Under the banner of heav.., p.29

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, page 29

 

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith
 



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  Less than a year after he was incarcerated, Ervil was let out of jail. The official explanation was a “lack of evidence,” although everyone assumed that well-placed bribes had more to do with it. Within a few months of his release, he had a disobedient daughter killed, and shortly after that arranged the murder of Rulon Allred, whose followers Ervil coveted and hoped to convert to his own group, the Church of the Lamb of God.

  Ervil managed to remain a free man until 1979, when he was finally arrested in Mexico. He was extradited to the United States, convicted, and sentenced to life behind bars in the Utah State Prison at Point of the Mountain, in the same maximum-security facility where Dan Lafferty now resides. By 1981, as he began to understand that his prospects for ever getting out of the penitentiary were nil, Ervil became increasingly frantic and irrational. According to Rena Chynoweth, he “began having revelations of a miracle that would free him. He envisioned God's wrath striking down the prison walls like the walls of ancient Jericho, because the pagan temporal authorities dared to incarcerate God's Chosen Prophet and Revelator.”

  In August 1981, Ervil LeBaron was discovered dead in his cell at the age of fifty-six, felled by an apparent heart attack. Before succumbing, however, he had written a rambling four-hundred-page screed, oozing venom from every line, titled The Book of the New Covenants. The text was primarily a list of all those individuals who, in Ervil's view, had ever been disloyal to him and thus deserved to die. This catalog of hatred was accompanied by scathing, semicoherent descriptions of the precise nature of each betrayal. Essentially, the book was an overwrought hit list. Some twenty copies were published, most of which wound up in the possession of Ervil's most devoted followers.

  These fervent Lambs of God, as they called themselves, were largely drawn from among Ervil's fifty-four children—progeny who remained fanatically devoted to their father long after his death. Led by a son named Aaron LeBaron who was just thirteen when Ervil died, this gang of boys, girls, and young adults—most of whom had been physically and/or sexually abused by older members of the sect and then abandoned—resolved to avenge Ervil's death by systematically spilling the blood of the persons listed in The Book of the New Covenants. A prosecutor assigned to the case referred to this pack of parentless kids as the LeBaron clan's “Lord of the Flies generation.”

  Two men on the hit list were assassinated in 1987. Then, on June 27, 1988—the 144th anniversary of Joseph Smith's martyrdom—three more people on the list, along with the eight-year-old daughter of one of them, were ambushed and gunned down. These latter four murders, which occurred within five minutes of one another at different sites in Texas three hundred miles apart, were carefully planned to occur at almost the exact hour that Joseph was fatally shot in the Carthage jail. Afterward, the Lambs of God bragged that they were responsible for the deaths of seventeen people all told. Because each of their victims had been killed as an act of blood atonement, the Lambs explained, the exterminations were justified in the eyes of the Lord.

  In 1993, two of Ervil's sons and one of his daughters were sentenced to life in prison for their involvement in some of these crimes. Two years after that, Aaron LeBaron, the mastermind of the gang, was captured in Mexico, extradited to Utah, and in 1997 sentenced to forty-five years in prison. The whereabouts of several other LeBaron offspring, who played lesser roles in the murders, remain unknown.

  The Mormon presence in Mexico, which remains strong even today, goes back to 1886, when a group of polygamous Saints purchased fifty thousand acres along the Rio Piedras Verdes, about 150 miles southwest of El Paso, Texas, to escape the cohab hunts then sweeping Utah. By the time the first of the LeBarons moved south of the border in 1902, thirty-five hundred Mormons were already residing in the vicinity of this settlement at the foot of the Sierra Madre Occidental, which was called Colonia Juárez.

  In 1944, Dayer LeBaron—father to Joel and Ervil—received a revelation in which God commanded him to buy a piece of mesquite-covered desert about thirty-five miles outside of Colonia Juárez. He cleared the land, planted a crop of beans, and christened the place Colonia LeBaron. It was soon the base of operations for Dayer's expanding fundamentalist sect.

  A cute teenager named Lavina Stubbs moved to Colonia LeBaron in 1958 after spending the first fifteen years of her life in Short Creek. The Stubbs family name was (and still is) one of the most prestigious pedigrees in Short Creek/Colorado City, but Lavina's father had a falling out with Uncle Roy, converted to the LeBaron group, and moved his brood to Mexico. A year later, at the tender age of sixteen, having caught the eye of Prophet Joel LeBaron, Lavina became one of his plural wives.

  “I was married to Joel for fourteen joyful years,” Lavina says. “He was an absolutely righteous man, one of the greatest men that ever lived.” Before moving away from Short Creek, Lavina's mother had wanted her to marry DeLoy Bateman's father, but the prophet commanded her to become the plural wife of someone else, whom she despised. “I was almost forced to marry a man there who I couldn't stand,” she recalls. “I got out by the skin of my teeth. It was a miracle that my father took us away when he did, and God allowed me to marry Joel instead.”

  In 1972, however, Joel was shot dead on Ervil's orders, and Lavina's life entered an extended rough stretch, from which it has yet to emerge. The worst of her heartache she attributes to Kenyon Blackmore—first cousin of Winston Blackmore, the erstwhile leader of the polygamist community in Bountiful, British Columbia. In 1983, Kenyon Blackmore married Joel and Lavina LeBaron's twenty-two-year-old daughter, Gwendolyn. The marriage not only brought out the worst in both partners, but it has injected misery into the life of almost every person it has touched.

  Among these unlucky souls is a Canadian woman named Annie Vandeveer Blackmore. When Kenyon Blackmore wed young Gwendolyn LeBaron, he was already married to Annie. At that point, in fact, Annie had been married to Kenyon for twenty-four years—yet he neglected to tell her that he had taken a second wife.

  “See that picture on the wall?” Annie asks with a sour smile, pointing to a framed cover of the September 29, 1956, issue of Canada's Weekend Magazine depicting a pair of beautiful seventeen-year-old cowgirls astride equally magnificent horses. “That was how I met Ken.” The two cowgirls are Annie and her twin sister, photographed on their family's ranch outside Winnipeg, Manitoba. Upon seeing this magazine cover, twenty-year-old Kenyon Blackmore—an avid horseman from a family of renowned polygamists in western Canada—resolved on the spot to marry at least one of the lovely twins.

  “When he come across this article,” Annie says, “he started to write us letters and became my pen pal. He was about to go on a mission to South Africa, but he wrote to me the whole time he was gone, and when he got home two years later he took a trip out to Winnipeg to see us. Six months later, in December 1959, Ken and me were married.” Exactly nine months after that, Annie gave birth to a baby girl, Lena, the first of seven children she would have with Kenyon, and they moved to Provo so he could attend Brigham Young University.

  In 1966, Kenyon took a teaching job in Bountiful. And there, as Annie phrases it, “he started pushing for marrying plural wives. Before we'd gotten married he'd told me about his polygamist relatives, but it didn't mean anything to me at the time. I'd only converted to Mormonism after meeting Ken. I didn't know much about polygamy or anything. I was just a farmer's daughter, a country girl from Manitoba.”

  Annie tried to approach the idea with an open mind. “I was raised to be a peacemaker,” she says. “My whole life I tried to please him, to do whatever he wanted. But I just couldn't accept plural marriage.” Annie's refusal to consent to polygamy didn't deter Kenyon, however. Openly and aggressively, he began to pursue a particularly alluring girl coveted by many men in Bountiful: Alaire, the adopted daughter of Kenyon's uncle Ray Blackmore, who was the community's presiding bishop. Kenyon's amorous advances, which had not been sanctioned by either the bishop in Bountiful or the prophet in Colorado City, enraged Ray, who ordered his sons to chase K
enyon out of town—after which Alaire was married to Ray, her own father.*

  For the next decade and a half Kenyon shuffled his growing family around western North America, scraping by as a ranch hand, a leather worker, and a carpenter, never settling in any one place for more than a year or two. Annie gradually began to understand, she says, that “the kids and I didn't mean that much to him. Ken did whatever he wanted, with whoever he wanted, whenever he wanted. He'd go away for weeks at a time, wouldn't ever call, wouldn't tell me where he was.”

  Annie and Kenyon's oldest child, Lena, who is now forty-two, confirms that he was a bad father. “Dad is a mean son of a bitch,” she says bluntly, “although it took me until I was in my thirties to really see who he was. He's a mean, mean man who doesn't care about anybody but himself.” Kenyon was physically abusive to all his children, but he was especially vicious to Lena. When she was eleven, he grabbed a heavy tractor fan belt and gave her a particularly brutal whipping, “for no reason at all that I could tell,” Lena remembers. “We were living in Las Cruces [New Mexico]. I still have the scars on the backs of my legs.”

  In the early 1980s, Kenyon's fortunes seemed to take an upward turn. He moved his family to the pious community of Salem, in Utah County, where he entered into a business partnership with an affable Mormon named Bernard Brady. Kenyon converted Brady to fundamentalism, the two men began selling shares in tax-sheltered financial trusts, and as a side venture they invested in the legendary Dream Mine, which dominated the mountainside above Salem. Soon millions of dollars were flowing into the Blackmore-Brady business account. Each man bought a lavish home below the Dream Mine. Life was good.

  During this period, Kenyon would make frequent sales trips, roaming across western North America in search of investors. In 1983, during one of these trips, he went to Mexico and secretly married Gwendolyn Stubbs LeBaron, the winsome daughter of Lavina Stubbs and the late Joel LeBaron.

  Around this time, as well, Kenyon introduced Bernard Brady to a longtime friend of his from Canada, the Prophet Onias, whom Kenyon had first met when he was working as a schoolteacher in Bountiful seventeen years earlier. Onias, who had just moved to Utah County in order to build his City of Refuge below the Dream Mine, was in the process of launching his School of the Prophets, and he invited Brady to join. Flattered and grateful, Brady returned the favor by recruiting into the school five brothers from an “outstanding” Utah County family: Tim, Watson, Mark, Dan, and Ron Lafferty. Not long thereafter, Kenyon's brief fling with good fortune came to a screeching halt.

  Brenda and Erica Lafferty were murdered in American Fork on July 24, 1984, and right away the police considered Kenyon Blackmore and Bernard Brady to be prime suspects, along with everyone else even remotely associated with the School of the Prophets. But law enforcement officers had actually become well acquainted with Brady and Blackmore long before the Lafferty murders: in 1983, a federal grand jury had indicted Blackmore, Brady, and nineteen other partners on multiple counts of fraud, charging them with bilking more than $32 million from thirty-eight hundred investors—a swindle described as a “classic Ponzi scheme” by the United States Attorney who prosecuted the case.*

  Among those who got burned in the scam was Blackmore's new mother-in-law, Lavina Stubbs LeBaron—Gwendolyn's mom. “Heaven sakes alive,” Lavina recalls, “I lost a lot of money in Kenyon's stupid money program. I sold my house and everything else, and gave all the money to him. Every cent of it disappeared.” Astonishingly, she doesn't blame Kenyon Blackmore for leaving her penniless. According to Lavina, he “meant well. He was trying to benefit all of us, but then the investments just turned bad or something. I wasn't mad at Ken, not for that. Not until he took my daughter and all my grandkids to Central America and did all those horrible things to them.”

  Kenyon's partner in crime, Bernard Brady, was arrested, tried, and eventually sent to federal prison for six years. But when Blackmore learned of the indictments, he opted to go into hiding instead of surrendering to the police. He ran straight to Mexico, where Gwendolyn and Lavina were waiting to shelter him in Colonia LeBaron.

  At this point Annie Blackmore, Kenyon's first wife, still knew nothing of Gwendolyn, the second wife. “God had commanded Ken not to tell me about her,” Annie says bitterly. “The only reason I found out he had married her is because I went down to Mexico to try and talk him into coming back to Utah.” It proved to be an exceedingly humiliating experience for Annie. Not only did she discover that Kenyon had a new wife who was the same age as their oldest daughter, but this young woman had just given birth to a baby daughter of her own with Kenyon. Delivered in Colonia LeBaron exactly three days before Dan Lafferty cut the throats of Brenda and Erica Lafferty, the little girl had been named Evangeline.

  After failing to persuade Kenyon to return to Utah with her, Annie went home alone, in utter shock. But she couldn't let herself give up on him. “I was committed to the marriage,” she says. “I didn't want to be a quitter.” So in January 1985 she went back to Mexico and again asked Kenyon to come home. And this time he agreed.

  As soon as he crossed the border into El Paso, Texas, however, Kenyon was surrounded by FBI agents and placed in handcuffs. A brother-in-law—one of the investors who had been swindled by Kenyon—had tipped them off. Seeing no alternative, following his arrest Kenyon entered into a plea bargain with the government and was incarcerated in a federal lockup in Tallahassee, Florida.

  After his release from prison in late 1991, Kenyon Blackmore returned to the town where he was born—Cardston, Alberta. Annie had given up on him by this point and filed for divorce, but Kenyon made an effort to reunite with their oldest daughter, Lena, in Cardston, the hub of Canadian Mormondom. Although Lena tried to give her father the benefit of the doubt, she wasn't comfortable around Gwendolyn, the wife who had supplanted her mother, or the two children Gwendolyn had had with Kenyon by this point. “It was disturbing to see how my dad and her were raising those kids,” Lena says. “They had them on some extremely weird natural diet. And Ken wouldn't let them use soap, or brush their teeth. The kids looked malnourished and smelled bad. My dad and his wife did too. They just stunk. It was disgusting.”

  Lena might have been able to put up with all that, but then her father stole her vehicle. “I had this nice new truck,” she says, “and I was having some financial difficulties. So Dad said he'd make the payments for me and pay the insurance if he could use it for a little while.” After driving off in Lena's truck, however, Kenyon didn't bother to make any of the promised payments, which she discovered only when the bank threatened to repossess it. Furious, she called the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who in turn alerted Kenyon's probation officer, and a warrant was issued for his arrest. “Ken discovered he'd bit into the wrong bone this time,” Lena says. Upon learning he was wanted by the law again, Kenyon fled south with Gwendolyn and their kids to his old hideaway, Colonia LeBaron.

  Back in Mexico, Kenyon married a third wife, who happened to be Gwendolyn's half sister. He departed Colonia LeBaron soon thereafter with both wives and all their children, and lit out across Central America. Over the years that followed he had four more children with each wife. He supported all these dependents, after a fashion, by doing odd jobs, selling natural foods, working as a massage therapist, and running petty scams. “He got money lots of different ways,” says Evangeline Blackmore, the oldest of the kids Ken had with Gwendolyn. Now a tall, blond, exotic-looking eighteen-year-old who speaks English with a trace of a Mexican accent, Evangeline explains that Kenyon “would buy and sell gold once in a while. When we were in Mexico he made saddles and other leather goods for Mexican cowboys. But mostly he would con people. My dad is a very good con artist.”

  Kenyon Blackmore had always subscribed to weird religious views, but they became notably more extreme after his release from prison, when he disappeared into the shadows of Central America with his two LeBaron wives. “The LeBarons seemed to encourage Dad's strange beliefs,” says Lena. “They were con
vinced he possessed God-like qualities. They would feed his fantasy, and he would feed theirs.”

  As he dragged his young wives and their pack of semiferal children back and forth across Central America, Kenyon received a series of revelations in which God told him that he was “the last prophet before the return of Jesus Christ.” God told him, in fact, that Jesus would come back to earth in the form of a child born of Kenyon's pure seed and his daughter's virgin womb. Heeding the Lord's commandment, in June 1996, on Evangeline's twelfth birthday, he took her as his wife—that is to say, he began raping her on a regular basis. According to Evangeline, her father believed that he should start having sexual intercourse with her when she turned twelve “because this is when Mary, the first mother of Jesus, was impregnated.” Kenyon was convinced, she says, that “nobody else's blood was good enough” to sire the Son of Man.

  When Kenyon forced himself on Evangeline, she remembers him telling her that “I was going to hell because I wasn't being submissive.” As she continued to resist, “he would throw me on the ground, punch me, and cover my mouth when I would try and scream.” Eventually, to keep from being beaten, she started yielding passively to her sixty-year-old father's incestuous assaults.

  “I was barely twelve years old,” Evangeline states with astounding composure. “I didn't know what was happening to me, but I knew I didn't like it. I felt gross. My father wouldn't allow me to have friends, or even talk to anybody.”

  During Evangeline's ordeal at her father's hands, Blackmore often fasted, and would force his family to fast along with him. “He was always going on liquid diets of pure orange juice, or lemon water,” says Evangeline. He came to believe that “if he makes his body pure enough, that he can move mountains, and walk through walls.” He also believed that almost everyone in the world except himself had been corrupted and was evil. Evangeline recalls Blackmore talking “about finding some innocent naive Indian tribe and converting them to his beliefs,” then systematically improving their blood by impregnating their women “with his own pure seed.”

 

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