Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Killing for God

The Wives

Joel (top) & Ervil LeBaron as youngsters
Joel (top) & Ervil LeBaron as youngsters

In Mexico, the family started its own settlement, called Colonia LeBaron. There they eked out an existence as subsistence farmers. As a child, Ervil worked in the fields alongside the brothers he'd later want to kill. As a young adult, he traveled with his brothers throughout Mexico, seeking to win converts to the family's polygamous brand of Mormonism.

Before Alma died in 1951, he passed his ministry on to his son Joel, who incorporated the "Church of the First-Born of the Fulnes (sic) of Time" in Salt Lake City. Ervil was his big brother's right-hand man.

The proselytizing efforts worked, and the colony grew. They opened a nursery and primary school as well as a community kitchen and laundry. Ervil drew up the work schedules, deciding who did what on the communal farm.

Prophet of Blood
Prophet of Blood

According to Ben Bradlee Jr. and Dale Van Atta in Prophet of Blood, Firstborners viewed the soft-spoken, considerate Joel as "saintly," although Ervil was anything but. Unlike his brother, Ervil rarely lifted a hand to participate in physical labor, saying it was his job as a spiritual leader to study scripture and pray instead.

This didn't wash with some Firstborners, who started gossiping about Ervil's penchant for expensive clothes, flashy cars, and women.

Ervil LeBaron as a young man
Ervil LeBaron as a young man

As a young man, Ervil LeBaron was handsome in a hyper-masculine way. He stood 6'4 and had a square jaw and a strong nose. His hair was thick and sandy brown, his eyes were a penetrating blue. In addition to his physical charms, Ervil projected an air of confidence. He leaned into people as he spoke to them, his eyes boring into theirs as he quoted at length from both the book of Mormon and the Bible.

His masculinity and high position in the colony hierarchy made women desire him, and Ervil desired them back. He was a sexual carnivore, doggedly pursuing married women, sisters, pre-pubescent girls and middle-aged matrons alike. He would tell each one that God had told him to marry her.

One of Ervil's twisted beliefs was that the Virgin Mary had become the mother of Christ at age fourteen, and it was therefore acceptable for him to take adolescent girls as wives, according to Bradlee and Van Atta. The colony joyfully supported their leader's pedophilia by giving him their young daughters as brides.

"If you're going to raise up a generation in a plural marriage, it is very important not to let young girls get romanticized in the worldly sense," a woman who married her 13-year-old daughter to Ervil told the authors.

Although his adolescent brides were more interested in playground flirtations with boys their age, their parents convinced them that great rewards awaited them in Heaven if they consented to the marriage.

He was an ardent suitor, but Ervil was a coolly indifferent husband and father. In Colonia LeBaron, women were babymakers and caretakers, banished to the periphery while men made the important decisions. More often than not, he acted as if his wives were a necessary nuisance. Their wombs served to produce more church members – the children who would later become his footsoldiers.

Some of Ervil's 13 wives eventually grew weary of living in the Mormon harem and left him, taking their children back to the United States. Others stayed by his side to the bitter end. Two killed for him. And two died because of him.

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