Samuel Bateman, the leader of a small new offshoot of the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, was arrested during an FBI raid Sept. 13 on charges of child abuse and destroying evidence.
Since then, nine girls identified in court documents as wives taken by Bateman have been in state custody in Arizona — until, feds say, eight of them suddenly left a week ago and traveled to multiple states with his adult wives, keeping in touch with their jailed polygamist leader through video calls.
Court documents filed last week revealed the nine girls who were removed from Bateman’s residences in Colorado City by Arizona child welfare officials were placed in group homes in the suburbs of Phoenix.
Eight of the nine girls left state custody last week. Days later, they were found at an Airbnb in Spokane with one of Bateman’s adult wives. The group was found after the credit card used to rent the Airbnb was traced to a business linked to the FLDS offshoot.
The girls used an encrypted group chat to communicate with one another and Bateman’s adult wives, and the girls’ disappearance from state custody was facilitated by other young adult wives, per court documents filed in the Eastern District of U.S. District Court in Washington state. The feds believe Bateman has approximately 20 wives and 50 followers.
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When Bateman was arrested he was taken into federal custody in Arizona, where he remains. Nine girls, including the eight who were allegedly abducted, were taken into custody by the Arizona Department of Child Safety on Sept. 14.
The girls were interviewed and placed in group homes until dependency proceedings determined their parents’ or guardian’s fitness to care for them, federal documents state. None of the girls disclosed sexual abuse by Bateman, though at least one said she was present and partially nude for one of his “sex orgies,” the documents said.
A federal agent scheduled additional interviews for five girls who mentioned “sleeping with Bateman, kissing him, and touching him,” in journals seized during the September search. The girls refused to participate fully in the interviews, the federal agent said, adding the agency believed some of the older girls were “influencing” the younger girls not to talk about Bateman.
To avoid undue influence, the girls were separated from one another and kept only with their siblings when they were placed in group homes, per the filing. One of the girls disclosed sexual abuse by Bateman while she was in a group home, according to court documents.
The Sunday after Thanksgiving, eight of the nine girls in Arizona DCS custody left their group homes. Journals and electronics left behind indicated they were still in a group chat with some of the adult wives using Signal, an encrypted instant messaging app.
Most of their communications were not digitally stored, but there were references in the girls’ journals indicating “today is the day we go home,” a court document said.
The alleged abduction
At about 8:38 p.m. on the night the girls left, Bateman made a recorded video call from federal custody to one of his young adult wives, according to court documents. They state the video shows that wife driving with another young adult wife in the passenger seat holding the phone.
The wife in the passenger seat tells Bateman they have two girls, which they refer to in codenames as “E1 and E2,” according to court documents. Later in the video the wife in the passenger tells Bateman all the wives changed their last names to Rappylee Bateman to match his.
“I am in holy f***ing love with you,” he replies in the video to the two adult wives in the front and the two minor wives, using their new full names.
The next day at about 7:30 in the morning, Bateman made another video call from federal custody to one of the adult wives who was in the passenger seat the night before. She appears to be in a hotel room, according to federal documents, and Bateman asked if “W2″ — a code name for one of the other minor wives — was not with them.
The codename referred to the only young girl who did not leave Arizona DCS custody. Documents indicate she is between 11 and 12 years old and Bateman took her as his wife in May 2020. The wife replied that she was the only girl not with them, but that “they tried,” according to court documents.
Throughout the video call, the camera pans from the two adult wives to the eight girls. Bateman tells the wives to “get that girl,” and that she needs to be with them, explaining how it “puts pressure on him when they are scattered and that he needs everyone to be together.”
During one of the calls Bateman made to the girls, he asks if they are in “our state,” and they tell him they are not. They explain that only “the mothers are in Arizona headed to New Mexico with the babies.”
Bateman also made video calls to another wife, 19-year-old Moretta Rose Johnson, who was in a hotel room with her baby and at least one of Bateman’s other adult wives. It is unclear where the hotel room was located. Officials believe Johnson became a wife of Bateman when she was under age 18, according to the affidavit.
Johnson was with the girls in Spokane when they were found by law enforcement on Thursday. She was taken into custody and is accused of kidnapping in a federal complaint, which also names the other two wives Bateman was calling.
The women and girls on the calls are talking about being on the move, according to court documents, and officials think they were traveling in at least three separate groups. During a call on the night of Nov. 28, one of the women talks about cleaning one of the vehicles and being able to “swap,” though it is unclear who that woman was.
The FBI learned a credit card owned by one of the wives’ cousins had been used to rent an Airbnb.
And so on Nov. 28, an emergency disclosure request was made to Airbnb to provide the addresses reserved by the cousin or any associated accounts, since he had previously booked houses for members of the group, court documents state.
On Nov. 30, Airbnb provided an address in Spokane for a new reservation made for Nov. 29-Dec. 2. On Dec. 1, a sergeant with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Department knocked at the provided address. Whomever was inside did not answer the door.
The occupants then attempted to leave the house in a vehicle. The officer stopped the vehicle and identified all eight of the missing girls being driven by Johnson.
One of the two other women named in the complaint was arrested Thursday in Colorado City. The status of the third woman is unclear.
It is not clear where the girls are now. Various Arizona police agencies have not responded to requests from The Salt Lake Tribune for comment.
KXLY.com, affiliated with KXLY-TV Ch. 4 in Spokane, also reported Friday that the girls’ location was not known.