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Authors: Sam Brower

Prophet's Prey

BOOK: Prophet's Prey
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Preface by Jon Krakauer

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3
“Uncle Warren?”

Chapter 4
UEP v. Holm

Chapter 5
Big Willie

Chapter 6

Chapter 7
The Father

Chapter 8
Lost Boys

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12
Blood Atonement

Chapter 13
Death in the Family

Chapter 14
Stepmothers and Wives

Chapter 15

Chapter 16
The Record

Chapter 17

Chapter 18
Twenty-one Men

Chapter 19
There to Stay

Chapter 20
On the Run

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25
Twelve Years Old

Chapter 26
Grand Jury

Chapter 27
On the Road

Chapter 28
The Turf War

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37
Sinking Ship

Chapter 38

Chapter 39
Town Without Pity

Chapter 40
The Telephone

Picture Section


A Note on the Author

This book is dedicated to


for her encouragement and criticism,

but most of all for all those moments of eternal perspective, joy, and meaning.

… but others there are, who, of necessity and by force, are driven to write history, because they are concerned in the facts, and so cannot excuse themselves from committing them to writing, for the advantage of posterity; nay, there are not a few who are induced to draw their historical facts out of darkness into light, and to produce them for the benefit of the public, on account of the great importance of the facts themselves with which they have been concerned.



Warren Jeffs is a tall, bony man with a bulging Adam's apple and a frightening sense of his own perfection in the eyes of God. The self-proclaimed prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), now fifty-five years old, has taken more than seventy women and girls as wives—one of whom was just a few weeks past her twelfth birthday when he commanded her to lie on a ceremonial bed in the sanctum of his massive Texas temple and brutally raped her. He demands absolute, unquestioning obedience from his ten thousand followers. He has sodomized children as young as five years old (including his own nephew, who wrote a book about it). He and the FLDS are currently being investigated for defrauding the government of millions of dollars. He has destroyed untold hundreds of lives.

Jeffs conducted his reign of terror with impunity for three decades thanks to a pervasive, Mafia-like code of silence that he systematically instilled in the congregation. Then, in the winter of 2004, a private investigator named Sam Brower began looking into the FLDS Church. Shocked by what he uncovered, Brower concluded that Warren Jeffs needed to be put behind bars posthaste. Thanks in large part to Brower's courageous efforts, in May 2006 Jeffs was placed on the FBI's “Ten Most Wanted List,” was arrested three months later, and on September 25, 2007, was convicted of two counts of rape as an accomplice. His conviction has since been reversed on a technicality, but presently Jeffs is incarcerated at Big Lake, Texas, awaiting trial on felony child abuse charges.

For the better part of five years I watched with awe (and occasionally provided assistance) as Brower relentlessly tracked Jeffs down, earned the trust of the prophet's victims, and provided state and federal law enforcement agencies with crucial evidence. A remarkable man on many levels, Sam Brower is the real deal. Readers are apt to find his firsthand account of bringing Warren Jeffs to justice both extremely disturbing and absolutely riveting.

Jon Krakauer



November 30, 2010

The prisoner's hands were cuffed to a belly chain that was cinched tight around his scrawny waist and secured by a padlock. The shackles on his ankles hobbled his stride to a shuffle as two large men, each gripping one of his arms, escorted him across the tarmac of Salt Lake International Airport toward an unmarked plane. Clad in green-and-white prison stripes stenciled conspicuously with the letters UDC, for Utah Department of Corrections, the man in custody appeared emaciated, frail, and disheveled. His guards wore Stetson hats, spit-shined cowboy boots, and freshly creased slacks; one of them had the distinctive badge of the Texas Rangers pinned to his chest.

Snow was still banked along the side of the taxiway from a recent blizzard and the air had a wintry bite. Noticing that the prisoner was shivering, Ranger Nick Hanna offered him a gray sweatshirt. As they proceeded toward the airplane, the man in cuffs bent over and tried to adjust his Coke-bottle glasses, which had slipped down his nose. Ranger Hanna patiently helped him secure them, eliciting a meek “thank you.” Hanna was struck by the man's unassuming voice. He had expected something much more commanding.

An observer unfamiliar with the inmate's identity would have found it hard to believe that this was Warren Steed Jeffs, the notorious leader and self-proclaimed prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), the largest polygamous religious organization in North America. Hanna was under orders from Texas governor Rick Perry to pick up Jeffs in Salt Lake City and transport him to the state of Texas, to stand trial on charges of sexual assault of a child, aggravated sexual assault of a child under the age of fourteen, and bigamy—serious charges in any state but which carry a life sentence in Texas. It was a place Jeffs had been desperately trying to avoid.

I am a private detective. For the past seven years, cases involving the FLDS Church and its pedophile prophet have consumed most of my waking hours. I live just outside of Cedar City, Utah, a stunning high-desert community of some thirty thousand residents. Just beyond town, densely forested mountains, capped with snow for much of the year, rise ten thousand feet above sea level, overlooking a vast arid wilderness dotted with lonely buttes and red rock canyons. Even today, southern Utah remains a rugged landscape, and some regard it to be the middle of nowhere. But I find it to be quite accommodating, having moved here from Southern California as a young man, when I made the deliberate decision to raise my family in a smaller, safer environment. Cedar City is an awfully long way from the bright lights of New York or Los Angeles, both literally and metaphorically. But for me, it felt like the right place to be.

As Ranger Hanna led Jeffs up the steps into the plane, he may have been wondering the same thing I did upon seeing Warren Jeffs in person for the first time: What is it about this man that would allow him to so completely dominate the lives of thousands of people? He didn't have the appearance of a maniacal prophet, didn't sound like one either. His droning voice and gangly appearance were more likely to bring to mind a nerdy middle-school science teacher than an all-powerful tyrant. Usually Brylcreemed into an immaculate pompadour, his black hair had been haphazardly chopped by a prison barber, giving him the look of a ridiculous comic-book character. For weeks he had been force-fed through a tube threaded through his nose and into his stomach, owing to his refusal to eat prison food. The lack of nutrition made him look pasty and alarmingly gaunt. Not one of his personal traits could be considered remotely charismatic. He is, nevertheless, a man who exudes an almost mystical power over his more than ten thousand FLDS followers, most of whom would do literally anything he commanded of them.

An extremist offshoot of the traditional Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—commonly known as the Mormon (LDS) Church—the FLDS was founded when its forebears broke away from the mainstream Mormons more than a hundred years ago, after the latter officially renounced the practice of polygamy. Warren Jeffs's followers, who still regard so-called plural marriage to be “the most holy and important doctrine ever revealed to man on earth,” consider themselves to be the only true Latter-Day Saints. They are zealous believers for whom absolutely nothing is more important than obedience to their religious tenets and priesthood leaders.

In response to the many charges of child abuse that have been leveled against him in recent years by both civil and criminal courts in Utah and Arizona, Warren Jeffs defiantly announced to his followers that he would “answer them nothing.” Instead, in 2003 he went on the run, cowering in a network of safe houses he had set up throughout the country, trying to blend in with the world beyond the parochial confines of his church—a world he claimed to despise.

As a private investigator, I always have cases cycling through my files, working through them fairly quickly, taking them as they come and then moving on. Never could I have anticipated back in 2004, when I volunteered to help a family struggling to extricate themselves from the FLDS (I agreed to take on the case for a fee of one dollar, and had to lend them that dollar), that I was about to step into a curious and dangerous alternate universe hidden in plain sight, just a little more than an hour from my home. I couldn't believe that such a brutal cult could exist, virtually unnoticed, in the United States in the twenty-first century.

Through my efforts to help this one struggling FLDS family, I was unwittingly drawn into a desperate battle to bring Warren Jeffs to justice that has lasted, thus far, for more than seven years. Over the course of those years, I discovered many of Warren Jeffs's most closely held secrets. Because I was a private investigator and had extensive knowledge of the FLDS culture and its leadership, I was asked by state and federal law enforcement agencies, shortly after Warren Jeffs went on the lam and was placed on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list, to help try to find him and put him behind bars.

By taking on that initial FLDS case in 2004, I had unintentionally become the “polygamy expert,” an expression bestowed on me by people unfamiliar with the main focus of my investigations. In reality, I had become the expert on a paranoid theocracy, run by a madman whose lust for power and compulsion to prey on children were his signature traits. Although polygamy is illegal in all fifty states and more often than not leads to abuse in one form or another, it was not the focus of my investigation. That focus was child abuse, and my job had taken on a dual purpose: investigating civil grievances on behalf of my clients, and alerting a complacent bureaucracy to the sickening and illegal activities that had been taking place under all of our noses for so many years.

One of my greatest challenges has been to locate and identify Jeffs's extensive network of hideouts, and determine who owns these properties. Despite an unsophisticated first impression conveyed by the nineteenth-century attire favored by the church's faithful, FLDS accountants have become extremely adept at hiding assets through money laundering. Jeffs's lieutenants are experts at establishing shell corporations to shelter property, equipment, and cash from the prying eyes of government auditors and corporate lenders. Lending institutions have been duped into financing loans worth millions of dollars, which the FLDS then allows to go into default, to the benefit of the church. Tracking down covert FLDS businesses is tedious work, but it has paid big dividends, including cracking bogus corporate facades established to secretly finance the Yearning for Zion Ranch, the massive religious stronghold constructed by Warren Jeffs in West Texas as a place for his most devout followers to safely ride out the coming apocalypse.

My dogged investigations into illegal FLDS affairs have led Jeffs and his followers to view me as a major irritant. While other law enforcement officers and private investigators who have attempted to penetrate the cult's formidable defenses have over time left the case, it has become increasingly clear to Warren Jeffs and the FLDS that I am not going away.

On the afternoon that Jeffs arrived in Texas, under tight security, to stand trial, I was resting at home in Utah, recovering from recent open-heart surgery to correct the same kind of ailment that one month later would kill diplomat Richard Holbrooke. It turned out to be an exceedingly complex, eight-hour operation that I barely survived, and I couldn't help but think that had Warren Jeffs known about it, he would surely have taken credit for my near demise. Over the years I have been the subject of many of his “prayer circles,” in which he would call upon God's “whirlwind judgments” to wipe me from the face of the earth for interfering in the activities of the “Lord's faithful servants” and the “affairs of His church.” I am hated by Jeffs, the police who act as his personal militia, and most of the church's membership. The more I lifted the veil of secrecy shrouding Jeffs and his cult, the more I came to fear that there was nothing that he was not capable of. My family wisely insisted that I take careful security precautions before going into surgery. Nobody but family and close friends was told that I was even sick, and I was admitted to the hospital in St. George, Utah, under an alias. Much to what I am sure would be Jeffs's chagrin had he been aware of it, I would go on to make a full and complete recovery.

At times I felt a little silly over the precautions taken over my care in the hospital, but in the end I'm grateful that good sense prevailed in making sure that the FLDS did not have access to me while I was in a vulnerable state. About a week before the operation, I had visited the surgeon at his office in the hospital. As I crossed the parking lot and got into my car after the appointment, I was on the phone with my colleague Gary Engels—the only other investigator who was actively gathering evidence of criminal activity within the FLDS organization. Finishing the call, I glanced up at the passenger window and saw a camera pressed up against the glass. I flew out of the car, shouting a few choice expletives at the heavyset person snapping photos of me in the privacy of my own vehicle. I became even more infuriated at what I saw. The man lurking behind the camera was none other than Willie Jessop—better known in southern Utah as “Willie the Thug”—the loudmouth FLDS spokesman, bodyguard, and church enforcer. Outraged, I ordered him to get his hands off my car and step back or I would notify the police. As he backed away from my vehicle, he asked what I was doing in the hospital parking lot.

“Oh, didn't I tell you?” I said.

Willie got a screwy look on his face. “No, you didn't,” he said.

“I guess I must have thought it was none of your damn business, then,” I replied.

I went on to let him know that this wasn't Short Creek (the hometown of the FLDS church and thousands of its members on the Utah-Arizona border, and in my estimation the most lawless town in America), it was the real world where people could come and go without having to ask permission of their church leaders. Again I warned him away from my car, and I whipped out my own camera and took photos of him as he lumbered away and climbed into a truck on the other side of the parking lot. My phone was still in my hand and Gary had heard the entire exchange.

The incident helped to remind me of the necessity of taking precautions to protect myself from any actions the FLDS might provoke. I had always considered an organized attack against me by FLDS goons unlikely, because such a move would draw attention to the cowardly men at the top of the organization who ordered the assault. I doubt Warren or his capos would want to face the legal consequences for such a crime. I am concerned, however, that some lone FLDS zealot might decide to take matters into his own hands. And the fact is, nothing would please Warren Jeffs and the FLDS hierarchy more than to see me dead. But I wasn't the only one making Jeffs's list of most hated enemies. There were many more whose demise he has prayed for: those who had found the courage to expose the crimes taking place within his secret society, as well as entire sections of the United States which he deemed wicked enough to call down the judgments of God.

Warren loved to travel the country under the pretext that God had commanded him to witness the gross wickedness of the world. He would ride with bodyguards and a favored wife or two in a small convoy, cursing and condemning the entire United States along the way. Six months before Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Louisiana coast, God had sent Warren to New Orleans to report on the depravity on display at Mardi Gras, and to deliver the city over to the Lord for his great destruction. After taking in some of the parades in the French Quarter and as many strip joints as he could cram into his two days on the town, the sanctimonious prophet raised his right arm to the square—as if swearing an oath in court—and prayed for the destruction of the entire city and its occupants.

When Katrina later hit the Louisiana coast, Jeffs was quick to take credit for being the conduit that had brought death and destruction to thousands of people in the aftermath of the hurricane.

It wasn't so much Warren's grandstanding that bothered me, but that his followers believe every word that “proceeds forth from the mouth of the Lord's anointed,” no matter how ludicrous. In the FLDS culture, Warren Jeffs is the anointed, and that kind of blind obedience, especially in an outlaw organization, can be a very dangerous thing.

Most Americans only became aware of the FLDS in April 2008, when someone identifying herself as a teenage girl called authorities to say she was being sexually abused at the FLDS's 1,700-acre compound called the Yearning for Zion Ranch, located in West Texas outside the small town of Eldorado. Texas authorities obtained a search warrant and served the ranch but were unable to find the girl in question. What they found instead was shocking evidence of child abuse on a massive scale that had been kept hidden behind the strictly enforced FLDS code of silence. Believing they had no other choice, the authorities made the unprecedented and difficult decision to remove more than 460 children from the religious compound and make them wards of the state. Images of cops taking crying children from their distraught mothers were broadcast to riveted television audiences around the world.

BOOK: Prophet's Prey
5.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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