Samuel Bateman, the leader of a small new offshoot of the polygamous fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was arrested during a Sept. 13 FBI raid on charges of child molestation and destruction of evidence.
Since then, nine girls — identified in court documents as Bateman’s wives, ages 11 to 16 — and his adult wives have traveled to several states and kept in touch with their imprisoned polygamous leader via video calls.
Court documents filed this week revealed that the nine girls who were removed from Bateman’s Colorado City apartments in September were placed in group homes in Phoenix by the state of Arizona.
Eight of the nine girls escaped from state custody last week. Days later, they were found at an Airbnb in Spokane with one of Bateman’s adult wives. They were found after using a credit card that was traced to a company linked to the FLDS affiliate.
The girls used an encrypted group chat to communicate with each other and their escape was facilitated by other young adult wives, according to court documents filed in Washington state’s Eastern District. The Feds believe Bateman has about 20 wives and 50 supporters.
When Bateman was arrested, he was taken into federal custody in Arizona, where he remains. Nine girls, including the eight kidnapped, were taken into custody by the Arizona Department of Child Safety on September 14.
The girls were interviewed and housed in group homes pending a dependency process to determine whether their parents or guardians could care for them. Neither girl disclosed sexual abuse by Bateman, although at least one said she was present and partially nude at one of his “sex orgies,” federal documents say.
A federal agent scheduled additional interviews for five girls who had “slept with, kissed and touched Bateman” in magazines seized during September’s raid. The girls refused to fully participate in the interviews, and the federal agent stated that they believed some of the older girls were “influencing” the younger girls not to talk about Bateman.
To avoid further undue influence, the girls were separated from each other and only kept with their siblings when placed in shared apartments, the filing said. One of the girls disclosed sexual abuse at the hands of Bateman while she was in a group home, according to court documents.
On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, eight of the nine girls in Arizona’s DCS custody ran away from their group homes. Abandoned journals and electronics revealed they were still in a group chat with some of the adult wives using Signal, an encrypted instant messaging app.
Most of their communications were not stored digitally, but there was evidence in the girls’ diaries that “today is the day we go home”.
At approximately 8:38 p.m. the night the girls ran away, Bateman made a recorded video call from federal custody with one of his young adult wives, who is charged in the complaint. Federal documents say the video shows the woman driving with another young adult woman in the passenger seat and holding the phone.
The woman in the passenger seat tells Bateman that they have two girls, whom they codename as “E1 and E2,” according to court documents. Later in the video, the woman in the passenger seat tells Bateman that all the women changed their last names to Rappylee Bateman to match his.
“I’m in holy fucking love with you,” he replies to the two adult wives in front and the two minor wives in the video, using their new full names.
The next day at around 7:30 a.m., Bateman made another video call from federal custody with one of the adult wives who had been in the passenger seat the night before. According to federal documents, she appears to be in a hotel room, and Bateman asked if “W2” — a codename for one of the other minor wives — wasn’t with them.
The codename referred to the only young girl not to have escaped from DCS custody in Arizona. Documents show that she is between 11 and 12 years old and that Bateman married her in May 2020. The woman replied that she was the only girl not with them, but that “they tried,” according to court documents.
During the video call, the camera pans from the two adult wives to the eight kidnapped girls. Bateman tells the wives to “get the girl” and that she needs to be with them, explaining how it “puts pressure on him when they’re scattered and that he needs everyone together.”
During one of the calls Bateman made to the girls, he asks if they are in “our condition” and they tell him they are not. They explain that only “the mothers with the babies in Arizona are on their way to New Mexico.”
Bateman also made video calls to another woman, 19-year-old Moretta Rose Johnson, who was in a hotel room with her baby and at least one of Bateman’s other adult women. It is unclear where the hotel room was located. According to the affidavit, officials believe Johnson became a wife of Bateman when she was under 18.
The women and girls in the calls talk about being out and about, according to court documents, and officials believe they were in at least three different groups. During a call on the night of November 28, one of the women spoke of being able to clean and “swap” one of the vehicles, although it is unclear who this woman was.
The FBI learned that a credit card belonging to the wife’s cousin had been used to purchase an Airbnb.
And so, on Nov. 28, an emergency disclosure request was made to Airbnb to reveal the addresses reserved by the cousin, or any associated accounts, because he had previously booked homes for members of the group, court documents say.
On November 30, Airbnb provided an address in Spokane for a new reservation made for November 29 through December. 2. On December 1, a sergeant from the Spokane Sheriff’s Department knocked at the address provided. Whoever was inside didn’t open the door.
The residents then attempted to leave the home in a vehicle. The officer stopped the vehicle and identified all eight missing girls, who were being driven by Johnson.
Johnson has since been taken into custody and faces federal charges of kidnapping. One of the other two women named in the complaint was arrested Thursday in Colorado City. The status of the third wife is unclear.
It’s not clear where the girls are now. Various Arizona police departments have not responded to requests for comment from The Salt Lake Tribune.
KXLY.com, affiliated with KXLY-TV Ch. 4 in Spokane, also reported Friday that the girls’ whereabouts were unknown.