Utah polygamists say it is more than coincidence that an 8-year-old Texas girl and three ex-followers of Ervil LeBaron were murdered simultaneously Monday at the exact anniversary of the murder of LDS Church founder Joseph Smith.
Joseph Smith was killed by a mob in a jail at Carthage, Ill., on June 27, 1844. History books say it happened shortly after a 4 p.m. guard change.The four murders Monday - June 27 - also occurred about 4 p.m. at three Texas sites hundreds of miles apart. Eddie Marston, Mark Chynoweth and Duane Chynoweth - all once accused of being hit men for the late, violent polygamist LeBaron - plus Duane's daughter, Jennifer, were gunned down in the attacks.
"It's advertising by the murderers. They are trying to tell the world that they have Joseph Smith's birthright," said Ross Wesley LeBaron. The West Valley City man is a brother of Ervil LeBaron and says he is on the hit lists of his brother's ex-followers because of his claims to the same birthright.
The LeBaron family claims Joseph Smith secretly passed the right to lead his church to a man named Benjamin F. Johnson, who in turn passed it to the LeBaron family. Various family members have formed their own churches through the years and have fought violently about which one has authority.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that leadership keys were passed openly to the church's apostles, who have continued to preside over the church through the years.
Ross Wesley said: "The greatest statement ever was the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The symbol of him dying on the cross advertised that he was the savior of the world. These people are trying to make a big advertisement to the world about the LeBaron family."
Another Utah polygamist, who was afraid to have his name printed, said, "Joseph Smith's death came in part because of trouble caused by apostates. The murderers may have chosen to commit the murders when they did to show they are taking revenge now against apostates."
Polygamists interviewed said they believe the murderers are ex-followers of Ervil LeBaron who are killing people they feel betrayed their late leader.
The Chynoweths and Marston were once stalwart followers of Ervil but left his Church of the Lamb of God after he was convicted of the 1977 murder of rival polygamist Rulon Allred in Murray. Of note: Marston and Mark Chynoweth were charged in that same murder but were acquitted.
Two other one-time lieutenants of Ervil LeBaron have also been killed or have disappeared in the past year. Dan Jordan was murdered near Manti last October, and Leo P. Evoniuk disappeared in May 1987 from a California site scattered with bullet casings and blood.
Because of all that violence, Houston Police Sgt. J.W. Belk said several relatives of the Chynoweths and other ex-followers of Ervil have either gone into hiding or have been under temporary police protection.
Belk said police are also seeking to question three of Ervil's sons about the murders - Heber, Andrew and Aaron. A composite drawing of one of the suspects in the murders Monday looks vaguely like a bearded Heber, who Belk said is wanted for failing to show up at a Dallas court hearing in connection with a bank robbery.
Aaron was also arrested and charged last year - but later set free - after the funeral of Dan Jordan in Colorado when he reportedly brandished weapons at Jordan's family and claimed life-and-death control over it.
Belk said funeral plans are still being arranged for the murdered Chynoweths, but heavy police protection at them is likely. That is because followers of Ervil once planned an armed attack at the funeral of Rulon Allred but backed out when they saw heavy police protection. "We hope the same thing happens here," Belk said.
> A truck used in the Texas murders of ex-followers of polygamist Ervil LeBaron matches the description of a truck that disappeared in California last year along with Leo P. Evoniuk - a former LeBaron lieutenant.
Irving, Texas, Police Lt. K.L. Rowe said he was told that Evoniuk drove a dark-colored Chevrolet Silverado to a business meeting in California last year. Evoniuk and the truck have never been seen since. Foul play is suspected because a large amount of blood and bullet casings were found at the meeting site.
California police have not formally called the Evoniuk case a murder because his body was never found and because an associate once faked his death. Dan Jordan, another former LeBaron lieutenant, faked his death in a Mexican shoot-out but showed up alive years later. However, Jordan was murdered for real last October near Manti.