Having brainwashed a whole town, Warren was a Latter-day Sinner...
He claimed to be God’s representative on Earth, but Warren Jeffs was no monk. Instead, he was an over-sexed scrawny man who lived as if he was the Almighty himself.
As Prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS), an off-shoot of the Mormon Church, he was supreme leader.
And God forbid if anyone crossed him.
In his mountain kingdom, straddling the border of Utah and Colorado, Jeffs amassed 10,000 followers, mainly through sheer conviction of belief and tremendous charisma.
He created a coterie of faithful male followers and used women to buy their loyalty.
He alone had the right to assign wives and ‘reassign’ them to more worthy followers if they displeased him.
The cult, which built the thriving town of Short Creek, practised polygamy, which is outlawed by official Mormonism.
They believed a man had to have at least three wives to achieve divine grace, and the more he had, the more blessed he was. Jeffs had 70 on the go and countless children.
He told his wives, ‘You have to know how to be excited sexually and to be exciting, to administer that comfort and strength. You have to be trained to do this.’
Jeffs banned TV and the internet, cutting his people off from the outside world.
In a series of trials beginning in 2006, brave women and children, who had escaped, told of sexual abuse and other offences by him.
In a final trial in August 2011, a Texas jury sentenced Jeffs, then 54, to life in prison, plus 20 years for sexual offences against two children – one of whom was his child bride.
One of his daughters, Rachel Jeffs, later accused him of repeatedly raping her.
You would think that his followers would be glad to be free. But Short Creek is dying. People have lost jobs, their homes and are living in poverty.
More than half of them have drifted away, but the rest stay because they don’t know where else to go.
Norma Richter, 51, was assigned to her husband when she was 20.
She has 11 children by him and shares him with five sister wives. Norma is one of an incredible 75 children born to her father and his eight wives – her own mother had 19 babies.
Yet Norma won’t have a word said against ‘Uncle Warren’.
‘I love him, and I know only good about him. He’s very loving and caring,’ she sobbed.
‘It hurts to think that anybody could see bad in him. I know the real man and he’s had a lot of things said that don’t hold true.’
But a former member of the church, Lamont Barlow, is one of the voices speaking out against Jeffs and is trying to get through to those people he brainwashed.
‘He’s a narcissistic sicko,’ he said.
Lamont remembers a time before Jeffs took over. ‘We had TV and Christmas parties, we celebrated the 4th of July, but then the Jeffs regime came in,’ said Lamont, who was 16 when Jeffs succeeded his own father in 2002.
Lamont left at 23 and had to quickly adapt to a new terrifying life.
As well as getting to grips with the everyday things like buying fuel and shoes, and keeping a roof over his head, he’d lost his spiritual connection.
Outside of the church, he met his wife, Ashley, who is also an escapee of the cult.
But she missed her family so much that he agreed to move back to Short Creek with her.
Lamont’s goal is to create jobs, schools and health services.
‘What breaks my heart is that really good people have had their honest and sincere beliefs manipulated and used against them,’ he said.
But unbelievers like him face fierce opposition from Jeffs’s followers, many of whom have been evicted from their properties after the state of Utah seized the cult’s $100m estate.
For people like Norma, life without Jeffs to guide them is without meaning.
She insists she wasn’t brainwashed and imagines that he would be devastated to hear of the suffering of his people.
‘We were happier then,’ she said. ‘But it’s a test of my faith and I will endure it.’
Warren Jeffs had at least two child brides The supreme leader had multiple wives Warren Jeffs was sentenced to life in prison Norma Richter believes Jeffs is ‘loving and caring’