Ervil LeBaron, The “Mormon Manson” and the Mexican Massacre of His Family

He’s called “Mormon Manson,” but polygamist Ervil LeBaron and his Mexican family have managed to make Charlie and his gang look almost tame by comparison. A 6-foot-8-inch white supremacist and religious fundamentalist who loved to seduce underage girls, LeBaron trained women to kill for him and ordered beatings on rival polygamists and “apostates” from his church. And they killed: Members of LeBaron’s family were responsible for up to 50 murders, as well as bank robberies, stealing cars, dealing drugs, and selling guns to drug dealers.

Ervil was eventually arrested for his crimes and extradited to the United States, where he died in prison in 1981. But his wives, children, and spiritual followers continued their murderous rampage well into the 1990s. As one of LeBaron’s family members put it, “Everyone is an unbeliever if they don’t believe what you believe.”

Outwardly, however, the LeBarons appeared to be just a wealthy farming clan with bizarre sexual practices who had an “I won’t bother you if you don’t bother me” pact with El Chapo and the notorious Sinaloa cartel, who had drug smuggling routes in the near the Mormon colony. But, says Sally Denton, author of The Colony: Faith and Blood in a Promised Land, “I think it’s naïve for the public to think they were just friendly neighbors who said hello at sicario checkpoints. I don’t think you wouldn’t live with some of the most violent people in the world without a place to live. I think they helped with guns.”

All of this fell apart when El Chapo was extradited to the US and sentenced to life imprisonment, after which rival groups began to squabble over the Sinaloa drug empire, putting Mormon lives at risk. And on November 12, 2019, the worst that could happen happened: Up to 100 sicarios drove in a three-car convoy down a 12-mile stretch of barren road, a favorite route of the drug cartel, which happened to connect two Mormon enclaves Mormon mothers and their children and murdered nine people, some of whom were burned alive.

Members of the LeBaron family look at the burned car in which some of the nine murdered family members were killed and burned in an ambush on November 5, 2019 in Bavispe, Sonoran Mountains, Mexico.


Some said the victims were deliberately targeted to start a war between the Sinaloa and Juarez cartels; others said it was a case of mistaken identity; and still others said it was an offshoot of a water rights struggle between the Mormons and their Mexican neighbors. Denton disagrees.

“I think someone owed someone something,” she says. “I think it was a great message, not to the wives and children, but to their husbands and fathers. It wasn’t a mix-up; They were targeted. It was about money; someone has broken some deal.”

but The colony is about much more than a perverted, corrupt and violent Mormon family and their relationship with drug cartels. It is indeed a fascinating insight into Mormon bigotry, violence, deceit, insanity and misogyny, dating back to the mid-19th century when the religion was founded by Joseph Smith. It follows Smith’s acolytes after his assassination by a mob in Carthage, Illinois in 1844 to their eventual landing site in Utah. There Brigham Young began what he called a “Mormon Reformation,” which involved “the cleansing of the wayward Saints by blood atonement,” and ended in the most notorious episode in Mormon history, the Mountain Meadows massacre in 1857 in which a wagon train of 140 men, women and children crossing Mormon territory were murdered, the slaughter blamed on the Paiute Indians. It’s a stain the Church could never erase.

“The Church has never properly acknowledged its role in the massacre,” says Denton. “Many people were involved, and the evidence shows it went as far as Brigham Young. They blame the Paiutes, or renegades, in southern Utah. It must have discredited the church.”

The massacre and Brigham Young’s role in it sheds light on what appears to be insanity not only in Smith and Young but in the LeBaron family as well. “There is evidence of a kind of madness in the LeBaron family and in the history of Mormon Church leaders,” says Denton. “I think it’s the fact that the whole church is based on this communion with God that every human being can do, and tops it off with some delusional aspects. You have to look at the visions from Smith and Young to the LeBarons and wonder what the momentum is here. I think a lot of the LeBarons can be explained by incest.”

“The LeBarons founded Colonia LeBaron in 1944. It soon became a center of sexual deviance, something that has also been a part of Mormon history from its inception.”

And then there is polygamy. The practice had been part of the Church since its inception, but when Mormon leadership realized that Utah would never become a state by virtue of its very existence, polygamy was outlawed in 1890. This forced recalcitrant fundamentalists south to Mexico, where then-President Porfirio Diaz encouraged them to settle in the northern states of Sonora and Chihuahua, which soon became hotbeds of religious fanaticism (Mexico now has the largest Mormon population outside of the United States, the vast majority majority not polygamists). During the Mexican Revolution, Pancho Villa forced them back to the States and most never returned. But the LeBarons did, and founded Colonia LeBaron in 1944. It soon became a center of sexual deviance, something that has also been a part of Mormon history since its inception.

“When Joseph Smith first introduced [polygamy] it was not without sexual deviance,” says Denton, herself a descendant of Mormon pioneers and polygamists. “I have interviewed wives and daughters raised in polygamy and one of them said they were converted below the belt. It promotes sexual deviance, much repression and repression, even in people who do not have this tendency. The true believers believe that they are creating the Kingdom of God on earth and the goal is to spread the seed of man and for the women it is to have as many children as possible and at LeBaron Colony they began with having babies as young as 13.”

“There are parallels between the LeBaron family and the Mormons in Mexico that are relevant to the impulses of white nationalism.”

— Sally Denton

Denton’s book comes out at just the right time. Interest in Mormon crimes and perversions seems to be reaching something of an all-time high, thanks to two recent documentaries, a true crime series, and a podcast: Murder among the Mormonsa Netflix series about a man who forged documents related to the Latter-day Saint movement; Under the banner of heavenan FX on Hulu series investigating the murders of a Mormon mother and daughter involving a fundamentalist branch of the church; Stay sweet: pray and obey, a Netflix documentary about fundamentalist pedophile leader Warren Jeffs; and Deliver us from Ervilan Apple Podcast about the LeBaron family.

“I believe that all stories that are profound and legitimate find their level,” says Denton of this wave of Mormons. “There are parallels between the LeBaron family and Mormons in Mexico that are relevant to the impulses of white nationalism and events in the United States. Many of the same impulses of clannism, nativism, and white Christian nationalism are the downsides of all three of these stories.”


Photo illustration by The Daily Beast/Public Domain

But it’s the victims of the LeBaron massacre who take center stage The colony, and the polygamous wives who have to contend with their husbands’ misogyny. Only a handful of people were arrested for the killings, and to this day no one really knows who ordered the killing or why. Denton sees this as a case for how expendable women are in the LeBaron community, that these young mothers and their children should never have traveled that dangerous road unarmed without their husbands.

“I ended up coming back to the true victims of this story, the women and children — the ones who always seem expendable in these stories,” she says. “I wanted to delve deeper into her murders and her relationship to a long and often sordid history of polygamy. I was hoping to not only show the forces at work behind the scenes – some of them quite obscure – but also leverage my own family’s history with the early ones [Latter-Day Saints] Believe in connecting everything.” Ervil LeBaron, The “Mormon Manson” and the Mexican Massacre of His Family


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