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Polygamous sect funerals have become middle-of-the-night affairs

Published September 25, 2015 11:57 am

Polygamy • There are no plans for a public memorial for victims of last week's floods in Hildale and Colorado City.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Colorado City, Ariz. • They think Walter Steed was buried about 6 a.m.

That's about the time when someone — someone who no longer follows Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints President Warren Jeffs — saw people gathered in the cemetery here late last month. When some residents investigated later, they found a new grave with a small, plastic placard listing Steed as the occupant.

All indications are Marion J. Steed was buried even earlier in the morning, said his brother Allen Steed. Allen Steed had heard his brother was sick with cancer and near the end of his life. He later heard that Marion Steed, 47, had been buried.



Allen Steed was in the cemetery one day earlier this year when he happened to find his brother's grave.

"I just assumed, and correctly, that I wouldn't be invited" to the funeral, Allen Steed said.

FLDS funerals and burials are segregated affairs, much to the disappointment of those outside the faith. It's presumed loyal FLDS members are preparing to bury victims of last week's flash flood, which tore through Colorado City and adjoining Hildale, Utah.

But there has been no announcement of any services, and no one expects such. Former Jeffs followers are considering a public memorial service, albeit without the bodies, though as of Saturday they had not confirmed their plans. Photos of the cemetery posted Saturday night on Facebook by Hildale resident Guy Timpson show at least eight new graves dug next to one another.

Charlene Jeffs, a sister-in-law to the imprisoned leader, submitted court documents earlier this year saying the Hildale and Colorado City police force has been used to keep non-believers away from FLDS funerals. She's expected to testify about that and other things in January at a federal civil trial accusing the towns' governments of discrimination.

Death wasn't always such a secret here.

FLDS give the dead their rites much like other denominations do, according to former members. There's a service at a meetinghouse or mortuary. Then there's a graveside service before the casket is interred. The funerals doubled as family reunions. Everything happened in daylight.

As recently as 2002, the FLDS published an obituary announcing the death, along with the time and date of the funeral, for late President Rulon Jeffs, father of the current sect president.

In 2003, Warren Jeffs began evicting men and boys from the sect, often for trivial offenses or without giving coherent reasons at all. These men and boys, and others who left the religion on their own, were deemed apostates, and the faithful were told not to associate with them.

Late night or early morning funerals began at least by 2007. That year, one of Rulon Jeffs' wives Norene Nielsen Birk Jeffs died. She was buried in the night. No one told members of her family who were outside the FLDS. So those family members held their own service for Norene Jeffs at the cemetery a month later.

The cemetery's formal name is Isaac W. Carling Memorial Park. It sits on the east side of Colorado City and doesn't look like other cemeteries.

While the rows have green grass between the graves, many of the graves are barren on top. Some graves that are 20 years old still have piles of red dirt 18 inches above the surface.

The cemetery is owned by the United Effort Plan, the legal trust that owns much of the property in Hildale and Colorado City, and which the state of Utah seized in 2005 amid concerns Warren Jeffs was mismanaging it.

On Wednesday, Isaac Wyler, an employee of the UEP, visited the cemetery. He said anyone wanting to be buried in the cemetery is supposed to ask first so the UEP can confirm the deceased qualifies as a beneficiary of the trust and so a record of the burial can be made.

"They refuse to follow that process at all," Wyler said, referring to FLDS members.

"The only person they have to check in with is God," added Dee Barlow, a former Jeffs follower who was in the cemetery with Wyler.

Wyler usually finds out from others or by driving past the cemetery that someone else has been buried there.

Allen Steed said the way the FLDS ostracize family and conduct burials in secrecy is hurtful to people like him who are not included. But he also said he believes the FLDS are still being respectful to the dead.

He used his brother's grave as an example. It's been well decorated and maintained with flowers.

"These individuals, because they don't want interference, they do this in the middle of the night," Allen Steed said. "It's not about being disrespectful to the deceased or anyone else."

Yet something strange happened recently. Soon after Walter Steed — a former justice court judge in Hildale who died Aug. 22 when the semi truck he was driving plunged off a cliff — was buried, someone traded his grave placard with that of Allen Steed's late son. Allen and Walter Steed were cousins.

The fresh flowers from Walter Steed's grave also were moved to the other grave, even though Allen Steed's son died years ago.

Someone noticed what had been done and word got to Allen Steed. He reported the grave tampering to the Mohave County Sheriff's Office. Two deputies arrived and took a report. The graves were restored to their rightful conditions.

"Why they did that I don't know," Allen Steed said of the switches. "Strange things happen."

ncarlisle@sltrib.com

Twitter: @natecarlisle —

Boy still missing

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert visited Hildale on Saturday to tour the scene of Monday's floods and meet with families and responders. Herbert was on a trade mission in China when the floods struck.

Meanwhile, there was no sign of the last assumed victim of the Hildale floods — 6-year-old Tyson Lucas Black. KUTV reported the search will resume Monday.

 

 

 

 

 

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