By SUSAN SNYDER and JENNIFER GALLAGHER
Although it had been 50 years, Afton Brown's voice still faltered with tears as
recalled the day her husband, Charles Elden Kingston, told her to bathe their
infant son in ice cold water to please God.
No soap, Kingston had told her. They would scrub the baby clean with a stiff
It was 1935, and members of the religious sect that Kingston founded in
that year took their daily marching orders from him. He was their prophet.
Through him, God said what they could own, wear and eat.
Some days, the infant from Kingston's union with Brown -- the second of his five
wives -- was fed only mulberry juice. Another time, it was milk laced with
Brown briefly considered straining the strawberries out, but faith made her
"I knew what that would do to that little boy. He ate some of it and he was
sick as a dog. I never saw a child so sick," Brown recalled at age 73 in a
interview with relatives during the early 1980s. "But it was something we
Not any more, authorities say.
John Daniel Kingston, Elden's nephew , is to ap pear in Box Elder County's First
District Court Tuesday for a preliminary hearing on a felony child abuse charge.
He is accused of beating his 16-year- old daughter at the Washakie Salers
Ranch, near the Utah-Idaho border, after she ran away from an arranged
marriage to her own uncle.
Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office detectives say they are investigating the
David O. Kingston, and his relationship with his 16-year-old niece.
While John Daniel's upcoming trial and the number of ex-members coming
forward to publicly discuss their former lifestyle may be seen as chinks in what
was considered an impenetrable armor, the group strives to maintain tight
over its faithful.
The strict authority exercised by the ruling Kingston family has been a hallmark
the secretive clan since its inception. In interviews with more than a dozen
members and polygamy experts, the Standard-Examiner has pieced together an
inside look at the fundamentalist group's generations of rigid control.
That authority extends into all aspects of a member's life.
By not allowing members to keep their own finances and own their own property,
the group even makes leaving difficult.
Those who do leave, especially those raised a Kingston, experience isolation and
loneliness. Many have never had a friend outside the group. Even after they
they find it hard to make friends because they are afraid to tell anyone about
Former followers of the estimated 1,000-member clan have said life inside the
group can be stressful. High-ranking officials arrange marriages to multiple
for its highest-ranking men -- even if those married are close relatives.
"The women often struggle with jealousy," said David Derezotes,
professor of the
University of Utah's Graduate School of Social Work, who has studied
polygamous groups for three years. "Some function well in spite of it,
their religious conviction helps overcome jealousy, but the first wife gradually
loses a sense of intimacy with her husband as younger wives show up."
Because of the nature of his research, he couldn't reveal if members of the
Kingston group were studied.
Harsh discipline for Kingston children is routine, and members practice
soul-searching through starvation to make themselves worthy in the eyes of God,
former members have said.
Of the estimated 20,000 people in Utah who practice Mormon fundamentalism,
the Kingstons are considered the most secretive and most economically sound,
according to D. Michael Quinn, a Mormon historian and former Brigham Young
Although outsiders are suspicious and even critical of the Kingston lifestyle
beliefs, most followers believe in the positive aspects of Elden's original
the covenants of plural marriage and consecration he made to God.
"Most fundamentalist men and women are very devoted to this as a
commandment to God," Quinn said. "Where there are instances of abuse,
say they are exceptions to the rule, just as with monogamous marriages."
Outer circle, inner core
Quinn, an excommunicated Mormon, wrote a report about
plural marriage in 1993. An expanded version of that article is
published in the most recent edition of "Dialogue: A Journal
of Mormon Thought." His research, most of which took place
about eight years ago, is based on interviews with members
and ex-members of the Kingston clan.
"This is the last fundamentalist group of significant size," Quinn's
article says. "One
fundamentalist described it as "the most outstanding example in all
of patriarchal family effort to establish (an economic) united order.' "
Quinn said it is difficult to figure a membership number for the Kingston group
because participation levels vary. Those in the lowest level of trust number in
"tens of thousands," including people who work at Kingston-owned
throughout the state without knowing their employers are Mormon
fundamentalists, Quinn said.
Those at the second level agree to give the co-op a certain amount of each
paycheck to cover costs such as rent or mortgages, utilities, government taxes
and other expenses. These members receive a special card that's redeemable at
all co-op businesses and offers discounts of 10 percent or 50 percent or more.
But even they are not included in religious discussions, he says.
Only members of the Kingstons' inner-circle attend church and receive all group
privileges, Quinn said. The group includes members of the immediate Kingston
family and descendants of the original founding members. Their Sunday services
are conducted at Standard Restaurant Equipment Co., a Kingston-owned
business at 3500 S. West Temple in Salt Lake City.
One man Quinn interviewed, a polygamist who worked for the Kingstons but was
a member of another fundamentalist group, tried for five years to penetrate this
inner core and couldn't.
"They simply didn't talk about religion. Every time he tried to talk about
plural marriage, they would just change the subject," Quinn said. "He
went to a
few Sunday meetings, but he still regarded them as unwilling to trust
The child abuse charge lodged against John Kingston has unsettled Kingston
members, not so much because of its brutality, but because of the public
it has drawn, experts and ex-members say. Group members conceal their
practices and beliefs from all probing outsiders, including law enforcement.
Carl Kingston, John Daniel's first cousin, is serving as his attorney in the
didn't respond to multiple requests for an interview about the case and the