NORMALIZATION: Towns looking to shake off Fundamentalist Mormon Church legacy

This is the second part of a two-part series by FOX 10 Phoenix's Matt Galka. The first part of the series aired on Monday, May 15.

To read the first part, click here.


The twin towns of Colorado City, Ariz. and Hildale, Utah were famous for a cult-like polygamous church, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which was led by Warren Jeffs.

Jeffs, who is said to have had more than 70 wives, is now in prison, and his land is being redistributed, thanks to a government-run charitable trust.

Together, Colorado City and Hildale are known as Short Creek, or "The Crick". The area has long been known for being the FLDS sect's home base. The majority of the property belong to the church, via the UEP (United Effort Plan) trust.

"Under Warren Jeffs' instructions, it was converted from a private trust to a charitable trust," said Jeff Barlow, the Executive Director of the UEP. "In the years after that, it began to be mismanaged quite severely."

Barlow said for years, those who left the sect would often end up having no place to live.

"From 1998 up until 2005, an excommunication from the Church came along with it an eviction from your home," said Barlow.

Thanks to the intervention of the Government of Utah, the UEP Trust has been reformed, with religious tests being eliminated. That meant people who left the FLDS sect and were kicked out of their homes, could start getting their property back.

"They only require three things: someone keep their property taxes paid, they have an occupancy agreement in place, and they pay $100 a month court-ordered occupancy fee," said Barlow.

Current members of the FLDS sect have been less then willing to comply, thanks to church orders. Many stopped paying property taxes, and were then evicted. Barlow's town map painted a picture of the problem, with blotches of red, purple, orange and yellow on it.

"All of the red and purple are four years delinquent," said Barlow. "All of the orange are three years, and the yellow is two."

Julie Jessop, along with her family, are part of the movement back in to "The Crick". She was part of the Church until she was 17, but left the community from 1996 to 2008.

"The first week being here, back in the house, was a roller coaster," said Jessop. "When I first came back, we were outsiders. Nobody talked to you or waved to you."

Jessop reclaimed her childhood home through the UEP Trust. She lived in the home with 50 family members, and her father was a very involved member of the Church, but even he was kicked out after Jeffs went to prison.

Jessop said her father was 89 at the time of the excommunication.

While many of Julie's family members still belong to the FLDS sect, but Jessop and her brother Marcus said they don't hold any ill will -- In fact, they got the house so that they can be there for the rest of the family, if and when the inevitable comes.

"We're not trying to force anything on them," said Marcus. "We want them to make their choices, but we want them to know that father's house is there for them. We just want them to know there is life after FLDS."

The community's road to being normal has led to the Colorado City Music Festival, which features folk music acts and vendors. Many said this is something that would never have happened, when the FLDS control "The Crick".

The event's coordinator, Tom Bennett, said he got the idea after visiting the area, and researched its history.

"This is a beautiful area, with a lot of people who grew up with music and culture, and in the recent years haven't been able to enjoy their surroundings and their neighbors," said Bennett.

Another part of the rebuilding process includes the reformation of Colorado City and Hildale's police force. This came after findings that non-church members were not being offered the same police service, when many officers were still members of the FLDS sect. The U.S. Justice Department wants the force disbanded.

While traditional members of the FLDS sect remain around town, for ex-members, events like the music festival makes the town feel normal.


This is the second part of a two-part series by FOX 10 Phoenix's Matt Galka. The first part of the series aired on Monday, May 15.

To read the first part, click here.

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