Tonight, the journalist responsible for casting a national spotlight on polygamist Warren Jeffs says the practice is alive and well in the state of Arizona, and the man with 78 wives is still calling the shots in prison.
Author Betty Webb will present “Polygamy in Arizona” as part of the spring 2014 Humanities Lecture Series at ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus. Hosted by the School of Letters and Sciences, the lecture starts at 6:30 p.m., March 20 at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Room 128, 555 N. Central Ave., Phoenix.
The lecture series, now in its sixth year, is open to the general public and is free. The theme for this year’s series is titled “The Human Condition.” In addition to polygamy, subjects explored this semester include the legalization of marijuana, race and human sex trafficking.
Betty Webb was a hard-bitten, tough-as-nails reporter with the East Valley Tribune when she decided to write full-time as an author. Her two prize-winning mystery series – the Lena Jones books and the Gun Zoo series – offer a fully-realized picture of Arizona, from barrios to mountaintop mansions.
Her second book, “Desert Wives,” was reviewed by the New York Times, became a national best-seller and shed light on the ritualistic sexual abuse and widespread welfare fraud committed by Warren Jeffs, the ecclesiastical head of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints in Colorado City, Ariz.
Money talks, according to Webb.
“The sexual abuse of little girls wasn’t going to make a bit of difference to officials, but I knew if I followed the money trail, then people would feel very differently about polygamy, and that’s exactly what happened,” Webb said. “Officials started to look into Warren Jeffs and welfare fraud, and that’s what ultimately brought him down.”
Webb said that during her research in Colorado City, she was followed by local authorities and chased off at gunpoint. Later, when her book came out, she received several death threats and was intimidated by male members of the sect at several book signings.
“I had three polygamist men come to my first few signings in Phoenix, and they would sit in the front row and cross their arms and scowl,” Webb said. “Then they’d follow me out to the car and try to intimidate me. That all stopped when I introduced them to the audience and told them to stand up. They got up and left, and I never saw them again.”
Despite the fact that Jeffs was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison in 2007, Webb says he still calls the shots from behind bars.
“Jeffs is allowed a telephone in prison and he delivers his sermons via speakerphone and everybody listens to him in a meeting hall in Colorado City,” Webb said. “He is their Lord and master, and they still follow him.”
Webb will follow the lecture with a signing of “Desert Wives” and a few others from her Lena Jones series.
The lecture series will conclude on April 17 with Dominiqe Roe-Sepowitz’s presentation of “Human Sex Trafficking in Arizona.”
By Marshall Terrill