Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Killing for God

The End of Ervil

Ervil used many classic cult techniques to keep his followers in line, Rena writes. He isolated them by limiting their contact with people outside the church. He exhausted them with his hours-long sermons that broke down their mental resistance. He scared them by telling them that they were being hunted by religious and government assassins and that they would only survive by banding together.

The cult's children were normally pulled from school after fifth or sixth grade, because Ervil feared contact with secular playmates might prompt them to question their cloistered lifestyle. Knowledge of the outside world was a dangerous thing.

From age 10 onward, the children were put to work doing chores around the home or in the family business. Ultimately, they had nowhere else to turn once they came of age - no education, no skills, no network of support.

But when Ervil started killing, some of the cult members finally shook themselves from their stupor and realized their honcho was a certifiable nutcase. A few managed to tiptoe away from the cult houses and take their incriminating tales to the police. Eventually the law caught up with the cult killers.

Rena Chynoweth
Rena Chynoweth

At the Rulon Allred murder trial, Rena testified. A jury decided there was insufficient evidence to convict the sweet-faced gun-slinging teen and her cohorts in crime, and they walked free.

Vonda White didn't have the same luck. She was sentenced to life imprisonment on May 13, 1979 for the murder of Dean Vest.

And on June 1, 1979, the Mexican police finally captured the cultmaster himself, Ervil LeBaron. He'd been hiding in the mountains south of Mexico City. Anderson writes that Ervil was bruised and limping by the time Mexican cops shoved him across the international bridge at Laredo into the grip of waiting FBI agents; apparently the police had used him as a punching bag during the six-day trip to the U.S. border.

Ervil LeBaron
Ervil LeBaron

Ervil was held at the Salt Lake County jail until May 12, 1980, when he went on trial for masterminding Rulon Allred's murder. After a steady stream of ex-cult members testified against him, he was convicted of the crime and sentenced to life in prison at the Point of the Mountains State Prison in Draper, Utah.

Point of the Mountains State Prison
Point of the Mountains State Prison

But his imprisonment didn't end Ervil's appetite for vengeance. Caged as he was between steel bars and cement, he managed to write his magnum opus, the Book of the New Covenants, at a small desk in his cell. It was his last work, and it would be his most famous. He wrote furiously, scribbling until his fingers cramped and his eyes got blurry.

The 500-page screed contained a hit list of more than 50 people whom Ervil decided needed to be blood-atoned, among them cult defectors, police investigators, and prison officials. He distributed copies of the manuscript among his followers.

Ervil died in prison on August 16, 1981, of an apparent heart attack; prison guards found him keeled over in his cell, a hand clutching his throat. In an uncanny twist of fate, his brother Verlan was killed in a car crash in Mexico a few hours later.

If Ervil's death made everyone sleep a little easier at night, it shouldn't have. The Book of New Covenants contained a line of succession of men who were to carry on his "ministry" after he died.

One by one, the people on his hit list began to fall, as Ervil continued to orchestrate murderous mayhem from beyond the grave.

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