The nine Mormons massacred in Mexico are tied to the 1988 ‘blood atonement’ killing of a Texas family who tried to leave a cult associated with their community, according to reports.
Mark Chynoweth and his brother Duane were gunned down, along with the latter’s eight-year-old daughter Jennifer, in Houston in June of that year after leaving polygamous Mormon cult The Church of the Lamb of God, KPRC Two reports.
It was founded by Ervil LeBaron who urged his followers to kill anyone who did ‘respect my leadership’. He died in prison in 1981 but a hit list drawn up by the cult leader included the names of the Chynoweth brothers.
The three mothers and six children killed in the brutal attack at the beginning of the month were dual U.S. Mexican citizens and members of the twin Mormon communities of LeBaron in Chihuahua state and La Mora in the state of Sonora.
Jennifer Chynoweth, left, was executed in 1988 after her family left polygamous The Church of the Lamb of God. The cult was founded by Ervil LeBaron, right, who urged his followers to kill anyone who did ‘respect my leadership’. He died in prison in 1981 but a hit list drawn up by the cult leader included the names of the Chynoweth brothers
Relatives of slain members of Mexican-American families belonging to Mormon communities observe the burnt wreckage of a vehicle where some of their relatives died, in Bavispe
Many residents of the two communities, that lie a five-hour, bone-jarring drive apart are related.
The spread-out community traces its origins to the end of polygamy more than a century ago by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, forcing Mormon families in the U.S. with multiple wives to establish offshoots elsewhere.
LIFE INSIDE THE LEBARON FAMILY
The LeBaron family was founded by Alma Dayer LeBaron. He set up the community with his family in 1924 after being excommunicated from the church.
Alma passed the leadership over to his son Joel when he died in 1951. He subsequently incorporated the community as part of Salt Lake City’ Church of the Firstborn.
His younger brother Ervil was his second in charge at the time. The brothers later fell out over the leadership of the community and Ervil went on to set up another sect in San Diego, California in 1972.
Evril, who had at least 13 wives, had Joel killed in 1972. He was tried and convicted in Mexico for Joel’s murder in 1974.
While in prison, he wrote the 400-page commandment to kill disobedient church members who were included in a hit list.
Evril died in prison in 1981 but six family members organized ‘four o’clock’ murders, which saw an eight-year-old child and three former members shot dead within minutes of each other in Texas in 1988.
His son Heber was held in connection with slayings in Texas and Utah in the 1980s. Another sons, Aaron, was jailed for 45 years in a conviction connected to the murders.
One of Evril’s daughter Anna LeBaron said: ‘My father would order mob-style hits and those would be carried out by his cult members if they stopped believing in him or his practice or religion and left, or sometimes it was rival cult leaders that were blood-atoned for being false prophets.’
Retired Houston police officer Richard Holland said of those involved in the 1988 killings: ‘Stolen cars, they were heavy into credit card abuse, forgery, they’d also done a couple of bank robberies.
‘They were all horrible crimes. They were the last in a string of many horrible crimes, but the fact that an 8-year-old girl was the last victim, yeah, that stuck.’
Former federal prosecutor Terry Clark added: ‘It’s in the covenant, ‘Children who are disciplined and won’t obey are to be killed. People who don’t respect my leadership are to be killed.’
At least 33 people were said to have been murdered in the 1970s during the LeBaron family war.
Six cult members wanted over the 1988 murders were arrested in Phoenix on auto theft charges two weeks later.
After Cynthia LeBaron came forward prosecutor Clark said: ‘She was part of the group actually involved in the homicides in Houston, along with sister Natasha LeBaron.
‘What had occurred since then is that they had killed Natasha LeBaron in Mexico, so Cynthia became concerned that, ‘My goodness. I might be next on the list. I’m out of here,’ and came forward at that time.’
All of the suspects in that case would not be prosecuted until 2011.
Last month’s attack occurred as the women traveled with their children to visit relatives. Some La Mora residents are now wondering whether they should stay or flee the cartel presence, a constant both there and around the sibling community of Colonia LeBaron on the other side of the Sierra Madre mountains.
Mexican officials said the attack may have been a case of mistaken identity, as the women and children traveled in SUVs similar to those used by cartel strongmen.
But family members believe the caravan was intentionally targeted for reasons still unclear to them.
Mark Chynoweth, left, and his brother Duane, right, were gunned down in 1988. The nine killed in the brutal attack at the beginning of the month were dual U.S. citizens and members of the twin Mormon communities of LeBaron in Chihuahua state and La Mora in the state of Sonora
At least 33 people were said to have been murdered in the 1970s during the LeBaron family war. Six cult members wanted over the 1988 murders were arrested in Phoenix on auto theft charges two weeks later. The scene following the 1988 shootings is pictured
The area around LeBaron is said to be under the thumb of a Juarez cartel-aligned gang known as La Linea.
Around La Mora, it’s the Sinaloa cartel of convicted drug lord Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán, who is serving life in a Colorado maximum-security prison.
As recently as 2009, two members of the Chihuahua Mormon community, including one from the LeBaron family, were killed in apparent revenge after security forces tracked drug gang members.
Julián LeBarón, whose brother Benjamín was slain in 2009 after standing up to local thugs in LeBaron, said people regularly run across men with guns who stop them on the road and ask where they are going, sometimes offering to help.
‘It’s almost like it’s so integrated in our community that everybody buys and sells or deals with these people on different levels,’ LeBarón said.
‘These people are murderers and if we tolerate crime in the hopes that it’s not going to happen to us, eventually it will,’ he said.
The three mothers and six children killed in the brutal attack at the beginning of the month were dual U.S. Mexican citizens and members of the twin Mormon communities of LeBaron in Chihuahua state and La Mora in the state of Sonora. The LeBaron family was founded by Alma Dayer LeBaron. He set up the community with his family in 1924