Kingman Daily Miner - News
Polygamous community target of abuse allegations
Third of three parts
By Abbie Gripman
Miner Copy Editor
Flora Jessop left her home in Colorado City 15 years ago. She was 18
years old, and, as she tells it, she didn't just leave, she
escaped. With an estimated combined population of 8,000 people,
Colorado City and neighboring Hildale, Utah, make up the largest
polygamous community in the United States. While polygamy is
illegal the community has been generally left alone by authorities
unsure of how to handle the clash of religious freedom and illegal
lifestyle. The remote community is made up mostly of members of
the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The fundamentalist Mormons refused to abandon polygamy when the
church renounced it in 1890.
said she didn't flee religion, she fled abuse. The abuse, she
said, included sexual molestation. A smart and strong-willed girl,
she took the unheard of action of taking her alleged abuser to
court when she was 13 years old.
George judge dismissed the case and sent Jessup back to Colorado
City, where she said she was kept a virtual prisoner in her
uncle's home for the next four years. "One day they let me out to
go to the bathroom, they had got more lax, and I just ran," Jessup
said. She criss-crossed the country hitchhiking for the next five
years. The whole time, she said, FLDS leaders pursued her." Girls
just don't leave there, or they used to not," she said.
After five years on the road she gave birth to a daughter and
settled in Phoenix. She said she finally felt that she knew enough
people on the outside to protect her from church retaliation.
February, she was married and is slowly staring to put her anger
about her upbringing aside. She spent years blaming God for her
fate and struggled to find an identity outside the church. At one
point, she said, she even turned to drugs in her hopelessness. Now
things are changing." When I left I didn't care about anything. I
despised God. But God didn't do this to me. The church did. God
was sitting on my shoulder the whole time I was running or I
wouldn't have made it." Although she may be setting her anger
aside, she is more determined than ever to help others get out.
She is one of a loose-knit group of former residents who run an
Underground Railroad type of operation designed to help runaways
make a less traumatic transition to life outside of Colorado
City." I used to say that I'm not fighting polygamy but I am
because you take out the underage girls, let them have an
education, give them a choice, and how many are going to live in
(polygamy)? Not very damn many."
Education in Colorado City is mostly supplied via home schooling
after church members were ordered in 1999 by FLDS leader Rulon
Jeffs to remove their children from public school. Pulling
children, especially girls, out of public school isn't a religious
decision, Jessup said, it's a necessity to sustain the lifestyle."
In order to continue this way of life, you keep (the girls)
uneducated and don't give them a choice. By the time they figure
it out they have kids they need to protect." Jessup's view of
Colorado City clashes with the idyllic community portrait painted
by Mohave County Attorney Bill Ekstrom.
Ekstrom said he has made several trips to Colorado City in a
professional capacity, most often sitting in on school board
meetings when a legal opinion was needed.
(the residents) stood out at all it was for the firmness of their
handshakes and they looked me in the eye," he said. He saw a
community with well-behaved children, few drug and crime problems
and strong family values. "Very wholesome American qualities, like
Mayberry," he said. And, while he said his office will investigate
any specific claims of abuse, his office is not engaged in any
ongoing investigation. Outsiders, he said, are making "having a
family with someone a horrible crime."
he said, investigations into abuse and of weapons hoarding have
come up empty. No weapons have been found and the marital
relationships have been found to be nothing more than consensual
relationships between adults.
"I see no public policy reason to disrupt the lives of families
unless children are in danger," he said.
George resident Les Zittig said children are in danger and called
Ekstrom's comparison of Colorado City to Mayberry is uninformed."
He doesn't have a clue," Zittig said. "The children are well
behaved and taught values, obedience, discipline. That's not the
issue…these people are breaking the laws in front of everybody. "Zittig
left his polygamous home in Colorado City in 1970 when he was 21
years old. He left, he said, because the lifestyle came with too
many contradictions." I was raised in a society where the most
important part of that society is the women, yet the women are in
positions that they…100 percent do what the men tell them to do."
"There were little white lies, all the time…too many
other apostates (those who have left the church) Zittig has been
shunned by the community and has little contact with the family he
left behind. Like Jessup, Zittig said he isn't interested in
fighting people's right to practice their religion he's fighting
real crimes. I call it white slavery," he said, saying women are
forced to submit to the men and the men are forced to submit to
the church leader, Rulon Jeffs, who is believed to answer to God
has nothing to do with religion," he said. "The issue is human
rights, and FLDS women and children have no rights." Another issue
often mentioned in connection with Colorado City is welfare fraud.
Some allege that polygamous wives qualify for food stamps and
other welfare benefits by claiming to be single mothers to their
many children. Mohave County Supervisor Buster Johnson said that
was the issue that first brought Colorado City to his attention."
Taxpayers are supporting polygamy with welfare," Johnson said,
pointing to statistics that show Colorado City receives $8 in
government services for every $1 in taxes paid by its residents.
That compares to about $1.22 in services for each tax dollar paid
in Kingman, he said.
said that while he was investigating the welfare issue he became
aware of the many allegations of abuse from former residents.
Horror stories like Jessup's, he said, are coming from too many
women now to be dismissed without a thorough investigation.
Johnson said he hopes the federal government will launch a
thorough investigation into the allegations.
Colorado City Mayor Dan Barlow dismisses the negative attention as
the work of grumblers." You have to realize that every community
has its soreheads who attack them," he said.
reports that girls are being brought in from Canada to expand the
town's stagnant gene pool, Barlow said, "You don't want to believe
He has the same answer when asked about allegations of abuse.
"You don't want to believe all that," he said. "(Colorado City is)
a good little community."Attempts to contact numerous other FLDS
leaders for this article were unsuccessful. Jessup and others who
have left Colorado City armed with stories of abuse said they're
having a hard time finding anyone in Arizona who will "believe all
Ekstrom on record as seeing Colorado City as Mayberry they turned
to Arizona Attorney General Janet Napolitano. Jessup and Johnson
both said they had a better reception from Napolitano.
But Napolitano's spokeswoman Pati Urias said the attorney
general's office is "not the appropriate agency" to query about an
investigation into Colorado City. Things are a little different in
Utah where two recent cases have resulted in polygamy-related