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Thursday, May 17, 2007
Husband alleges church took wife, son
What would you do if your clergyman said you were no longer worthy of your family and they were taken away from you?

To most of us, it's preposterous to even imagine such a thing happening. But I spent some time this week with a 22-year-old Idaho man who claims that's exactly what happened to him.

Wendell Musser is desperate. Vivian, his 21-year-old wife, and Levi, his 1-year-old son, dissapeared, he says, and he blames polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs and the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS).

Musser tells me Jeffs, whom followers believe is a prophet, has about 180 wives. He said Jeffs asked him to live with and protect eight or nine of them in a secret hideaway while Jeffs was running from the law.

Ultimately, Jeffs landed on the FBI Ten Most Wanted list on allegations of arranging marriages of young girls to adult men. He has since been caught and is awaiting trial.

But while Jeffs was on the run, Wendell Musser and his wife Vivian took care of Jeffs' wives. Musser told us Jeffs would occasionally visit. He said the "prophet's" spouses didn't know quite how to act when their husband came a callin' because with so many wives, they spent time with him infrequently.

Last June, Musser was pulled over by police for DWI. He spent two days in jail. When he got back to the secret hideaway in the remote Colorado mountain town of Westcliffe, not only were Jeffs' wives gone, but so were Vivian and Levi.

The word from the church: Musser had let the prophet down, and as punishment his family was being reassigned to another man. Musser has no idea where his wife and child are.

Musser's marriage to Vivian was an arranged one, but he said both of them did fall in love with each other. He wants his wife back, and is heartsick without his baby. He has written letters to Jeffs in jail asking for the wherabouts of his family, but has received no response.

So he has now filed a most unusual lawsuit, which asks a judge to order Jeffs to talk. If he wins the suit and Jeffs doesn't open up, the penalty could be prison time, which won't do much for Musser since Jeffs is already being held in jail without bond. There has been no comment to us from Jeffs' FLDS church.

Musser, who is now a former member of the flock, hopes the "prophet" (who also happens to be his uncle) has a heart. And for that matter, Musser also hopes his father and father-in-law have hearts because he believes one or both of them may also know where Vivian is.

However, the two of them, along with most of Musser's 45 sisters and brothers remain in the church, and they all do their best to shun Wendell Musser.

-- By Gary Tuchman, CNN Correspondent

Posted By CNN: 4:01 PM ET
  35 Comments
Gary,
I think this is the craziest story I have ever heard! No wonder the Ladder Day Saints get such a bad rap! I hope Wendell Musser gets his wife and son back and gets away from these people for good!

I am deffinately looking forward to this report!
Posted By Cynthia ,Covington, Ga. : 4:21 PM ET
A most unfortunate situation for this man, but this is what people can expect when they cede their free will to any religious leader.

I'll take secular humanist beliefs any day.
Posted By Joseph Kowalski, North Huntingdon, PA : 4:28 PM ET
Gary,
How is it that you always end up interviewing the FLDS?
It seems that anywhere Warren Jeffs was, sorrow followed. I certainly hope that he can be compelled to talk. No one deserves to lose their family and to know that your uncle is behind it must be horrifying. I wish the best of luck to Mr. Musser in his search for his family.
Posted By Kimberly Miller, Lancaster, PA : 4:54 PM ET
Gary,

You are absolutely right. This is preposterous!

In this day and age, how can a government allow this kind of organization to exist and operate under the pretext of a “church” in our society? What kind of religion do they teach their followers, if they operate under distasteful pretences and condone such acts? Isn't there anything that can be done about this organization, and it's so called "leadership"?

These people should be exposed for what they really are and what they “supposedly” represent. This just sickens me to the core, in this day and age, this kind of “organization” that preys on innocent people still exists. Why isn't there more being done to stop this from continuing to happen?
Posted By Ann. Bellingham, WA : 4:58 PM ET
Gary,
How is it that you always end up interviewing the FLDS?
It seems that everywhere Warren Jeffs went, sorrow followed. It must be absolutely horrifying to know that your uncle is responsible for taking your family from you. No one deserves to lose their loved ones. I wish the best of luck to Mr. Musser and I hope Warren Jeffs can be compelled to reveal his family's whereabouts.
Posted By Kimberly Miller, Lancaster, PA : 5:00 PM ET
Some people lump the LDS church in with the FLDS. If you say all Muslims aspire to be suicide bombers, or that all Christians are against homosexuality, well, that wouldn't be fair, nor would it be true. Please don't do it to Mormonism.
Posted By xtina - chicago IL : 5:04 PM ET
To xtina:
I completely agree. I am not Mormonism myself, but do believe that just because you are a part of a group where a few people did smething wrong, everyone should not be punished as well. All Muslims were not responsible for 9/11, only a very small group of them (the others don't even agree with what they did). Let's stop classifying certain groups of people as bad, because of something that a couple of people did wrong. This is not right.
Posted By Jay: Hartford, CT : 5:15 PM ET
Gary,
You always give it a great effort when you go out to Colorado City and try to talk to the FLDS. I always feel bad when no one will talk to you. Keep trying!
Posted By Lisa, Tampa, Florida : 5:17 PM ET
Hi Gary~
Basically what Jeffs' flock is practicing is slavery of women and children! Some of the men suffer too, like Musser. Who gives these people the right to own "bodies" of women and children and arranged marriages to men with numerous wives? Who gives this so~called church the right to take away wives and children and give them to another man?
How sick that these people have been mentally diminished to believe such CRAP!
Jeff is a prophet? Of WHAT? Darkness? If Jeffs' followers think he is the truth and light, then I hope they all have a flashlight handy so they can find the light of day!
I hope and pray Musser gets his family back and that all of Jeff's followers can find their way out of the darkness and into the light of God. They all need to think with their own brain that God gave them!
Thanks Gary~
Posted By Betty Ann, Nacogdoches,TX : 5:19 PM ET
Cynthia, please note that while the LDS Church does often get a bad rap because of the actions of the FLDS ("Fundamentalist") church, the two churches are unconnected. The LDS Church (the Mormons) unequivocally denounces polygamy. The following is a statement made by LDS Church prophet, President Gordon B. Hinckley at the October 1998 General Conference of the LDS Church: "I wish to state categorically that this Church has nothing whatever to do with those practicing polygamy...If any of our members are found to be practicing plural marriage, they are excommunicated, the most serious penalty the Church can impose...There is no such thing as a "Mormon Fundamentalist." It is a contradiction to use the two words together." You can read more about the LDS (again, LDS, not FLDS) Church at www.LDS.org
Posted By Kiersten Nielsen, Provo UT : 5:28 PM ET
Gary,

This story is more than just sad. My heart goes out to Musser and his family.

I too am only 21 years old, and I couldn't imagine being without my boyfriend of four years; and I know that if we had a child that my partner would stop at nothing to find me and our baby should this happen to me. Often I see girls my age can be dependant of anything that allows them to feel loved and cared for. It makes me sad to see that instead of her family fulfilling those needs, some group hiding behind religion is preying on her and her child. I hope that this fundamentalist organization doesn't get the chance to break up this family.

He has the right to decide who is worthy of a family or not? So let me get this sraight: he runs from the law and depends on his nephew to protect him and his lifestyle; yet one mistake and he's not worthy of his own family? At least he isn't running from his consquences.

What benefit does he really get from doing this to them? It's unneccessary to keep that mother and baby away from her husband and family. I feel helpless after reading this article; if there is any way we the public can help, I'll sign my name on every dotted line.

-Charlyn Martin, Kirkland, WA
Posted By charlyn : 5:36 PM ET
WOW!

From what I understand having the ability to assign human beings (in this case women and children) from one person to another as if they are simply chattel was slavery. Or in the case of the wives from one man to anther, being a pimp. Please tell me there is a law that can be enforced here. Kidnapping maybe? Practicing slavery? Domestic abuse? How many times are we going to watch the likes of Jim Jones, David Koresh or the Heaven's Gate crowd before we are going to do something about this madness?

What do the experts, the "deprogrammers" have to say? Is there any way out of this?

Will - Twin Cities, Minnesota
Posted By Will : 5:48 PM ET
This is a matter of law enforcement; any other aspect of this story just muddies it up. Whether Jeffs and his followers are Hari Krishnas, Catholics, Quakers or Christian Scientists (you get the idea), kidnapping is unlawful!
Posted By Steve - Peoria, Ill. : 5:51 PM ET
Arranged marriages, polygamy, abuse, bondage, kidnapping, and banishment...am I in the 21st century in America? Scary. I hope this guy wins his case, finds his family, and gets them out of there for good. I shudder to think of what will happen to these people still following this cult (what else can one honestly call it?) in the long run. I shudder even more to think that this sort of indignity to our citizens isn't getting more press coverage and legal action than it is. Silence signals acceptance. What will we allow as normal and acceptable in this country? What sort of boundary do we set for inhumanity? I'm glad for the sake of Jeffs' victims/followers you're not letting the stories die.
Posted By Tammy C., Berwick, LA : 5:52 PM ET
I agree with those who've said, you can't stop anyone in the U.S. from believing in whatever lifestyle and religion they want to believe in. BUT, this is abduction, and the police have to go after the abductors for that.
Posted By r curtain, beloit, WI. : 5:57 PM ET
FLDS vs LDS, Orthdox vs. 'Modern' Christianity, there really is no difference in my eyes. Nobody in their right mind would turn their free will over to ANY organization, much less one led by invisible beings and a book that your human leaders are free to define what parts of it you can ignore (stone heretics? not anymore...sacrifice your daughters? sorry, not in this century...we'll just pretend that part isn't in there). "You knew I was a snake when you took me in..."
Posted By Jeremy Las Vegas, NV : 6:03 PM ET
Hi Gary,
Yet another moment in the Jeffs saga that makes me wonder if these people are all victims or at some level willing victims of Jeffs. Yet again, cotton candy logic..A lot of hot air, spinning a big blob of nothing. I hope for the sake of Jeffs followers they would someday see the light and leave this life choice behind. How many people have to sue Jeffs before he's forced to cough up some words. Take Care
Posted By Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif : 6:16 PM ET
Wow, it never ceases to amaze me how many crazy people live in this country. You gte in your own small circle of contacts and forget how so many live and think.
Posted By Matthew, Los Aneles, CA : 6:32 PM ET
I've heard about this story already and it breaks my heart. I don't understand the kind of sick devotion the Polygamists have to their so called phrophet. The FLDS church is a cult and uses fear and other horrible tactics to force it's members into submission.

I am also appaled at the connection the media always tries to make between the FLDS church and the Mormon church. There is no connection other than a few letters. As a practicing and faithful member of the Mormon church, I am saddened when people are so ignorant of the facts and in such a hurry to lump bad things together. Remember this, not all Muslims are terrorists or all Catholic priests sexually abusive. Not every person who used to be associated with the Mormon church has turned into a polygamist.
Posted By Brenda Fisher, Salt Lake City, UT : 6:33 PM ET
While many would like to separate the main LDS church from any of it's polyg cousins (very closely related in overall belief system), they often do so with less than fully informed, or deliberately false messages.... A certain candidate for President did just this the other night on a Sunday evening news program. Polygamy is the law of heaven according to the LDS (Mormon) church, and once worthy men die and become Gods, they can take many wifes and keep them pregnant for eternity so that their own spirit children will go their own planets, get bodies... process continues. While the main group no longer practices it on earth (forced to stop in order to become a state (Utah) and have the feds to no longer confiscate church bank accounts), they most certainly believe in it as the law of the Celestial Kingdom and to criticize those others (like FLDS) for their continued practice of something “Prophets” like Brigham Young said through “prophecy” from God was never to end..., is a bit hypocritical. The main Mormon church does also take away families from men who choose not to follow the faith. We are "a risk to their (wife's) eternal well-being." You'll never find “official” records of same, but I know this from personal experience 22 years ago and there are tens of thousands of other men and women who have paid a similar price for using their own personal freedom of religion/choice, if it was something other than the Joe Smith etc... belief system. Most the anger is gone now. I've longed lived outside of Utah (a state I love, and I do have respect for many aspects of the culture), the Church wields much power and control over those still "behind the Zion curtain."
Posted By Aaron, Bountiful, UT : 6:39 PM ET
Any psychologists out there? The part of this story that sytmies me is whether or not the women are going against their will. There's the Stockholm Syndrome, and there's the fact that some of these women are really still children (under 18), and very impressionable, easily led.

Anderson has shown women who have "escaped" the lifestyle, meaning they realized this wasn't right. What's frustrating and what adds to the difficulty of these cases is that the some of the women and children aren't trying to escape, they've accepted this "slavery" as normal.
Posted By M. Savage, Hammond, IN. : 6:40 PM ET
Gary,
Everyone wonders what is wrong with society today and it's stories like this. Jeffs and his Followers from the FLDS should be ashamed of themselves. Pologamy is WRONG!! There is only ONE woman to ONE man in the eyes of GOD. I don't understand how it is legal for them to have an organization such as this. It is Bogus. I pray that Mr. Musser gets his family back. Thanks
Posted By Charity B'ham, AL : 6:42 PM ET
Hey Gary,
I've mentionned that book before,but even after reading
"Under the banner of heaven" from Jon Krakauer(excellent book) I can't rap my mind around the fact that people live in those circumstances. I have to mention that the book is talking about the history of the FLDS from the beginning to Warren Jeffs.
It's been existing for years and people are born to that kind of brainwashing. Some rebel(you should see what they do to them!) and some manage to escape.
The whole history of the FLDS is underlined by violence,rapes(yeah,lets be blunt),slavery and no respect for laws.
It is a sect,no other words for that,and what is going on in there is all punishable by law for anyone of us poor mortals who would dare do the same thing.
Is the law in the US doing anything to stop them?
I know that here,the Ministry of Education is working an angle to come down on sects.My friend,who was brought up in a sect,much like the FLDS,escaped and has made it his mission to denounce them,he gets proof on them,he's in the media talking about it,bringing proof to the Ministry of Education,etc...And they are going somewhere.The angle with education is that the children are not taught what is obligated for every school and other details. They managed to get somewhere with the courts.
Is there any level of your government doing something about that bunch or are they unable too?
I hope Wendell find his family and I do hope that Warren Jeffs will get what he deserves. Breakfast in hell with his brother,the devil!!!
Sorry,strong words,but...

Joanne R.
Laval QUebec
Posted By Joanne R.Laval Quebec : 6:59 PM ET
Why should any of us have any sympathy for Musser? If he hadn't been charged with DWI, he'd still be hiding a gaggle of Jeffs' wives. Musser was aiding and abetting a fugitive of the law -- a fugutive who advocates treating women like property. Musser should just move on and forget about Wife No. 1. Once he's married to eight or nine more, he'll forget about the first.
Posted By Deborah, Atlanta, Ga. : 7:08 PM ET
It is unfortunate that people feel that being part of an 'organized religion' involves giving up your free will. As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints I am here to tell you that free will is, in fact, a corner stone of the religion. We all have free will and the ability to do or not do what we will. Some may see God as an ‘invisible being’ and that is their right. I believe that this ‘blind faith’ in God is part of life’s test. If everyone had tangible evidence of God’s existence this test wouldn’t be very challenging.

I will agree that what Warren Jeff is doing is against the laws of the land and as such it is no longer simply a religious issue. He and his followers are breaking the law and need to be brought to justice. I feel for Mr. Musser and pray that his situation is quickly resolved. He and his family will have a long difficult path to recovery because of Jeff’s extreme misguiding.

Finally, I would like to echo the sentiments of most of the people that have commented on this story. PLEASE stop grouping LDS Church with any off shoot of LDS religion. Just because they have chosen to nearly duplicate the name of our church doesn’t mean that we are in anyway associated. Unfortunately, almost all media types choose not to make this distinction or put it in fine print at the end of the article or segment.
Posted By Randy Frederick, Denver, Colorado : 7:18 PM ET
The FLDS Church is NOT the same religion as the Mormon Church. Just to clarify. It's like saying that barley and beer are the same thing. One has a little remnant of what the other used to be in it, but the similarities end there.
Warren Jeffs and his followers are sick and twisted. I hope and pray that this man is able to find his family.
I am a Mormon, by the way. Our official name is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. And we ARE Christians. :)
Posted By Kelli Hoopes, Afton WY : 9:02 PM ET
Being a former "cult follower" I understand the frustration that Wendell feels. For those of you leaving comments that you don't understand how someone could fall for an organization like this or be a willing follower, all I can say is until you are "there" you will never understand. It is so bazaar growing up and being taught to fear another individual because they say they are a prophet or man of God. When you finally open your eyes and realize there is nothing to fear then they can't control you anymore. The cult I was raised in is in Dalton GA. We were taught that we were the only church going to heaven and if we left the church we would go to hell. They literally brainwashed you. I hope Wendell gets out and stays out and moves on with his life. I hope he finds his wife and child and never turns back. Organizations like this give true christianity a very horrible name.
Posted By Renae- Winston Salem NC : 9:24 PM ET
To the commenters who wish that he gets his wife back--how naive is that. His wife is still a member of that cult and of course she believes that Musser has "let the prophet down".

And him wanting a court to order Jeff to speak--how useless. He would have a better chance of finding his wife by hiring a private investigation firm.

But anyway, if he gets to talk to her, she will inform him that he is history. After all, he has "let the prophet down".

And why exactly did he have to drive around drunk? Is it normal procedure in the US to go to jail for 2 days because of it? If so, why did he risk that?

There is more to the story than the details that Mr. Tuchman points out.
Posted By Steffen, Berlin, Deutschland : 9:33 PM ET
Hi Gary,
I wasnt shocked at this story because I'm living it my self. I have a 22 year old son who married into a cult and I havent heard from him in almost 3 years. The church he is involved with has convinced him that they are his family not me. I do not know where he is either. I pray the man will get his family back at least his story has made the news. Because the preacher has not committed a crime nothing is being done in this case. Thanks for listening.
Posted By Tammy Ball Jacksonville Fl : 5:54 AM ET
I just heard the story on the news of Mr Musser and his search for his family. I wish Mr Musser all the luck in the world in finding his family, and like him, I hope his wife will be anxious to be with him again.

As a fairly new resident to the area nearest to Colorado City (St George, UT), we see many members of Jeffs' group doing shopping and other domestic errands. In regards to seeing changes in those people, I for one, have seen marked changes in the extreme dress standards that Jeffs demanded of his followers. Many have relaxed their attitudes towards us "outsiders" and they seem to be acting more like members of the general public. I could be wrong, but from what I saw in July of last year to the people I saw just the other day, my opinion is that there are some who do not feel so restricted, and are much more open to be themselves. I sincerely hope that these people will be able to get control of their own lives again and be free to chose how they want to live.
Posted By AMT - St. George, UT : 5:56 AM ET
Does the wife WANT to be found? That seems to be the unasked and unanswered question here. How does anyone know whether she wants a reunion, rather than staying where she is? Although the outside world may view this group's communal situation as untenable, one has to consider whether people have the right to choose to remain in such a group.
Isn't it possible that allowing the husband to "find" someone who may not want to be found, also constitute a taking away of the rights of the woman in question?
Posted By Heidi, Atlanta, GA : 8:23 AM ET
Gary,
If if was possible to expose the followers of Jeffs to what this man is really doing, would they rebel or continue to drink the Kool-Aide?? I feel pity for this man, who, to late, found out the hard way, who his sect leader really is. I hope he is able to find his wife & child, but the sad truth being, even if found, what will his spouse do? Return to him? Or continue to follow the commandments of Jeffs? She knows nothing else in life, she may have left willingly. This is what the sad truth is, these women place no value on themselves due to their upbring in this FLDS society.
Posted By Katie, Garland,Tx : 9:09 AM ET
Warren Jeffs is despicable beyond belief. I hope Wendell Musser gets his wife and son back.
Posted By Lilibeth, Edmonds, WA : 9:56 AM ET
Dear Gary,

Hi! This story gets stranger with each report and it proves that freedom of religion does have its drawbacks! I can see this happening in other countries, but it is difficult to believe that something like this can happen in the United States in the 21st century!

Based on the many reports on religion that have appeared on "360" recently, all of the extremists in every religion seem to rely on easily manipulated individuals to further their cause.

I feel badly for Wendell Musser, but being a member of Jeffs' group he must have had some idea of what Jeffs and his followers were capable of doing. I hope he is able to be reunited with his wife and son.

Thanks for the great report!

Take care,
Jo Ann
Posted By Jo Ann Matese, North Royalton, Ohio : 2:21 PM ET
What a howler this one is. This guy gets thrown in jail for DUI, so his 'prophet' takes his family away. Of course, his 'prophet' is really pissed off that Mr DUI wasn't taking care of 'prophet's' nine wives, or whatever...
These people aren't really the sharpest knives in the drawer, now are they! People this stupid really shouldn't have a family. What a crock; great humor though.
Posted By Dave, Santa Fe, NM : 11:17 PM ET
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