Merril Jessop

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Merril Jessop
Head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (de facto)
December 4, 2007 (2007-12-04) – February 2011 (2011-02)
Predecessor Warren Steed Jeffs
Successor Warren Steed Jeffs
Personal details
Born Frederick Merril Jessop
(1935-12-27) December 27, 1935 (age 81)
Salt Lake City, Utah, United States
Spouse(s) Foneta Marie Stokes Cook
Ruth Pugh Steed
Barbara Steed
Carolyn Bistline Blackmore (former)
Tammy Lauritzen Barlow
Ireta Cathleen Hammon Barlow
Lorraine Steed
and several others
Children 54 total
10 children by Foneta Cook
16 children by Ruth Steed
14 children by Barbara Steed
8 children by Carolyn Blackmore
1 child by Tammy Barlow
5 children by Cathleen Barlow
Parents Richard Seth Jessop and Ida Johnson

Merril Jessop (born December 27, 1935[1]) is the son of Richard Seth Jessop and Ida Johnson.[2] He was believed to be the de facto leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS Church)[3][4] after its former leader, Warren Jeffs, resigned when he was convicted as an accomplice to rape in 2007,[5] until his removal by Jeffs in February 2011.[6] Jessop was also head of the YFZ Ranch.[7]

Jessop has been a lifelong member of the church, as his father and grandfathers were former high-ranking FLDS officials. Jessop is connected by a nebulous series of marriages to the Jeffs family; several of Jessop's daughters and at least one of his wives were previously the plural wives of Rulon Jeffs while at least eleven of Jessop's daughters and two of his granddaughters[8] became plural wives to Warren Jeffs, several of them while they were underage.[9] One of his daughters, Merrianne, was married to Jeffs three weeks after her twelfth birthday,[10] while another, Naomie, was one of Jeffs' favorite wives and was with him at the time of his capture by police.[11]

While he was imprisoned, Warren Jeffs reportedly designated William E. Jessop as the rightful successor to the FLDS Church presidency.[12][13] However, William Jessop remained at official church headquarters in Hildale, Utah. News reports suggested a possible shift of the church's headquarters to Eldorado, Texas, where a temple has been built by FLDS Church members at the YFZ Ranch.[14] As the bishop of the church at YFZ, it appeared that Merril Jessop was the de facto president and the most powerful person in the FLDS Church, until February 2011.[6]

One of Jessop's former wives, Carolyn Jessop, wrote a memoir in 2007 about their 17-year marriage, which had begun when she was 18 and he was 50. The book includes dozens of allegations of spousal and child abuse, both emotional and physical.[15] Carolyn Jessop left the FLDS Church in 2003 and, after a custody battle with Merril Jessop, won full custody of their 8 children.[16][17][18] She is the second woman to leave an FLDS community and gain full custody of all her children, although her eldest daughter Betty decided, after turning 18, to return to her father at the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Texas.[19] Betty Jessop vehemently denies her mother's accusations. In 2009 Carolyn Jessop also won a child-support judgment against Merril Jessop in the approximate amount of $148,000 for support he failed to provide his children from 2003-2009.[20] As of February 2010, Merril Jessop had still not paid any of the child support he owed. According to Carolyn's attorney, Natalie Malonis, he can be jailed for contempt for this failure.[20]

According to his former wife's memoir, Jessop is the father of more than 50 biological children, all by his first six wives.[15] His senior wife Faunita, mother of 10 of Jessop's children, suffered from mental illness; she was literally abandoned by the roadside when the group moved to Texas, and she became a ward of one of her grandchildren who was living in the mainstream-Mormon community.[15] Jessop is believed to have taken many more wives since Carolyn's departure. According to his ex-wife's book, Jessop has nebulous business interests that include construction and hotels and has suffered from major heart problems in recent years.[15]

In a National Geographic article published in February 2010, Jessop both praised and discussed his troubled relationship with Faunita (spelled 'Foneta' in the article). Over 5,000 people were in attendance at Faunita Jessop's funeral. "My hand is a bit sore today," Merril was quoted as saying at the end of the funeral after greeting all those who came.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ *Cause No. 2833 in the District Court of Schleicher County, Texas "Motion for Conservatorship and Further Orders".
  2. ^ "Exhibits from the Trial of LeRoy Jessop (Merril's son)". Schleicher County, Texas District Attorney's Office. Scribd. Retrieved 20 June 2013. [unreliable source?]
  3. ^ "Judge Orders FLDS Nursing Mothers to Foster Care With Infants". CNN. 2008-04-23. 
  4. ^ Katherine Wojtecki (2008-04-15). "At the green gate, and then a glimpse of the polygamist's life". CNN. 
  5. ^ Nancy Perkins (2007-12-05). "Warren Jeffs resigns as leader of the FLDS Church". Deseret Morning News. 
  6. ^ a b McKinley, Carol (March 5, 2011), Inside a troubled fundamentalist Mormon sect, Salon Media Group, Inc., retrieved March 11, 2011, In just a few weeks, Jeffs has gone on a rampage, kicking out at least 40 of his most pious men. One of those faithful is Merril Jessop, a 70year-old FLDS bishop. 
  7. ^ Winslow, Ben (2007-08-29). "Honors for ex-polygamous wife". Deseret News. 
  8. ^ Ex-FLDS bishop gets prison amid talk of more illegal marriages
  9. ^ Carolyn Jessop, Triumph (2010).
  10. ^ Brower, Sam. Prophet's Prey. Bloomsbury USA. 
  11. ^ Sleazy rider: Photos show polygamist Warren Jeffs on the run with his favourite bride... riding on a Harley Davidson
  12. ^ *Hilary Hylton, "A New Prophet for the Polygamists?", Time, 2008-07-18.
  13. ^ Brooke Adams (2007-11-30). "What Warren said to William". Salt Lake Tribune. Archived from the original on 2011-10-01. .
  14. ^ YFZ Ranch - A trip through time, The Eldorado Success
  15. ^ a b c d Palmer, Laura; Carolyn Jessop (2007). Escape. New York: Broadway Books. ISBN 0-7679-2756-7. 
  16. ^ Madigan, Nick (29 June 2005). "After fleeing polygamist community, an opportunity for influence". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-05-12. 
  17. ^ "Escape from polygamy". Vancouver Sun. 3 December 2005. Archived from the original on 15 March 2008. 
  18. ^ "CNN Interview transcript". CNN. 2 September 2006. 
  19. ^ Escape by Carolyn Jessop
  20. ^ a b Matthew Waller (February 22, 2010). "Woman sues FLDS Leader". San Angelo Standard Times. Archived from the original on February 27, 2010. Retrieved April 11, 2010.  External link in |publisher= (help) Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "support" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  21. ^ Anderson, Scott (February 2010). "The Polygamists". National Geographic. 
Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints titles
Preceded by
Rulon T. Jeffs
Warren Jeffs

2002 – present
With: Disputed interruptions by:
Lyle Jeffs (designated acting president)
William E. Jessop (once momentarily successor)
Merril Jessop (once de facto head)
Wendell L. Nielsen (one time head of temporal affairs)
Succeeded by
Warren Jeffs