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Merril Jessop (born December 27, 1935) is the son of Richard Seth Jessop and Ida Johnson. He was believed to be the de facto leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS Church) after its former leader, Warren Jeffs, resigned when he was convicted as an accomplice to rape in 2007, until his removal by Jeffs in February 2011. Jessop was also head of the YFZ Ranch.
Jessop has been a lifelong member of the church, as his father and grandfathers were former high ranking FLDS officials. Jessop is connected by a nebulous series of marriages to the Jeffs family; several of Jessop's daughters and at least one of his wives were previously the plural wives of Rulon Jeffs (a man old enough to be their great-grandfather) while at least one of Jessop's daughters was a plural wife of Warren Jeffs.
While he was imprisoned, Warren Jeffs reportedly designated William E. Jessop as the rightful successor to the FLDS Church presidency. However, William Jessop remained at official church headquarters in Hildale, Utah. News reports suggested a possible shift of the church's headquarters to Eldorado, Texas, where a temple has been built by FLDS Church members at the YFZ Ranch. As the bishop of the church at YFZ, it appeared that Merril Jessop was the de facto president and the most powerful person in the FLDS Church, until February 2011.
One of Jessop's former wives, Carolyn Jessop, wrote a memoir in 2007 about their 17-year marriage, which had begun when she was 18 and he was 50. The book includes dozens of allegations of spousal and child abuse, both emotional and physical. Carolyn Jessop left the FLDS Church in 2003 and, after a custody battle with Merril Jessop, won full custody of their 8 children. She is the second woman to leave an FLDS community and gain full custody of all her children, although her eldest daughter Betty decided, after turning 18, to return to her father at the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Texas. Betty Jessop vehemently denies her mother's accusations. In 2009 Carolyn Jessop also won a child-support judgment against Merril Jessop in the approximate amount of $148,000 for support he failed to provide his children from 2003-2009. As of February 2010, Merril Jessop had still not paid any of the child support he owed. According to Carolyn's attorney, Natalie Malonis, he can be jailed for contempt for this failure.
According to his former wife's memoir, Jessop is the father of more than 50 biological children with at least 5 wives. His senior wife Faunita, mother of at least 15 children, suffered from mental illness; she was literally abandoned by the roadside when the group moved to Texas, and she became a ward of one of her grandchildren who was living in the mainstream-Mormon community. Jessop is believed to have taken many more wives since Carolyn's departure. According to his ex-wife's book, Jessop has nebulous business interests that include construction and hotels and has suffered from major heart problems in recent years.
In a National Geographic article published in February 2010, Jessop both praised and discussed his troubled relationship with Faunita (spelled 'Foneta' in the article). Over 5,000 people were in attendance at Faunita Jessop's funeral. "My hand is a bit sore today," Merril was quoted as saying at the end of the funeral after greeting all those who came.
|Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints titles|
Rulon T. Jeffs
2002 – present
With: Disputed interruptions by:
Lyle Jeffs (designated acting president)
William E. Jessop (once momentarily successor)
Merril Jessop (once de facto head)
Wendell L. Nielsen (one time head of temporal affairs)