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The Hunt For Warren Jeffs

May 15, 2006, 11:59 PM by Don Jorgensen

Photo: Warren Jeffs
Photo: Warren Jeffs

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He's a self proclaimed prophet and leader of the nation's largest polygamist sect.
But 51 year old Warren Jeffs, who is believed to have 50 wives, is also on the FBI's most wanted list.

Jeffs is the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a group that practices polygamy.

Among other charges, Jeffs is accused of conducting a plural marriage between a 16 year old girl and an older man.

Jeffs is on the run and hasn't been seen in public in more than two years. Some believe he could be hiding in a remote area of the Black Hills, in one of his six polygamist compounds.

Millions of people visit the Black Hills each year. But in the shadows of the evergreens is a place that's not on any tourist map.

compound 2

According to the FBI, behind these locked gates is a compound built by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints or FLDS, followers of polygamist Warren Jeffs.
The entire compound is surrounded by barbed wire fence, with signs warning no trespassing.

Neighbors, who talked with us on camera, say they haven't seen Jeffs, nor have they had any problems with the FLDS members.

"It makes you a little leary, but they've been really good neighbors, until they do something to make us go against them , we're going to be all for them," said Cheryl Hadlock, who lives adjacent to the compound.

Bob Shull occassionally sees FLDS members driving down the road, but has never been to the compound.

"I don't know what the hell they're doing over there, but I don't really care as long as they leave us alone."

But other neighbors tell a much different story. They didn't want to be interviewed but told us, they are afraid of what the FLDS members might do.

A former Jeffs follower, who was forced to marry her cousin when she was 16, escaped from the sect in 1986. Flora Jessop says neighbors in the Black Hills should be worried.

"I can tell the people of Pringle, South Dakota they're very close to home ground when these kids start their destruction it's going to start there, these boys their mission is to cleanse all the wicked off the North American continent so the second coming can happen, when that occurs he's had these boys in training with weapons, it's so bizarre," said Jessop.

Because you can't see the compound from the road, we flew over it in a small airplane.
There are two large, three-story cedar homes, one on each side of the road. There's also a large pole building. We saw tractors, back hoes, semis, and several other pieces of equipment.

On one side of the compound, logs and lumber are wrapped in plastic, possibly to construct even more buildings.

compound 1

We saw a woman in a long dress with a bag leave the house and walk to a vehicle, while another opened the window above her.

Even though Warren Jeffs is wanted by the FBI, local authorities say they have no reason to issue a search warrant, nor do they have any reason to believe Warren Jeffs is even here.

"In my job we have to deal in facts and the fact is we haven't had any substantial reports of anything, so we'll deal with that when and if that comes we'll deal with it in an appropriate manner," said Custer County Sheriff Phil Hespen.

The FBI is aware of the compound and is in close contact with the Custer County sheriff's office.

"I know for a fact just from knowing the FBI and Marshall Service Agency they diligently keep track of things, they just don't tell the public about it and they work very hard at what they do and they're good at it," said Sheriff Hespen.

But will they ever find Warren Jeffs?

"Do they want to? If you can find one cow with mad cow disease in the middle of a million cows, but you can't find a 6 foot 4 goofy looking SOB wandering around with women dressed like they're from the 18th century, how hard are they looking?" said Jessop.

"He will be caught at some point, so that's the name of the game," said Sheriff Hespen.
A game some believe will end in violence.

"I think they will and I think that it's going to end up in a very serious blood bath," said Jessop.

The FBI is offering a $100-thousand dollar reward for information leading to Jeffs' arrest.
Utah authorities have just filed new charges against Jeffs for unlawful flight, giving authorities one more reason to hold him if he's ever caught.

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