A polygamous community’s cop is spilling its secrets

Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. - What's the worst thing Helaman Barlow did as a marshal of the polygamous towns here on the Utah-Arizona border?

He knew men who took 16-year-old girls as plural wives. The marriages were sanctioned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, so Barlow didn't report them.

He looked up license plates for church security so they could track dissenters and their families. He obstructed the FBI when it came to town.

When a church leader said he wanted another marshal demoted, Barlow watched for and reported a minor transgression made by the marshal, so officials of Colorado City and adjacent Hildale had cause for the punishment. Barlow said a similar tactic was used to fire him when he fell out of favor with FLDS leaders.

But the worst thing Barlow did as a marshal? When asked that Wednesday in his workshop in Colorado City, he grimaced behind his white Fu Manchu mustache.

"I better not tell you that," Barlow said.

What ever it is, local and federal prosecutors have not yet given Barlow immunity for it, he explained, though they have given him that clearance for a lot of other things he has confessed in the past year.

Those confessions have affirmed what many in and out of Hildale and Colorado City, collectively known as Short Creek, have believed for decades — that the FLDS run the towns, down to making hiring decisions for the local governments. Barlow, 49, said he tried to walk a line between protecting his faith and providing the same type of policing you would expect to find in any town.

"This community," Barlow said, "has always been a theocracy."

"Church calling" • The Barlow family has been integral to Short Creek. Barlow's grandfather was John Y. Barlow, one of the community's founders and, from 1935 until his death in 1949, the prophet of what would become the FLDS.

Barlow's father, Sam Barlow, was a deputy sheriff for Mohave County, Ariz., and later a Short Creek deputy marshal during the 1980s, during which he also acted as a church spokesman.

Helaman Barlow said he has never been a polygamist. He was married and divorced once when he was young. He married his current wife when they were in their early 20s. They have 11 children.

Barlow said he wanted to be a Short Creek marshal. In 1994, when another candidate failed the physical-fitness requirements at Utah's police academy, Colorado City's mayor went to Barlow and asked if he wanted the job. (Prospective Short Creek marshals go to Utah's police academy then gain certification in Utah and Arizona.)

Barlow did. But first, he wanted someone's advice — that of Rulon Jeffs, then the FLDS president and prophet and the father of current FLDS President Warren Jeffs. Barlow called him and asked what God wanted him to do.

Rulon Jeffs told Barlow that, yes, he should attend the police academy; he would do a good job as a marshal. The day Barlow graduated from the academy in June 1994, his father and Rulon Jeffs took him to lunch at Rulon Jeffs' favorite restaurant, the since-defunct New Hong Kong in Sandy.

Barlow asked the prophet what advice he had for a new marshal. Barlow couldn't remember the exact words Wednesday, but said it was along the lines of "stand between the church and all harm."

"It was very well understood in my mind," Barlow explained, "that it was a church calling."