Need a vacation? How about a nice, relaxing stay at Warren Jeffs' mansion, now know as America's Most Wanted Suites and Bed & Breakfast.
With its scenic location, cheery website and the promise of “quaint comfy rooms,” you might never suspect the complicated past of Utah’s newest inn. Only the name offers a clue. The compound was originally built for polygamous sect leader Warren Jeffs, who is serving life in prison for sexually assaulting two girl he took as a child bride.
Constructed by his followers at the self-proclaimed prophet’s request in 2011, the Hildale, Utah, property now belongs to Willie Jessop, Jeffs’ former bodyguard-turned-hotelier. It opened to the public last week, allowing guests to get a glimpse of some of the mansion’s menacing features, such as double thick walls, solid doors that require extra hinges and a 12-foot-tall concrete fence that surrounds the property.
“I left it there so people could go and see how paranoid he was,” Jessop, 44, told NBC News about his former boss. “It was my hope that the walls would help be a reminder to the community that if you need walls like this, you’re probably doing something wrong.”
Jessop, who once served as a spokesman for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), said he refused to defend his former boss when he found out what Jeffs had done and was excommunicated. He bought the compound for $3.6 million at an auction last year after winning a lawsuit against church leaders, the St. George News reported. Jessop had accused them of ruining his excavation business and harassing his family.
Since Jeffs was already behind bars when the compound was built, he and his followers never lived in the building. Still, Jessop knows that Jeffs' notoriety is part of the hotel’s character, thus the nod to “America’s Most Wanted” in the B&B’s name — a reminder that the polygamous sect's former leader was once listed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list.
[Some of Warren Jeffs" 78 wives]Some of Warren Jeffs' 78 wives, including his known child brides, Brenda Lei Fischer [first row, fourth from left, married Jeffs at age 13], Ida Vilate Jessop and Merrianne Jessop [second row, fourth and fifth from left, married Jeffs at ages 13 and 12] Loretta Barlow [second row, third from right, married Jeffs at age 13 and had a child by him at age 15] Veda Keate [third row, first on left, married Jeffs at age 13 and had a child by him at age 14] and Amy Draper [fourth row, fourth from right, married Jeffs at age 13]
According to court documents, Jeffs, 55, who is now serving a life sentence in prison, has at least 78 wives. DNA evidence presented during the trial proved Jeffs had fathered a child with a 15-year-old child bride. Audio recordings were played on which jurors heard him sexually assaulting a 12-year-old and instructing other minors on how to please him sexually.
“I didn’t feel like it would be very honest to try to cover up the past, but I didn’t want it to be about Warren either,” Jessop said.
Travelers won’t find many mementos or hints of the hotel’s link to the FLDS. Jessop prefers to focus on what he proudly calls a “world class bed and breakfast.” There are 14 rooms available to book, including a king suite with a private kitchen. Each room has a bathroom, climate control, a smart TV and access to Wi-Fi, Jessop said. Rates start at $85 per night for single occupancy, with the king suite going for $200 per night. There’s also a spa and an exercise room.
He also took down all the “No trespassing” signs around the property — he counted seven — and replaced them with “Welcome home” signs.
“We’re just trying to attract people of all walks of life who’d like to come to the community and feel welcome… (it’s) something that could be positive instead of sinister,” Jessop said.
Haunted by what happened at Jeffs’ Yearning for Zion Ranch in Texas, Jessop said his main goal was to prevent anything similar from taking place at the Utah compound. “My number one concern was that it not ever be used to violate little girls in the community,” Jessop said.
All the attention he's getting for the B&B has been a pleasant surprise, he added.
“It would be fun if people come and stay because it’s in the heart of a national park and because it was in a unique community that treated them well.”