The Witness Wore Red: The 19th Wife Who Brought Polygamous Cult Leaders to Justice
  • The Witness Wore Red: The 19th Wife Who Brought Polygamous Cult Leaders to Justice
  • The Witness Wore Red: The 19th Wife Who Brought Polygamous Cult Leaders to Justice

The Witness Wore Red: The 19th Wife Who Brought Polygamous Cult Leaders to Justice

4.2 83
by Rebecca Musser

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Rebecca Musser grew up in fear, concealing her family's polygamous lifestyle from the "dangerous" outside world. Covered head-to-toe in strict, modest clothing, she received a rigorous education at Alta Academy, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints' school headed by Warren Jeffs. Always seeking to be an obedient Priesthood girl, in her

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Rebecca Musser grew up in fear, concealing her family's polygamous lifestyle from the "dangerous" outside world. Covered head-to-toe in strict, modest clothing, she received a rigorous education at Alta Academy, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints' school headed by Warren Jeffs. Always seeking to be an obedient Priesthood girl, in her teens she became the nineteenth wife of her people's prophet: 85-year-old Rulon Jeffs, Warren's father. Finally sickened by the abuse she suffered and saw around her, she pulled off a daring escape and sought to build a new life and family.

The church, however, had a way of pulling her back in-and by 2007, Rebecca had no choice but to take the witness stand against the new prophet of the FLDS in order to protect her little sisters and other young girls from being forced to marry at shockingly young ages. The following year, Rebecca and the rest of the world watched as a team of Texas Rangers raided the Yearning for Zion Ranch, a stronghold of the FLDS. Rebecca's subsequent testimony would reveal the horrific secrets taking place behind closed doors of the temple, sending their leaders to prison for years, and Warren Jeffs for life.

THE WITNESS WORE RED is a gripping account of one woman's struggle to escape the perverse embrace of religious fanaticism and sexual slavery, and a courageous story of hope and transformation.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Those lulled into a vague tolerance for polygamy as depicted on reality TV will be shocked by the author's harrowing account of her years growing up in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Musser's story is filled with familiar elements: young women in prairie girl clothing; a cloistered compound called Short Creek where men could safely live with their dozens of wives; and a prophet—Rulon Jeffs, who orders Musser to be his 19th wife when she is eighteen and he is in eighties. Rulon's demands on his young bride and her subsequent escape from the FLDS form the backbone of the first half of the book. After Rulon's son Warren takes over, Musser is compelled by her conscience to help law enforcement uncover, investigate, and prosecute the men of the FLDS for bigamy, underage marriage, and statutory rape—including crimes committed against her own sisters. Musser and coauthor Cook have a complex story to tell with an at times overwhelming cast of characters. Overall, they manage to portray these events in an authentic yet suspenseful manner—just try to put this book down when Musser is shown the horrifying "temple" that Jeffs was building in Texas at the time of his arrest. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
"Compelling . . . the book speaks to the ways isolation, fear and secrecy can shelter insidious abuses until someone has the courage to step forward as a witness."—Kirkus Reviews
Kirkus Reviews
With the assistance of Cook (Shattered Silence: The Untold Story of a Serial Killer's Daughter, 2009, etc.), Musser describes her transition from obedient daughter and wife in the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to a key witness in court cases against church leaders, including the "Prophet" Warren Jeffs. The author was born into the religion, where multiple marriages were the norm, girls were taught to be subservient to their fathers and husbands, and marriage was the path to salvation. At 19, she was forced to become the 19th wife of the 85-year-old FLDS leader, Rulon Jeffs, who had more than 60 wives when he died. When Rulon's son, Warren, followed him as leader, the abuses became rampant. More and more girls, some underage, were forced into "spiritual marriages" under the guise of God's will, as handed down by Jeffs. On the other hand, teenage boys were routinely expelled from FLDS to fend for themselves, leaving more girls for church leaders. After her 14-year-old sister was forced into marriage and knowing that being a widow didn't protect her from a second marriage, Musser fled. A motivational speaker, she views what happened at FLDS as nothing short of "human trafficking--both for labor as well as sex." Though compelling, Musser's story is buried in a detail-laden, chronological narrative. The energy picks up when she describes her role in investigations of FLDS activities. She testified 20 times, always dressed in red, a color FLDS women were forbidden to wear. Courageous as she was, her role in seeking justice took a heavy toll on Musser, who lost all contact with family members still in FLDS. She felt the heavy weight of testifying against her "own people," guilt for "deserting" her siblings and conflicting emotions about church teachings. A decent addition to a growing body of work about polygamy, the book speaks to the ways isolation, fear and secrecy can shelter insidious abuses until someone has the courage to step forward as a witness.

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Product Details

Grand Central Publishing
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.40(d)

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The Witness Wore Red

The 19th Wife Who Brought Polygamous Cult Leaders to Justice

By Rebecca Musser, M. Bridget Cook

Grand Central Publishing

Copyright © 2013 Rebecca Musser M. Bridget Cook
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4555-2785-4


Feathers on the Wind

It was an unusually temperate day for early spring, and the delicious scent of new beginnings wafted through the open window, filling my body with pure joy. Instead of peering longingly out at the grass and budding crocuses, we were actually going to be allowed outside past our backyard.

While I waited impatiently for my seven siblings to gather to leave, I looked around the shadowy walkout basement we called home. The teak parquet flooring and matching wood paneling made it seem even smaller than it was. My mother had her own room, but the rest of us were stacked in bunk beds in every corner like sardines and forced to play musical beds every time another baby joined our family. My mother's swollen belly made it clear that we'd be moving beds again in just a few months. Drawers were built into the undersides of the bunk beds, and we each had one to fill with underwear, socks, and hand-me-down clothing.

Someone passing by our simple two-level redbrick home would likely never guess how many children lived in the basement alone. He would likely be shocked to learn that another large family lived upstairs; the only common denominator between the two families was one man who spent half his nights upstairs with his first wife and children, the other half downstairs with our mother—wife number two—and her children. This man was my father.

My bones always felt cold in this house, though the thermostat was set at a normal temperature. The eerie green fluorescent lights strained to brighten the darkest recesses of our rooms, tinting our skin and clothing with strange, shadowy hues. Light didn't seem able to fully penetrate the walls, as hope did not dwell long here.

Today, however, Mom promised time in the sun for all of us. Though she said we were headed for an "adventure," she kept the destination a secret. In my excitement, I danced in spinning circles around the room, nearly tripping over my worn, shin-length blue skirt. Mom asked me to quiet down before slipping outside with my siblings, and we furtively piled into Old Blue, our ancient station wagon.

As one of the younger children, I sat on the lap of my oldest sister, Christine. The seven of us watched the blocks roll past, as Mom drove us from our home on Cascade Way, in the Salt Lake City neighborhood of Mount Olympus, straight up into the green foothills of the awe-inspiring Wasatch Mountains.

Soon we all realized our adventure would take place on the grassy knolls behind my school, Eastwood Elementary. It was the same route we used when walking to school, but normally the trek would have been far too risky for all of us—and not because of the cars speeding by. We couldn't afford to draw too much attention to ourselves as a family. It wasn't just the honking, the stares, or the derogatory "Plygs!" bellowed out of windows. We were used to all of that. The danger lay in what the authorities would do if they discovered us. It was why I was a "Wilson" and not a "Wall" at my school, and why I could only rarely play with the sweet little girl across the street. If she learned the truth about me—about my brothers and sisters and our family living secretly in the walkout basement—we would risk being discovered.

The little girl was curious about us, though. Everyone was. It wasn't that it was unusual in this region to see large families. Salt Lake City was populated with a majority of prolific Mormons, and the small number of Catholic families often had many kids as well. Still, only a few thousand people in Salt Lake dressed even remotely like us. With the exception of July 24 every year, when the annual parade celebrated our state's Mormon pioneer history, we were highly conspicuous in our long-sleeved shirts, girls' long prairie dresses and skirts, and exceptionally long braids. Mom said we were special, but it wasn't until I went to kindergarten that I understood we represented a tiny fraction of the population around us. Mainstream Mormonism had given up polygamy in the late 1890s in order to secure statehood for Utah, so we were now the odd ones who hadn't fallen in line.

I hated how kids gawked at us, whispering loudly and pointing us out as if we were a tourist attraction. Sometimes the comments were innocent and simply curious. More often, though, they were intentionally demeaning, and it was frightening to wonder whom they would tell—and who might put my father in jail and split up our family. So we hid away from the prying eyes of the world.

That was also why our mother chose this place, on the edge of the mountain, where few would see us behind the empty school. We spilled out of the car and onto the grassy knoll, lush and vibrant from the melting snow. Our mother gathered us up on the top hill, where we could look down upon the Salt Lake Valley. Despite the warmth of the sun, I shivered as I looked in the direction of our home below, hidden amid the many houses of the Gentiles—the wicked people who did not believe in Joseph Smith or Jesus Christ. My mother's lap was full with her toddlers and her ever-expanding belly, but I squeezed in as close as I could. It was a rare treat to have her relaxing with us instead of cooking or cleaning or doing incessant laundry after a long day at work at HydraPak Seals, my father's manufacturing business. I scanned the city; to the north I picked out the capitol, towering on the hill above the downtown buildings that obscured the temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—the Mormons who had fallen away from the Work. It was no longer our temple. A deep, unexplainable sadness filled me. We worshipped diligently at church, but our people did not have a temple of our own. Someday in the future, it was foretold, we would build one. But for now, we simply had to endure life. We had to suffer pain and sacrifice, because eternity was what mattered.

Dad so often said, "It's not if, but when, the Gentiles will hurt us. It will serve you to remember that always." I put my knees up protectively to my chin as I let my gaze drift across the valley. To my left, the southern part of the city was growing fast. Clumps of business developments and houses spanned nearly where the Salt Lake Valley met the Provo Valley. Our Prophet, whom our people affectionately called Uncle Roy, had dreamed about the destructions. He said they would arrive when the construction of dwellings extended past that area known as the Point of the Mountain. It was a definite sign that the last days were imminent. I wondered how we would ever survive.

"Okay, children, we're going to play a game!" My mother's voice brought me back to the present. My fears melted away as I looked up at her beautiful face and warm smile. Her toffee-colored eyes gleamed with excitement as her lengthy brown hair, gathered up in a tidy French twist, fought the spring breeze. She was hiding something behind her back—a surprise brought from the car when we weren't paying attention. I held my breath in anticipation while my younger siblings fidgeted.

Mom brought out a very old feather pillow she had once sewn herself, and I noticed that she had unpicked the hem on one side. She scooted my siblings off of her lap and stood up. Suddenly she began throwing handfuls of feathers high into the wind. We were astonished—this was nothing like my mom, who was always fixing things, not tearing them apart.

"Help me scatter the feathers!" she cried, laughing. Stunned for a moment by her contagious giggles, we joined in enthusiastically, reaching into the bag and grasping handfuls of feathers to toss into the wind. Feathers began floating all around us like snow. The older kids—Christine, Savannah, Brittany, and Cole—and I threw them up into the air, watching them take flight as if they were wings themselves. Even my little brother Trevor joined in. Amelia toddled around in her long skirt, her giggles covering the hillside like the feathers now scattered across the grass, trees, and shrubs.

Suddenly, Mom became quiet. We stopped, too. The only sound around us was the wind whistling in the trees. We looked around in guilty pleasure at the mess we had made.

"Now," she cried, "run and gather them up!"

We looked at her in bewilderment. Was she serious? It was then we realized this must be part of the game.

"Gather them up now. Hurry! Hurry!"

Driven by her prompting, we ran fast, clutching as much down as we could, scraping our knuckles along the ground, trying to grasp the feathers before they blew away. Within a few minutes it was obvious our endeavor was fruitless. The sack of gathered feathers, mixed with old leaves and grass, was not even a third full. I looked around in awe. How could the feathers have flown away so quickly? Exhausted, I dropped at my mother's feet.

I never forgot what she said next.

"Words are like feathers ... can you see that? It is so easy for them to come out, and they scatter on the wind before you know it. But like feathers, our words are not easy to gather back up again. Once out of your mouth, you simply cannot take them all back."

I looked at her. I knew what she was talking about. In my mind's eye I could see Aunt Irene, Dad's first wife, spouting words of anger and hatred at us, her mouth twisted in venomous disapproval. "Bastards! Little shits!" she would yell. She hated us, and we all knew it. All nine of her children knew it, too, and several of them used her hatred against us as well. Despite what our Prophet had told us about living together in harmony, existing together in the same house was nearly unbearable.

"Words make up glorious stories," Mom went on. "They make up our education, and even our prayers to our Heavenly Father. Using words the right way can build things—even great big things like bridges and buildings! But if we don't choose our words carefully, the effect of them can be a lifetime of pain and suffering."

I hung my head in shame. Here I was pointing fingers at Aunt Irene, when I had sassed her back plenty of times! I didn't like the names she called my mother, and how she treated all of us, especially when Dad wasn't present, but I showed my displeasure, unlike a good Priesthood girl. My words scattered like those feathers. How could I make it through the destructions if I used my words like Aunt Irene used hers? My mother never stooped that low. Even when Aunt Irene barraged her with bitter, caustic words, she would "keep sweet, no matter what," as we had been admonished by our Prophet. She refused to let her sister-wife's anger rob her of her own dignity.

That night as I lay in the small bed I shared with my sister Brittany, her feet near my pillow, I couldn't help but think of the feathers. I decided that like my mother, I would use my words carefully. Many times I had heard my dad boast about my mom proudly, "Sharon has never once defied me!" He was very gratified that she acquiesced to all of his demands and wishes like a good wife.

I thought about how my mother did use her words. She was kind and encouraging and prayed with us every night and morning, calling each of us by name before the Lord. My biggest delight, however, was when Mom would tell us stories. Since we did not have a television, stories were our primary form of entertainment. Our imaginations painted vivid pictures as she wove bright, elaborate tapestries of characters and lessons. Every story had a moral, one that entwined its way into my consciousness, coloring and shaping my perspective of the world and what I believed in.

Sometimes Mom's stories haunted me. If we skimped on a task or lied, she would tell a sobering story of life growing up on her father Newel Steed's remote farm and cattle ranch. It was vital during those hard times that all of his seven wives and nearly sixty children pitched in. Mom described piling sacks of potatoes into their rusty red wagon to pull for miles upon miles through and around Cedar City, just to sell them door-to-door for pennies apiece.

Each time her older brother Neil sold potatoes, he would pilfer a bit of money to buy forbidden sodas in town, and bully his younger siblings into silence.

"Little things you do now ... grow into big things," Mom recounted sadly. "Later in life, he left the Priesthood," she went on, her eyes welling with tears. The first time I heard this I was shocked. You couldn't know the truth and leave the Priesthood! That was worse than being a Gentile. One who knew the truth and rejected it was an apostate. I shuddered every time I heard that word. Apostates were doomed to Outer Darkness in the eternities—a fate of never-ending agony! Samuel had died a horrific death. Some thought it was suicide, but Mom believed it had more to do with the local Mafia.

"He wouldn't give up all the money when he was little, and I don't think he would give it later, either. Remember the Golden Windows, my children. Remember ..."

"The Golden Windows" was one of Mom's favorite stories, and it was about a poor, hardworking farm boy. He dreamed of a life in the distant city, its windows blazing with gold, which he could see from his hilltop home. Finally, after spending considerable time and energy to journey there, he wept to discover the golden windows were just a reflection of the sunset. Worse still, the tattered people of the town often dreamed of living a grand life on a faraway hilltop and pointed to the windows of his boyhood home, blazing with gold in the sunrise.

"He returned home," my mother would say, looking into each of our eyes, "realizing that what he had admired was a lie. He had become disillusioned, ugly, and broken from the pursuit of a lie. Don't let that happen to you. Nothing on the outside is as glorious as it looks. It may seem pretty, glittery stuff, but it is not real."

That story was used to squelch all of our questions, whenever one of us wished to engage in any worldly thing. Getting a haircut. Wearing lip gloss or nail polish. Anything that led us astray from the sacred duties of a polygamous family was morally wrong and shameful.

My father, Donald Wall, was just as adamant in upholding our religion, even though he had not grown up in the Work. He was proud of his conversion to the FLDS, one that was quite unusual, as our people didn't proselytize. Most were born into the faith, with parents who practiced polygamy. His did not. In fact, Dad had come from a broken home and a mother who had abandoned him physically and emotionally.

He first married Irene, who was not part of the Work, either. She and my dad had both grown up in the mainstream Mormon faith. Not long after their marriage, Irene's parents had become convinced of the truth of plural marriage. Horrified, she and my father set out to prove them wrong, but after diligent study, their hearts came to believe that the rest of the Mormons had discarded the truth. Both my dad and Irene converted to the "true gospel" under Uncle Roy, our Prophet.

Following their conversion, my father saw a beautiful and talented young woman singing at a church service. He believed she was meant for him. He came home and told Irene about her. Irene said she'd had a dream about my mother, and she gave her blessing for my father to take another wife. Dad spoke with Uncle Roy, and after a time she was "given" to him. Not long after Dad brought home his young and beautiful new wife, however, his first wife became unable to live the Principle without tremendous pain. Poisoned by jealousy, Irene made sure we all suffered right alongside her, especially when Dad was away.

By the time I was born, in 1976, I had three older full sisters and a full brother born less than nine months before me. My mother would ultimately give birth to fourteen of Dad's children. There were also plenty of half siblings—nine, in fact. Dad would eventually sire twenty-four children from three wives. Three was the "lucky" number among Priesthood men, as this was the number of wives Abraham had taken. It was believed that by having this number he and his family would achieve eternal salvation in the Celestial Kingdom, the highest kingdom of glory in Heaven. Otherwise, a man was doomed to a lower kingdom, and his wives to be servants or concubines in their husband's eternal household—another fate worse than death. The Terrestrial and Telestial Kingdoms were still a part of Heaven—the eternities—but it was only in the Celestial Kingdom that a man and his wives would attain the presence of God and become joint heirs of God with Jesus Christ, being able to rule and reign in their own worlds as gods and goddesses.


Excerpted from The Witness Wore Red by Rebecca Musser, M. Bridget Cook. Copyright © 2013 Rebecca Musser M. Bridget Cook. Excerpted by permission of Grand Central Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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