Who Is Warren Jeffs? A Look at the Infamous Polygamist’s Crimes

Who is Warren Jeffs and what crimes did he commit? With the release of the A&E documentary, Warren Jeffs: Prophet of Evil, everyone wants to know more about this controversial and disturbing story of religion, family, power, and abuse. Read on for details about the imprisoned spiritual leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS).

Who is Warren Jeffs?

Warren Steed Jeffs is not only the spiritual leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS). Some might describe him as a notorious polygamist; others have labelled him as a pathological abuser and cult leader.

He is now a convicted sex criminal.

Alleged victims from the FLDS, a sect that broke away from the Mormon church, are speaking out to reveal much more about the trail of wreckage that Jeffs has left behind in his wake.

Who Is Warren Jeffs? A Deeper Look

Warren Jeffs was born in Sacramento, California on December 3, 1955. He worked as a private school teacher and as an accountant. He acted as counselor to his father, who was the FLDS leader.

Warren Jeffs

Jeffs on trial; Photo: Douglas C. Pizac-Pool/Getty Images

He inherited leadership of the FLDS when his father, Rulon T. Jeffs, died in 2002 at the age of 92. On September 8, 2002, Warren Jeffs became the “President and Prophet, Seer and Revelator.”

The FLDS itself claims to have over 10,000 followers, who are mainly located in its base of Colorado City, Arizona and Hildale, Utah. There are also followers in Texas, South Dakota, Nevada, the Canadian province of British Colombia, and Mexico.

Jeffs relied upon a decades-old pattern of religious indoctrination in order to continually assert his own will upon his congregation of followers. The FLDS exercised nearly total control over its followers, making them give up all of their possessions and creating the United Effort Plan that owned their properties. There were also arbitrary rules based on misinterpretations of the Bible, such as forbidding followers to wear the color red.

However, the most glaring of the FLDS’s crimes was the way polygamy existed to disempower all members of the community. Warren Jeffs himself had over 50 wives and FLDS men were encouraged to have at least three wives each. The women—many no more than young girls when they were married off—did not have the power of choice over their spouse. They were coerced, manipulated, and forced to comply.

The threat of reassigning wives to other men within the FLDS or excommunicating members was a potent way to keep the membership in line. However, Jeffs’s control over the situation deteriorated as disenchanted former church members went to the authorities and the charges against him, mostly related to the forced marriages of minors, began to mount.

Warren Jeffs Arrested: The Grand Illusion Collapses

Jeffs was wanted by the FBI for sexual assault charges in 2002. It was in 2005 that he was indicted in Mohave County, Arizona on charges of arranging a marriage between a 16-year old girl and a 28-year-old man. His whereabouts were completely unknown to the authorities at that time.

The FBI placed Jeffs on their Most Wanted list, with a reward of $100,000, on May 6, 2006. On August 28, 2006, during a routine traffic stop of Jeffs’s red Cadillac Escalade in Las Vegas, he aroused a state trooper’s suspicion and was identified and arrested.

Rachel Jeffs, one of the prophet’s daughters, revealed the attitude of denial that was pervasive throughout the FLDS community at the time of Jeffs’ arrest. “Everybody just felt like it was religious persecution and that he was innocent and hadn’t done anything wrong,” she said.

Rachel Jeffs also alleged that her father had sexually abused her from the time that she was eight years old, when he exposed himself to her, until she was 16.

Even though Jeffs was now incarcerated, the legal wrangling to bring charges against him that would stick would take years and spread across different state jurisdictions.

In 2011, Jeffs was sentenced to life in prison for sexual assault of a child under the age of 14. He was also sentenced to 20 years for the sexual assault of a child under the age of 17. Although he was charged with counts of incest and rape, he was never convicted.

Warren Jeffs with an alleged child bride

Warren Jeffs with an alleged child bride; Photo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dDyUKvGhmaQ

The legal wrangling over various infractions and charges has yet to abate. In 2017, a court ordered Warren Jeffs to pay $16.0 million to Elissa Wall, a former bride who was 14 when she was forced to marry her 19-year-old cousin.

There is a sense of relief among many of Jeffs’ victims that he is sentenced to life in prison. However, the crimes he was convicted of do not reflect the full number of victims he created–or the extent of the damage that he caused.

When asked if she would ever pursue a claim against her father in court, Rachel Jeffs spoke clearly, understanding that she had the power to make her actions count: “He’s in prison for life. If there was a chance he got out, I would.”

Jeffs will come up for parole on July 22, 2038.

Although Jeffs resigned as president of the FLDS Church on November 20, 2007, many in the FLDS community still regard him as the spiritual leader and prophet to this day.