5 Nov 2010

New book by Mormon fundamentalist survivor: "Cult Insanity: A Memoir of Polygamy, Prophets, and Blood Atonement."

Lodi News-Sentinel California - August 22, 2009

'Cult Insanity': Woodbridge author tells story of survival and escape from her 'evil' brother-in-law

By Pam Bauserman | News-Sentinel Staff Writer

Irene Spencer, of Woodbridge, talks about her first book, "Shattered Dreams," which made the Top 10 of the New York Time's Best-Seller List. (Jennifer M. Howell/News-Sentinel)

As Irene listened to her pounding heart, thoughts of sleep vanished. Earlier that day, she had heard from her best friend, Linda, that Ervil's group would be there any minute to blast them with dynamite. She worried about her children.

Who would she grab if they had to flee for their lives?, she thought. Would she take the baby and leave the other nine children to fend for themselves? Who would she take and where would they go?

She knew she had to find a way to help them. The next morning, she walked to her friend Helen's house, which was three blocks away. She told Helen about her concern for her children's lives and the two devised a plan. Helen had a small feed room adjacent to the goat corrals, where they could hide at night. Shortly after dark, she sent out her tribe of kids by twos.

"Being quiet and keeping our hiding place a secret will keep us safe," she told them as each complained of being too fearful to go ahead without her. "I'll be right behind you. Don't be afraid."

Once in the shed, the smaller kids on the mattress and the others crowded onto the floor, she cautioned them to whisper. They didn't want to be discovered by anyone.

After praying to God for safety, she finally heard the sounds of slumber. Irene checked the mattress, making sure she had quick access to her shotgun. Her eyes were heavy with sleep, but her mind refused to settle down. She wished there was a way to run with her children far away. She wished they could go where no one would find them. It was a stressful, sleepless night. The next morning, she gathered her children and went back to her house before their safe haven was discovered. For two weeks, they followed this ritual, and each night she thanked God for one more day.

Thus began her journey of fleeing from one camp to another across Baja California, Mexico to escape from Ervil.

Irene Spencer, who lived a life as a polygamist's wife, tells the story of how she and her children fled for safety from her now deceased "evil" brother-in-law, Ervil LeBaron, in her new book, "Cult Insanity: A Memoir of Polygamy, Prophets, and Blood Atonement." On Tuesday, the 72-year-old Woodbridge resident is holding a release party at the Dancing Fox Winery on School Street.

This is Spencer's second book about her life as a polygamist's wife. Her first book, "Shattered Dreams," was published in 2007 and made it to No. 10 on the New York Times Best-Seller List. The book tells about her life in a polygamist fundamentalist Mormon sect for 28 years. It began in 1953 when she married Verlan LeBaron, whom she eventually shared with nine other women and mothered 14 of his 58 children. The story, she says, is only the beginning. She said her full story is much too long for just one book. She is in the process of writing seven more.

Spencer's book, "Cult Insanity," chronicles her experiences of living inside the LeBaron fundamentalist cult. Ervil LeBaron, whom she calls Mormon Manson, was a self-proclaimed prophet. He believed he had been called to set the house of God in order. All those who didn't follow him would be terrorized and put to death, she said.

Spencer added that the terror she witnessed included 28 friends and relatives he ordered to be put to death, including one of his own daughters.

"I was on his death list, too," she said. "It was terrible. Any day, I could have been put to death," she said.

Originally, Spencer wanted to title the book, "Deliver Us from Ervil."

For marketing reasons, she was advised to change the title to "Cult Insanity." She said she went on writing and thought, "This is an insane cult."

With her husband away working and eight of her 13 children still at home, she worried about who she would save. The children cried. They didn't dare go outside for fear of being seen. They couldn't sleep at night. The colony was constantly guarded. Even Spencer was on guard with a pistol close by at all times.

Spencer described the fear as such that functioning in everyday life was impossible.

"It was like you sitting there thinking that the Mafia was going to come and get you tonight," she said.

Spencer recounted a story in which the polygamist compound, Los Molinos, located in Baja California, Mexico, was going to be raided by Ervil LeBaron. Ten days prior to the event, she had a premonition to flee. She threw the kids into a truck and they fled to Ensenada. Ten days later, Ervil sent henchmen into the compound and threw Molotov bombs on all the houses.

"He targeted every one of Verlan's houses," she said.

"She would have been killed if she would not have followed her instincts," added her daughter Donna Goldberg, who at the age of 19 witnessed the terror along with her mother.

Spencer starts her day at 5 a.m. and writes until 8 a.m., while the mind is still fresh. Then she takes a break for a few hours, has lunch, and writes some more. Her favorite part of the day, she said, is answering her e-mails. She loves her fans and answers each one. Many of them write to her about an abusive husband, about depression or about wanting to give up in life.

"She can relate to everyone at some level," said her granddaughter, Brandy Biglow.

For the last year-and-a-half, Spencer has followed this ritual. She would just write and write and write by hand.

"All I did was write from my heart," she said.

As Spencer writes, her granddaughter types the manuscript into the computer. Biglow said she, her mother and grandmother are a team. Spencer says she couldn't have done it without either of them.

Goldberg, who says she is her mother's No. 1 cheerleader, knew from the beginning Spencer had a bestseller. She has done all of Spencer's PR. Biglow fixes the text and helps Spencer organize it chronologically.

"I couldn't have done it had it not been for her sweet spirit," said Spencer.

Never having lived the lifestyle herself, Biglow is learning about her family history through the book. Spencer said this is one of the reasons she is writing. She wants to pass history along to her grandchildren — all 123 of them. She wants them to know the truth.

"I feel it is so important. It's going to be such an eye-opener," she said.

She also wants people to know that abuse is abuse, even if it is under religion. She hopes to be that voice for women who are afraid to speak out.

"My heart goes out to all of my family and those unfortunate souls who were blood-atoned," she says in her book. "Their shed blood will continue to seep through the pages of history."

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