11 Nov 2010

Mormon polygamist's Book of Blood Atonement responsible for dozens of murders

Fox 13 News - Utah November 23, 2009

Some Still Fear Ervil LeBaron's Book of Blood Atonement

by Ben Winslow | Fox 13 News

SALT LAKE CITY - Convicted of murder, polygamist leader Ervil LeBaron died at the Utah State Prison in 1981. Curiously, dozens of people associated with the LeBarons died in the years before and after, as dictated by a book he wrote. The FBI has called it a sort-of "bible" for his followers.

To this day, some people still fear the book and its preachings of "blood atonement."

Irene Spencer met Ervil LeBaron in Mexico in 1953 when she became the second wife of his brother, Verlan. She said she watched as Ervil LeBaron took control of their polygamous church.

"Ervil was the one that got in, wanted to be the leader, wanted to be the king, wanted to take everybody's wives," she said in a recent interview with Fox 13 News.

In his Church of the Lamb of God, LeBaron sought to unite Utah's polygamist groups under one banner -- his. Those who stood in his way were killed. In 1977, two followers assassinated Dr. Rulon Allred, the leader of the Bluffdale-based Apostolic United Brethren (AUB). Afraid of his own brother, Verlan, his wives and children all went into hiding.

"Imagine the mafia coming after you every night," Spencer said. "I used to look at my children and wonder, do I run with the baby? Do I grab two and let the rest of them get killed and get shot?"

Ervil LeBaron was ultimately captured in 1979 and convicted of murder. He died in his cell of a heart attack in 1981.

"I was so thrilled to think after all these years of hiding and the pain and the heartache, to think that S-of-a-B was dead and gone... two days later, we get a phone call and find out my husband Verlan got killed in Mexico City in a car wreck," Spencer said.

Spencer said she believes her husband's death was an accident, but others don't. As the years went by, former church members and enemies of Ervil LeBaron died. Spencer counts 28.

"I'm always amazed when the LeBarons say there was an 'accident' and someone died," said Terry Clark, an assistant U.S. Attorney for Texas, in Houston. "I tend to think, from my understanding and dealing with them, they don't have accidents."

The deaths are believed to be tied to the "Book of the New Covenant." The FBI has called it a "bible" for LeBaron's followers, preaching that the only way to be redeemed is to spill blood. The 600-page book was smuggled out of the Utah State Prison and copies were distributed to family and followers.

"The historic roots of the family and the perverted doctrine it professed came straight out of the dark history of Utah and the religious heritage I share; that made it not only unique, but also quite disturbing," David Schwendiman, a former U.S. Attorney for Utah wrote in an e-mail interview with Fox 13 News. He is currently prosecuting war crimes in Bosnia.

"I've tried a lot of homicide cases, but this is the first time where I've seen a book where it outlined who was to be killed and why they are to be killed. And it's not just talk," Clark told Fox 13 News. "Many of these people have, in fact, been murdered by the LeBarons."

Clark said the book reads like the "maniacal ravings of a madman."

"But it's not," he said.

Former Salt Lake District Attorney David Yocum helped put Ervil LeBaron in prison and was on the hit-list.

"We were all very concerned that the followers out there might in fact carry out his wishes," Yocum said. "And we took precautions at the time. I got a concealed weapons permit."

The book was the catalyst for a series of bizarre killings carried out on June 27, 1988 -- four people murdered in Houston and Irving, Texas, at the same time -- at 4 p.m. Clark said they were killed because they were former members that had left the church who had been branded as a "son or daughter of perdition." Among the victims was 8-year-old Jenny Chynoweth.

"The killings in Texas were just absolutely astonishing as far as how they were carried out and the precision in which they were carried out," Yocum said. "It was obviously a professional hit."

Several of Ervil LeBaron's children were captured and convicted in the killings -- with one exception. Jacqueline Tarsa LeBaron is believed to be the mastermind behind the Four O'Clock murders.

"Of all the homicides that I've dealt with, this was the most well-thought out, well planned and well orchestrated that I've seen," Clark said. "I mean, they put the Sopranos or the mafia to shame the way they've structured the murders to occur."

Jacqueline LeBaron has numerous aliases. She speaks English and Spanish fluently and was last believed to be in Latin America. The most recent photograph of her was taken in Honduras in 2007. The FBI in Houston said she was traveling with her son, who would be about 12 now.

"She is still a fugitive. She should be found. It would be very interesting for a lot of reasons to bring her in if she can be found - more to find out what she's been doing since the Aaron and Heber cases ended and everyone on that line in the family, except her, who was criminally culpable for what was done went to prison," Schwendiman wrote.

The U.S. Attorney's Office for Texas in Houston told Fox 13 News that some of the witnesses in the LeBaron cases are still being protected.

"I think we have to be concerned with her still at large," Spencer said.

On a website for a Christian ministry, a LeBaron family member confessed to carrying out 10 murders. William Heber LeBaron asked for forgiveness from God and the families of his victims.

With the passage of time, Yocum said LeBaron's following has waned.

"It's always in the back of your mind, but I don't change my life. I don't live any differently than I did 20 years ago," he said.

When contacted by Fox 13 News, some former followers declined to be interviewed, saying they prefer to keep a low profile and still worry that someone pick up where Ervil LeBaron left off. Others said they didn't want to stir up the ghosts of the past.

"The Book of the New Covenant is not something to dismiss and authorities should know as much about it and its history as possible. Its something that in the wrong hands, or better, in the wrong minds can be and has been deadly," Schwendiman wrote.

Spencer has gone public, recently publishing a book about her life in hiding entitled "Cult Insanity." She has re-married and is a born-again Christian. She said some members of her family still won't tell her their whereabouts, afraid of Ervil LeBaron's followers.

"At what point do you think it stops, that people can stop looking over their shoulder, that you don't have to have that in the back of your mind?" Spencer was asked by Fox 13's Ben Winslow.

"Probably when I'm dead," she replied.

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