The Tragic Story Of Warren Jeffs' Son Roy

This article mentions spiritual/religious abuse, sexual assault, and child sex abuse.

In 2006, Warren Jeffs, the leader of a fringe religious sect named the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, was thrust into the national spotlight over accusations of arranging marriages between grown men and underage girls. The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or FLDS for short, is an offshoot of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (commonly known as the Mormon movement or LDS Church), the latter of which had denied any affiliation with the former, per Biography. Much of this has to do with the LDS Church's prohibited practice of polygamy, which the fundamentalist sect continues to embrace.

Formed after the schism over polygamy occurred in 1890, Jeffs (pictured above) took over as leader after his father, Rulon Jeffs, died in 2002, per the Southern Poverty Law Center. Referred to by FLDS members as a prophet, one of the responsibilities he assumed was to match the men in the sect with suitable wives. Many of these wives were underage, with some being as young as 12 (via Biography).

In 2004, Warren's nephew, Brent W. Jeffs, filed a civil lawsuit claiming his uncle sexually abused him when he was a child, as NPR later reported. The following year, Warren was indicted on charges of conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a minor, along with sexual conduct with a minor (via the Austin Chronicle). However, some of the most disturbing offenses Jeffs was accused of were exposed by his son, Roy Jeffs.

Roy Jeffs was abused by his father Warren

Warren Jeffs, who was finally put on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list after later charges relating to a sexual assault of a minor in 2002 in addition to his previous charges, managed to evade authorities for a while but was finally captured in August 2006. Per Biography, Jeffs was then tried in Utah and Texas for all of the charges brought against him. Evidence collected by prosecutors, including Jeffs' journals and a recording of at least one of the assaults, was enough to secure convictions in both states. Although the conviction in Utah was ultimately overturned, Jeffs will spend the rest of his life in a Texas prison and is alive as of this report.

In February 2014, Warren's son, Roy Jeffs, left the FLDS cult and began speaking out about the abuse he suffered at the hands of the elder Jeffs. Despite being one of 54 children Warren fathered, Roy was the first to leave the FLDS and to publicly discuss the abuse, per The Salt Lake Tribune. Born in 1992 in the FLDS Little Cottonwood Compound in Sandy, Utah, Roy was named after Leroy Johnson, who preceded his grandfather, Rulon Jeffs, as the designated FLDS prophet. As the newspaper noted in 2019, Roy stated in multiple interviews that his first memory was of being sexually abused by his father. While Roy also said the sexual abuse only happened once, he was profoundly affected by it, and that it had made him feel like he had "done something wrong."

Roy Jeffs was separated from his mother

As WKYC reported in 2018, Roy Jeffs stated that aside from the incident of abuse inflicted by his father, Warren Jeffs, he remembered the rest of his early childhood as reasonably normal up until he was 10 years old. He was specifically close to his mother. "I had a great life," Roy recounted to WKYC. "With my mom, we used to tend the garden together, we would play games with my dad for a couple hours, then have a big dinner." But according to Roy, things began to change for the worse when his father sent him — along with his mother and several other family members — away when he was 12 years old. Per WKYC, their exile was meant to be a form of punishment for defying one of Warren's many rules. Two years later, Roy was separated from his mother and his siblings, and his teenage years were lonely.

Although Warren was incarcerated by 2006, at the time, he maintained his leadership of the FLDS sect and continued to control FLDS members by way of letters and telephone calls. It was through a phone call that Warren finally allowed Roy to return to the Yearning for Zion Ranch, an FLDS compound outside Eldorado, Texas, to reunite with his family. As WKYC noted, Roy was later forced to leave once again when he confessed to his father that he was attracted to several of Warren's wives — who were actually closer to the teenage Roy's age.

Roy Jeffs was afraid to leave the FLDS cult

As punishment, Roy Jeffs was sent to work as part of an FLDS construction crew, according to a 2015 CNN interview with Roy. As he recalled, working with the crew and moving further away from the main compound allowed Roy more freedoms — like being able to listen to music and watch movies — which were both forbidden by his father Warren Jeffs. Despite this, Roy said it made the other men suspicious of him. "[If] you're the son of the prophet ... you're running errands for the bishop, or you're right-hand man to some high-up authority," he stated. "To be able to work out on a crew and to be the prophet's son was kind of degrading, and so I couldn't keep friends there for very long. ... Everybody just looked at me like I was untrustworthy."

As Roy told CNN, he considered leaving the FLDS Church on numerous occasions. But because he, along with other FLDS members, had been warned that in addition to facing damnation and losing their families, they would likely be targeted by law enforcement agencies — including the FBI. According to The Salt Lake Tribune, Warren's position as prophet, even after his incarceration, aided in continuing to instill fear in FLDS members, as they believed he was essentially all-knowing and thus in complete control of their lives. Roy also believed his father was a prophet — and worse, felt ashamed for letting him down.

Three of his sisters followed Roy Jeffs after he left

Per CNN, Roy Jeffs ultimately left the FLDS in 2014. Although there were numerous reasons he decided to escape the sect, Roy said in an interview with the news outlet that the isolation from his family and the subsequent loneliness were primary factors in his decision. Although his mother remained in the FLDS sect, and he was essentially shunned, Roy maintained contact with some of his siblings who also later followed in his footsteps. As CNN reported, Roy recognized that his father had become more controlling over the years, which were fortified with alleged religious "revelations" and "weird rules." He also feared many of Warren Jeffs' followers had become "brainwashed," and did not realize how unusual his father's behavior had escalated. Roy said he was concerned "that it [the FLDS cult] could end up in a mass suicide because of how much control" Warren continued to exhibit.

According to WKYC, three of Roy's sisters later revealed to him that they had also been sexually abused by their father. Roy, who at that point had one day wished to resume contact with Warren, stated that his attitude towards Warren completely changed after he found out his father had abused other children. "The kind of pedestal I had him on kind of disintegrated," he told WKYC. 

Roy Jeffs' life had a very tragic end

As People magazine reported, Roy Jeffs died by suicide in Salt Lake City, Utah, on May 29, 2019, less than one week before his 27th birthday. Roy's death was announced by his sister Rachel, who blamed their father, Warren, for the ensuing event. Rachel said Warren was specifically harsh with Roy and, in her opinion, "didn't love him." For Roy, being isolated from his family was especially devastating, and Rachel said Warren made it even worse by blaming Roy and trying to turn everyone against him, per People.

According to Roy's obituary, he "was a proud member of the LGBT community." He was known as a compassionate, empathetic, and loving man, who was determined to become "his own person," as opposed to being remembered as part of the Jeffs family and the FLDS. There were some bright spots in his life, as his obituary noted. He enjoyed watching Disney movies, the TV sitcom "Friends," and listening to music by Taylor Swift. He loved trying new foods and making new friends. He also worked tirelessly to find his mother, who he had not seen or spoken to in several years.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

If you or someone you know is dealing with spiritual abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255).