Women, children taken from West Texas polygamist compound
By Michelle Roberts
SAN ANGELO, Texas — Authorities who took 220 women and children from a polygamist compound weren’t sure whether the teen girl whose phone call prompted the raid was among them.
State troopers raided the 1,700-acre West Texas ranch on Friday to look for evidence that the teen, who called authorities a week ago, was married. They planned to continue interviews Monday with some of the women and children, who were transported to a historic San Angelo museum, said Child Protective Services spokeswoman Marleigh Meisner.
So far, 18 children have been taken legally in state custody, Meisner said, who explained Friday that the children had either been harmed or were in imminent danger at the compound. She would not give details. The children remain with relatives, and no arrests had been made as of Sunday.
Authorities planned to search Monday for more children and documents at the compound, which was built by jailed polygamist leader Warren Jeffs in Eldorado, about 45 miles south of San Angelo.
They are looking for evidence the girl, who allegedly had a baby at 15, and 50-year-old Dale Barlow were married. Under Texas law, girls younger than 16 cannot marry, even with parental approval.
Allison Palmer, the prosecutor working on the case, said other law enforcement agencies "know where (Barlow) is and have talked to him, but our investigators have not."
Barlow’s probation officer, Bill Loader, told The Salt Lake Tribune that he was in Arizona. A call to Loader by The Associated Press was not returned Sunday.
Barlow was sentenced to jail last year after pleading no contest to conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a minor. He was ordered to register as a sex offender for three years while on probation.
A search warrant for the raid instructed officers to look for marriage records or other evidence linking the teen to the man and the baby. The warrant authorized the seizure of computer drives, CDs, DVDs or photos.
Meisner said the adults taken from the compound were cooperating with authorities, and that she didn’t believe any were forced to leave the compound.
Many members of the sect are related to one another and share similar names; investigators said in some case they have given different names at different times. Ages were also difficult to determine, Meisner said.
Dozens of women and children, mostly girls, were seen boarding buses Sunday on their way to San Angelo. They wore long pastel dresses, and many carried bedding or infants.
The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, headed by Jeffs after his father’s death in 2002, broke away from the Mormon church after the latter disavowed polygamy more than a century ago.
Eldorado, a dusty town surrounded by sheep ranches, has fewer than 2,000 people and is located nearly 200 miles northwest of San Antonio.
The compound sits down a narrow paved road and behind a hill that shields it almost entirely from view in town. Only the 80-foot-high, white temple can be seen on the horizon.
Authorities kept onlookers miles away from the compound, which FLDS church members began building several years ago as authorities in Arizona and Utah began increasingly scrutinizing the group.
The investigation prompted by the girl’s call last week was the first in Texas involving the sect.
Jeffs is jailed in Kingman, Ariz., where he awaits trial for four counts each of incest and sexual conduct with a minor stemming from two arranged marriages between teenage girls and their older male relatives.
In November, he was sentenced to two consecutive sentences of five years to life in prison in Utah for being an accomplice to the rape of a 14-year-old girl who wed her cousin in an arranged marriage in 2001.