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Some still living in fear of polygamist’s hit list

FBI offering reward for Ervil LeBaron’s daughter

SHARE Some still living in fear of polygamist’s hit list

Brenda Jensen used to sleep with a gun under her pillow.

The Mesquite, Nev., woman says her family was on polygamist leader Ervil LeBaron's infamous "hit list." Her father even received a letter saying he would be killed.

"There was a letter that informed him he sinned beyond redemption and the only way he could be saved is by blood atonement," she recalls.

More than 25 years after LeBaron's death at the Utah State Prison, some people still live in fear of the list that reportedly ordered blood atonement for those who left his church or crossed him.

The FBI refuses to comment on whether LeBaron's hit list remains active.

"Naturally, whenever you know that there's a hit list that's been compiled for someone and you have followers, you would be concerned," FBI special agent Patricia Villafranca said. "The FBI is concerned."

Federal agents are still searching for the last link to those bloody years. The FBI's Houston office is offering a $20,000 reward for information that leads to the capture of one of its most wanted fugitives — Ervil's daughter, Jacqueline Tarsa LeBaron.

Legacy

Authorities said that, as the leader of the Church of the Lamb of God, Ervil LeBaron wrote a "bible" for his followers that preached anyone caught breaking his commandments was sentenced to death.

LeBaron, who had 13 wives and 54 children, sought to unite all of Utah's polygamous sects under one umbrella. Anyone who resisted his plans was met with violence.

In 1977, police said, LeBaron ordered the assassination of a rival polygamist leader, Rulon C. Allred. LeBaron eventually was captured, convicted and sentenced to prison, where he died in his cell of a heart attack in 1981.

In the years after his death, there were a series of slayings and suspicious deaths involving about 30 former church members — including four slayings that Jacqueline Tarsa LeBaron is accused of helping plot.

On June 27, 1988, at approximately 4 p.m., four slayings were carried out simultaneously in Houston and Irving, Texas. All of the victims were killed by shotgun blasts to the head, including an 8-year-old girl who witnessed her father's slaying.

In 1992, six members of the LeBaron family were indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of murder, conspiracy to obstruct religious beliefs and racketeering. Five were convicted, but Jacqueline was not.

In the years since the slayings, William Heber LeBaron gave authorities information on his sister, which led to her placement on the FBI's Most Wanted list. In a testimonial posted on a Web site for "former Mormons," LeBaron said he has renounced his fanatical beliefs.

"Now that I am a Christian, I'm shocked and horrified by all the evil I did while in the cult," he wrote. "I know I was wrong in killing all those murderers who abused and terrorized us. The Word of God clearly states the vengeance belongs to God and that we are to obey the laws of the land. I see my sin very clearly now and have asked God to forgive me."

Paranoia?

Many believe the deaths were linked to scriptures Ervil LeBaron wrote preaching blood atonement. Rumors also have circulated about a hit list that went out of the prison, which led to the slayings.

"There's a paranoia out there," said Susan Ray Schmidt, who was once betrothed to Ervil LeBaron and, at age 15, ended up becoming the sixth wife of his brother, Verlan.

Verlan LeBaron died in a car crash in Mexico City on the same day Ervil died in prison. Schmidt believes it was merely an accident, but she said others in her family insist it was murder.

Schmidt, who now lives in Idaho and recently wrote a book titled "His Favorite Wife: Trapped in Polygamy," said she has spoken with people still in the LeBaron group. Some remain convinced they could be killed, even after all these years.

"There really is no way for them to know that it's something long in the past and that there's no such thing as an Ervil LeBaron hit list anymore," she said. "Anyone who carried it out is either long dead, locked up and repentant. It's a dead list."

Schmidt said she does not believe the list is still active. In fact, she said she has spoken to many of Ervil LeBaron's children who want nothing more than to get past those awful years.

Jensen said her husband, Kimball, was a bodyguard for some of the children who testified against Ervil LeBaron. Her father, Harold Blackmore, was also a member of a rival polygamous group. They were told by the FBI that they were on the list, she said.

Initially, Jensen said, she was worried. She took precautions. Now, Jensen said, she doesn't really worry about it because she refuses to live in fear.

"You're always on the list, and if there's someone out there that picks up that cause ... ," she said. "I've been asked a lot, 'Don't you feel afraid?' No, because I can't allow it to cripple me to the point where I can't do anything."

Tarsa

The FBI said it would like to end the fear and speculation by finally apprehending Jaqueline Tarsa LeBaron. There's now a $20,000 reward for any information that leads to her capture.

"Enough time had gone by, and we weren't getting any information," Villafranca said. "A reward would refresh people's memory."

LeBaron, who would be about 41, is believed to be hiding in Mexico. Her wanted poster lists 15 aliases and says she is known to wear disguises.

"There's a very good chance she's in Mexico," Villafranca said. "It is believed she is most likely in Mexico teaching English."

LeBaron is considered armed and dangerous. The FBI said anyone with information is urged to call their local FBI office or the Houston branch at 713-693-5000.


E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com