Polygamist Cult Leader Now Charged With Child Sex Abuse

Coconino County Sheriff's Department
Coconino County Sheriff's Department

Horrifying new details have emerged from an FBI investigation of a self-proclaimed Mormon “prophet” who allegedly raped girls as young as 9 years old and took 20 wives, half of them underage.

A new 51-count indictment filed in an Arizona court reveals the lurid new allegations against Samuel Rappylee Bateman, 47, who claimed in 2019 to be the successor to Warren Jeffs, the former leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, a polygamist sect. Jeffs—known to followers as “Uncle Warren”—is currently serving life in prison for child sexual assault, after 12 of his 78 “wives” were revealed to be under the age of 15.

Bateman convinced some of his early followers that he had “impressions of Heavenly Father’s will,” according to court records, and encouraged them to “bear testimony” to other potential followers that Bateman was doing “Uncle Warren’s” will.

The FLDS emerged in the early 20th century, when a group split from the Mormon church over a disagreement about “plural marriage.” The sect made its home in Short Creek, a community of two towns on the border of Utah and Arizona.

Bateman was born and raised in Short Creek, according to a profile in the Salt Lake Tribune. He became more religious after suffering a brain injury in a serious car accident as a teenager, friends told the paper. In 2019, two years after Jeffs was found guilty of child sexual abuse charges, Bateman began to proclaim himself Jeffs’ successor, according to court documents.

As his following grew, prosecutors say, Bateman began to take multiple adult wives. Then, he began to demand his followers give him their underage daughters as wives, according to court documents. Bateman eventually “married” ten underage girls, prosecutors say.

Bateman told one follower that the “Lord” wanted him to marry the man’s nine-year-old daughter, prosecutors say, and that he would be “blessed for his loyalty.” Bateman told the girl that the “Devil doesn’t like what we’re doing,” according to the court documents. In total, Bateman “married” five of the man’s daughters, aged 9, 10, 11, 13, and 14.

After raping the 14-year-old daughter of one of his followers, Bateman recorded that he “slept with Angel Mother tonight,” prosecutors say. On another occasion, Bateman offered one of his followers sex with an underage girl in exchange for Bateman having sex with the man’s wife, the documents allege.

Bateman not only raped and sexually abused his underage wives, according to the latest indictment, but “trained” them to take part in sexual acts in front of other followers. He also filmed “group sexual activity involving minors,” prosecutors say, so that followers in different states could participate. On multiple occasions, Bateman referred to the abuse as a “sacred ordinance,” court documents show.

On one occasion, Bateman drank wine and had sex with a male follower, Moroni Johnson, in a motel room in Lincoln, Nebraska, in front of his underage wives, previous court documents allege, some of whom were Johnson’s own daughters. The FBI said the women and girls were required to stand naked and watch the “binding of brothers.”

In order to keep tight control over his followers, Bateman “rebuked” them if he thought they were disobedient and required them to make “confessions,” the court papers allege. One of Bateman’s followers, Torrance Bistline, allegedly bought Bateman a luxury Bentley car. Bateman then watched as Bistline had sex with a 12-year-old girl, according to the court documents. Shortly afterward, Bistline allegedly bought Bateman a second Bentley. Another follower, Ladell Bistline Jr., also bought Bateman two Range Rovers, according to prosecutors.

“Your children will fall by the dozens unless you repent in sackcloth and ashes,” Bateman is alleged to have told one follower who displeased him.

Residents of Short Creek reported Bateman to the authorities multiple times between 2020 and 2022, according to reporting by the Salt Lake Tribune. Federal agents searched his home looking for evidence that he was taking multiple wives or sexually abusing minors, according to the paper. The Arizona Department of Child Services also attempted to interview Bateman’s adult “wives” about potential abuse, but they would not cooperate, according to court records.

In August 2022, Bateman was pulled over in Arizona and authorities found three young girls inside a locked cargo trailer. The following month Bateman’s home was raided and he was charged with attempting to destroy records in a federal investigation. When he realized the authorities were closing in on him, he allegedly instructed his followers to delete their Signal messenger apps.

The state took custody of nine girls, aged 11 to 16, following the raid. But in November 2022, eight of the girls disappeared from Arizona. They were found in an Airbnb in Spokane, Washington with one of Bateman’s adult female followers. It later emerged that Bateman had been keeping in touch with his adult “wives” through video calls from jail, and had instructed them to abduct the girls. Bateman’s phone privileges at the Florence Correctional Center were revoked after authorities found he had also been engaging in “explicit sexual conversations” with the underage girls.

Three of Bateman’s adult wives—Naomi Bistline, Donnae Barlow, and Moretta Rose Johnson—were charged with kidnapping in December 2022. They face up to life in prison. The latest indictment also charges ten of Bateman’s followers as co-conspirators in a child sex trafficking plot.

Bateman himself is facing new charges of transporting minors for criminal sexual activity and production of “child pornography,” as well as his previous obstruction charges.

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