The 1977 murder of a small-town doctor in Utah pulled back a veil on a bloody conflict between Mormon polygamist factions that stretched all the way to Chihuahua, Mexico.
Dr. Rulon Allred had a small practice in the town of Murray, multiple wives, and 48 children. On May 10, 1977, two young women in wigs and disguises strode into his clinic and shot him to death in one of his examination rooms, according to “Deadly Cults” on Oxygen.
Authorities guessed the murder might be connected to Allred’s faith because of a series of threatening pamphlets making the rounds from the Church of the Lamb of God, an extreme offshoot of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “Repent or be destroyed,” one of them read.
The church was headed by Ervil LeBaron, who believed himself to be a prophet, and was based in Chihuahua, Mexico. Authorities weren’t familiar with Ervil, but once they started looking into the murder, they uncovered a startling history of violence, former Salt Lake District Attorney David Yocom told “Deadly Cults.”
Ervil’s brother, Joel, was the leader of the sect, but they clashed over differing visions for their family in 1970, according to BBC. In retaliation, Ervil plotted Joel’s murder, Ruth Wariner LeBaron told producers.
Ruth was the 39th of Joel’s 42 children and recalled the impoverished living at “Colonia LeBaron.” Every member of the sect was taught that it was noble to struggle. “They believe that they’re suffering for the greater good and that will help them get to heaven later,” Ruth said.
Ervil took some of the family’s followers with him when Joel kicked him out, according to Ruth, and he constantly wrote revelations and preached that Joel was a false prophet. And in 1972, several of Ervil’s followers carried out their leader’s wishes, luring Joel to a house, beating him, and shooting him to death.
But Joel’s murder was far from the end of violence committed on behalf of Ervil’s fanaticism.
Investigators further tied the murder of Allred to Ervil’s sect after finding a gun box, along with two wigs, in a dumpster near the scene. They traced the gun to Rena Chynoweth, Ervil’s youngest wife. Rena married Ervil was she was 17 and he was 42, and she was told she would be a goddess of sorts to serve the prophet, Ruth told producers.
The investigation then got a boost when Ervil’s first wife, a Mexican woman named Delphina, contacted authorities. She was treated like a servant at Colonia LeBaron and said she was willing to talk if she could be flown to Salt Lake. And she proved the key to unraveling Allred’s murder.
Ervil had ordered the hit only as a means to get close to his brother, Verlan, who was in his crosshairs after daring to speak against the self-declared prophet, Delphina explained. It turned out that Ervil’s men had already made an attempt on Verlan’s life in December 1974 during a violent attack on the rival leader’s home. Although Ervil’s men lobbed Molotov cocktails and shot and killed two nearby followers of Verlan, their target was not even home.
So Ervil figured that Verlan would turn up at Rulon’s funeral and he could kill him then, Delphina told authorities, who were able to set up a strong presence at the service, foiling Ervil’s plans.
Delphina pointed authorities to Rena’s hideout in Mexico, and she was charged and went to trial in March 1979 when she was eight months pregnant. She was acquitted, and Ervil remained on the lam, with law enforcement and members of the polygamous community terrified of who might be his next target.
On May 16, 1979, however, Mexican authorities arrested Ervil and walked him across the border, turning him over to the FBI. He was tried and convicted of ordering Allred’s murder, earning him a life sentence, according to “Deadly Cults.” Within a year, he was found dead in his cell.
During the 1970s, Ervil’s followers were linked to at least 25 murders, Oxygen.com reported.
In 1992, Rena was found liable in a civil suit for Allred’s death, despite her criminal acquittal — resulting in a $52 million judgment for the Allred family, according to “Deadly Cults.”
For more on Rulon Allred’s murder and Ervil LeBaron’s reign of terror, watch “Deadly Cults” at Oxygen.com. New episodes air Sundays at 7/6c.
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