Polygamist leader conspired to kidnap child wives while in prison, prosecutors allege

Family and followers of Samuel Bateman gather around as he calls from police custody following his arrest in Colorado City, Ariz., on Sept. 13, 2022. Trent Nelson/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP

NOTE: The following article contains disturbing content. Please read at your own discretion.

After being arrested in Sept. on charges of child abuse and destroying evidence, Samuel Bateman, the leader of a small offshoot group of the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) is now suspected of helping to arrange the abduction of children from state custody.

Nine girls believed to be Bateman’s child wives were taken into state custody following his arrest on Sept. 13, but on the night of Nov. 27, eight of the girls left their assigned group homes and were abducted by Bateman’s adult wives, according to a complaint filed in federal court in Spokane, Wash.

The accused polygamist leader, now in jail, kept in touch with his multiple wives and allegedly helped orchestrate the abductions of his minor wives, whom he referred to in codenames during video calls with the abductors.

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According to an affidavit filed in federal court from FBI Special Agent Dawn A. Martin, Bateman is believed to have about 50 followers and 20 wives, “many of whom are minors, mostly under the age of 15,” as reported by the Salt Lake Tribune.

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Some of the descriptions in the affidavit were drawn from recordings made by a Colorado City, Ariz., woman who helps people in the polygamy community and her husband, who was filming a documentary.

Bateman allegedly told the couple that he was instructed to “give the most precious thing he has, his girls’ virtue,” to three of his adult male followers while he watched, in an event later referred to within his sect as the “Atonement.”

“God will fix their bodies and put the membrane back in their body. I’ve never had more confidence in doing his will. It’s all out of love,” Martin quoted Bateman as saying, noting that one of the three girls was 12 years old at the time.

A former wife of one of Bateman’s followers told Martin that girls within the fringe sect are first made to watch sex acts, and then later participate. She also described a November 2021 gathering called the “Atonement” where an adult male follower was directed to have sex with a girl, the affidavit said.

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Bateman has not been charged with sexual abuse. However, Martin’s affidavit said there is probable cause to believe Bateman and others transported minors across state lines to engage in “illicit sexual conduct” between May 2020 and November 2021.

When Bateman was arrested in September, nine girls believed to be child wives were taken into custody and placed in a group home by the Arizona Department of Child Safety. The girls were interviewed but most did not incriminate Bateman, though at least one said she was present and partially nude during one of his “sex orgies,” according to court documents viewed by the Salt Lake Tribune.

Federal agents attempted to interview five girls who mentioned “sleeping with Bateman, kissing him, and touching him,” in journals seized during the September raid that ended in Bateman’s arrest, but the girls refused to fully participate. The federal agent said he believed some of the older girls were “influencing” the younger girls not to talk about Bateman.

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The nine girls were then separated, though siblings were placed together in group homes, according to the filing — though the FBI believes they stayed in contact via a group chat on Signal, an encrypted messaging app. On the Sunday after American Thanksgiving, eight of the nine girls allegedly left the group homes.

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That night, Bateman made a recorded video call from federal custody to one of his adult wives, according to the court documents. It states the video showed two of his young adult wives driving in a car, talking to Bateman about how they have two girls referred to as “E1 and E2.”

At one point in a later call, the two child wives can be seen in the back of the car, court documents allege.

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During a video call the next morning, Bateman asks one of his adult wives why “W2” was not with them, referring to the only young girl to not leave Arizona custody. The wife replied that “they tried,” and Bateman insists that they “get that girl,” saying it “puts pressure on him when they are scattered.”

Throughout the video call, the camera pans from the two adult wives to the eight girls.

The FBI eventually tracked down the women and girls after a credit card owned by one of the wives’ cousins was used to rent an Airbnb. Law enforcement arrived at the rental property and an officer stopped a vehicle and identified the eight missing girls.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the whereabouts of the recovered girls is not public and two of the adult wives named in the complaint were arrested.

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