Polygamist Owen Allred dies

Longtime AUB church leader, 91, had been on house arrest

Published: Thursday, Feb. 17 2005 12:46 p.m. MST

BLUFFDALE — The leader of a prominent Utah polygamous group died Monday night.

Owen Allred, 91, died just under two hours after he left the hospital and was taken off life support Monday night, his son, Carl Allred, said Tuesday.

As leader of the Apostolic United Brethren polygamous church, Allred taught followers to obey all the laws of the land, except for one — polygamy.

"We have nothing to hide," said another son, Larry Allred. "Papa taught us honesty, integrity, truthfulness and moral standards. We're here to obey the laws of the land, except that."

In the late '90s, Allred publicly condemned other polygamous groups that fostered abuse and other crimes. Again, a few months ago, Allred told the Utah Attorney General's Office that he would continue to instruct church leaders and members to report child abuse, domestic violence and other crimes.

"Even though we didn't agree on everything, Mr. Allred showed that it was possible for a fundamentalist leader to serve his people and cooperate with the government," said Paul Murphy, spokesman for the Utah Attorney General's Office.

The religious leader had fallen and broken a hip about 10 days ago while walking in his Bluffdale home at night, Carl Allred said. Since then, Allred had been in the hospital on a respirator until Monday night, when his family followed his wishes and took him home.

Allred had been confined to a wheelchair on house arrest for the past year-and-a-half in frail condition, Carl Allred said.

"There were a lot of people that respected him and loved him as a religious leader," Larry Allred said. "Father has taken the fall for many, many, many people. Like a loving father, a loving religious leader, he's taken the fall."

In preparation for his passing, the group named J. LaMoine Jensen as Allred's successor last year, said Dave Watson, a member of the church's presiding council.

Jensen has been a member of the presiding council for 36 years, Watson said. A former member of the group said Jensen got the leadership nod over a presiding council member with more seniority.

"There might be a power struggle that is yet to be seen," said John Llewellyn, who left the AUB in 1994 after 20 years with the group.

In recent years, it has been mostly quiet on the Bluffdale front, where the West's largest polygamous clan has lived at the edge of the growing Salt Lake Valley.

But the late 1990s marked a period of unusual openness and public attention for the octogenarian, then in charge of the 5,000-member AUB.

The spotlight on Owen Allred followed renewed attention to the topic of polygamy, kick-started in the spring of 1998 when several former polygamist women formed "Tapestry of Polygamy." They revealed details of systemic abuses in all of the state's largest polygamous communities, including Allred's AUB.

A flurry of polygamy-related news dotted newspaper front pages during that time.

First, responding to questions from reporters at a monthly televised news conference, former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt acknowledged plural marriages in his family tree and the tradition of polygamy in Utah.

"For the most part, they are very hard-working, good people," Leavitt said. He also reaffirmed polygamists' rights to religious freedoms.

Later that summer, Owen Allred called a press conference to denounce abuses within polygamous cultures and distinguish his group from others.

The then-84-year-old leader wrote letters to newspapers and members of the Utah Legislature, lauding efforts to raise the minimum marriage age from 14 to 16 and reasserting the group's adherence to all laws.

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