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First look inside FLDS house, and theory on odd construction

Published April 27, 2013 4:42 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Hildale • The history of this sprawling southern Utah compound haunts its now-vacant rooms like ghosts.

In a large upstairs room, the plush blue carpet bears divots from rows of narrow-legged chairs. Against a wall, piano wheels left tracks as someone pushed away the instrument. And in a soundproofed back room, the windowsill is covered with dust and construction debris.

Willie Jessop, former spokesman for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), purchased the compound Thursday in an auction. Jessop, who has since parted ways with the FLDS and with imprisoned leader Warren Jeffs, paid $3.6 million for two parcels in this small, predominantly poly­gamous town. Between the two parcels, Jessop now owns a school, a row of apartments, a warehouse and three large homes.

Jessop's bid resulted from a $30 million judgment he obtained against leaders of the FLDS church. The judgment came after FLDS leaders failed to respond to a lawsuit alleging they orchestrated a late-night break-in of Jessop's business.

The auction was held to begin paying off that debt by selling property owned by the FLDS leadership. Jessop was the only bidder, using his judgment in a credit bid rather than paying cash. He took control of the compound Thursday afternoon.

By Friday, he was allowing members of the community inside.

As he led the way into the rear of one building on a tour Friday morning, Jessop pointed out the heavy wood doors hanging from brass hinges on walls more than a foot thick. Even the interior doors were sealed with white weather stripping.

Jessop believes the goal of the unusual construction was soundproofing, particularly in a room at the rear of the building. Though Jeffs' criminal convictions prevented him from ever using the building, the plan, according to Jessop, was for the FLDS prophet to use it as a place to have sexual relations with underage girls.

Jessop said it was going to be "another YFZ," referring to the FLDS church's Yearning for Zion ranch in Texas, where Jeffs and other FLDS leaders sexually abused young girls taken as plural wives.

"There are walls behind walls; it's like an onion," Jessop said of the Hildale building. "The more you peel back, the more you cry."

Calls to FLDS leaders seeking comment were not immediately returned Friday afternoon.

Jessop said the room that would have been the site of Jeffs' "perversions" had been significantly remodeled before the auction.

Hildale resident Phil Mackert toured the building Friday and agreed there were indications the room had been modified. Mackert, who did not work on the building but has construction experience, pointed to what appeared to be patch marks in the drywall. He also noted that the wall texture was seemingly oversprayed onto the windowsills.

Jessop said he was glad to own the building because it would never be used to harm young girls. "To me it's like walking through Nazi Germany," Jessop said of the buildings and their past.

But he would have preferred someone else purchase the compound. Cash would have been easier to deal with, Jessop said, and he has massive debt from Jeffs' legal bills, which Jessop helped pay while still a member of the FLDS church.

He denied he is taking control of the compound for personal gain, as others in the community have suggested. He said he hopes to use the buildings to help heal community wounds.

Jessop also allowed visitors inside two other homes, including a mansion at the front of the property. A white metal staircase led up to the front door, which opened into a hall with bedrooms.

The bedrooms were empty, but circles in the carpet marked where beds once stood. In some rooms, other shapes in the carpet showed where there had been desks, tables and other furniture.

But the purpose of some rooms was clear, even without furniture. One large upstairs room included a small stage and a projector. The wall behind the stage had two windows. Jessop said the room would have been used to record Jeffs' revelations, which he then would have sent out to his followers.

The home also had several industrial-grade kitchens and utility rooms filled with water heaters and water softeners. Smoke alarms with dying batteries chirped occasionally. The carpet extended like wainscoting up the walls and, along with acoustic ceilings, muted most sound.

Jessop said all of the buildings were completed with donated labor and money from community members. He said people whose resources were already strained were asked to give massive amounts of money for the compound and still struggle due to their contributions to the FLDS church.

"This was the blood drained out of a city," he said. "The people who paid for this are living in unfinished homes. The society is totally in crisis."

In December 2010, Hildale resident Guy Timpson was still a member of the FLDS church and was called to work on the compound. Timpson said he did construction on the red brick building that was meant for Jeffs, and his company built trusses for the other structures.

Timpson "consecrated" his time, meaning he was told to work for free. The financial strain was significant, he said, and he eventually lost his business.

The large home at the front of the property was briefly occupied by Jeffs' brother Issac Jeffs, according to Jessop, but has mostly been empty. In the yard, heavy sunflowers dangle from dying stocks. A series of raised garden beds were apparently abandoned midseason, and dried red peppers sagged on the vine.

Jessop said he has no specific plans for the facility but expressed interest in turning it into a retirement home for elderly community members. And he hopes the school can be used again someday. —

Online More photos of the compound

O Find more images of other buildings inside the compound, including the bishop's storehouse and homes intended for the family of Warren Jeffs. > sltrib.com