Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Mountain Meadows Massacre

The Murder of Parley Pratt

Parley P. Pratt was one of the most successful evangelists in the Mormon Church. Devoted to the faith, fiery, quick-witted and an adept debater, Pratt spent most of his time among the Gentiles, preaching the word of the prophets and encouraging converts to emigrate to Utah. On one of his many evangelical trips through California, he met and converted Mrs. Eleanor McLean, a mother of three children and wife of a jealous man.

In the early 1850s, Eleanor divorced her husband Hector. Unwilling to expose his children to a faith he despised, Hector sent the children to live with Eleanors parents in New Orleans. Eleanor traveled to Salt Lake City. In 1855, she became Parley Pratts twelfth wife. Parley, meanwhile, had returned east to continue his proselytizing.

When Eleanor learned that her children had made the trip around Cape Horn from San Francisco to New Orleans, she left Utah and met up with Parley. They plotted to remove the children from her parents home and take them back to Salt Lake City. Eleanor managed to convince her parents that she had left the Mormon church and spirited away the children before her family realized that this was just a ruse. Alerted to the deception, Hector McLean headed east and swore a criminal complaint against Parley for kidnapping and alienation of affection.

In 1857, Hector managed to track Parley and Eleanor to St. Louis, where he vowed to kill the man who had stolen his wife and children. Pratt, now alerted to the fact that Hector was on his trail, fled to the Oklahoma Territory, more fearful of McLeans wrath than the law. In the Indian territories, Pratt, who was not keeping a low profile, was seized by federal authorities and returned to Arkansas, where the nearest federal court was in session.

Taken to Arkansas in chains, with Hector McLean close behind, Parley was housed in the Crawford County jail. Shortly after Parleys first appearance before the court, the judge dismissed all charges against the apostle and, knowing Parleys life was in danger, secretly ordered a horse brought to the jail so Pratt could escape the wrath of McLean and the vengeful mob that had adopted his cause. The judge personally offered Pratt a weapon for his defense, but Parley refused. My trust is in God, he reportedly said.

The judges efforts and Parleys trust were not enough. Although Pratt had a head start, McLean tore after him and managed to catch the apostle near Alma, Arkansas, where he stabbed him to death.

McLean and his compatriots were never charged with any crime, although they were advised to leave Arkansas after boasting about killing the apostle. Eleanor McLean Pratt, minus her second husband and her children, managed to find her way back to Salt Lake City, where Parleys unpunished murder was greeted with despair and anger. Parley Pratt joined Joseph and Hyrum Smith as martyrs of the Church of Latter Day Saints, and added more fuel to the fire of bitterness and hatred the Mormons felt for American Gentiles.

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