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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Not Prosecuting Polygamy

Art Oveson, in A Killing in Zion by Andrew Hunt, is appointed to head the newly created Anti-Polygamy Squad of the Salt Lake City Police. It is 1934 and the Mayor has decided that it is time to enforce the criminal laws against polygamy and unlawful cohabitation.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had disavowed polygamy late in the 19th Century and the practice had been illegal for several decades by the Depression of the 1930’s.

I was unable to determine if there was really an Anti-Polygamy Squad in Salt Lake City during the Depression but I did find online Polygamy in Utah and the Surrounding Area Since the Manifesto of 1890. It is the master’s thesis of Jerold A. Hilton written in 1965 when he was a student at Brigham Young University.

The Manifesto set out that polygamy was not a part of the Church of Latter-day Saints. Here are some excerpts from the Manifesto:

I, therefore, as President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, do hereby, in the most solemn manner, declare that these charges are false. We are not teaching polygamy or plural marriage, nor permitting any person to enter into its practice, and I deny that either forty or any other number of plural marriages have during that period been solemnized in our Temples or in any other place in the Territory.


Inasmuch as laws have been enacted by Congress forbidding plural marriages, which laws have been pronounced constitutional by the court of last resort, I hereby declare my intention to submit to those laws, to use my influence with the members of the Church over which I preside to have them do likewise.

There is nothing in my teachings to the Church or in those of my associates, during the time specified, which can be reasonably construed to inculcate or encourage polygamy; and when any Elder of the Church has used language which appeared to convey such teaching, he has been promptly reproved. And I now publicly declare that my advice to the Latter-day Saints is to refrain from contracting any marriage forbidden by the law of the land.

Wilford Woodruff

A significant number of Mormons rejected the decision of the Church and continued to have plural marriages.

A Killing in Zion includes as part of the plot issues that are currently featured in the debate on plural marriages.

Teenage girls as young as 13 years of age were and are being married to men often decades older.

With the number of wives being taken by men, especially older men, there are more boys growing up than there are women available for marriage. Senior members of fundamentalist Mormon groups banished teenage boys from the community leaving them to fend for themselves. Those leaders assert the shortage of marriageable women in the groups is not the reason for banishment.

While these actions with regard to teenagers are objectionable, even abhorrent, to many there were no major legal efforts against polygamists from 1890 through the 1930’s.

Hilton’s thesis provides the annual statistics from 1896 through 1962 on Utah prosecutions for polygamy (which includes bigamy) and illegal cohabitation.

For the 66 years of the stats there were a total of:

          1.) 63 people charged and 38 convicted of polygamy
          offences; and,

2.) 35 people charged and 27 convicted of unlawful cohabitation (of the total 19 charges and 16 convictions occurred in 1943 – 1944).

During 1933 – 1934 which includes the months when A Killing in Zion takes place there were but 2 charges and 2 convictions for polygamy offences in the whole state of Utah. There were no charges of unlawful cohabitation.

There were thousands of polygamists in Utah during the Depression. In the 1950’s it is estimated that there were 2,000 to 20,000 polygamists. While they maintained a low profile in the 1930’s there was no legal offensive to eradicate polygamy

After examining the above stats it is no surprise that no charges were laid against anyone in A Killing in Zion. There was general disapproval of plural marriages but no public outcry for prosecution.


  1. I can't even begin to deal with this issue. The sexual abuse of girls and young women by these patriarchs when they take them as "wives" (who are terrified) is horrific and criminal. Descriptions of what's done to them are terrible: all these men who do this belong in jail for a long time.

    And the ousting of teenage boys so the older guys can marry the young women is also awful. They're just thrown out, away from their families. I heard a sheriff describe the heartbreak of listening to these youth, abandoned by their mothers, and many turn to alcoholism and are so messed up.

    There are good people helping them, running shelters and doing more.

    There's also involuntary servitude of children, too, boys who do hard labor and don't go to school in some of these places.
    The whole set-up is outrageous and people should be prosecuted.

    1. Kathy D.: Thanks for your passionate comment. I appreciate your thoughts. Unfortunately, it appears to me in 2016, as in 1934, prosecuting polygamists is not a priority of law enforcement. Once Warren Jeffs was convicted I have not seen a concerted effort to prosecute other polygamists. In Canada we are no better. Utah maintains its law against polygamy helps prevent child abuse but prosecutions are rare. Many people think of polygamists as they appear on reality T.V. Meanwhile the child brides and banished boys are the actual reality.

  2. Thanks, Bill, for sharing this. I didn't know there'd been a thesis on the topic. More recently, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) was the target of arrests and investigation because of its practice of polygamy and child marriages. And there are other such communities, too. As Kathy says, the stories of those who leave are heartbreaking.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. BYU has an interesting collection of theses. There are individual investigations but no sweeping effort against polygamy. There is no political will to go after them.

  3. I think you are absolutley right - no effort is made, there is a strong wish not to rock the boat. It is shocking and depressing.

  4. Moira: Thanks for the comment. I find it curious how strong proponents of law and order will not press for the enforcement of the laws against polygamy.

  5. Yes, unfortunately, what you say is true. No political will to stop this heinous practice. There are women who've fled and written books or appeared on TV. There are journalists who expose the truth but not often on TV.
    There's so much wrong here.
    It makes me think of forced child marriages abroad, bride purchasing, etc. All bad.

  6. Kathy D.: Thanks for the comment. I have always known that prominent proponents of "law and order" are selective in the laws they want enforced. Polygamy is a strong example.

  7. Yes, true. The powers that be don't want to rock the boat.

    I admire the women who have had the courage to flee and then make new lives. And those who write about it.

    And I admire those kind people who help the lost teenage boys.