Rebecca Musser’s story is a captivating one. The former member of the Fundamentalist Church of the Latter Day Saints (FLDS), a polygamous cult led by Warren Jeffs, ended up turning against her religious sect, serving as one of the key witnesses who helped put Jeffs behind bars for the rest of his life.
But Musser wasn’t only a member of the church; at 19, she became one of the many wives of former sect leader Rulon Jeffs, whom she was forced to marry when he was 85-years-old. See, at the time Roulon was the head of the FLDS church, unleashing doctrine and ruling the community with an iron fist.
While it was an apparent honor to be married to the professed prophet, what came along with the territory was patently horrifying. The age difference and sexual abuse were only two of the many life-altering elements that came into play for the young woman.
In her new book, “The Witness Wore Red: The 19th Wife Who Brought Polygamous Cult Leaders to Justice,” Musser details her harrowing journey from mental and physical captivity to freedom and advocacy. A description of the text offers up a brief overview of her fascinating life story:
Rebecca Musser grew up in fear, concealing her family’s polygamous lifestyle from the “dangerous” outside world. Covered head-to-toe in strict, modest clothing, she received a rigorous education at Alta Academy, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints’ school headed by Warren Jeffs. Always seeking to be an obedient Priesthood girl, in her teens she became the nineteenth wife of her people’s prophet: 85-year-old Rulon Jeffs, Warren’s father. Finally sickened by the abuse she suffered and saw around her, she pulled off a daring escape and sought to build a new life and family.
The church, however, had a way of pulling her back in-and by 2007, Rebecca had no choice but to take the witness stand against the new prophet of the FLDS in order to protect her little sisters and other young girls from being forced to marry at shockingly young ages. The following year, Rebecca and the rest of the world watched as a team of Texas Rangers raided the Yearning for Zion Ranch, a stronghold of the FLDS. Rebecca’s subsequent testimony would reveal the horrific secrets taking place behind closed doors of the temple, sending their leaders to prison for years, and Warren Jeffs for life.
In an interview with NPR, Musser explained that her father, a businessman, joined the cult when he was married to his first wife. Then, he wedded Musser’s mother, exposing the young woman to an uncommon family structure. In addition to jealousy between the wives, Musser was sexually abused by a half brother and was threatened when she reported it to the boy’s mother.
As a result, she remained silent about the matter for years, only coming forward with the story when she became an adult. And that’s only a snippet of what unfolded.
In addition to these childhood abuses, as stated, Musser had a limited view of the outside world. She was taught that becoming a woman and bearing children for the community was essential and all that life had to offer her as a woman living in the cult.
“As a child growing up, as a woman, I was taught that the very highest thing I could ever hope to attain was to become a mother in Zion, to be perfectly obedient to the prophet, and one day have the opportunity to be placed by a good priesthood man, to be perfectly obedient to him,” she told NPR. “Knowing what I know now, I look back on many of those teachings, and I realize the tremendous amount of mind control that goes into place to keep this kind of a controlled environment maintained.”
Watch the first part of Musser’s “Dateline” story, below (you can see all 12 segments of the gripping tale here):
The marriage to Rulon, of course, was traumatic. In addition to the fact that he was 66 years her senior, there was a required sexual component that horrified the young woman. Leading into the marriage ceremony, which was held at the then-prophet’s home, Musser was terrified, but complied what the inner workings of the only world she had ever known.
“I had just resigned myself to the fact that this was my fate and just to surrender to it,” she said on Friday night’s “Dateline.” “I remember walking in [to the wedding ceremony] and thinking, “Just stand up and do your duty.”‘
What happened after, though, was seven years of traumatic sexual contact with Rulon. When she eventually resisted, the prophet’s son, Warren, threatened Musser, telling her she would be “destroyed in the flesh” if she continued to rebuff a sexual relationship with his father.
She continued in the marriage, but after Rulon’s death, Musser, then 26, decided it was time to flee the compound (Warren had become the head of the sect). After Musser was discovered kissing a man following the prophet’s death, Warren chastised her. Finally, she reached her breaking point — and fled.
Escaping to live with her brother (he had left the community earlier), she entered into the outside world — one that she had been told was filled with evil people. Musser realized that the reality, of course, was quite different, reports NPR. After she left the FLDS, the now-free woman worked with authorities to bring Jeffs to justice, as he was marrying off and having sexual relations with young girls. Her bio explains:
Beginning a brand-new life in a strange world of ‘gentiles,’ freedom, debit cards and French fries – Rebecca yearned to save her little sisters from becoming child brides. She forged a trusting relationship with law enforcement, and when Texas authorities raided the FLDS Yearning for Zion Ranch in April of 2008, they were overwhelmed by cultural differences and language barriers. Those authorities asked Rebecca to assist them, and she became instrumental in deciphering mountains of evidence of child molestation and bigamy found on the ranch, as well as becoming a vital witness for the state of Texas in over 20 criminal convictions.
In the end, Jeffs was convicted. As the Daily Mail reports, he was found guilty in Aug. 2011 of raping two girls, one 15 and the other 12, whom he referred to as “spiritual wives.” Musser repeatedly testified against him, sharing intimate details about what unfolded inside the FDLS faith and becoming arch enemies with a man who was once her step-son.
One final fun tidbit: Musser wore red to the trials, as the color was banned for women living in FLDS communities, sending a powerful message to Warren that she was no longer under his control. For more about her life, go to Musser’s official website.
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