Any non-fiction work based on personal history is not always as shocking and terrifying as the 2024 documentary series on Hulu, Daughters of the Cult. The series, which has five episodes, each around forty-five minutes long, presents survivors and living family members of the notorious Mormon cult, the Church of the First Born of the Lamb of God. Co-founded and later headed by a terribly violent polygamist, Ervil LeBaron, the cult is responsible for the deaths of numerous individuals, both through direct assassinations and later indirect effects and manipulations. As a group of siblings and half-siblings sit down to tell their story, Daughters of the Cult navigates the dangerous and abusive setting in which the family members had to live during their younger days.
How did Ervil LeBaron rise to the status of a cult leader?
Ervil LeBaron’s story, as told by his daughters Anna and Celia, begins in Mexico, at a place known as Colonia LeBaron, where the LeBaron family lived with all its extended members. Both Anna and Celia had been born at the place, along with many other children who were all related to one another in some way. The whole family lived together as a community, surviving on basic amenities and staying quite far away from any other human locality. The LeBarons were Mormon believers, and the men in the community all had multiple wives, since polygamy was allowed and even suggested in the Mormon religion. Together with his brother Joel, Ervil LeBaron ran the Church of the First Born of the Fulness of Times, which was supposed to be a community built on the choice of polygamy, inviting people to get over the taboo and live together as one united community.
As the church started growing in size, tending to the needs and religious wishes of the community, Joel LeBaron became a much-loved man. Joel was considered the One Mighty and Strong, which is a heroic figure mentioned in the Book of Mormon who is supposed to be the savior of humanity. While Joel preached and spread the teachings of their religious group, his brother Ervil gave him company, with practitioners believing that the two would usher in the second coming of Jesus Christ. Another brother, Verlan, also became an important figure in the running of the church, and all three of these men had numerous wives and had more than fifty children each. While Joel and Verlan’s activities in the church were more of the traditional religious ones, like preaching or helping the faithful, Ervil always had a knack for the outside, and he was the one responsible for converting new people to their religion.
Through his conversions, which, for a smooth talker like Ervil LeBaron, always involved going and conversing with townsfolk, the man was bringing in more money for their group. Every family part of the religion had to pay tithes, or membership fees in non-religious terms, and Ervil began to grow rich with parts of these earnings. Over time, the man started to realize the prospects of leading a religious group, and Ervil started to preach and make claims about having revelations. It was clear that Ervil was trying to take his brother’s place in the community, but Joel was also wary of Ervil’s unbridled exertion of power. After an incident in which Ervil basically traded wives with a man from their community, much to the anger of everyone else, the two brothers fell out. Joel excommunicated his brother from their church, but eventually he and Verlan moved away to another place in the country, called Los Molinos, to distance themselves from Ervil and preach their beliefs. This naturally led to a split among the followers, and Ervil, who stayed back at Colonia LeBaron, founded his own church, named the Church of the Lamb of God.
Although Ervil now had his own group, the number of followers who had decided to join him, as opposed to Joel, was extremely low. Both because of the greed for the tithe money that all the followers could bring him and also possibly feeling humiliated at his brother having so much more popularity, Ervil decided to take a bloody route. This was the first time when Ervil LeBaron brought out the extremely violent side of him, incorporating physical harm and murder into his preachings too. Very soon, Ervil started to bring in guns and ammunition to the community, teaching the family members how to shoot and instilling a sense of violence in everyone, including kids and youngsters. This was the true moment when Ervil LeBaron turned into an evil cultist, and it was only some time later, in 1972, that he committed his first murder. The first victim, in a horrific betrayal of trust and kinship, was his brother, Joel LeBaron. Later on, Ervil also attacked his brother Verlan’s community in Mexico, and while the man was not present there at the time, it led to the deaths of two, with nineteen getting seriously injured. The crime that ultimately made him the target of multiple police departments took place in Utah in 1977, when LeBaron ordered the killing of Rulon Allred.
What ultimately happened to Ervil LeBaron?
After committing the murder of Joel, Ervil started moving around from place to place in order to avoid the authorities, and multiple different locations in Mexico and the United States became his abode. During his time in Utah, Ervil ordered his followers, specifically two women named Rena and Ramona, to go and murder a fellow Mormon preacher, Rulon Allred. Rulon Allred was a distinguished figure in the Mormon world, as his church had the biggest following in the region, and he too was a staunch supporter of polygamous families. Therefore, Ervil was once again jealous of Allred’s following and was also dazzled by the amount of money his church could get if they transitioned. Thus, he sent one of his many wives and a stepdaughter to carry out the assassination.
This murder also served a second purpose, for Ervil knew that his brother Verlan was a close friend of Allred and that he would surely visit the man’s funeral service. Ervil wanted to kill Verlan on this occasion but ultimately could not do it due to the police presence. From then on, Ervil LeBaron got numerous others killed, mostly getting it done by his followers. The list of victims even included a daughter of his, Rebecca, who wanted to leave the group and the religion. Ervil was terribly punishing towards anyone who questioned religion or his orders, and much later on, when the man was finally caught, he was found to have had serious mental health issues for a long time. It is no wonder that many of Ervil’s acts and orders were because of his delirious and clouded mind.
After the murder of Joel, Ervil LeBaron successfully evaded the police in Mexico for a year before he eventually walked into the police station himself and claimed his identity. Ervil was sure that God’s protection was always over him, and since he believed his murders to be all God’s direct orders, the man challenged the police authorities, staying imprisoned for a year as the investigation was carried out. In 1974, the court officially found him guilty of the murder, but the order was also overturned immediately as a result of bribes paid by Ervil and his church, and the man walked away scot-free. The man lived freely over the next few years, even after the murder of Allred, when the American authorities started to look for him. Eventually, in 1979, the Mexican police decided to take solid action, possibly out of fear that LeBaron might lead a similar mass suicide like the Jonestown Massacre from only a year ago. The police arrested Ervil and handed him over to the American authorities, with the man finally being sentenced to life imprisonment.
While Ervil’s managing to escape the Mexican prison sentence in 1974 had made his followers confident of his prophetic abilities, the same followers now faced a burgeoning question in their minds regarding their leader’s moral values. Such was the extent of the cult’s brainwashing that people did not, ever for once, question the orders of murder and physical violence. While in federal prison, Ervil grew even more delirious, claiming himself to be the rightful President of the USA, ordering his followers to break into the place and help him escape, while also calling for stricter punishments for all those who refused to follow his teachings. The followers were in for an even greater shock when Ervil LeBaron died in his prison cell in 1981, while most of them had hoped to see their leader freed from prison. The exact reason for his death is still disputed, though, as although the official report stated it to be due to natural causes, many are of the opinion that it was either a suicide or even a murder.
How did Ervil LeBaron’s horrific teachings continue to have an effect?
Even though Ervil LeBaron was dead by 1981, it did not really end the violence and bloodshed associated with the LeBaron family and the cult that it had turned into. During his time in prison, the man had written a long book titled The Book of the New Covenants, detailing the revelations he had received and what rules a faithful follower of the Church of the Lamb of God must abide by. As can be expected, these rules included the order to kill anyone questioning their faith. Ervil also essentially wrote down a hitlist of people to kill, and these included people from his own community or family. After the man’s death, the cult got divided into three parts: one group was headed by Dan Jordan, who used to be the in-charge of security and the murders during Ervil’s time; the second group was led by Mark Chynoweth, who had been a longtime member of the cult; and the third group was led by Arturo LeBaron, who was the oldest son of Ervil and had been selected by his father to be his official successor.
The manner in which Ervil had raised the boys in his community led to them being extremely stunted and disbalanced in certain aspects of normal life, for they lacked any sympathy as violence was all that they had known since childhood. Therefore, it was no surprise that Arturo LeBaron was much more vicious than his father, and soon the group fell into more disarray, with the cult named Kingdom of God established. The group, which was run mostly by youngsters, started getting involved in drugs and crimes in order to earn their livelihood. When Arturo was killed by some of his own cult followers, another brother, Heber, was appointed as the One Mighty and Strong. Heber turned out to be even more deranged, causing even more violence and death, and then he was forced to step down by the community, with his half-brother, Aaron, taking over.
On the other side, the two other men, who also claimed themselves to be the prophets of the church now, were of very different natures. Dan Jordan was extremely harsh and abusive to women and children, making the latter work terribly hard in illegal cleaning and repairing stores in order to earn money for his own family and children. Mark Chynoweth, on the other hand, was quite loving and respectful to everyone, and eventually, he and his wife wanted to distance themselves from the cult and reform their lives. But the Kingdom of God cult, led by Aaron LeBaron, was still following the orders in the Book of the New Covenants. Both Jordan and Chynoweth’s names had been mentioned in the hitlist, and so it was considered religious duty to get rid of them. While Jordan was shot dead during a hunting trip, Mark Chynoweth, his brother Duane, and another stepson of Ervil, Eddie Marston, were killed in a coordinated assassination in Houston in 1988.
How were the Kingdom of God members finally caught?
Although everyone, especially the family members, knew that the triple assassination, referred to as the 4 o’clock murders (because of the time of the shootings), was committed by Aaron and his associates, there was not much means to prove it. Eventually, a group of young men, including Heber LeBaron, was arrested in Arizona on the charge of driving stolen cars. Once again, there was no solid evidence to pin the assassination on this group, even though it was quite evident that they were the ones behind it. But finally, one of the many daughters of Ervil, named Cynthia, decided to quit the cult and take the help of the police in doing so. In exchange for the promise that no charges would be brought against her, Cynthia gave the police extensive details about how the murders of the Chynoweths and Dan Jordan had been planned and carried out by her stepbrothers.
This was enough to get both Heber and Aaron sentenced to life imprisonment, and this finally ended the Kingdom of God cult. While the actions of Ervil LeBaron had directly claimed the lives of more than twenty-five humans, they had also indirectly caused the deaths of multiple family members, who later committed suicide after being unable to live with the trauma. Many of the children also did manage to bear through it all and build their own lives too, some writing books about their experiences and some being proud soldiers in the American military. It is with their account that Daughters of the Cult comes to an end, with all remaining members of the family totally disavowing the ideas of the evil cultist Ervil LeBaron.