Shortly after Ervil’s killing spree began, we became convinced he would not quit until he annihilated those who opposed him. My husband, Verlan, had been given the office of patriarch and the presidency in the Church of the Firstborn. Ervil was enraged when he heard this. No one was going to push him aside! His inflated pride convinced him his brother Verlan must be cut down—and not only Verlan. With unrelenting vengeance, Ervil began to pursue any person who would not uphold and support him. His continual revelations from God convinced him he (and not any other brother) was the rightful prophet and head of the church. Cunningly, he began his campaign among Joel’s converts. With his typical charismatic charm, he persuaded several disgruntled members to believe his false claims and follow him.
Caution drove Verlan and Siegfried, Verlan’s counselor in the church, into hiding. Before he left, Verlan said, “Look, I know Ervil intends to kill me. I’ve just got to lay low for a while.”
I knew Verlan feared for his life, and rightly so, but his news sent rage pulsing through me. “How can you just leave me and our children here in the colony like sitting ducks, with absolutely no protection?”
“You’ll just have to have faith and pray that God will protect you,” Verlan said. To convince me, he reluctantly gave me his prized shotgun and a box of shells. “Use this if you have to—you’ll be justified.”
Apparently Verlan thought it wouldn’t hurt to put a bit of faith in firearms as well as the Almighty, but I wasn’t convinced either would be able to protect us from his power-crazed brother. Besides, I would never have willingly let him go if I’d known then that I would not see or hear from Verlan for six months.
Nights were the worst. The uncertainty, the waiting nearly drove me mad. I felt I could not cope with the impending violence.
At dusk one evening, I ran across the gravel road to a section of loose barbed wire. I held it down and took a shortcut through the fence. I made my way to my best friend Linda’s house. Both of us had thirteen children, and we had endured poverty, polygamy, and countless disappointments together. As required, I knocked and identified myself at the same time. Because most people in town had guns to defend themselves, keeping the rules would assure my safety. “It’s Irene, let me in.”
Linda’s frightened youngsters scattered down her long hall, running to hide.
“What’s up, Linda?” I asked, seeing fear in her eyes.
“We got a phone call saying Ervil’s group will be here any minute to blast us with dynamite. Irene,” she said, trembling, “he’s determined to kill us all.”
By now, Linda was trying to calm her frightened children who had overheard her. She grabbed pillows and blankets from the two adjacent bedrooms, throwing them into the hall. She instructed the older kids to bed down beside the smaller ones and added, “We’re safe here in the hall because there are no windows, and these thick adobe walls will protect us.
Despite our fear, both Linda and I tried to reassure the upset children: “Be quiet and go to sleep. You’ll be okay,” I said.
I ran home, snagging my blouse on the barbed wire. I couldn’t wait to take my own children in my arms, but I wondered if I was capable of protecting them.
I spent a miserable night. Thoughts of sleep fled as I listened to my pounding heart. Who would I grab if we had to flee for our lives? Would I take the baby and leave the other nine to fend for themselves? Whom would I take and where would I run?
My agitated mind could not keep on facing death every moment I was awake. I had to come up with a plan. The next morning, I walked three blocks to my friend Helen’s rock home. In a rush of words, I told her of my concern for my children’s lives and that I needed help. She agreed, and we walked together out of the house and through her backyard. She unlocked a small feed room adjacent to the goat corrals. Once inside, I scoped out the space. I could move a few bales of hay and, by stacking them a little higher, make a little more room in the shed. Helen offered a twin-sized mattress that was stored on top of the hay. With a promise from Helen to tell no one, relief flooded me. I had a hiding place for my brood of children. We would be safe.
Helen drove me home. I loaded two sleeping bags, several blankets, and four pillows into her car. She did me the favor of unloading the bedding in the shed, making it ready for me to use.
Shortly after dark, I sent out my tribe of kids by twos. They moved quietly down the road, through a broken wooden gate, to our hiding place. Margaret took Seth, and Barbara walked with LaSalle into the night. Sandra and Connie left about four minutes later, carrying two quarts of drinking water. All the children complained of being too fearful to go ahead without me. “Being quiet and keeping our hiding place a secret will keep us safe,” I told them. “I’ll be right behind you. Don’t be afraid.”
Minutes later, following close behind my children, I held the hand of my youngest child, three-year-old Lothair. I hugged the shotgun with my free hand as I paced along the gravel road, praying no one would detect our presence.
Once in the darkened shed, I put three smaller kids beside me on the narrow mattress. The two older boys slept in sleeping bags, while the other five crowded onto the blankets on the floor. I looked around hoping to find something to use as a potty when I spied a metal gallon paint can I knew would be perfect. I cautioned the children to whisper. We did not want to be discovered by anyone.
The constant bleating and milling around of the dozen or so goats prevented us from falling asleep for quite a while. Finally, after praying to God for our safety, I soon heard sighs and deep breathing from the children. I checked at the head of the mattress, feeling to make sure I had quick access to the shotgun, in case of an emergency. My mind pinballed, unsettled from the predicament in which I’d found myself. An overwhelming sense of hopelessness engulfed me. I could handle death, but my precious children didn’t deserve to be caught up in a religious war, especially among brothers. I listened to the goats’ movements, their playful antics and occasional butting. My eyes hung heavy with sleep, but my mind refused to settle down. I wished there was a way I could run with my children far away to a place where no one could ever find us. I endured a stressful, sleepless night.
With the first rays of morning light, I knew I had to wake the children and get them back into my adobe house before our safe haven was discovered. Once home, we stayed inside, always on the alert, unable to relax. The kids kept on the lookout for any strange vehicles or unusual activity.
At night we resumed our ritual. Each night after prayer, tucked safely in the goat shed, I thanked God we made it through one more day. I ached as I observed the changes that had come over my children. The little ones especially seemed paralyzed with fear and clung to me as though I were their lifeline in a stormy sea. Their need for constant reassurance, the fear-filled nights, and my inability to protect the ones I loved wore me down emotionally and physically. Besides, I knew, even for self-defense, I could never pull a trigger and kill someone. I felt like a hypocrite. Here I was, pretending to be strong and protective, when I knew I was scared spitless. But my cheerful facade was all I could offer my children to ease their terror and give them hope.
For two weeks we went to the shed every night. For two weeks I endured the questions from the children: “Are we going to be safe, Mother?” “Can’t we go somewhere else?” And the question that hurt the most was “When will Daddy come home?” How could I answer them when I didn’t know myself?
I ran to Linda’s each day for comfort. The two of us would break away about four o’clock to the only refreshment stand in town. Going there for our daily Coke kept us energized and boosted our morale. We had to act confident, hiding our fears and concerns as we continued to run our overcrowded households. Our bonds of friendship kept us both focused on our responsibilities and gave us the motivation to cope. I knew no man could begin to understand the devastation of being alone, vulnerable, and unprotected. Living under death threats with the huge responsibility of rearing numerous children plagued us and wore us down. I knew I would never feel safe or experience peace until Ervil was apprehended.
Ervil had bragged to several followers that he would use his daughters as blessings for those who did his bidding. And he kept his word. My beautiful fifteen-year-old niece Rebecca (Ervil and Delfina’s daughter) had been given to Victor Chynoweth as a reward for his financial backing.
While living plural marriage in Colorado, Rebecca seemed to fight constantly with Victor’s first wife, Nancy. Their conflict became more intense when Rebecca gave birth. While in the hospital, she determined Nancy would not have any control over her. So, for spite, she put Victor Jr. on the birth certificate. Nancy was enraged because she had planned on having a “junior” someday.
When Rebecca returned to Victor and Nancy’s home, they ignored her. Victor turned cold toward her for provoking Nancy. Their fights escalated. For punishment, Victor locked her in her bedroom for a week.
Rebecca rebelled, refusing to take further orders from Victor. She wanted to leave Colorado and take her baby to Mexico to live with her older sister, Sylvia Esther, in Colonia LeBaron. Worried Rebecca would flee, Victor seized her baby and placed him in Nancy’s care. Rebecca threatened to turn Victor and her father over to the authorities if Victor didn’t return her baby. She demanded to see her father, who was in Dallas, but instead Victor called him. When he told Ervil Rebecca was threatening to go to the law, Victor and Ervil determined she was nothing but trouble. Ervil said, “You need to keep her under control, and the best way to do that is to send her to Dallas. I don’t want her getting in the way of our plans.” Ervil told Victor he regretted trusting his daughter enough to allow her to be present when he discussed the fate of certain defectors.
Once Rebecca arrived in Dallas, however, Ervil realized he had made a mistake. Still fuming over her disobedience, Ervil took matters into his own hands. He knew he had to comply with God’s commands in dealing with rebellion. He told Victor, “You know it takes great courage to punish your own flesh and blood.” So Ervil wasted no time in issuing his orders. He designated his stepson Eddie (Anna Mae’s son) along with his wife Lorna’s brother, Duane Chynoweth, to carry out the deed. Duane was Victor’s youngest brother. By phone, from Sullivan’s office, he ordered Eddie and Duane to “take care of her.”
Victor called Rebecca and told her she would soon be free. She was jubilant that her father had finally changed his mind, allowing her to pick up her baby in Colorado and go to Mexico. She could hardly wait to reunite with her son and then put as much distance as possible between her and Nancy and Victor.
Eddie and Duane, however, had definite orders from Ervil to see that Rebecca never made it to the airport. Ervil smiled at them cunningly and said, “Make her happy. Give her a one-way ticket.”
In mid-April of 1977, the men picked up Rebecca in Ervil’s new green Ford LTD. They drove to the outskirts of Dallas and pulled over in a remote area. Eddie retrieved the rope he had conveniently hidden beneath the driver’s seat. He and Duane then jumped in the backseat beside her. While Duane restrained her, Eddie forced the noose over Rebecca’s head. She thrashed around, putting up the fight of her life. Eddie spent his strength tightening the rope until his hands and wrists ached from the exertion. Seeing that Eddie needed help, Duane joined in. The assassins pulled the rope taut from both ends until Rebecca quit resisting, went limp, and stopped breathing altogether. They lifted her lifeless body from the backseat and carelessly threw it into the trunk. Then they drove back to report to Ervil.
Later Ervil drove the LTD to the appliance shop, where his friend Lloyd Sullivan noticed the back of the car seemed to be lower than usual. When Sullivan questioned him, Ervil sarcastically asked, “Do you think Rebecca is in the trunk?”
Sullivan was stunned by the question.
“Open it and see for yourself,” Ervil challenged.
Sullivan caught the keys Ervil threw at him and opened the trunk. He cringed when he saw Rebecca’s dead body streaked with blood that had oozed from her nose and mouth. Sickened by the scene, he whispered, “How could you have done this? She’s your own daughter!”
Even as he asked, Sullivan knew the question was needless. Ervil had taught all of his followers Matthew 10:37: “He who loves father and mother more than me is not worthy of me, and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
Ervil ordered Duane and Eddie to dispose of the body. Just before they drove away, Ervil cautioned them, “If anyone asks her whereabouts, tell them she ran off to Mexico with a lover.”
Eddie and Duane took a pick, a shovel, and a tent and headed for Oklahoma with Rebecca’s remains, stopping along the way just long enough to buy bags of ice to pack around her decomposing body. Once they found a secluded area, they set up a blue tent, which had the floor cut out of it. They couldn’t risk hikers catching them in the act, so they wanted to appear to be camping. The boys took turns digging Rebecca’s grave inside the tent throughout the afternoon until dark. When they were sure no one was in sight, the two boys walked down the small hillside, retrieved Rebecca’s body from the trunk of the car, and lugged it back up to the freshly dug hole. They covered her body with dirt, making sure it was tamped down solid. Then they gathered branches from the surrounding hillside and used them as a camouflage.
Her unmarked grave has never been discovered.
I fell apart upon hearing of Rebecca’s death—a beautiful, four-months pregnant, seventeen-year-old, so full of determination and spunk. My heart went out to her. I’d witnessed the neglect she received from her own father as a child. She was treated as a lesser soul because she had Delfina’s blood coursing through her veins. She had been emotionally starved, uneducated, never having any but her most basic needs addressed. Now my precious niece had been atoned. I hated Ervil; he was too gutless to do the dirty deed himself, so he forced his own stepson and brother-in-law to carry out the dastardly act!
When the exhausted gravediggers returned, Ervil was incensed upon seeing his dirty car. He showed no remorse whatsoever over the murder of his own daughter. No, Ervil was furious that his LTD was splashed with Oklahoma mud. He ranted, calling the boys “stupid idiots.” When he checked the tires, he saw more caked mud and feared it could be used as evidence. He lectured Eddie and Duane for being incompetent, and then turned to examine the trunk of the car. He saw Rebecca’s blood had stained the trunk mat, and he raved that they’d left still more incriminating evidence. He grabbed the bloody mat and threw it into a trash barrel. He lit the contents with a match and made sure everything burned to ashes.
Ervil was still dissatisfied. He ordered them to wash his car inside and out and finally ordered them to buy new tires for the car. But, still fearful of being implicated, Ervil refused to drive the LTD. He had Dan Jordan sell the car and replace it with another—same make, year, and color.
No sooner had Ervil had his brother Joel assassinated when he began contacting all the Mormon splinter groups, demanding they join him and, of course, pay their tithing monies to him. The Allreds’ Apostolic United Brethren was first on the list, being a juicy apple to be plucked.
The first real threat came in 1975 in a pamphlet Ervil titled Response to an act of War. A personal note to my uncle Rulon was handwritten on the back of his new recruiting tract. In this warning Ervil urged my uncle to repent immediately that he might live, before the sword of the Lord fell upon him, leaving neither root nor branch.
Sufficiently concerned, Uncle Rulon went to the police. He asked them to seriously consider the threats and extortion demands being made on the Mormon splinter groups.
When Uncle Rulon ignored his threats, Ervil became indignant. Soon, he sent another warning to the Allred group, offering them one last chance to comply with his demands. But still, they ignored his outrageous command.
Rebuffed by Uncle Rulon’s disobedience and bolstered by the success of his previous murderous victories and his miraculous release from jail, Ervil began to plan for the blood atonement of other men he considered to be false prophets and who were ignoring the Lord’s commands through him.
Only days after Rebecca’s murder, on April 20, 1977, in the safety of Thelma Chynoweth’s home, with several of his followers gathered in a special meeting, Ervil outlined for them the next big hit.