Ervil Morrell LeBaron (February 22, 1925 – August 15, 1981) was the leader of a polygamous Mormon fundamentalist group who ordered the killings of many of his opponents, using the religious doctrine of blood atonement to justify the murders. He was sentenced to life in prison for orchestrating the murder of an opponent, and died there.
Ervil Morrell LeBaron
February 22, 1925
|Died||August 15, 1981 (aged 56)|
Draper, Utah, US
|Cause of death||Myocardial infarction|
|Spouse(s)||At least 13|
Span of crimes
|Country||Mexico, United States|
|June 1, 1979|
After The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) officially abandoned the practice of polygamy in 1890, some polygamous Mormons, who were later excommunicated from the LDS Church, moved south to Mexico to continue the practice without the interference of U.S. law enforcement. Alma Dayer LeBaron, Sr. was one of these people, and in 1924 moved his family, which included his two wives and eight children, to northern Mexico. There, the family started a farm called "Colonia LeBaron" in Galeana, Chihuahua.
When Alma died in 1951, he passed the leadership of the community on to his son Joel LeBaron. Joel eventually incorporated the community as the Church of the Firstborn of the Fulness of Times in Salt Lake City, Utah. Joel's younger brother, Ervil LeBaron, was his second in command during the early years of the church's existence. The group ultimately numbered around 30 families who lived in both Utah and a community called "Los Molinos" on the Baja California Peninsula.
In 1972, the brothers split over leadership of the Church of the Firstborn of the Fulness of Times, and Ervil started the Church of the First Born of the Lamb of God in San Diego, California. That year, Ervil ordered the murder of Joel in Mexico. Leadership of the Baja California church passed to the youngest LeBaron brother, Verlan, whom Ervil tried to have killed over the next decade. In 1974, Ervil was tried and convicted in Mexico for Joel's murder. His conviction was overturned on a technicality; some have alleged this was as a result of a bribe. Ervil's followers subsequently raided Los Molinos in an effort to kill Verlan— who was in Nicaragua—but the town was destroyed and two men were killed.
Ervil LeBaron's attention was also focused on rival polygamous leaders. In April 1975, he ordered the killing of Bob Simons, a polygamist who sought to minister to Native Americans. In 1977, LeBaron ordered the killing of Rulon C. Allred, leader of the Apostolic United Brethren, another Mormon fundamentalist sect. Ervil LeBaron's 13th wife, Rena Chynoweth, carried out the murder with Ervil's stepdaughter, Ramona Marston. Although Chynoweth was tried and acquitted for Allred's murder, she confessed in her memoir, The Blood Covenant (1990). She also described her experiences in LeBaron's group, which she characterized as using mind control and fear to control its followers.
Ervil LeBaron also ordered the murders of members of his own family and those of his supporters. His 10th wife, Vonda White, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Dean Grover Vest, one of LeBaron's henchmen, who had attempted to leave the church. Vonda White is also said to have killed Noemi Zarate Chynoweth, the plural wife of Ervil's father-in-law through his wife, Lorna Chynoweth. Noemi had been critical of Ervil LeBaron's practices and snubbed him at her wedding to Bud Chynoweth. According to witnesses, Thelma Chynoweth (Bud Chynoweth's first wife who was Lorna's mother and Noemi's sister-wife) helped kill Noemi. Ervil LeBaron has also been linked to the death of his own 17-year-old daughter Rebecca, who was pregnant with her second child and hoped to leave the group; it is alleged that his stepson Eddie Marston and brother-in-law Duane Chynoweth strangled her in April 1977.
On June 1, 1979, Ervil LeBaron was apprehended by police in Mexico and extradited to the United States, where he was convicted of having ordered Allred's death. In 1980, he was sentenced to life imprisonment at the Utah State Prison in Draper, Utah, where he died on August 16, 1981. Ervil's brother Verlan (whom Ervil had tried to murder) died in an auto accident in Mexico City two days after Ervil's body was discovered in his cell. In an October 2012 interview with Vice Magazine, Verlan LeBaron's grandson Brent LeBaron stated that at least some in the LeBaron family believe that this may not have been a coincidence.
While in prison, LeBaron wrote a 400-page "bible" known as The Book of the New Covenants, which included a commandment to kill disobedient church members who were included in a hit list written by LeBaron. Some 20 copies were printed and distributed.
Three of the murders were carried out simultaneously on June 27, 1988, at 4:00 pm. Duane Chynoweth, one of LeBaron's former followers, was shot and killed with his 8-year-old daughter, Jennifer while running errands. Eddie Marston, one of LeBaron's stepsons and former thugs, was killed in the same manner, and Mark Chynoweth, a father of six, was shot multiple times in his office in Houston, Texas.
Of the seven killers involved in the "4 O’Clock Murders," five were found guilty of murder. One, Cynthia LeBaron, testified against her siblings and was granted immunity. The final suspect, Jacqueline LeBaron, was captured by the FBI in May 2010. On June 16, 2011, Jacqueline LeBaron pleaded guilty to conspiracy to obstruct religious beliefs and faced a 5-year maximum sentence in a future sentencing hearing.
On December 14, 2012, Jacqueline Tarsa LeBaron was released from federal custody several months earlier than her original sentence was calculated. Her current status regarding the completion of her court mandated supervised parole and restitution has not been released to the public. Although her plea agreement is public information, her actual testimony in court was sealed. As of April 2013 her whereabouts are unknown.
It has been estimated that more than 25 people were killed as a result of LeBaron's prison-cell orders. Many of his family members and other ex-members of the group still remain in hiding for fear of retribution from LeBaron's remaining followers. However, when LeBaron's daughter Anna LeBaron, who escaped from the cult aged 13, published an account of her life and the cult in 2017, when she was 48, she said that the blood-letting was over and family members were no longer in danger.
Wives and childrenEdit
Ervil LeBaron married 13 women and fathered more than 50 children. He also raised several stepchildren.
+ Chynoweth sibling
++ Rios sibling
|Wife||Age at marriage||Killed on behalf of the cult?||Left the cult:||Comments|
|Murdered||Imprisoned||Escaped before 1992|
|Delfina Salido||Y||Went to the authorities, in fear of her life, after her daughter Rebecca was murdered.|
|Joy Marston||N||Y||Left Ervil after 3 months of marriage|
|Anna Mae Marston||N||Anna Mae left her second husband, Nephi Marston, to marry Ervil, bringing her children with her.|
|Lorna Chynoweth+||N||Y ||Lorna's body was never recovered. She was likely killed by one of her sons.|
|Rosemary Barlow||N||Brought 3 children with her to the marriage|
|Vonda White||Y||Y||Convicted of killing Dean Vest, a cult member who tried to leave. Also killed Naomi Chynoweth, a plural wife of Bud Chynoweth, Ervil's father-in-law twice over. Brought 4 children with her from her first marriage|
|Yolanda Rios++||Y |
|Rena Chynoweth+||16||Y||Y||Y||Killed Rulon Allred, but acquitted for the crime. Left the cult after Ervil's arrest.|
|Mother||Child Name||Child Spouse||Polygamist?||Killed on behalf of the cult?||Left the cult:||Comment|
|Murdered||Imprisoned||Suicide||Escaped before 1992|
|Delfina Salido||Sylvia Esther||N|
|Lillian||Mark Chynoweth+||N||Y ||Helped several siblings leave the cult; suspected of being involved in the death of her brother Isaac or other siblings.|
|Arturo!||Y||Y||Y [Dec 1983]||Left cult following death of Ervil|
|Rebecca||Victor Chynoweth+||Y||N||Y ||Pregnant at the time of her murder. Her body has never been recovered.|
|Isaac||-||N||N||?||? ||Y ||Testified in court against many cult members. After a stint in a mental health institution, he moved in with his sister Lillian and Mark Chynoweth. He died several days later. Official records say suicide, but authors such as Scott Anderson believe he was likely murdered by the Chynoweths.|
|Delia||Y ||Escaped with her mother|
|Jorge||Y ||Body never recovered|
|Patricia||Heber Lebaroni ||Y||Y ||Sentenced to life in prison for her role in the murders of Ed Barlow, and Mark, Duane, and Jenny Chynoweth.|
|Anna Mae Martson||David Marston*|
|Edward Marston*||N||Y||Y |
|Ramona Marston *||Dan Jordan||Y||Y||Y||Y ||Assisted Rena Chynoweth in killing Rulon Allred. Acquitted. Married to Dan Jordan on the same day as her sister Fay.|
|Fay Marston*||Dan Jordan||Y||Married to Dan Jordan on the same day as her sister Ramona|
|Kathleen||N||Y ||Ran away from the cult to get married at age 18.|
|Heber!||multiple half-sistersi||Y||Y||Y ||Sentenced to life in prison for his role in the murders of Ed Marston, and Mark, Duane, and Jenny Chynoweth.|
|Marilyn||N||N||Y ||Ran away from her mother in 1982; assisted by sister Lillian and stepmother Ramona Marston|
|Celia||N||N||Y [late 1980s]|
|Anna||N||N||Y ||Ran away to live with her sister Lillian.|
|Lorna Chynoweth||Andrew||N||Y||Y||Body never recovered|
|Jacqueline Tarsa||Y||Y||Indicted in the 1990s; on the FBI Most Wanted List for years until finally arrested in the 2000s|
|Aaron Morel "Mo"!||Y||Y ||Sentenced to 45 years in prison for his role in the murders of Ed Barlow and Mark, Duane, and Jenny Chynoweth.|
|Christina Jensen||Tabitha||Y [1970s]||Escaped with her mother|
|Shoshanna||Y [1970s]||Escaped with her mother|
|Rosemary Barlow||Douglas Barlow*||Y||Sentenced to life in prison for his role in the murders of Ed Marston and Mark, Duane, and Jenny Chynoweth.|
|Linda Johnson||Thomas Anthony|
|Cynthia||Y||Y ||Granted immunity to testify against her siblings in the murders of her stepbrother Ed Marston and Mark and Duane Chynoweth, and Duane's 8-year-old daughter.|
|Richard||Y||Y ||Pled guilty to murder of 8-year-old Jenny Chynoweth and received a 5-year sentence.|
|Debra Bateman||Jeremy||N||Y||Escaped with his mother|
|Craig||N||Y||Escaped with his mother|
|Vonda White||Craig White*||After his mother's imprisonment, raised by Anna Mae Marston|
|Audrey White*||After her mother's imprisonment, raised by Anna Mae Marston|
|Evelyn White*||After her mother's imprisonment, raised by Anna Mae Marston|
|Janet White*||After her mother's imprisonment, raised by Anna Mae Marston|
|Mimi||After her mother's imprisonment, raised by Anna Mae Marston|
|Nathan||After his mother's imprisonment, raised by Anna Mae Marston|
|Rena Chynoweth||Erin||Y ||Escaped with her mother|
|John Ryan||Y ||Escape with his mother|
- Deadly Devotion Season 3 Episode 4 Murderous Mormons (2015) on IMDb
- Evil Lives Here: Season 3 Episode 8 Blood Atonement
- Ben Bradlee, Dale Van Atta (1981). Prophet of blood: the untold story of Ervil LeBaron and the lambs of God.
- Rena Chynoweth (1990). The Blood Covenant. Diamond Books. ISBN 9780890157688.
- Scott Anderson (1994). The 4 O'Clock Murders: The True Story of a Mormon Family's Vengeance. Random House.
- Jon Krakauer (2004). Under the banner of heaven: a story of violent faith.
- Irene Spencer (2009). Cult Insanity: A Memoir of Polygamy, Prophets, and Blood Atonement. Hachette Book Group.
- Ruth Wariner (2016). The Sound of Gravel: A Memoir. Flatiron Books (Macmillan Publishers. ISBN 1250077699.
- Anna LeBaron (2017). The Polygamist's Daughter. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. ISBN 9781496417558.
- Scott Anderson, The 4 O'clock Murders. (1994)
- Utah Attorney General's Office and Arizona Attorney General's Office, The Primer: A Guidebook for Law Enforcement and Human Services Agencies who offer Assistance to Fundamentalist Mormon Families Archived January 27, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, updated Aug. 2009
- Anderson, pp.68-82.
- Ben Bradlee, Jr. & Dale Van Atta, Prophet of Blood: The Untold Story of Ervil LeBaron and the Lambs of God (G.G. Putnam's Sons, New York, 1981).
- Bradlee & Van Atta, pp.217-218.
- Anderson, pp.115-128.
- Bradlee & Van Atta, pp.159-173.
- Michael H. Stone & Gary Brucato. The New Evil: Understanding the Emergence of Modern Violent Crime (Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2019), pp. 67-74.
- Bradlee & Van Atta, pp.181-191; 288-292.
- Bradlee & Van Atta, pp. 231-256.
- Rena Chynoweth, The Blood Covenant (1990).
- Susan Ray Schmidt, His Favorite wife: Trapped in Polygamy (memoir by Verlan LeBaron's sixth wife)
- Anderson, pp.144-154.
- Bradley & Van Atta, pp. 192-202; 298-300.
- Anderson, pp.128-130.
- Bradlee & Van Atta, p.201. Note, Noemi's name has been spelled variously "Noemi", "Naomi", and "Neomi".
- Bradlee & Van Atta, pp.173-174.
- Anderson, pp.158-165.
- Bradlee & Van Atta, pp.228-31; 256-60; 281-82; 287; 297-98.
- Irene Spencer, Cult Insanity: A Memoir of Polygamy, Prophets, and Blood Atonement (2009).
- "The Mexican Mormon War". Retrieved November 23, 2012.
- "Jacqueline LeBaron, Daughter Of Infamous Murdering Cult Leader, Is Back In Houston". Retrieved June 1, 2010.
- "Texas polygamist deaths suspect pleads guilty". Retrieved June 16, 2011.
- Anna LeBaron: How I escaped my father's murderous polygamous cult, BBC News 'Magazine', by Brian Wheeler, 17 February 2017
- "LeBaron gets 45-year sentence", Deseret News, Associated Press, June 13, 1997, retrieved July 30, 2018
- LeBaron, pp.165-6.
- LeBaron, p. 179.
- LeBaron, p. 209.
- Anderson, Scott (1994). The 4 O'Clock Murders. New York: Dell. ISBN 0-440-21629-X.
- Bradlee, Jr., Ben, and Dale Van Atta (1981) Prophet of Blood: The Untold Story of Ervil Lebaron and the Lambs of God. Putnam, ISBN 978-0-399-12371-9
- Krakauer, Jon (2003) Under the Banner of Heaven : A Story of Violent Faith, pp. 266–277.
- Anna LeBaron (2017). The Polygamist's Daughter. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. ISBN 9781496417558.
- Scheeres, Julia. "Ervil LeBaron". Renegade Mormon fundamentalist wooed child brides and used them as the instruments of his murderous designs. Archived from the original on August 3, 2014. Retrieved October 1, 2005.
- Schmidt, Susan Ray. His Favorite Wife: Trapped in Polygamy.
- Spencer, Irene (2009) Cult Insanity: A Memoir of Polygamy, Prophets, and Blood Atonement.
- "A Deadly 'Messenger of God'", Time, Aug. 29, 1977.
- Utah Attorney General's Office and Arizona Attorney General's Office, The Primer: A Guidebook for Law Enforcement and Human Services Agencies Who Offer Assistance to Fundamentalist Mormon Families, updated Aug. 2009.
- Prophet of Evil: The Ervil LeBaron Story (1993) (TV) on IMDb
- on YouTube, featuring a section on Ervil LeBaron.