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The more than Mormon Murders — Chihuahua

8 July 2009

(06 November 2019: thank you for the hits, but this is from 2008. It is background for today’s post, “LeBaron: Cartels… or…“)

The story line sounds simple enough:  teenager is kidnapped; family demands return and refuses to pay ranson; teen is released unharmed; brother becomes “star” anti-crime crusader; somebody kills brother.  Dudley Althous — writing in the Houston Chronicle — presents what will probably form the basis of any “meaning” given to the murders in Colonia Le Barón, Galeana, Chihuahua:

A top member of a breakaway Mormon sect was dragged from his home by marauders and killed early Tuesday in a village founded and named for the American families that settled the remote community in the northern Mexican desert.

Benjamin LeBaron, 31, and Luis Widmar, 29, a brother-in-law who tried to help him, were grabbed by at least 15 commandos shortly after midnight in Colonia LeBaron, which is about 200 miles southeast of El Paso, witnesses said.

The bodies of the men, both naturalized U.S. citizens with five children each, were found nearby shortly afterward, each shot several times in the head, Brent LeBaron, a cousin of Benjamin who lives in the village, said by telephone.

Benjamin LeBaron had led successful protests earlier this year to free his kidnapped brother and demand police protection for their isolated rural community.

“We are fighting a cause that should be heard throughout the world,” said Brent LeBaron, who was helping build the slain men’s coffins Tuesday and prepare for their burials.

Mennonite and Mormon communities in Chihuahua have both complained that the have been targeted by kidnappers and thieves who assume their thriving agricultural communities have ready cash. But,  when Eric LeBaron was kidnapped, his family refused to pay the requested million dollar (U.S.) ranson, and his older brother Benjamin rallied Mormons and Mennonites to lobby the State Government for special assistance, which was forthcoming. And — quite unusual — federal soldiers were used to hunt down the alleged kidnappers, with 25 persons being arrested in a nearby community.  Benjamin was turned into something of a cause celebre, taken to address Federal police cadets and then… the killings.

It would seem straight-forward, but something bothered me.  I didn’t recognize  Le Barón from any of my reading on the Mormon colonies during the Mexican Revolution, though the family name seemed familiar.

The town, and the founding family — have a history in Mexico that doesn’t start until 1924, but which suggests this could be much, much more complex than just another good gun v. bad guy scenario.

The community was founded in 1924 by “apostate” Mormon Alma Dayer LeBaron, who supposedly fled Utah with a lynch mob and federal marshals on his trail.  Although technically against the law, polygamous communes were tolerated in Chihuahua (often under the protection of Pancho Villa) and one more wouldn’t have upset anyone.  Alma, and the LeBaron community were excommunicated by the “official” Mormon Church (the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints) in 1944, the community officially joining the Apostolic United Brethren — a break-away Mexican based Mormon church … the “mainstream polygamous” branch of Mormonism.

When Alma died in 1951, leadership in the community passed to his son, Joel.  Joel left the Apostolic United Brethern to found his own church, the “Church of the Firstborn of the Fulness of Times”.  At least some of the LeBarons, including second in command, Joel’s younger brother Ervil, later moved to Baja California.  Ervil moved to San Diego, California to start a second church.

And, then it gets very, very weird.  As Time Magazine reported 29 August 1977:

Ervil LeBaron, 52, polygamous (13 wives, at least 25 children) leader of the tiny Church of the Lamb of God, is the target of investigations by police departments from San Diego and Los Angeles to Salt Lake City and Denver. Even the Secret Service is interested in his whereabouts, since some of his followers sent a threatening letter to the then presidential candidate Jimmy Carter in September 1976. LeBaron’s alleged crime: inducing several of his 40-odd disciples, including a number of women, to murder between 13 and 20 people who failed to abide by what he decreed to be the “constitutional law of the Kingdom of God.”

In 1974, after murdering his brother Joel, Ervil and his followers burned down the Baja California community.  He later murdered the head of the Apostolic United Brethren before moving on to the United States, where he and his gang (mostly his wives and numerous children) were indicted for five murders in Houson.

Eventually caught in Mexico, Ervil and his son, William, were sentenced to life without parole in federal prison.  The F.B.I. is offering a $20,000 reward for the capture of another child, Jacqueline, who was last seen in Honduras in 2007. William has a jailhouse conversion to Christianity, and his on-line testimonial includes the family history.

Given the isolated geography of northern Chihuahua (meaning you’ll have some inbreeding) and the polygamous history of the Le Baron family, it’s impossible to work out the exact relationship of the various LeBarons and it would be unfair to assume all LeBarons are as crazy as Joel and Ervil.  Probably the only reporter in either Mexico or the United States who could keep it straight would be Brooke Adams of the Salt Lake City Tribune, whose “The Plural Life” follows, among others, “The LeBaron Group”.

One thing William LeBaron mentions in his testimonial is the family’s various businesses in Houston, Denver and elsewhere, which employ family members and — he implies — are meant to provide a rationale for U.S. citizenship for the family members.  I did find two different LeBarons on myspace.com, both claiming to live in the Chihuahua community, but residing in the United States.  One, a 19 year old man, was looking forward to returning home to find a girl.

Le Barón — the community — also made the news last year when the state of Texas investigated the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints for child abuse charges (which turned out to be unfounded) and several members of the sect considered moving to Mexico to escape persecution.  Alfredo Corchado, of the Dallas Morning News, found that only some of the community practiced polygamy (and modified the practice to fit the letter of the Mexican legal code) and seemed reluctant to admit troublesome outsiders.  “‘The last thing we need here are a bunch of outlaws,’ said Lillian Tucker, 40, a mother of 18 who practices polygamy…”

The note left on Benjamin LeBaron’s body read “You can see the LeBarons are not untouchable.” Was the kidnapping only about a wealthy odd community, or directed specifically at the LeBaron family.  Could this have been another turn in the LeBaron family’s bloody religious war? Why was the federal government involved, and so quick to use Benjamin LeBaron as a poster-child for anti-crime activity?  And were the alleged kidnappers the whole story?  If 25 were arrested, who were the six who attacked Benjamin LeBaron and Luis Widmer?  That’s an awful lot of people for an area where a village like Le Barón (pop. about 1500) is the biggest community in the region.

The question in Chihuahua is whether the “bunch of outlaws” were outsiders or not.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. 8 July 2009 8:57 am

    What a story! Worth following for sure. The Jon Krakauer book Under the Banner of Heaven, Mormons also deals with some of the flakier and polygamist Mormon groups in the US and Canada. Some of these groups devolve into unrighteous violence. Many years ago when I was a social worker in Belleville, Illinois, I met several times with the local Mormon bishop, a man I came to admire. He talked about the problems of violence against women and kids by overly-righteous men in his more-mainstream-Church of Latter Day Saints congregation.

    I’d be really surprised to find violence among Mennonites. I’d make sure distinctions were clear.

  2. gav permalink
    8 July 2009 10:39 am

    That’s a great story!
    Any connection with the Chrysler LeBaron? My mom, who is from Salt Lake City, used to drive one of those–coincidence? Hrm…..

  3. 8 July 2009 10:55 am

    If you think the Mennonites are all simply a bunch of cheese-making, wholesome folk, then you haven’t read the last chapter in Sam Quinones’ book, Antonio’s Gun and Delfino’s Dream.

  4. 8 July 2009 2:06 pm

    No violence in the Mennonites? HA! Sam Quinones is just the most recent in a long stream of looks that people have taken at the Campos and the drug trafficking and violence that stream back and forth between Chihuahua (and other Mexican states) and Canada.

    Unfortunately people get their kicks out of “righteous” people causing trouble – some people like that sort of grins and giggles garbage – and I think it takes attention away from some of the other more important issues floating out there with Mennonites in Chihuahua regarding land use and water. At any rate, at the end of the day the Mennonites are a divided community along class lines, and those that find themselves on the margins of survival often turn to an alternative economy…just like thousands of poor Catholics, Protestants, and other people with “moral programs” do.

    As for the Mormons … yeah, Colonia Lebaron is to the LDS folks in Chihuahua what Santa Muerte is to the Archibishop of Mexico: A real pain in the patootie, something like that weird second cousin that keeps flashing the neighbors and you wish you weren’t distantly related to . Anyway, I’d have to say that the folks in Lebaron crossed the wrong people and this has nothing to do with Ervil and his “blood atonement” rampage and feud.

    Our geography prof. has some connections that got us touring around the LDS Mormon colonies last May, and they walk a very fine line with their narcotraficante neighbors, the ejidatarios, and the federals. I imagine Colonia Lebaron is in the same boat.

  5. 8 July 2009 5:23 pm

    Wow Richard, what a story, I’m gonna run it if it’s okay. Hope you are doing good down there it’s strange here.

    Maggie

  6. 8 July 2009 7:41 pm

    I have been looking into the Mennonites. We had good Mennonite friends in the US….this is a very interesting story. Will post on it and let you all know more.

  7. C. Foster permalink
    9 July 2009 3:45 am

    The terrorist murders of Benjamin and Luis have to do with money- not religion.

    Ervil LeBaron was a charismatic leader with schizophrenia, who believed he spoke directly to God. His brother Joel was loved by many, some of whom still follow his words as gospel.
    These two young men followed their culture, including the religion, but were not practicing polygamy.

    The federales seized upon Benjamin as a ‘poster child’ for anti-crime activity because he was an articulate speaker and he led the town to march on Chihuahua City, to pressurize the govt. for the release of his brother, and for more protection.

    It is fatuous and erroneous to link these murders with the Ervil LeBaron murders. I only hope the sensational connection serves to highlight the brutality and mindlessness of these murders, and to put an end to this terrorism.

    In the meantime, Miriam has lost her husband (Benjamin) and her brother (Luis), and her five children have lost their father. Rosa has lost her husband Luis, and their five children are also fatherless.

  8. 16 May 2010 12:50 pm

    There are numerous Mormon polygamous communities adjacent to Colonia LeBaron. They include Colonia Juarez and Colonia Dublan.

    Mitt Romney’s father is from Colonia Juarez and Utah Senator Orrin Hatch also has family there. In fact, a close relative of Romney’s, who also happens to be President of the Mormon Temple there, was also recently kidnapped.

    Colonia Juarez is a polygamous Mormon Community, which is able to operate under the radar of US polygamy laws because its located in Mexico. And, the genesis of all the Mormon polygamous communities in northern Mexico were the anti-polygamy laws, which made polygamy illegal in the United States. Consequently, the “1890 Manifesto” led to many polygamous Mormons fleeing Utah into Mexico.

    The recent kidnapping of Romney in Colonia Juarez, which was orchestrated by members of the Sinaloa Drug Cartel, earned them a million dollar ransom that was paid by the Mormon religion.

    Now, why would Colonia Juarez, and the other adjacent Mormon polygamous communities, which have always been associated the Gulf Cartel, now be under attack by the Sinaloa Drug Cartel who wants to take over drug routes into Arizona and Utah.

    And, why do most, if not all of the “ranchers” on Arizona’s border with Mexico in southeast Arizona all seem to be Mormon?

    Read – LDS Church: Mexico Drug Money Connection?, by Suzan Mazur:

    http://www.suzanmazur.com/?p=38

    Also read my website, which will utterly amaze you:

    http://mormonzeitgeist.com/node/244

    • 16 May 2010 12:55 pm

      You seem to be confusing the Mormon colonies founded in the 1880s and 90s with LeBaron, which was founded in the 1920s, and is considered a “heretical sect” by the older Mormon groups. None of them are “operating under the radar” of U.S. law… U.S. law is irrelevant to Mexico.

    • Beverly Carlson permalink
      13 May 2011 12:25 pm

      Maybe you don’t know, but there are no members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day-Saints that practice plural marriage. If they try, they are cut off from the church. We do not allow plural marriage. Get your facts straight. No Plural Marriage in the U.S. or any other country in this world.

      • 13 May 2011 2:11 pm

        Thank you for your comment. I haven’t considered this post in quite some time, but you have provided a wonderful oppotunity for expanding on my remarks.

        I was very careful in writing the original post to point out that the LeBaron colony is an “apostate” Mormon sect. The original Mormon colonists from the 1880s up through about 1920 were polygamous, but whether they would be, or were at the time, considered “apostates” by the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints, in Mexico, they considered themselves “Mormons”.

        I understand that this is a sore point for members of the LDS, the RLDS and the “Temple Lot” Church, but I’m afraid I have no control over how people identify themselves in religious terms — there are any number of people who belong to sects in this country that are not following the strictures of the Roman Catholic Church, but identify themselves as Catholics. Some, like the LeBarón colonists are members of registered religious associations with different names, but, like the members of some of those registered and unregistered sects that refer to themselves as “Catholic”, the LeBarón colonists and others call themselves “Mormons” in the media and in public.

        Historically, the LDS did allow plural marriages (until 1890, which was the impetus for some of the “Mormon” emigration to Mexico) , and the RLDS still does, under certain circumstances (among converts from religions where polygamy is accepted and in countries where it is legal). Of course, polygamy is not legally recognized in Mexico, but those practicing “plural marriages” — making other legal arrangements for spousal and child support — are tolerated. Thus, my response to Ms. Mazur, who seems to think either U.S. legal code, or the strictures of the Latter-Day Saints, have any bearing on members of various Mexican sects (even if they use the common name of the better known U.S. based Church).

  9. 4 February 2013 5:05 pm

    I stayed in colonia labaron years ago. I grew quite found of the families their. God bless.

  10. Francisco LeBaron permalink
    21 November 2013 4:58 pm

    Check your facts before publishing this bullshit. It’s deeper then you can imagine.

Trackbacks

  1. The slaughter of the innocents « The Mex Files
  2. A shotgun blast from the past « The Mex Files
  3. 07/09 VIOLENCE TIJUANA WHAT’S UP WITH THE MORMONS FROM RICHARD GRABMAN & NEW STRATFOR REPORTS ON ARMS IN MEXICO INFO ON LOS MOLINOS BAJA | jim@hackrepair.com
  4. LeBaron: Cartels… or… | The Mex Files

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