SPOKANE, WA (3TV/CBS 5) — There are disturbing new details about a group of FLDS girls who escaped from Phoenix-area group homes last week and were found by sheriff’s deputies hiding in a Washington state Airbnb. All of this stems from the self-proclaimed prophet and ex-FLDS member Samuel Bateman, who is currently behind bars in Florence, Arizona, for child abuse and destruction of evidence charges.
New documents now reveal how Bateman has been able to coerce these young girls and multiple wives, even while locked up. “There’s always these guys out there that are ready to pounce and ready to prey,” said Arizona’s Family special correspondent Mike Watkiss.
Watkiss has reported on Warren Jeffs, who was convicted of sexually assaulting underage girls he took as brides in his cult, with allegations of many more illegal marriages and sex abuse. While Jeffs is serving life in prison, documents show Bateman has started his own offshoot of the religion, with about 50 followers and more than 20 wives.
According to federal documents, from May 2020 to November 2021, Bateman and his co-conspirators transported these girls from Nebraska to Arizona to Utah and Nevada for sex acts, many underage. Before his arrest near Flagstaff earlier this year, while driving them in a filthy trailer, his daughter told authorities her father said, “he would do what a boy does to make her have a baby.” Another one of the girls rescued admitted to being present and nude for a sex orgy with Bateman and many other girls.
But even with Bateman in the Florence prison, authorities found he had recently had video calls with some of his wives. Just days ago, they showed Bateman the girls from the group home in a car and then in a hotel room.
Authorities received information and were able to track a credit card used by one of the wives to an Airbnb in Spokane, Washington, where they found Bateman’s 19-year-old wife, Moretta Rose Johnson, with the eight missing girls. “Sam’s now a martyr for his little cult following, his little offshoot,” said Watkiss.
Watkiss said this time last year, he received a call from Bateman, who insisted he meet Watkiss in Phoenix. “I agreed to meet him at a park, and no idea what was going to happen. And it was shocking,” said Watkiss.
Out walked dozens of FLDS women at the park. “He had his family sing us some songs, beautiful choral arrangements. These women and girls singing me songs in a Phoenix park in their pastel dresses, it was an unusual scene,” said Watkiss. That parallels an odd experience described in the court documents, showing at one point, the girls sang to Bateman on a call to him from jail earlier this year and told him they loved him.
Watkiss reported his experience to the FBI, suspicious Bateman could be harming these girls, who, even a year later, still appear to be under his control. “How do you get people to stop following crazed, self-indulgent cult leaders? And I don’t have the answer,” said Watkiss.
Johnson, Bateman’s wife and the teen found with the girls in Washington, was arrested and will be transferred back to Arizona. Two other women were also arrested for their involvement, and Bateman remains in prison for his previous charges.
As of now, the FBI has not disclosed what happened to the girls or where they were placed after they were found at the Airbnb.
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