.


Three years ago in the middle of the night, Jessop escaped an abusive marriage to Merril Jessop, one of the FLDS' most powerful men. She successfully sued for sole custody of her children. Jessop is fearless in her criticism of governments and their failure to protect women and children in FLDS communities and acts as an advisor to the court-appointed overseer of the $110-million US FLDS trust.


She was 15 when she was assigned to marry a 57-year-old man. She was assigned to two other men before eventually leaving Bountiful, B.C. in 1988. She has been an outspoken critic of polygamy, and an unrelenting critic of the B.C. government for its failure to investigate, charge and prosecute men for what she says is widespread abuse of women and children. Her brother Jim Oler is Bountiful's bishop.


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