Photo provided by Patrick Dove/The Salt Lake Tribune

Dispatches From Short Creek 

Two years have passed since FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs was convicted on two counts of felony child sexual assault. And, while he serves a life sentence in a Texas prison cell, the polygamous community of Short Creek—made up of twin towns Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.—is finding its way through property battles, crumbling families and keeping the faith.

Cellblock Edicts

Ousted Jeffs’ followers report he continues to issue commandments from behind prison walls. Members have purportedly been expelled from the faith, ordered to survive on beans and water, turn over their cars to the church and drop out of school to build Jeffs a palatial compound. But, says Salt Lake Tribune polygamy reporter Jim Dalrymple II, verifying the edicts are being carried out is a different matter. “It’s wise to frame those as rumors,” he says. “People on the inside aren’t dying to talk.”

A New Leader?

While thousands still adhere to Jeffs’ commands, more than 100 former followers have found leadership in “Uncle” William E. Jessop, who broke from the imprisoned prophet in 2011. His unnamed congregation sticks to FLDS principles, including plural marriage, but as he told the Tribune in February, “We do not want to do anything that breaks the law.” That means girls must be legal age before they marry and kids are encouraged to finish high school. Only time will tell if these guidelines are being followed.

Big Brother’s Watching

Tribune reporters documented 29 security cameras keeping watch over town on a recent visit to Short Creek. Willie Jessop, a former Jeffs’ follower and spokesman, told the paper the cameras are monitored by about 50 FLDS men and controlled by Jeffs’ brother, Lyle Jeffs, to keep an eye on community members and keep them in line with orders.

The Land Trust

The United Effort Plan, the FLDS founded trust owning much of the property in Short Creek, was taken over by the state in 2005. Now the Utah Attorney General’s office has come up with a plan to untangle Utah’s role. “In terms of legal proceedings, it’s the biggest thing going on right now,” Dalrymple says. The accountant assigned to oversee the multimilliondollar trust has gotten his first paycheck in years, which he’ll have to repay to the state from UEP funds, and plans to charge taxes and fees to people living in trust-owned homes.

High Bid, Low Blow

The mansion and sprawling compound an incarcerated Jeffs ordered followers to build changed hands in late April when former Jeffs’ hatchet man Willie Jessop snatched up the property at auction. Two bids—one for $2.5 million and another for $1.1 million—bought the grounds, three homes, a Costco-sized warehouse, a row of apartments and a school. Dalrymple reports Jessop has said he’d like the purchase to benefit the community.

Back>>>Part 3 Living Outside the Law & Challenging Constitutionality 

Back>>>Other stories in our August 2013 issue