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LEBARON CHILDREN MAY BE KEY TO UNLOCKING ’87 SLAYING

SHARE LEBARON CHILDREN MAY BE KEY TO UNLOCKING ’87 SLAYING

It started out innocently enough: A family deer hunting trip in the mountains near Manti.

But it wasn't just any family. Nor was it just any hunting trip.The family was that of Daniel Ben Jordan, a polygamist cult leader who had offered haven to children of one-time rival Ervil LeBaron. And the Oct. 16, 1987, deer hunting trip may have been a ruse by members of LeBaron's violent Church of the Lamb of God to murder Jordan.

Two years later, county, state and federal investigators are looking for enough evidence to file murder charges in the case.

"I can't comment on the investigation other than to say the case is still under investigation," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Dave Schwendiman. "Our interest is the Jordan homicide, due to the fact it occurred on federal land."

The U.S. Attorney's Office, the FBI, the Sanpete County Sheriff's Office and the state Division of Investigations have all been investigating the case non-stop. Their cooperative investigation has led them to Arizona, Texas, Georgia, Illinois, Colorado, Mexico and numerous other out-of-state destinations detectives don't want to talk about.

Investigators say they know who ordered Jordan's killing and why it occurred. They believe they know who ordered the murders of three former cult members in Texas and an 8-year-old girl who happened to witness the killings.

Only they can't prove it.

Investigators are certain sons and daughters of Ervil LeBaron, as well as fanatical followers, are responsible for those murders, as well as the killings and disappearances of as many as 18 others.

Before Ervil died, he issued a list of people to be assassinated. Their crime? Unfaithfulness to Ervil and his teachings.

LeBaron organized the Church of the Lamb of God in 1971 in Mexico. It is one of many groups that advocate a return to polygamy, a practice banned by the LDS Church in 1890.

At the heart of the murder investigations are several younger children of Ervil LeBaron, the iron-fisted patriarch who promulgated his religion of revenge and retribution, often called "blood atonement," long before he ever went to prison.

LeBaron died in 1981 of a heart attack in the Utah State Prison. He had been serving a life sentence for the murder of rival polygamist leader Rulon Allred. His death has not stopped the killings.

The Jordan murder was one of several that have occurred in recent years involving rival polygamist leaders and cult defectors.

"We have a chart that looks like a football playbook we use to keep track of who is who and how they fit in to the whole thing," Schwendiman said. The flow chart also tries to sort out who the children are, from which mother they come and what sect they are affiliated with, if any.

Police believe the children may be the key to solving the Jordan murder in Utah and the four murders in Texas. "We followed them (children) around, lost them awhile, found them again, and now we've lost them again," Schwendiman said.

The last episode occurred Sept. 29 when six children, who were being held in Salt Lake area foster homes under a federal court order, disappeared the same day. Prosecutors had hoped they would testify before a federal grand jury as to who killed Daniel Ben Jordan.

Authorities are still looking for the children, though they admit there isn't much they can do to hold them if they are apprehended. Nor can they be forced to testify.

"They are just runaway children at this point," Schwendiman said. "We're always looking for them. We're always trying to talk to them."

With many of Ervil LeBaron's older children now in jail or prison, investigators are uncertain who is running the Church of the Lamb of God or who orchestrated the disappearance of the children.

"There are still a lot more children out there," Schwendiman said. "A number of them still live in Mexico. Ervil's got descendants all around, and we have no idea who is running the Ervil LeBaron side of the cult at this point."

It becomes even more confusing when investigators must consider that two of Ervil's brothers lead polygamous factions of their own.

Ervil LeBaron had 13 wives and 65 children that investigators know about. There could be more.

"It can get real confusing," Schwendiman said. "And when we deal with Mexico, our ability to attain information is greatly reduced. Even here (in the United States), we're dealing with an underground community and it's difficult to know what information is good information."

Investigators do know it was some of Ervil's younger children who appeared at Jordan's Colorado ranch in the fall of 1987, telling him they feared for their lives if they remained in the LeBaron cult. The children lived with Jordan several weeks and accompanied him to Utah for the 1987 deer hunt.

Investigators believe those children not only witnessed Jordan's murder, but worked in cooperation, perhaps unwittingly, with the assassins who carried it out. The children, who were questioned by Sanpete investigators at the scene of the crime, disappeared from Colorado foster homes shortly after the murder.

They were later discovered in Chicago and returned to Utah. All have appeared before the federal grand jury, but what they told the grand jury remains a secret.

It is commonly accepted the children refused to tell the grand jury anything to resolve the 2-year-old homicide case.

Other members of the cult in custody include:

-Patricia LeBaron, a daughter, and Linda Ray Johnson, one of Ervil's wives, who both pleaded guilty in a federal court in Chicago to a misdemeanor immigrations violation and are awaiting sentencing.

-Aaron LeBaron, a son, who is still in a Chicago jail awaiting trial in federal court on immigration charges.

-Heber LeBaron, a son; Doug Barlow, a stepson; Cynthia LeBaron, a daughter; Tarsa LeBaron, a daughter; and Richard LeBaron all pleaded guilty to auto theft-related charges in Arizona and have been sentenced to prison terms of various lengths. Heber LeBaron also has an outstanding warrant from Texas in connection with the holdup of a savings and loan there.