It was New Year’s Eve 2014 when the daughter of polygamist cult leader Warren Jeffs finally broke free.
“When I stepped out, I remembered thinking, ‘Gosh, I should have left sooner,’” Rachel Blackmore recalled to Fox News Digital. “There’s just so much life out there.”
The mother of seven is coming forward in a new A&E docuseries, “Secrets of Polygamy,” which explores extreme polygamist groups across the country.
It features new sit-downs with one of Jeffs’ former wives and former members and investigators.
Jeffs, 68, was sentenced in 2011 to life in prison after his conviction on two counts of child sexual abuse. In 2017, Blackmore wrote a memoir, “Breaking Free.”
“It’s been really important to me to give a voice to the young girls who have been sexually abused,” Blackmore shared.
Polygamy is a legacy of the early teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The mainstream church abandoned the practice in 1890 and now strictly prohibits it.
The FLDS (Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) broke away from the Mormon church and was formed so that members could continue practicing plural marriage. It was headquartered on the Utah-Arizona border. Jeffs’ father, Rulon T. Jeffs, took power in 1986 and ruled until he died in 2002 at age 92. He left behind an estimated 75 widows and 65 children.
Following Rulon’s death, Warren Jeffs took over as the group’s prophet. In the FLDS, it is believed the prophet can speak directly to God and direct which male members can enter heaven. The prophet can also perform marriages and assign wives to their husbands. In pleasing the prophet, loyal members are rewarded with more wives, who “belong” to their spouses for eternity, NPR reported. Members believe that each man must have at least three wives.
“I think, as a child, you don’t realize when something’s bad all the time,” Blackmore recalled. “I think, for a lot of us, that’s how it was. … I felt protected from the world. I was taught that the outside world was wicked.”
Jeffs has an estimated 78 wives and 53 biological children.
“We had to wear sleeves to our wrists and long dresses. Our hair had to be braided a certain way,” Blackmore said. “And there were the continual teachings of polygamy where there was a leader, one man, and you never questioned him. … We were taught that if we wanted to go to heaven, we had to live polygamy. We had to have sister wives and marry a man we were told to marry, not who we wanted to choose. All of those restrictions were accepted because that’s all we knew.”
In the series, Blackmore claimed Jeffs sexually molested her when she was eight years old. She noted that women and girls couldn’t express anger or jealousy without enduring punishment. Instead, they had to “be sweet.”
“I have always been taught that boys don’t touch girls, that our bodies must be covered,” she said. “So, when Warren started sexually abusing me, I was just shocked. I just felt so guilty. I just put the shame on myself. … I just felt the whole world could see the shame. I went from being a joyful girl to being shy and quiet. And I didn’t tell anyone for a long time because I felt shame. I was embarrassed.”
Blackmore said the abuse continued until she was 16.
“I faced Warren one day and told him that I hated him doing those things to me,” she explained. “I didn’t know words like ‘molest,’ ‘abuse’ or ‘rape.’ He listened and asked for my forgiveness. And he stopped doing it. But then he started marrying younger girls after that.”
At 18, Blackmore was forced into an arranged marriage. Her husband already had two wives. They met for the first time on the day before their wedding.
“Warren performed the marriages. He decided who married who,” Blackmore said. “He chose my husband for me, and he kept control of our marriage. He had the say of what my husband and I did at all times.”
For years, Blackmore wondered what life was like in the outside world. She feared that her five children would endure the same abuse she did. And when one of her younger sisters confessed that she was also molested by Jeffs, Blackmore had enough.
“It was a big moment for me,” Blackmore said. “I realized it wasn’t my fault. Warren had a problem with sexual abuse. And we both agreed that we didn’t trust him with our kids. That’s when I said, ‘I’m going to leave.’ It was the first time I said it out loud. And when I did, I knew it was the final decision for me. Even though I didn’t leave for a few months after, I knew that was it.”
Little by little, Blackmore was “disobedient” as she began taking her children out on longer walks and leaving the property. Every time she got in trouble for “spreading my wings,” she was also getting a taste of freedom. But time was ticking. Blackmore learned that, as punishment, she was going to be placed in a bishop’s house, a property with towering walls and coded gates. Blackmore knew if she ended up there, she and her children would never be able to leave.
“It was scary, but I was sneaky,” said Blackmore. “I got my kids out during the night to my sister’s house. She had already left.”
Blackmore and her children managed to leave the compound in secret.
“I didn’t know how I was going to support five kids on my own,” Blackmore admitted. “I’m not going to pretend that [being free] was easy. It wasn’t. It was really hard. It’s still a growing experience for me. I’m still learning how to make friends and live within a community.
“I remember experiencing Christmas and Easter for the first time,” she recalled. “We never got to celebrate those things. I also wanted my children to celebrate their birthdays. I wanted to exchange gifts. I wanted them to go to a school and meet all kinds of people. I wanted them to experience what it was like to date. I never got to experience any of those things. There were so many firsts we didn’t have in a cult.”
In 2006, Jeffs, who was on the FBI’s Top Ten Most Wanted list, was arrested during a routine traffic stop near Las Vegas. He was booked on two out-of-state warrants issued in Utah and Arizona on charges of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor and rape as an accomplice.
According to prosecutors, Jeffs engaged in sexual abuse with two girls, ages 12 and 14. A key piece of evidence against Jeffs was an audio recording of him instructing his “spiritual bride,” as well as several other girls, on how to please him sexually.
In 2007, Jeffs tried to hang himself in a Utah jail. He was force-fed at an Arizona jail in 2009. Then in 2011, he was sentenced to life in prison. That same year, he was put in a medically-induced coma after fasting behind bars.
Some followers of FLDS still consider Jeffs to be their prophet and that he was wrongfully convicted. But over the years, the group has lost hundreds of members who either left or were cast out.
Blackmore has remarried. And she’s hopeful her story will give hope to other young women like her who left.
“We need to work, more than ever, to protect our children,” she said. “To give children an opportunity to have a good life is important to me. … And as long as there are people who will do what Warren says, he will always be a threat. … But there is strength and healing after trauma. There is hope you can have a better life.”