A Mex­ico mys­tery with many facets

Slay­ings of three Amer­i­cans prompt ar­rests of fugi­tive U.S. po­lyg­a­mist and oth­ers.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Pa­trick J. McDonnell pa­trick.mcdonnell @la­times.com Ce­cilia Sanchez of The Times’ Mex­ico City bureau con­trib­uted to this re­port.

MEX­ICO CITY — A fugi­tive po­lyg­a­mist from Ari­zona has been ar­rested with four wives and a “con­cu­bine” on the grounds of a con­ser­va­tive re­li­gious com­mu­nity in the north­ern Mex­i­can desert high­lands.

More than two dozen U.S. cit­i­zens, ap­par­ently dis­ci­ples of the po­lyg­a­mist’s “com­mune,” have been de­tained in the same ham­let in Mex­ico’s Chi­huahua state.

And it’s all linked to the slay­ings of three young Amer­i­cans, two of them sons of the po­lyg­a­mist, shot dead weeks ear­lier in a nearby ru­ral en­clave called “Black Ranch.”

Au­thor­i­ties say the po­lyg­a­mist is a sus­pect in the slay­ings.

The puz­zling crim­i­nal case — and its seem­ingly dis­parate el­e­ments — came to light last week­end as more than 100 Mex­i­can law en­force­ment per­son­nel de­scended on the po­lyg­a­mist’s com­pound, with as­sis­tance from the FBI and U.S. con­sular of­fi­cials, Chi­huahua state prose­cu­tors said.

Mex­i­can law en­force­ment au­thor­i­ties re­leased an ac­count of the raid that raised as many ques­tions as it an­swered. The U.S. Em­bassy in Mex­ico City and the State Depart­ment in Wash­ing­ton de­clined to com­ment.

At the cen­ter of the case is Or­son Wil­liam Black, 56, a for­mer mem­ber of a break­away Mor­mon sect. Black has been wanted in Ari­zona for al­most 15 years on five felony counts of sex­ual mis­con­duct in­volv­ing a pair of un­der­age sis­ters.

Black was ar­rested dur­ing last week­end’s raids, Mex­i­can au­thor­i­ties said, along with oth­ers de­scribed as four wives and one de­scribed as a con­cu­bine. A to­tal of 26 U.S. cit­i­zens taken into cus­tody may face de­por­ta­tion, Mex­i­can prose­cu­tors said.

Among them are two young women who have lived all their lives in Black’s com­mune, Ce­sar Peniche Espe­jel, Chi­huahua state at­tor­ney gen­eral, told re­porters this week.

In a bizarre twist, Mex­i­can au­thor­i­ties say po­lice also seized 65 pre­served ex­otic wildlife parts and pelts, among them lion-skin and bearskin rugs, a pair of ele­phant feet, stuffed birds and rem­nants of other crea­tures, in­clud­ing ze­bra and buf­falo heads. Au­thor­i­ties did not spec­ify whether the cache was a tro­phy col­lec­tion or had an­other pur­pose.

Black was placed in Mex­i­can fed­eral cus­tody on sus­pi­cion of “hu­man traf­fick­ing” and “pos­ses­sion of wildlife species,” state prose­cu­tors said.

Ac­cord­ing to Mex­i­can au­thor­i­ties, Black is also be­ing in­ves­ti­gated in con­nec­tion with the killings of the three Amer­i­cans — a boy and two men — whose bod­ies were dis­cov­ered Sept. 10 in Ran­cho El Ne­gro, or Black Ranch, about three miles from the site of last week­end’s raids. Black has not been for­mally charged in the killings.

Mex­i­can au­thor­i­ties iden­ti­fied the vic­tims only as Michael B., 15; Robert W.B., 19; and Jesse L.B., 23.

De­tails about the killings are sparse, but Mex­i­can news re­ports in­di­cate that the three were gunned down ex­e­cu­tion-style at the en­trance to a trailer home.

Some me­dia ac­counts have sug­gested that the trio shared the sur­name Black. But their ex­act re­la­tion to the de­tained po­lyg­a­mist has been un­clear.

On Wed­nes­day, how­ever, Felix Gon­za­lez, a spokesman for the Chi­huahua prose­cu­tor’s of­fice, con­firmed that two of the vic­tims — Michael B. and Robert W.B. — were Black’s sons. The parent­age of the third vic­tim, Jesse L.B., had not yet been as­cer­tained, Gon­za­lez said.

“The mo­tive has not been clar­i­fied and is still be­ing in­ves­ti­gated,” Gon­za­lez said of the killings.

The vic­tims were found on one of five area prop­er­ties owned by Black, the spokesman said.

The ranch where the slain men were found, like the set­tle­ment where Black was ar­rested, is sit­u­ated in the sprawl­ing Chi­huahua mu­nic­i­pal­ity of Cuauhte­moc, hub of the re­gion’s large Men­non­ite pop­u­la­tion.

It was un­clear why the ac­cused pe­dophile chose to hide out and set up his own po­lyg­a­mist com­mune amid land set­tled by agrar­ian Men­non­ite com­mu­ni­ties. The two groups would ap­pear to be un­likely neigh­bors. Men­non­ites, who be­gan set­tling in Mex­ico in the 1920s af­ter em­i­grat­ing from Canada, prac­tice a con­ser­va­tive, paci­fist Chris­tian faith that views marriage as a life­long monog­a­mous com­mit­ment be­tween a man and a woman.

Pho­tos re­leased by the Chi­huahua state at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice, which were ap­par­ently taken as Black was be­ing ar­rested, show a man iden­ti­fied as the po­lyg­a­mist: a bald­ish, be­spec­ta­cled fig­ure in a sleeve­less Tshirt. A rec­tan­gu­lar strip cov­ers his eyes in the pho­tos, as is cus­tom­ary in Mex­i­can mug shots dis­trib­uted to the press.

Black, who also goes by the name Larry Wil­liam Black, en­tered Mex­ico il­le­gally and lived with mem­bers of his com­mune on the five prop­er­ties that he had pur­chased within or in the vicin­ity of Men­non­ite set­tle­ments, Mex­i­can prose­cu­tors said.

Among other things, the at­tor­ney gen­eral said, in­ves­ti­ga­tors are try­ing to de­ter­mine how Black had ac­cess to funds to buy land and other as­sets dur­ing his time in Mex­ico.

Mex­i­can au­thor­i­ties also seized a dozen ve­hi­cles at Black’s com­pound, with both Mex­i­can and U.S. li­cense plates. Chi­huahua shares a long bor­der with Texas and New Mex­ico.

A U.S. fed­eral com­plaint against Black al­leges he en­tered Mex­ico in 2003 to avoid pros­e­cu­tion in Ari­zona on the sex­ual mis­con­duct charges.

Ari­zona news re­ports at the time in­di­cated that Black viewed him­self as a “prophet” or “ar­changel.”

Black, a for­mer res­i­dent of Colorado City, Ariz., was de­scribed as es­tranged from the Fun­da­men­tal­ist Church of Je­sus Christ of Lat­ter-day Saints, a Mor­mon splinter sect that en­dorses a form of polygamy.

Herika Martinez AFP/Getty Im­ages

OR­SON WIL­LIAM BLACK was placed in Mex­i­can fed­eral cus­tody, prose­cu­tors said. Au­thor­i­ties also seized ex­otic wildlife parts in a raid on his “com­mune.”

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