Your father was Ervil LeBaron, a polygamist cult leader who had 13 wives, more than 50 children, and has been described as the Mormon Charles Manson for his involvement in numerous murders. How would you describe him?
He was mentally ill. Had he gotten the mental health care that he needed at an early age, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation because I probably wouldn’t exist. The couple of times I got to be with him, it was all about him.
Your memoir, The Polygamist’s Daughter, recounts a childhood spent on the run. Why did your mother and her sister-wives repeatedly move you and your siblings?
When I was 3, my dad ordered the first hit on his own brother, Joel LeBaron. From that time on until I ran away, when I was 13, we lived life on the run trying to stay ahead of the law. It was the FBI raiding our houses. If we were in Mexico, it was the Mexican police.
The opening scene of the book takes place on your driveway in Dallas, when you were 7. Why did you choose that moment?
I’ve been through a lot of counseling, and I always thought that the emotional distress that has been a part of my life for a long time started when I was 7 and sent to Mexico shortly after my mom left that day. Separated from my mom for all that time, that’s when life shifted for me. I’m going to get emotional talking about it. The counselor that I’ve been working with recently specializes in post-traumatic stress, and when she let me know that she was seeing anxiety triggered by post-traumatic stress, it was like, oh, wow, well that makes sense.
You were sent to Mexico as child to audition as a potential wife for a man named Rafael. Did your mom talk to you about that before she left?
It was just a matter of fact. One day we would be somebody’s wife, and we knew it.
Did you or your siblings ever say, wow, this seems like a terrible plan?
You’re taught to not create problems or cause waves and to accept what’s happening. The ones who didn’t were beaten.
When you were 13, you literally walked away from your mother—for miles—to go live with an older sister, Lillian, who was on the fringes of the cult. How were you able to leave?
I had a lot of bitterness of soul about the injustices that happened in Denver. In Denver, we were dumpster diving in Goodwill boxes for clothes and behind grocery stores for food. When we moved to Houston, we were under Lillian and her husband Mark’s authority. We actually had a life that was stable and consistent. I felt cool in my Gloria Vanderbilt jeans that I was able to save up and buy. And then, gosh, you find out your mom’s going to go back to Denver to the hellhole and the squalor. Something just rose up in me. It was like, No, not this girl.
On June 27, 1988, the infamous “4 O’Clock Murders” took place, when people were killed simultaneously across Texas on the anniversary of Mormon founder Joseph Smith’s martyrdom. One of your brothers was killed in Irving. Mark was shot and killed at his used appliance store in Houston. Were you still living with him and Lillian at the time?
Yes. I was supposed to be at work with Mark that day, and I would have been killed by my own brother, my full-blooded brother. He’s currently serving a life sentence in prison.
Considering the chaos of your childhood, what was your biggest goal for your own children, who are now grown?
Having all five of my kids graduate from Guyer High School in Denton is probably one of my proudest accomplishments. After the life that I knew growing up, I just wanted to be able to give my children that stability, roots, a place to call home. A hometown.
The Polygamist’s Daughter (Tyndale Momentum) was published March 21.