Ervil, Joel, Verlan, Alma, and Floren
|Born||February 22, 1925
Galeana, Chihuahua, Mexico
|Died||August 16, 1981
Draper, Utah USA
|Cause of death||Myocardial infarction|
|Number of victims||25+|
|Span of killings||1974–1981|
|Country||Mexico, United States|
|Date apprehended||June 1, 1979|
Ervil Morrell LeBaron (February 22, 1925 – August 16, 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 prison for orchestrating the murder of an opponent, and died in prison.
After The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), officially abandoned the practice of polygamy in 1890, some polygamous Mormons 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; and Ervil started a new church in San Diego, California, the Church of the Lamb of God. 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 group of polygamous Mormon fundamentalists. Ervil LeBaron's 13th wife, Rena Chynoweth, carried out the murder with another woman, Ramona Marston. Although Rena 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 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 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 6, was shot multiple times in his office in Houston, Texas.
Of the 7 killers involved in the infamous "4 O’Clock Murders," 5 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.
- Prophet of Evil: The Ervil LeBaron Story (1993)
- Interview with Susan Ray Schmidt, stated as serving as a proxy for Rena Chynoweth, on Polygamy: What Love Is This?, 23 April 2009 [unreliable source?]
- Factional breakdown: Mormon fundamentalist sects
- Mormon fundamentalism
- List of Mormon fundamentalist churches
- List of Mormon fundamentalist leaders
- 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, 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Krakauer, Jon (2003) Under the Banner of Heaven : A Story of Violent Faith, pp. 266–277.
- Scheeres, Julia. "Ervil LeBaron". Renegade Mormon fundamentalist wooed child brides and used them as the instruments of his murderous designs. 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.