Flora Jessop: The Troubled Woman Who Cost Texas $14 Million,
and Hundreds of Innocent People Their Peace and Safety, Part 1
Filed Under Yearning For Zion Ranch, FLDS
Photo: Flora Jessop
Flora Jessop, the outspoken media favorite and determined critic of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (FLDS), has had the advantage and luxury of accruing audiences who want to believe her or are understandably uninformed about Flora’s real life and the FLDS church itself. Therefore, she has been able to say what she wants; and since people are often hearing what they want to hear, she has gotten off scot-free without any accountability or recourse whatsoever for what we now know are an endless string of vicious lies.
But Flora’s days of unaccountability have come to an end. She has now been instrumental in causing the state of Texas to carry out an illegal invasion on an entire community at a cost to the state that carries a running tally of $14 million, and has hurt so many innocent people that these silent ones who know her well, have loved and cared for her, and endured her continual destructive behavior, are finally speaking out.
Martha Jessop, wife of the late Fred M. Jessop—beloved Bishop of the Colorado City/Hildale FLDS community for fifty years—has written a most revealing account regarding Flora’s life (“The Truth About Flora Jessop,” at truthwillprevail.org). From Flora’s birth, until she was sixteen years old, Martha was very closely associated with her. She is an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse and Certified Nurse Midwife. Because of this formal training, the state of Utah appointed her as Flora’s legal guardian at the age of fourteen when it was revealed that her father had molested her. Flora was under Martha’s direct care and supervision, living in their home, until she left at the age of sixteen.
In representation of the sentiments of others, Martha writes: “After listening to and hearing of the stories and lies that Flora has been telling and putting out to the world through the media—lies about how she was ‘abused’ and ‘escaped’ from her childhood home and religion, I feel compelled to tell the true story of Flora.” With Martha’s help and the help of many others who have never been interviewed about these matters or spoken out, as well as previous news accounts, interviews, and information, we will now tell the true story about Flora Jessop. And let it be noted that the account by Martha is corroborated by Flora’s mother, Patricia, who upon reading it stated, “That’s the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”
Flora’s Growing-Up Years
Flora was born to Joseph and Patricia (Pat) Jessop in the little FLDS town of Colorado City, Arizona. “Flora was a beautiful child, well loved and enjoyable,” Martha recalls. But she noticed “a tendency in her to exaggerate and embellish little incidents. She enjoyed being in the spotlight and the center of attention.” Martha recalls chiding her to “tell the truth and not make it bigger than it is,” a quality Flora never learned.
As Flora got older, she became “restless and wild, with unpredictable mood swings, sometimes seeming impulsive and aggressive, then swinging back to the happy and free-spirited Flora we knew and loved.” As early as the age of eleven, she began going out at night, prowling around, “looking for fun.” “She seemed to be dissatisfied with the family outings and social times with her friends and siblings,” Martha recalled.
Her mother and others tried to deal with Flora’s troubling behavior; but as her mood swings became more extreme, she soon developed a whole new set of “friends,” often coming home intoxicated and violent, and it was highly suspected that she was using drugs. Today, Flora often points a limp finger at the FLDS, and regarding her drug and alcohol use and loose living states: “The pain got so bad in heaven that I was willing to damn myself to hell to escape it.” But the fact is, Flora had already brought her own hell to heaven long before she left the FLDS. As is the case with many alcoholics and drug addicts or otherwise-troubled people, for Flora it has always been easier to point the finger and assign fallacious blame than to be honest and take personal responsibility.
By the early age of thirteen, Flora was completely out of control. On one occasion she was out all night and found with a fifteen-year-old boy having sex. “Such behavior went against everything Flora had been taught,” relates Martha. Even so, they did not give up on her.
• Quote: “I went to school with Flora.… It’s true Flora had a very abusive upbringing, sex abuse, etc., but she was a wild child, loved to sneak out and go to parties.… In my opinion, she is clinging to the only thing she really knows—slamming her upbringing. Think about it—it pays their bills doesn’t it?… How would Flora like the world to know she was the easiest lay in town? The point is, I left there in 1986 and haven’t looked back. My life is great. Flora should do the same!!!!” (Laddie Dockstader, FLDS classmate and friend [punctuation and spelling corrected for readability])
When Flora was fourteen, Martha was talking with her about the impact of loose morals, when she blurted out, “Well, my father has raped me!” “It struck me like a thunderbolt,” related Martha. “That was terrible! I was sickened at the thought. I thought maybe she had made it up, but she insisted it was true.”
In Martha’s words, in their society “child molestation or abuse of any kind is unthinkable and unacceptable.” Flora’s father was turned over to legal authorities and subsequently excommunicated from the church. Despite this decisive correction that she is well aware of, when asked if incest was permitted in FLDS, she replied, “Incest is not only permitted, it is accepted.” Evidenced here and throughout her life, Flora’s habitual lies have been twisted ill-intended distortions of events.
• Quote: “She is a liar.… [Lying is] Flora’s life history.… She is not credible.… I do not see how any reasonable person can believe what she says.” (Benjamin Bistline, author of “The Polygamists – A History of Colorado City, Arizona,” who personally knew Flora as a child and is an FLDS critic)
One of the things I learned after examining the FLDS, from both the inside as well as the outside, is that they have a near-zero-tolerance policy for young men, fathers, and husbands when it comes to moral impropriety, evidenced by the action taken against Flora’s father. This high standard would certainly be one reason why there are fewer men than women in the FLDS. One man I communicated with extensively throughout the many days and hours of this careful examination was disfellowshipped for mistreating his wife. He said she and his two children could have gone with him, but decided not to, and that the present separation was best for both of them. What was his guilt? He had been looking at pornography. How many homes would be left in America today if the same standard the FLDS follow was practiced by the rest of society that so misguidedly judges them?
After Flora’s father was reported to legal authorities, she was taken from his home and placed into Martha’s care as the court-appointed legal guardian. In a joint interview I had with Flora on June 1, 2008, I mentioned to her that Martha had raised her after she had been taken away from her father, to which she replied, “Martha was just one of the other wives in the household.” I find it both shameful and remarkably untruthful that the woman who had reached out to her so much and was in fact her legal guardian assigned by the court, was regarded with so little respect or gratitude.
Martha, Fred, and others began trying to help Flora through the healing process. To limit destructive influences, she and her court-appointed counselor thought it best that Flora be homeschooled, which she was. For a while they thought she was healing, but once again she became restless and began to return to her prior ways. “Any little thing would make her fly into a rage,” recounts Martha. On one occasion she attacked Martha, scratching herself as she flailed away at her. Then, exhibiting a characteristic that would endure to this day, she called the counselor and accused Martha of beating her.
Finally, one night she left, just disappeared, and stayed gone for two weeks. When she did call, she was in Las Vegas, crying and wanting to come home. Fred drove 160 miles to get her, finding her scantily clad in bikini-type clothing.
But still they didn’t stop loving her. Because of their concern about her influence on the other girls, they made her a little room at the end of a wide hall, putting curtains across it. They tried to make it cozy and cute for her, said Martha. But consistent with her slanderous lies and total lack of appreciation, Flora would later repeatedly tell her enraptured and blindly sympathetic listeners that she had been locked up at the end of a hall, imprisoned behind a wall for “three years in solitary confinement.” “With curtains? Oh my!” replies Martha. “I spent three years in this room with them trying to beat Satan out of me for daring to stand up against God’s commandments,” Flora lavishly tells others. The little girl still cannot stop exaggerating and embellishing, taking it to unthinkable pathological levels.
Once back, her involvement in drugs, alcohol, sex, and unaccounted absences only continued. “Her behavior was quite oppressive,” relates Martha. “I felt like such a failure.” She continues, “One night she was out all night with a boy—a cousin. He came the next morning and told Grandpa [Fred] that they had had sex. So Grandpa asked him if he wanted to marry her. He said he did. Then Grandpa asked Flora if she wanted to marry the boy. She said she did. So he helped them get legally married. Flora was sixteen. The newlyweds left town to settle elsewhere, but I learned later that she left him several weeks after their marriage.”
The August, 2004, issue of “The Los Angeles Times Magazine” reported: “In May 1986, she [Flora] entered into an arranged marriage with a 19-year-old cousin, Philip Jessop.” “Arranged marriage”? The only thing arranged about it was that Flora and Philip arranged to be out all night and were caught having sex.
Phillip’s Sympathetic Marriage
Though the Times article was supposed to be favorable to Flora, it astutely noted, “Over the years, she has told conflicting stories about how [her ‘getaway’] happened.” One thing that she is consistent about is her repeated and convincing claim that she “escaped” from the FLDS, that she was a victim held in solitary confinement. Was she indeed a victim? This is evidently the case, insomuch that she lived in an abusive situation with her father. But beyond that, she in fact created her own world of difficulties, and the reality of an escape is framed solely within the walls of her own mind.
Many people undoubtedly reached out to Flora and tried to help her. Were their efforts sufficient? Evidenced by her life, clearly not; but at some point people have to take responsibility for their own actions. One of those who sought to be her “savior” was Phillip. I talked with him by phone several times. No one before had ever contacted him so as to verify Flora’s statements. I was the first. In fact, Flora has never been questioned regarding her life accounts. Up to now, what she has said has been blindly accepted carte blanche. The name that Phillip goes by is Phil, and here is his account.
Phil was eighteen years old when he married Flora. He said that for two years they had been “sneaking out” together. Martha was right in that they were caught one night in a sexual affair, by a night watchman; but Phil did not immediately go to Fred. He related that he was first confronted by his older brother about the incident. He admitted to it, and his brother, for whom he worked, was prepared to carry out retribution for his actions. Once again we see that the idea propagated by FLDS critics that irresponsible behavior, such as Phil’s out-of-wedlock sexual relationship, is accepted is unfounded. As evidenced here and in other instances, the FLDS take swift remedial action.
Phil said that two weeks afterwards, his stepfather, Bill Shapley, came over and left a note for Phil to contact him. Two days later Phil met with him. Bill asked him if he wanted to marry Flora. At the age of eighteen, Phil said he had a “savior complex” regarding Flora—he wanted to “draw her out of the negative @#*! she was in.” Bill even tried to talk him out of marrying her. In Phil’s words, Flora “had a rebel streak in her that was a mile long.” But he made a commitment to be a friend to her and to always be there. Obviously Flora felt this as well, for she later related, “He was my friend and he helped me leave.”
The next day, Phil and Flora met with Fred in his office. As Martha has noted, they both wanted the marriage. So on May 3, 1986, Phil, Flora, Fred, Phil’s mother and stepfather, and Flora’s father and stepmother, rode in a limousine to Las Vegas and the two were married.
After the wedding, they were taken to a motel in St. George, followed by moving in with his brother. The marriage lasted only ten days. Phil said Flora became very cold—their marriage was “like sleeping with an iceberg.” He no longer wanted to be married to her and asked her what she wanted. He said she was confused and wanted to be young. Phil made arrangements for Flora to stay at his friend’s house in St. George, where she remained for two to four weeks. From there, he said she went to Las Vegas, and from there to Kansas City. The next time he saw her was about six months later in Phoenix, where she was with another man, supposedly a TWA executive.
“[Flora] learned how to work people,” Phil relates. “She was a topless dancer and worked for an escort service.” Ten years later she finally filed for a divorce. He never remarried.
Phil maintains a great deal of compassion for Flora, and retains his commitment to be her friend. “The sad part,” he said, “is that her motives are for the hurting who have experienced pain and betrayal. But she has a tainted perspective, and her methods are destructive from her pain and anger.” When explaining why he married Flora, he said, “She has told a lot of lies and did manipulative stuff, but she needed someone to believe in her.” Phil gave Flora that chance.
• Quote: “Flora Jessop was possibly abused as a child either by her brother or her father, both of whom were excommunicated from the FLDS church and lost their families. She moved in with Uncle Fred, whom her mother married.… She was never mistreated by Fred Jessop; he only wanted to help her. Flora left in 1986. I do not blame her one bit for being angry for what happened to her as a child, but she found identity and notoriety by blaming the church for her pain. I don’t blame her, but she is wrong.” (Allen Holm, former FLDS member and older brother of Fawn Holm who was a part of a huge media spectacle generated by Flora in 2004)
Flora tells her eager listeners that she was not prepared for life on the “outside,” that she was “naive to the point of being socially retarded.” Hardly! From the young age of eleven, to the age of sixteen when she married Phil, she was entirely experienced in the aberrant lifestyle outside of the FLDS community’s high standards. She had already brought her hell into this heaven, and now she was ready to drink its cup fully.
In the years that followed, Flora freely fed her tragic lusts with drugs, alcohol, sex, prostitution, and stripping—with one brief interruption. Within a year after leaving, once again she called Fred. “She said she wanted to repent and come home,” wrote Martha in her account. And once again this kind and caring man who loved her and gave her every chance to do good, took her back. He got her a room in Cedar City and paid for it. Yet today Flora shamefully accuses him of imprisoning her. He also paid several thousand dollars for dental work for her, and visited and encouraged her. Everyone was kind to her, said Martha. Phil said he came to see her a couple of times as well. But then one day, once again, she just disappeared, leaving without saying a word and giving no indication as to where she had gone.
On Court TV Flora stated in an obvious pathological prevarication, “I was married as a child bride to my cousin. Stayed with him for about three weeks, then ran like crazy. They chased me for five years after I left. I had no support, I lived on the street, I know what it’s like to try and get out of this cult and to have no one there for you. That is why I now try to help those who want to escape.
“Yes. They chased me for five years, and I just hitchhiked back and forth across the U.S. for those five years. I did get pregnant towards the end of those five years, with my daughter, and she is the reason that I stopped running from them. I realized that I could not continue to run and protect my baby, so I stood up and told them if they wanted me, to come and get me, because I was not running anymore. At that point, I realized that the men from this cult are like schoolyard bullies. They only like to pick on people who are weaker than they are, and that power comes from the fear that they have instilled in the people.”
It is increasingly obvious that Flora’s lies are without depth or breadth, and this is recognized by all who know her. No one ever chased her. In fact, she freely returned to seek their help. In closer examination, her bizarre account serves to describe herself—always running from the truth, pressing her own distorted and corrupted agenda, and instilling false fear in others regarding the FLDS. For years Flora sold her body to destructive vices and prostitution—today she does no less with the truth.
• Quote: “I was very much a part of what Flora was doing before she ever left.… She was not forced to stay there. She could have gone anytime, just like you and I could.… She was not forced to stay in this community.… She could have gone at anytime.” (Reply of James Zitting, right-hand man to Fred M. Jessop, when questioned by his brother, Les, concerning Flora)
“For many years now I have kept quiet about what I knew,” relates Martha, “thinking Flora was just hurting herself. But now, since her lies and influence with authorities is affecting the lives of many innocent people, I think the truth should be told. The stories she tells have no credence and are fabricated. Her lies about being ‘locked up’ and being ‘used’ by men in our religious group are outrageous! She was never locked up in our community. When she chose to leave home, she walked out without difficulty—of her own free will and choice. Flora has not been a part of our religion or community for over twenty years. We have never hunted her or tried in any way to interfere in the life she chose to live. We have only helped her when she asked for help and did it without any thanks on her part.
“I forgive her,” continues Martha, “but her lies and deceit should not be allowed to continue on as fact.”