February 01, 1982 12:00 PM

by Ben Bradlee Jr. and Dale Van Atta

A charismatic preacher leads a small group of desperate people into a wilderness in search of a Utopian dream. The seer exacts homage and warns of the pervasive evil of the outside world. He soon has the literal power of life and death over his followers. The subject is not Jim Jones and the People’s Temple, but Ervil LeBaron and a polygamous renegade Mormon group he formed in 1971, the Church of the Lamb of God. Articulate, charming and crafty, LeBaron went from fanaticism to a life that included 14 wives, apocalyptic teaching, unholy concupiscence, business scams and “blood atonement” or murder. He and about 40 followers settled variously in Utah, Texas, Colorado and Baja California. He was sentenced to life in prison in 1980 for ordering the murder of the leader of a rival group and conspiring to murder his own brother. This bizarre tale is painstakingly related by Bradlee, a reporter for the Boston Globe (and son of the Washington Post editor), and Van Atta, a colleague of columnist Jack Anderson. Unlike such notorious cases as “son of Sam” or the Manson gang, there hasn’t been a media overkill on this case. LeBaron died in his prison cell last August, virtually unnoticed. The book is not pretty—it leaves a feeling that whatever special corner of hell has been reserved for Jim Jones, he has company. (G.P. Putnam’s, $15.95)

You May Like