As the story goes, Warren Jeffs was not supposed to live.
On December 3, 1955, he was born premature to Marilyn Steed, the fourth wife of his father, Rulon Jeffs. He is one of dozens of siblings.
Jeffs grew up at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon, in a compound of homes that would later become the site of the Alta Academy, a private FLDS-run school.
The man who would become the FLDS Church's prophet was a bit of a nerd in high school. His 1972 yearbook at Jordan High School in Sandy shows a young man in a shirt and tie and horn-rimmed glasses. Graduating in 1973, Jeffs was one of the top students in the school academically. The Beetdigger's high school yearbook says Jeffs was in the top 10 percent and the top 3 percent of his class.Alumnus find it more than a little amusing that one of Jordan High's top 10 students is now on the FBI's top 10 list of wanted fugitives.
The Alta Academy
Working for his father as an accountant for a brief time, Jeffs later went on to teach at the Alta Academy. Former students and teachers said he taught math, history, church history and led devotionals every morning.
"He always complimented us on our special programs and cooking," said one former student, who asked not to be identified because of family members still within the FLDS Church. "I remember he was very good at math, and you could phone him at night if you were having trouble understanding the math homework."
But Jeffs was also known for harsh discipline and almost fanatical desire to control his students. Girls at the Alta Academy were chastised for "cuteness" and urged to "keep sweet" by not talking to boys. Bra straps were never to be shown and they were given strict instructions how to wear their hair.
"Warren would sneak up behind you and say into your ear, 'Are you staying sweet?' You never knew when Warren might be sneaking up behind you," the former student said.
Boys at the Alta Academy were reportedly subjected to beatings with yard sticks, pointers and leather belts.
"I witnessed Warren Jeffs taking a young second grader and hanging him upside down by the ankles in order to shake the evil out of him," the former student said.
Another student was Andrew Chatwin, who recalls standing up to Jeffs on more than one occasion.
"Me and him butted heads," Chatwin recalled. "I was driven out by Warren Jeffs."
Years later, as one of the original "Lost Boys," Chatwin would be booted from the polygamous border towns of Hildale and Colorado City. He has since returned with his wife, reclaimed his family home and has been serving property tax notices on homes on UEP land.
After years of teaching, Jeffs eventually became principal of the Alta Academy.
Yearbooks and photographs from the Alta Academy obtained by the Deseret Morning News show Jeffs playing with the students, praying with teachers and leading the chorus.
A 1993 videotape shows Jeffs as the master of ceremonies for children's programs performed for classmates and their polygamist parents. The tape was given to the Deseret Morning News by a source who still has family members within the FLDS Church.
"I want you young ones to be sure to be quiet. Don't talk out. Listen," he tells a room full of excited young children. "We always begin programs with prayer. Even in our fun, we remember Heavenly Father. That's what we want you to have today."
During the program, Jeffs pops out in a Groucho Marx nose and glasses, leading the children in songs.
In a sort-of school newspaper called the "Student Star," mimeographed on blue ink on low quality paper, Principal Jeffs issued admonitions to his students telling them to love God and remain faithful. Speaking of FLDS leader Leroy S. Johnson, he urged the children to "stand faithful and true in support."
"Above all other men on earth, follow this Prophet," Jeffs wrote. "Trust in this man, not because he is a man, but because God trusts him. Love and obey this man perfectly, not because he is a man, but because of the Heavenly Authority and Keys that he alone is entrusted with."
According to a lawsuit filed against him, Warren Jeffs was doing "God's work" when he sexually abused his 5-year-old nephew at the Alta Academy in the 1980s. Brent Jeffs claims in the lawsuit that he was pulled out of classes, taken to a nearby bathroom and then raped repeatedly by Warren Jeffs and his brothers.Brent Jeffs claims in his lawsuit he was threatened with "eternal damnation" if he were to ever tell of what happened. At age 21, he came forward, after his brother Clayne committed suicide. Jeffs claims his brother and other children at the Alta Academy were sexually abused by "Uncle Warren." The lawsuit is still pending.
In 1998, FLDS leader Rulon Jeffs reportedly received revelation that the 2002 Winter Olympics would usher in the destruction of Salt Lake City. He ordered his followers to leave the Salt Lake Valley and go to Hildale and Colorado City, the base of the FLDS Church's operations.
The Alta Academy closed, but Warren Jeffs became his father's right hand man in the polygamous border towns. He made decisions for his father when Rulon Jeffs became incapacitated by a series of strokes.
In 2000, Warren Jeffs told FLDS faithful to remove their children from public schools in Hildale and Colorado City. Two-thirds of the students disappeared overnight from the Colorado City Unified School District. At Phelps Elementary School in Hildale, enrollment got so low that the Washington County School District was forced to close it.
"President Jeffs wanted people to educate their children, and he encouraged us to pull together," then-Hildale Mayor Dan Barlow told the Deseret Morning News in 2002. He would later be kicked out of the church by Warren Jeffs.
On September 8, 2002, Rulon Jeffs passed away at the age of 92. He left behind somewhere between 19-to-75 wives and dozens of children. More than 5,000 people turned out to Hildale's mammoth Leroy S. Johnson Meeting Hall to mourn the passing of the man who encouraged his followers to "keep sweet forever."
"My constant message to my family is to keep sweet, and we have a heaven on earth. I suggest that for you, brethren," Rulon Jeffs said in a March 2002 sermon reprinted on his funeral program. "My family is united as one, and they all love me, and I love all of them, and I am constantly telling them 'Keep sweet no matter what.'"
At the funeral, Warren Jeffs spoke for his father. He dedicated his father's grave. He then took over his father's work as president and prophet of the FLDS Church.
Warren Jeffs' rise to power was meteoric, ex-FLDS members say. On his way up to the hierarchy of the church, he stepped on the backs of a number of high-ranking FLDS leaders to be No. 1.
One of them is Winston Blackmore.
The former number three man in the FLDS Church, Blackmore was known as the "Bishop of Bountiful." Blackmore ran the FLDS enclave in British Columbia and when he was ousted by Jeffs, half of the followers there remained loyal to him.
"It has now been three years since we were handled by Warren Jeffs," Blackmore wrote on his website. He blasted Jeffs for destroying families, the doctrine of the once-proud FLDS Church and blowing money on keeping himself on the run.
"The FLDS leadership are on the run and in hiding," Blackmore wrote. "Truly the once proud twin cities of the saints will be known as one of the waste places of Zion."Sources tell the Deseret Morning News that Blackmore has been cooperating with authorities in the manhunt for Warren Jeffs, as well as the current property tax fight over UEP land. A judge in Salt Lake City's 3rd District Court has said she will sign off on a plan to reform the trust.
'The Storm Clouds'
In 2003, Jeffs claimed to have received revelation from God about a monument erected in Colorado City, commemorating the 1953 raid on Short Creek, in which dozens of polygamists were jailed. A secretly recorded audiotape of the sermon was obtained by the Deseret Morning News.
"Verily I say unto you my servant Warren," Jeffs claims God said to him. "My people have sinned a very grievous sin before me, in that they have raised up monuments to man and have not glorified me."
Jeffs ordered his people to repent for "their idolatry" and had the monument destroyed.
He also cancelled Sunday meetings until further notice. In a priesthood sermon earlier that day, Jeffs told FLDS men to choose sides.
"There is only one side and that is the Lord's side," Jeffs said. The Deseret Morning News obtained an audiotape of the sermon, which was secretly recorded by an FLDS member.
Months later, dozens of men were kicked out of the church. Their wives and children were given to other men.Comment on this story
Jeffs appeared to know that a conflict was coming. In a secretly recorded priesthood sermon obtained by the Deseret Morning News, he proclaimed that only the Lord could protect them from the trials ahead."In the last moments ... the final preparation," Jeffs said. "The storm clouds are gathering against us."