Colorado City, Ariz. » Hundreds of polygamists consider him their prophet, seer and revelator. But on Sunday afternoons, William E. Jessop will spike a volleyball on any of them.
Jessop and his followers meet in the gymnasium at El Capitan High School here after church. While children play basketball, the teens and adults play volleyball. The 43-year-old Jessop is one of the most intense players, announcing the score before each serve, setting the ball to taller teammates and hurling his 6-foot-tall body into the air to spike the ball on any man, woman or child playing against him.
William E. Jessop
Age » 43
Family » Legal wife is Joanna Jessop, 53, with whom he has 11 children.
Residence » Lives in Hildale, but his family owns a ranch in Sandy Valley, Nev.
Employment » Jessop has worked in construction, painting and farming, though much of his life has been spent working in various FLDS positions.
The games are reminiscent of better times in the twin towns of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, still called "Short Creek" by residents. Before Warren Jeffs’ rise to power in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, children and adults played openly. Visitors were welcome and the community was, well, a community.
Jessop is trying to reinstate some of that fellowship. Empowered by a statement Jeffs made in jail, Jessop has separated from Jeffs. And hundreds of other refugees from Jeffs’ reign are following him.
The group, which does not yet have a name, still holds polygamy as a tenet. Members refer to Jessop as "Uncle William," and his portrait often hangs on the walls of their homes along with those of Mormon founder Joseph Smith and other men they have considered prophets for nearly two centuries.
Recreation may be the least of the changes Jessop is making. He said underage girls will not be forced to marry or have marriages arranged for them. If teens want to marry, Jessop said, he will encourage them to consider the implications.
"We do not want to do anything that breaks the law," he said.
On the topic of marriage, he later added: "We’ll encourage [girls] to be of age and learn the qualities of life and to enjoy life and not get into something they regret."
Jessop said women are free to work outside the home. And he wants kids from Hildale and Colorado City to earn high school and college degrees as they once did. Jessop and his first wife of 22 years, Joanna, have a daughter interning as a medical assistant in Nevada.
How many changes Jessop can implement remains to be seen. Jeffs’ followers are still thought to number in the thousands, and they control the town government in Short Creek, as well as the utility boards and local police. Jeffs has Jessop to thank for maintaining some of that influence.
Doing Jeffs’ bidding » This isn’t the first time Jessop, who was born William E. Timpson, has been part of a split and reformation. In the 1980s, his father, Alma A. Timpson, was among the FLDS men who splintered from the church in a dispute about who controlled resources, forming a new polygamous community called Centennial Park.
The split divided families. Jessop’s mother, Kathy Jessop, decided not to join her husband. She remained with the FLDS and married the revered local bishop, Fred Jessop.
William took his stepfather’s surname, too. In later years, some people would confuse him with Willie Jessop, the gregarious excavation-company owner who for a time served as a spokesman for Jeffs and the FLDS. Willie Jessop has left Jeffs, too, and now follows "Uncle William."
Jessop owes some of his ecclesiastical rise to the Jeffs family. Shortly before he died, then-FLDS prophet Rulon Jeffs made Jessop an apostle.
With his father, Rulon, gone, Warren Jeffs assumed FLDS leadership and kept Jessop as one of his top men. In a pattern that continues to this day, even though he’s in prison, Jeffs would excommunicate teenage boys and men, sometimes dozens at a time, after claiming to receive a revelation that they committed some transgression.
Jessop spent years as the bishop of Short Creek and it was often his job to break the news to people Jeffs was booting. Over dinner and wine last week at a St. George restaurant, Jessop described how he would call each man to a meeting. Often, Jessop would simply tell them that "Uncle Warren" had a revelation — they no longer held the priesthood and should go repent. That meant they had to leave Short Creek. Any wives or children who followed would be excommunicated, too. Those who remained were assigned to other men.
Jessop acknowledged taking some of those women as his own wives. Records seized by Texas authorities in the 2008 raid of the YFZ Ranch show Jessop had 11 wives as of 2006. Jessop says he has many fewer wives now.
Evictions such as the ones Jessop oversaw were devastating. The excommunicated no longer had a path to heaven. Here on Earth, they were separated physically and spiritually from friends and family.
One of the men Jessop kicked out for Jeffs in 2007 or 2008 was William Edward Chatwin, who then was in his late 60s. Chatwin’s lone wife was taken from him, too. To this day, Chatwin still can’t see his children who remain loyal to Jeffs.
One son who is not following Jeffs, Andrew Chatwin, said neither he nor his father has ever received an apology from Jessop.Next Page >
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