Being a reporter in Utah meant having to understand some bizarre aspects of the fundamentalist Mormon culture, and one of those was blood atonement. That’s where humans atone for their sins by spilling their blood, usually at the hands of some whacked-out fundamentalist who thinks God has spoken to him.
Dan and Ron Lafferty felt the spirit run through them in 1984, as they went to their brother’s home and slit the throats of his wife and daughter, pulled their heads back and let them bleed. The Laffertys had received a revelation from the Lord that the woman and child should be killed, probably because the wife opposed the Laffertys’ cult.
I had become familiar with revelations in general, and with Dan’s in particular, during a conversation in an Elko, Nev., jail cell. I got a tip on the arrest after talking to investigators about the ritualistic killing and the Laffertys’ anti-government leanings.
Dan surprised me, though. He told me he had run to Nevada not to flee police but to follow another revelation. (Scoop?) With wild hair and wide eyes, he said the Lord was sending him to Reno, where he was to gamble and partake in booze, pot and whores. Though I knew some Mormons who did partake, it usually wasn’t ordered by God.
But then I learned never to be surprised by what I heard from those who spoke to the deity. I also reported on a polygamist cop who told me God ordered him to disobey the government’s law on bigamy and take another wife. Who could argue with God? For more on revelations and polygamy, read our cover story “The patriarch, polygamy and power”.
Mormon fundamentalism, polygamy, violence and assorted lawbreaking merged numerous times in Utah. The common thread was a person from a splinter group who would use his or her revelation to do evil and outlandish things, usually at the expense of someone who opposed him or her within a fundamentalist group.
The Laffertys’ crimes were all about delusions and power—and the cutting of a baby’s throat.