Rulon Jeffs
 
 
Rulon Jeffs, who died on Sunday aged 92, was leader of what is thought to be America's largest polygamous sect; he himself is said to have had anything between 19 and 75 wives.

The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), of which Jeffs was the head, is a breakaway branch of the Mormons, who abandoned polygamy in 1890.

The Fundamentalists, however, would not comply and, in 1929, they founded their own sect; as a result they were excommunicated by the Mormon church.

Jeffs, regarded by his 6,000-strong flock as a prophet, succeeded Leroy Johnson as leader in 1986, and immediately insisted that his rule was absolute. Some members wanted power invested in a council of seven priests, but Jeffs won this battle and promptly sent eviction notices to dissidents living on land owned by "his" church.

When the FLDS was formally incorporated in 1991, Jeffs was president and sole trustee, and he expected the church's members to submit to his authority: "I want to tell you," he once preached, "that the greatest freedom you can enjoy is in obedience."

While most of his followers lived in the communities of Colorado City and Hildale, on the border between Arizona and Utah, Jeffs preferred to reside in a compound at Little Cottonwood Canyon in Salt Lake County.

His house - with its 23 bedrooms, two kitchens and 10 baths - was not large when you consider the number of marriage partners he had to accommodate. The kitchens were fitted with industrial-sized fridges.

Each wife had her own bedroom, every one of which was decorated with the same picture of Jeffs. There was another house (22 rooms) next door, and also a private school called Alta Academy.

Two years ago Jeffs told his congregations at Colorado City and Hildale to withdraw their children from the local schools and teach them at home.

When schools reconvened after the summer holiday, 350 children turned up out of an expected 1,400. More than half Colorado City's teaching staff were members of Jeffs's church and failed to report for work.

Jeffs's critics maintained at the time that he was anticipating the Second Coming, adding that in 1993 he had instructed his followers not to attend college, since "the End of Days" would antedate the completion of their degrees. Jeffs denied these accusations.

Rulon Jeffs was born in Utah in 1909, which was, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, "a peculiar time in Utah history; it was the sunset of polygamy as an accepted lifestyle".

Rulon's father, David Jeffs, was himself a polygamist who refused to accept the dictates of the mainstream Mormon church. But as a young man Rulon was an orthodox Mormon, rejecting the polygamous lifestyle of his father.

On his return to Salt Lake City from a Mormon mission to England, the young Jeffs found work with the Utah State Tax Commission. He also married the first of his many wives, Zola Brown.

He now became reconciled to his father, and began to espouse his beliefs. Zola was horrified - especially when Jeffs constructed a basement in the marital home to accommodate a second wife.

When he returned from a trip to the mountains and announced that God had showed him in a vision the woman he was to marry (a Utah shop assistant), Zola decided she had had enough.

They divorced in April 1941; two weeks later, the Mormons excommunicated Jeffs. How many more wives Jeffs acquired is not clear - estimates range from 19 to 75 - but one of them is said to have been 70 years his junior. He is believed to have fathered more than 60 children.

In 1944 Jeffs was briefly jailed at Salt Lake City after a round-up of local polygamists, but the case was dismissed.

Meanwhile, he was starting to put his expertise as a tax accountant to good use, setting up his own business. He also sat on the boards of several corporations and, in 1968, he founded Utah Tool & Die, which 30 years later had annual sales of $4.8 million.

According to one of his sons, who had left the FLDS church, Jeffs liked "Cadillacs and good furniture".

Rulon Jeffs is survived by many wives and by even more children. As he himself once put it: "The Lord has multiplied and blessed me a hundredfold, for which I am grateful."
 
Telegraph.co.uk
Originally published September 10, 2002
 
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