May 2nd, 2008
11:58 AM ET

Children of Polygamy: Broken Bones, Broken Spirits?

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/04/23/book.292.320.jessop.jpg caption="Copyright © 2007 by Visionary Classics, LLC From the book Escape by Carolyn Jessop, co-author Laura Palmer, published by Broadway Books, a division of Random House, Inc. Reprinted with permission." width=292 height=320]

Carolyn Jessop
Former FLDS Member/Co-Author with Laura Palmer of ESCAPE

Editor’s Note: Child Protective Services (CPS) in Texas this week reported that 41 of the young children removed from the compound of the polygamist FLDS sect in Texas had had broken bones, nearly 10 percent. That’s far higher than the 1 percent among children in the US general population. An FLDS lawyer questioned the CPS report and called its release "unethical." However, Carolyn Jessop, who was married to the man now running the sect, says corporal punishment of children in the FLDS was common and sometimes severe enough to break bones, and access to doctors was strictly limited. Here is an account from her best-selling book:
One night after we were both asleep, Merril called prayers. Our children were pulled out of bed and ordered upstairs to pray. Wendell, Cathleen’s son, who was not quite two, was asleep in his crib. He was cranky and fussy after he woke up. Merril told Barbara to take Wendell into the next room and discipline him.   

Barbara took Wendell into the room where she had beaten Patrick and let him have it. When Barbara beat a baby she would typically spank him until he was blue in the face from screaming. Then she would stop, order the baby to stop screaming, and start beating him again when the hysterical child continued to scream. Eventually the baby would collapse from exhaustion when he was too weak to cry. 

Wendell’s pitiful screams went on into the night. Everyone at prayers was required to wait until Barbara returned. But when she didn’t return, Cathleen’s other children were ordered to bed. None of them dared wake up Cathleen to tell her what was happening to Wendell.   

Barbara took Wendell into Cathleen’s bedroom and laid him beside her.   

Cathleen awoke when she heard Barbara’s voice. “Wendell will grow up and do what his father needs him to do. Wendell will be a good man some day.”   

Cathleen bolted up in bed and asked Barbara what she was doing.   

Barbara continued stroking Wendell and saying, “Good night, Wendell, you will learn from these lessons how to be a good man.”   

Then Barbara left the room.   

Cathleen looked at her small son and saw how battered and bruised he was. His clothes were still soaked from his tears and sweat. Cathleen awakened her other children and asked them to tell her what had happened. At first they were too terrified to tell. But she persisted and heard about the call to prayer and the attack on Wendell. Her children told her they saw Barbara take Wendell into another room and heard him screaming after she shut the door.   

Cathleen walked into Barbara’s bedroom where she was relaxing.   

“Don’t you ever touch one of my children again,” she said.   

Barbara sat up in bed and shot back. “Cathleen, you are out of order and you know it. I was only doing the will of my priesthood head. For you to question is pure rebellion.”   

“Barbara, we have nothing to communicate about. I’m warning you that you had better never touch one of my children ever again.”   

Cathleen left and locked herself into her bedroom. Her room connected to her children’s nursery. She locked the door that led into their room, too.   

Barbara went immediately upstairs to Merril’s office and told him what Cathleen had said. She returned to her bedroom. Merril stood outside Cathleen’s room and began pounding on her door.   

Cathleen did not respond.   

Merril was shouting outside her door. “You’re in serious trouble and if you know what is good for you then you will open this door before I break it down.”   

“Do whatever you want. I’m not going to talk to you,” Cathleen replied.   

Merril went and banged on the door to the children’s nursery. Cathleen’s children were too terrified to refuse their father’s commands. They opened the door.

He barged into Cathleen’s bedroom and ordered her into his office. “Cathleen, if you are going to challenge Barbara when she acts on my orders, then you will have to face consequences.”   

Cathleen refused to get out of bed.   

“Merril, I’m not going anywhere with you. You better leave now.”   

Merril grabbed Cathleen and threw her on the floor. Her son, Johnson, was sleeping in her recliner and woke up screaming.   

“Leave now, Merril. Get out of here.”   

Merril threw her back on the floor, but this time even harder.   

Her children were screaming from the nursery, “Go with Father, please, please.”   

Merril grabbed Johnson from the recliner and threw him into the nursery and locked the door. Johnson was a shy child who had always been terrified of Merril. Merril berated Cathleen for upsetting her children. Cathleen’s daughters were screaming in the nursery. Wendell, who had fallen asleep, started whimpering again.   

Cathleen knew she was out of options. “Merril, if you will allow me to take Wendell to Sara, I will go to your office.” Sara was Cathleen’s eldest daughter.   

Merril screamed at her for hours in his office. He told her that she was never, under any conditions, to sass Barbara. The next morning when Cathleen awakened me for coffee, her eyes were swollen and red. She told me everything her children had told her about what happened to Wendell the night before.   

“Carolyn, Merril can batter me and berate me. But I am not going to allow Barbara to hurt my children. I’m going to see Warren.”   

I warned her against that. I told her about the seventeen-page letter I had given to Warren Jeffs documenting Merril’s abuse. I explained how Warren had discounted my charges because I failed to confess my own sins of immorality.   

Cathleen latched on to that in the wrong way. She suddenly thought that if she confessed her sins to the prophet, then he would help her.   

I felt sick. “Cathleen, that was only an excuse. Warren needed a reason not to help me. The reality is he never intended to. He will do everything he can to cover up Merril’s abuse.”   

She was unshakable in her conviction that if she told Warren the truth about her sins, he would respond to her honesty with help and protection.   

“I’m going to ask Warren for help. I do have sins.” And she proceeded to tell me about a wrong that she had committed.   

I begged her not to confess that wrong to Warren Jeffs. “Cathleen, don’t do it. He will eat you for lunch. If you really want to confess, confess to things like not picking up paper from the floor. Don’t give him anything to use against you.”   

But Cathleen was still a true believer. “If I want his help, I need to be honest.”   I knew she was doomed. There was no way she would get any help from Warren Jeffs. Confessing to a sin like that would give him power to condemn her to hell.   

Cathleen made an appointment to see Warren. He heard another of Merril Jessop’s wives talk about his abusive behavior toward her.   

Cathleen didn’t say much when she came back. She looked spent. She became more obedient to Barbara. Merril told her there would be no forgiveness for her rebellion and instructed her to turn over her small yellow truck to him. She would not be allowed to have her own transportation again. (Some of us had our own cars and vans, but most of us were not allowed to register them and they had no license plates. So if we left the community, we could not travel far without being stopped by the police. Cathleen needed her truck to go back and forth to Page, so hers was one of the few vehicles that was registered.)   

Merril also ordered Cathleen to turn over all her paychecks to him. But she told me later she had no intention of doing that. “There is no way I’ll put myself at his mercy financially,” she said. But I knew Barbara would insist that she did.   

Cathleen told me that she was going to make amends to Barbara by working on a project with her: cleaning Merril’s office. This was the way they were to learn to love each other again as sister wives. 

Filed under: Barclay Palmer • Carolyn Jessop • FLDS update • Polygamy
soundoff (64 Responses)
  1. Marjorie

    Please don't blame the mothers for not defending their children. These women have been subject to continual emotional and psychological abuse which can make it nearly impossible for them to react in a way that most people would consider appropriate or instinctive. Most of these women are not bad or uncaring parents.

    We wonder how battered wives stay with (and often defend) their husbands. This is no different. The women and children on the ranch will need a great deal of counseling to overcome what they have been subjected to. I hope they are able to get it. Someone must intervene to break the cycle. If it needs to be the government, so be it.

    May 6, 2008 at 11:01 am |
  2. Rai

    The courage of this woman deserves an award. However the down right disgusting behavior at the hands of these men and the females who also carry out these disgusting acts deserve jail time and really much more.

    May 6, 2008 at 10:58 am |
  3. Nancy

    The 10% statistic for the FLDS children means that on the day the compound was raided, one out of every ten children had an unhealed broken bone. If you included the FLDS children who at some point in their young lives had a broken bone, the percentage would be far higher.

    May 6, 2008 at 10:28 am |
  4. James S. Minnesota

    This is why i do not really believe in religion.

    May 6, 2008 at 10:05 am |
  5. treasa

    i also read this book months ago after i read about it in the dentist's office. it's horrendous. i feel so bad for the children and the brainwashing of those women. i'm very glad carolyn jessop escaped with all 8 of her children, safely.

    May 6, 2008 at 10:00 am |
  6. Edward

    come on! Is this supposed to be something new? You know Texas authorities (and others)have known about this for a long long time. Could it be it's just too much trouble to do anything about it? Special rules and exemptions from laws for religious nuts! Of course the men know they have a good thing going... too good a thing going to give up all that sex.

    May 6, 2008 at 9:25 am |
  7. AL

    Where are all the adolescent boys??? CNN reports that the numbers of boys and girls under the age of 12 are about equal, but "there are only 17 boys aged 14 to 17 compared with the 53 girls in that age range." So, an even number of boys and girls are being born there but suddenly, right when they reach adolescence, the number of boys drops to less than HALF the number of girls. What are these people doing with all the boys??? Are they exiling them all or worse? I think CPS needs to get a thorough accounting of births, deaths, and ex-communications to determine exactly what kinds of atrocities are occurring here.

    May 6, 2008 at 9:22 am |
  8. Jennifer

    If you think the above account is disturbing, you should read the whole book. I just finished it over the weekend and felt so sick that this goes on, right under our noses. God has blessed Carolyn with the strength to flee abuse and being degraded. Women are equal and should be treated as such!

    May 6, 2008 at 9:15 am |
  9. Megan


    You claim people are parroting what the media is saying. Yes, for some that might be true and I do not pretend to be so ignorant of the past and other cultures that I do not see that under age marriage has been going on since forever. The underlying question is abuse ever right? Even in relation to religion?

    There are two Christian parents being put on trail because they prayed instead of taking their daughter to a hospital. Their daughter died. They do not believe in modern medicine, but their daughter's life could have been saved. Should we wait around until one of those children is confirmed dead from a beating? Since the community is mostly OLD men do you ever wonder where the younger boys are? Where are they and their wives? And if you believe they should be able to hide their abuses and crimes behind the first amendment think of this: No other religion in America, that I know of, willfully violates the law like they do. They defied the laws of Texas and should be punished for it. Would you sit by so complacently if the priest of the Catholic Church said abusing little boys was part of their religion and we have the freedom of religion here? I really do not think so.

    May 6, 2008 at 8:45 am |
  10. Jane

    This is just so sad! I've been bothered by all this because for the life of me I can't understand why the authorities sit back and don't arrest these people. They have been committing a known crime for years. If you or I had more than one spouse we would be arrested on the spot. Why do they allow this to go on. That is not the only crime. Sex with a minor is also illegal even if it is not found as "rape", it is still against the law. They simply need to enforce the laws that are already on the books instead of just sitting back and letting it all exist while they close their eyes. Even if the "abuse" is unfounded there are still a couple of laws that can and should throw these people in jail.

    They clearly don't have the same God! This isn't a religion its a cult. My God would not stand for the abuse and controling behavior of these men. God is about love, compassion, kindness and respect. None of which these people have or exhibit.

    May 6, 2008 at 8:15 am |
  11. El

    People look for anything – something – that makes sense in difficult times. For those people who idealize the past, that includes fundamentalist religions. Everything they do, from wearing the pioneer women's clothing to living in communal and isolated places is a way of 'escaping' the modern world....

    Clearly from this book the abuses of the modern (and, sadly, old world) still exist...without modern moderators such as teachers, community leaders, etc to protect the rights and needs of children. Someone asked why women stay – they stay because they have no education, few options, and children – some of which have already been told that Mommy is 'bad' becuse she defys Daddy. WIth a megalomaniac like Jeffs leading this group, and indoctrinated members following like sheep, it becomes morally imperative that we as outsiders and other Americans, do what we can to protect those innocent. My thoughs are with anybody involved in this awful case in Texas...maybe eventually the children can recover.

    May 6, 2008 at 7:23 am |
  12. Paula

    How could they do that to a small child?
    It's frightening to think that this kind of thing is still happening in the world.
    Best wishes to you.

    May 6, 2008 at 5:43 am |
  13. tash

    I really do this this cult should be closed down and the poor mothers and children sould be placed back in to society ......... the " husbands " sould be placeced into prision where they belong for rape and childabuse !!!!!!!!

    May 6, 2008 at 3:35 am |
  14. meaghan

    I recently read this book, and believe it to be true. I applaud Carolyn for leaving and pressing the attorney general in Utah to hear her.
    This cult has many issues, abuses in the name of "heavenly father", "bleeding the beast"....criminal seems like a nice word to use.
    I agree with Clydene, anyone who has a beating heart should be writing to the attorney general's of Arizona and Utah, demanding that this "city" be investigated. Two years ago, when Jon Quinones went to the city, the police chief showed up and demanded the filming stop and the filming crew had to leave...that was 2 years ago!!! People wake up, write your letters and spend the money on a stamp!
    This is appalling, it is not religious persecution...it is our responsiblity to protect religious freedom, but holding those accountable that use religion as a front for crime-on many levels.
    Praise be to God that this is being shown for what it is, and now anyone who has a conscience, get writing!!!!
    BTW, is it a coincidence that Utah has not investigated this town, or would it reveal more "sealed" marriages in Salt Lake?

    May 6, 2008 at 3:13 am |
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