Ervil, Joel, Verlan, Alma, Floren LeBaron
It was January 1975, and San Diego was making big news in the New York Times, as violence from a notorious polygamous cult spilled into the county from Baja California.
"A search centered on San Diego this week for four suspects reported to have fled across the border from Mexico following a firebomb and shotgun attack on a polygamous religious colony operated by excommunicated Mormons from Utah," the paper reported.
"Mexican authorities said that since the colony's establishment 11 years ago 90 miles south of Ensenada, five persons had been killed, including the sect's founder and president, Joel LeBaron, 47 years old, who was beaten and fatally shot on August 20, 1972."
Six months after the Times story, Dean Vest was gunned down in a National City kitchen on June 16, 1975. As in the case of Joel LeBaron's killing, suspicion focused on Joel's brother Ervil.
"The 6-foot-8, 260-pound Vest was once a bodyguard of Ervil LeBaron. But at the time of his death, Vest was thinking of leaving the group and was considered a traitor by LeBaron," recounts a June 1988 Deseret News LaBaron family history.
"He was shot three times in the head by Vonda White at her home near San Diego, supposedly on orders from Ervil. One shot to the head after Vest was already dead may have been a ritualistic coup de grace for a 'blood atonement,' a murder to pay for someone's sins. Ervil supposedly told White again that she 'was an elected' lady after she committed the murder."
White, Ervil's tenth wife, was arrested in Mexico on June 1,1979, extradited to San Diego, and convicted in 1980 of Vest's killing. She got life in prison. In 2006, after serving 28 years, White’s 19th bid for parole was rejected by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who reversed a parole board grant of release, saying "her release from prison would post an unreasonable public-safety risk."
But the story did not end there.
"Many of you know Vonda White, a 69-year-old woman who has been a leader at the California Institution for Women during her nearly 30 years of incarceration," said a November 21, 2008 post on the website, Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women.
"She was released this week on Tuesday, November 18, due to a successful habeas writ challenging the Governor's reversal of her 2006 release on parole."
In 1980, Ervil was convicted in Utah of conspiring to kill Verlan LeBaron, another brother and leader of another polygomy sect, and directing the 1977 murder of Rulon Allred, a Salt Lake Valley sect leader. Ervil had once been charged in Mexico with his brother Joel's death, as well.
Almost a year after that, Ervil was found dead in his Utah prison cell in August 1981, alongside a note saying, "I've gone to meet my maker."
By then he had 13 wives.
Now the November 4, 2019 killings in the state of Sonora, Mexico of nine U.S.-Mexican family members, including six children, who were part of a group of fundamentalist Mormons, has drawn the Twitter ire of president Donald Trump and brought renewed attention to the LeBaron family history.
The nature of the links between Ervil, the surviving LeBaron clan and those who died Monday in Mexico are not yet clear. A November 5 report by the Washington Post says that although several of the victims of Monday's attack bore the LeBaron name, Mormon fundamentalism scholar Cristina Rosetti told the paper that they were "not part of the LeBaron order."