Warren Jeffs was at one time married to over 60 women. One of his former wives, Rebecca Musser, sat down with Dateline: NBC’s Keith Morrison for the Friday, May 8 episode, titled “Unbreakable,” to talk about what it was like being married to Jeffs and why she decided to leave the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS).
Here’s what you need to know about Warren Jeffs’ many wives, some of which were underage and are why he is currently in prison.
Jeffs May Have Had as Many As 80 Wives
Accounts differ as to exactly how many wives Jeffs had as leader of the FLDS, but they all put him having had around 75 or 80, according to his Biography page.
In 2007, Jeffs was tried and convicted on two counts of being an accomplice to rape. During that trial, one of his wives, Margaret Thomas, and several other members of his religious sect, were called by the defense team.
That conviction was eventually overturned by the Utah Supreme Court on the grounds of erroneous jury instructions, but Jeffs was later convicted in Texas on two counts of sexual assault for his “celestial marriages” to a 12-year-old girl and a 15-year-old girl, the latter of which birthed his child. He is currently in a Texas prison serving a life sentence.
Other known wives include Annie Mae, Alyshia Rae, Nolita Colleen, and Millie Blackmore, all part of a polygamous Blackmore family in Canada whose relatives took them at various times from Canada to the U.S. to marry them to Jeffs when they were teenagers. Millie was just 13 when she was forced to marry the 48-year-old Jeffs. Nolita and Alyshia were just 12, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
There were also Merrianne and Naomie Jessop, sisters who were both married to Jeffs. Merrianne was married to him just after she turned 12, while Naomie was considered one of his “favorite wives,” according to the Daily Mail.
Several of His Wives Left the Church
In addition to those women who testified at Jeffs’ trial, his former wife, Rebecca Wall Musser, told her story in the 2013 book “The Witness Wore Red: The 19th Wife Who Brought Polygamous Cult Leaders to Justice.” She also spoke to Dateline about her experience as the wife to Warren’s father, Rulon, and then as Warren’s wife after Rulon’s death.
“It’s tough to be back, it brings up a lot of things that are still really raw … obedience is the only act that you can perform and anything otherwise is damnation,” said Musser, adding, “I was horrified … it hit me. You can leave. And I thought finally it was over.”
Rebecca’s sister Elissa Wall was also impacted by the FLDS, though she was not married to Warren. But Elissa was forced to marry her own cousin when she was just 14 and the cousin was 19, something she testified about at Jeffs’ 2007 trial. She told her story in the 2008 book “Stolen Innocence: My Story of Growing Up in a Polygamous Sect, Becoming a Teenage Bride, and Breaking Free of Warren Jeffs.”
Though the 2007 conviction was eventually overturned, in 2017, a judge ordered Jeffs to pay Elissa $16 million in damages, which could be gotten from either Jeffs himself or from the church’s assets.
Finally, Brielle Decker has also come forward as the 65th wife of Jeffs. She was 18 when she married him in 2012, one year after his sexual assault conviction. She eventually came to her senses, she told The Guardian in 2018, and split from Jeffs. She later married her boyfriend, Steven, who was never part of the FLDS, and, with the help of the Dream Center, a Los Angeles faith-based charity, turned Jeffs’ compound into a refuge for women escaping the FLDS and other sex trafficking victims.
Dateline: NBC airs Mondays and Fridays at 10 p.m. ET/PT and Saturdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.