Title: The Witness Wore Red: The 19th Wife Who Brought Polygamous Cult Leaders to Justice
Authors: Rebecca Musser and M. Bridget Cook
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Copyright: September 10, 2013
Genres: Cult Autobiography and Memoir, Cult Nonfiction, Women’s Memoir
Format: E-Book, 352 Pages
Price: $13.30 [Amazon Paperback], $11.99 [Kindle], $19.95 [Audible], $13.30 [Barnes & Noble Paperback], $11.99 [Nook], $11.99 [Google Play], $9.99 [iBooks]
Rebecca Musser grew up in fear, concealing her family’s polygamous lifestyle from the “dangerous” outside world. Covered head-to-toe in strict, modest clothing, she received a rigorous education at Alta Academy, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints’ school headed by Warren Jeffs.
Always seeking to be an obedient Priesthood girl, in her teens she became the nineteenth wife of her people’s prophet: 85-year-old Rulon Jeffs, Warren’s father. Finally sickened by the abuse she suffered and saw around her, she pulled off a daring escape and sought to build a new life and family. The church, however, had a way of pulling her back in – and by 2007, Rebecca had no choice but to take the witness stand against the new prophet of the FLDS in order to protect her little sisters and other young girls from being forced to marry at shockingly young ages. The following year, Rebecca and the rest of the world watched as a team of Texas Rangers raided the Yearning for Zion Ranch, a stronghold of the FLDS.
Rebecca’s subsequent testimony would reveal the horrific secrets taking place behind closed doors of the temple, sending their leaders to prison for years, and Warren Jeffs for life.
The Witness Wore Red is a gripping account of one woman’s struggle to escape the perverse embrace of religious fanaticism and sexual slavery, and a courageous story of hope and transformation.
Every once in a while, I come across a book that is so gripping that I can’t put it down. For some reason, I find it interesting to read memoirs about those who become disillusioned with a religion (or cult) and leave. Time and time again, these brave individuals leave their safely cloistered communities and adventure into the harsh light of the real world. In this case, the book that I reviewed this week is about a former prophet’s wife who left behind everything she ever knew and questioned her entire belief system.
As a former member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) OR “the Work” (not to be confused with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints or LDS that is based in Salt Lake City, Utah), Rebecca Musser was considered an apostate the moment she left. In her 2013 book The Witness Wore Red, the author recounts her life from her difficult childhood to her reluctant marriage to a man 70 years her senior to her abuse at the hands of his son Warren Jeffs and finally her escape from a suffocating culture.
Even if you have no prior information on the FLDS, Ms. Musser truly gives one a good perspective on the culture that not many outsiders (dubbed “Gentiles” or non-FLDS adherents) get to see. Just to give some background, the FLDS is a fundamentalist group that broke away from the LDS Church when Wilford Woodruff (then the prophet of the LDS) did away with the practice of polygamy (the taking of multiple wives by righteous men) and threatened to excommunicate any members who continued with the practice. In the modern era, the FLDS are recognized by the pastel prairie dresses and iconic pompadour hairstyles (often with a poof in the front and a braid in the back) worn by the women. The April 2008 raid at the YFZ or Yearning For Zion Ranch in Texas caused a media frenzy and is still fresh in the psyche of American society.
From start to finish, I found Ms. Musser’s story not only saddening and harrowing but I saw that she is beautiful both inside and out. Much of her childhood, she and her siblings lived in constant fear of her father’s first wife, Irene. Having been the daughter of Sharon (her father’s second wife), she was often ridiculed by the miserable first wife who beat her and her siblings. As Rebecca grew up in the FLDS, she sometimes didn’t believe in all of the stuff that she was told but she strove to be a good priesthood girl. Having at one point met an astronaut and touched actual dinosaur bones, she fought against Warren Jeffs (then the president of Alta Academy which Ms. Musser describes as “Yale of the FLDS”) who taught the children that such things didn’t exist.
As an adult, she caught the eye of their prophet Rulon Jeffs and she had no choice but to become his nineteenth wife. Despite being unhappy with the marriage, she tried her best to help others and to be a good prophet’s wife. It was disturbing to witness the abuse that Ms. Musser faced at the hands of her husband (who seemed to not respect her) and his eerie son who constantly chastised her for one reason or another. Over the years, as her elderly husband’s condition began to worsen, she witnessed firsthand the grab for power and the way in which Warren Jeffs manipulated the people.
In 2002, when Rulon had finally passed away, Rebecca found herself in an increasingly strenuous situation. With her husband’s death, she watched as all of her sister wives began to disappear and remarried sometimes within the span of a whole day. Even more concerning was the fact that a large number of her sisters wives (such as Naomi Jessop Jeffs) were now married to Warren Jeffs. Women that he referred to as “Mother” were now his wives. Rebecca was determined that she would not end up in such a situation and it often landed her in trouble with Warren. At one point, she argued against remarriage and Warren wasn’t having any of it. His only response to her was, “I will break you.”
The rest of Rebecca’s heart-wrenching tale describes the dangerous and fearful escape from the compound, her uncertain life after she left the FLDS, testifying against Warren Jeffs (the man who was determined to break her spirit), and finding herself on the journey of life. Rebecca was able to transcend her circumstances and although she has faced many difficult things in life, she has continued to be an inspirational woman to many. Words cannot begin to explain the horrors that so many women have faced and continue to face in religious groups such as the FLDS. With Rebecca testifying against men such as Warren Jeffs, she gives a voice to those who are forced to be silent. Five Stars!
Rebecca Musser is the founder of a non-profit foundation that helps victims escape the FLDS just as she once did. It is a foundation that stands up for the fundamental Human Rights of others. To find out more information about it, click here.
If you like this, you may enjoy…
2022 was a good year for documentaries on the FLDS. Peacock released “Preaching Evil” in April 2022. This documentary features Warren Jeff’s favorite wife, Naomie Jessop, who shares her story. It’s a great documentary.
Another good documentary is “Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey,” which was released on Netflix in June of 2022. This is another informative and heartbreaking documentary on the abuses that women had to deal with.