A Prophet And His 'Sisters'

In Utah, discovering a band of polygamists hardly raises an eyebrow. But in a tidy suburb of Ogden last week, lurid details of a police investigation began to emerge: the cops had evidence that a polygamous sect of 60 people had engaged in lesbian group sex and pederasty. Says neighbor Sarah Irving, "Despite what people think of Utah, this is shocking."

State police issued four warrants last week for the arrestor alleged cult leader Arvin Shreeve,61,a retired landscaper, on charges of sodomy and sexual assault of children. Police decided to act after gathering evidence from a number of people connected to the group. One of them, Ron Van Drimmelen, believed Shreeve sexually abused his 7-year-old son. Last May, when a refugee from the group spoke out, his fears were confirmed. In a sworn deposition in a civil case, Kori Christofferson,23,painted a disturbing picture of sex and sanctimony.

According to the young woman, excommunicated Mormon Shreeve and his group lived communally in an immaculate 10-house enclave in Ogden. (Shreeve established the community after receiving "revelations from God.") Christofferson said she was attracted by the enclave's perfect lawns and its openly displayed Bibles.

Shreeve accepted couples, but many recruits were women with emotional problems or bad marriages. After orientation, Christofferson said, the women joined one of two "sister councils." The council ran every aspect of a member's life, from diet to finances. Each council was run by a male leader-an "eternal companion [who] leads a group of women to righteousness," explained Christofferson. Shreeve allegedly commanded one council and had spiritual-and sexual-relations with as many as 28 women; the youngest was reportedly 14.

At first, Christofferson said, she was oblivious to what was behind the pristine veneer. Later, she learned that "sisters" were encouraged to have sex with one another. Christofferson said she saw eight women play "Rape in the Dark," in which a woman holding a card marked "rapist" performed any sexual act she chose on another. "They told me lesbianism was disgusting and this was better," she said.

Police are most concerned about charges of sexually abused children. Van Drimmelen says his son was molested while his ex-wife lived in the enclave-and told police he suspects she knew about it. how did Shreeve get such a hold on his flock? Andrew McCullough, Van Drimmelen's lawyer, believes Shreeve exploited the Mormon concept of a single prophet. "We Mormons [tend] to be taken in by someone who has just had a revelation from God," the lawyer says. "People are awful gullible.

Mormon leaders deny any link to the group. Polygamy is illegal under state and church law-but Utah tolerates an estimated 10,000 polygamists, most of whom cite the now disavowed doctrine of plural marriage as their creed. "Nobody really wants to do anything about it," said Ogden Police Capt.Marlin Balls. For Van Drimmelen, the issue is not theology. "His premise for this whole religious cult thing was a way to have a sexual playhouse," he says angrily. Though denying the charges, Shreeve turned himself in to police over the weekend. But authorities in Ogden still have another problem; what to do about nine children from the enclave no longer entrusted to their mother's care.