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Slayings of 3 Americans in Mexico prompt arrests of fugitive US polygamist and others

Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

MEXICO CITY -- A fugitive polygamist from Arizona has been arrested with four wives and a "concubine" on the grounds of a conservative religious community in the northern Mexican desert highlands.

More than two dozen U.S. citizens, apparently disciples of the polygamist's "commune," have been detained in the same hamlet in Mexico's Chihuahua state.

And it's all linked to the slayings of three young Americans, two of them sons of the polygamist, shot dead weeks earlier in a nearby rural enclave called "Black Ranch."

Authorities say the polygamist is a suspect in the slayings.

The puzzling criminal case -- and its seemingly disparate elements -- came to light last weekend as more than 100 Mexican law enforcement personnel descended on the polygamist's compound, with assistance from the FBI and U.S. consular officials, Chihuahua state prosecutors said.

Mexican law enforcement authorities released an account of the raid that raised as many questions as it answered. The U.S. Embassy in Mexico City and the State Department in Washington declined to comment.

At the center of the case is Orson William Black, 56, a former member of a breakaway Mormon sect. Black has been wanted in Arizona for almost 15 years on five felony counts of sexual misconduct involving a pair of underage sisters.

Black was arrested during last weekend's raids, Mexican authorities said, along with others described as four wives and one described as a concubine. A total of 26 U.S. citizens taken into custody may face deportation, Mexican prosecutors said.

Among them are two young women who have lived all their lives in Black's commune, Cesar Peniche Espejel, Chihuahua state attorney general, told reporters this week.

In a bizarre twist, Mexican authorities say police also seized 65 preserved exotic wildlife parts and pelts, among them lion-skin and bearskin rugs, a pair of elephant feet, stuffed birds and remnants of other creatures, including zebra and buffalo heads. Authorities did not specify whether the cache was a trophy collection or had another purpose.

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