|Birth name:||Ervil Morrell LeBaron|
|Born:||February 22, 1925
|Died:||August 16, 1981
|Cause of death:||Myocardial infarction|
|Number of victims:||25+|
|Span of killings:||1974 – 1981|
|Date apprehended:||June 1, 1979|
Ervil Morrell LeBaron (February 22, 1925 – August 16, 1981) was the leader of a polygamous Mormon fundamentalist group who ordered the killings of many of his opponents, using the religious doctrine of blood atonement to justify the murders. He was sentenced to prison for orchestrating the murder of an opponent, and died in prison.
After the mainstream Mormon church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, officially abandoned the practice of polygamy in 1890, some polygamous Mormons moved south to Mexico to continue the practice without the interference of U.S. law enforcement. Alma Dayer LeBaron, Sr., was one of these people, and in 1924 moved his family, which included his two wives and eight children, to northern Mexico. There, the family started a farm called "Colonia LeBaron" in Galeana, Chihuahua.
When Alma died in 1951, he passed the leadership of the community on to his son Joel LeBaron. Joel eventually incorporated the community as the Church of the Firstborn in the Fullness of Times in Salt Lake City, Utah. Joel's younger brother, Ervil LeBaron, was his second in command during the early years of the church's existence. The group ultimately numbered around 30 families who lived in both Utah and a community called "Los Molinos" on the Baja California Peninsula.
In 1972, the brothers split over leadership of the church and Ervil started a new church in San Diego, California, the Church of the Lamb of God. That same year, he ordered the killing of his brother Joel in Mexico. Leadership of the Baja California church passed to the youngest LeBaron brother, Verlan, whom Ervil unsuccessfully tried to have killed over the next decade. Ervil was tried and convicted in Mexico in 1974 for the murder of Joel, but his conviction was overturned on a technicality; some have alleged a bribe, known as mordida. Ervil's followers subsequently raided Los Molinos in an effort to kill Verlan. Their intended target was in Nicaragua, but the town was destroyed and two men were killed in the process.
Ervil LeBaron's attention was also focused on rival polygamous leaders. He ordered the killing in April 1975 of Bob Simons, a polygamist who sought to minister to Native Americans. In 1977, LeBaron ordered the killing of Rulon C. Allred, leader of another group of polygamous Mormon fundamentalists called the Apostolic United Brethren. LeBaron's thirteenth wife, Rena Chynoweth, and another woman, Ramona Marston, carried out the murder. Although Rena Chynoweth was tried and acquitted for Allred's murder, she confessed to the murder in her 1990 memoir, The Blood Covenant. She also described her experiences in LeBaron's group, which she characterized as using mind control and fear to control its followers.
LeBaron also ordered murders of family members of his own or his supporters. Vonda White, LeBaron's tenth wife, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Dean Grover Vest, one of LeBaron's henchmen, who had attempted to leave the church that year. White is also said to have killed Noemi Zarate Chynoweth, the plural wife of Bud Chynoweth, Ervil's father-in-law through his wife, Lorna Chynoweth. Noemi had been critical of LeBaron's practices, and snubbed LeBaron (her new son-in-law) at her marriage to Bud. According to people who saw Noemi disappear, Thelma Chynoweth (Bud Chynoweth's first wife, Lorna Chynoweth's mother, and Noemi's "sister-wife") helped kill Noemi. LeBaron also has been linked to the death of his own 17-year-old daughter Rebecca, who was pregnant with her second child, and had hoped to leave the group; allegedly, Eddie Marston and Duane Chynoweth strangled her in April 1977.
On June 1, 1979, LeBaron was apprehended by police in Mexico and was extradited to the United States, where he was convicted of having ordered Allred's death. In 1980, he was sentenced to life imprisonment at the Utah State Penitentiary in Draper, where he died on August 16, 1981. Coincidentally, Ervil's brother Verlan (whom Ervil had tried to murder) died in an auto accident in Mexico City two days after Ervil's body was discovered in his cell.
While in prison, LeBaron wrote a 400-page "bible" known as The Book of the New Covenants, which included a commandment to kill disobedient church members who were included in a hit list written by LeBaron. Some 20 copies were printed and distributed.
Three of the murders were carried out simultaneously on June 27, 1988, at 4.00 p.m. Duane Chynoweth, one of LeBaron's former followers, and his eight year-old daughter were shot and killed while running errands. Eddie Marston, one of LeBaron's stepsons and former thugs, was killed in the same manner, and Mark Chynoweth, a father of six, was shot multiple times in his office in Houston, Texas.
Of the seven killers involved in the infamous "4 o’clock murders", five were found guilty of murder. One, Cynthia LeBaron, testified against her siblings at trial and was granted immunity. The final suspect, Jacqueline LeBaron, remains at large and, according to the F.B.I., was last seen in Honduras in 2007.
It has been estimated that upwards of 25 people were killed as a result of LeBaron's prison-cell orders. Many of his family members and other ex-members of the group still remain in hiding for fear of retribution from LeBaron's remaining followers.