Feature | Stripped Bare: As FLDS children in Texas begin returning to their parents, ex-sect member Kathleen Mackert asks what future awaits polygamy’s children | Cover Story | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly
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Feature | Stripped Bare: As FLDS children in Texas begin returning to their parents, ex-sect member Kathleen Mackert asks what future awaits polygamy’s children



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Myra Tolman came from a polygamist family going back six generations. Her great-great-grandfather, William Moore Allred, crossed the plains with Brigham Young. Myra’s father, Morris Kunz, was an independent polygamist. An accomplished orator and debater, Tolman studied to be a school teacher at Weber College. One Sunday evening, then 19-year-old Tolman met Clyde Mackert when he and some friends came to visit at her home.

Clyde Mackert was 29, a one time pro-football player and ex-lieutenant in the infantry who served in World War II, Tolman recalls. His first wife converted him to polygamy when he returned from the war. Kathleen Mackert doubts a man of his sexual tastes needed much convincing. Polygamy was perfect for him. Even when one of his wives reported him to the priesthood council for abusing his daughters, they rebaptized him to absolve him of his sins and sent him back home.

Clyde Mackert wanted Myra as his first plural wife. Her father, Kunz, refused to allow it, unless Mackert married Myra’s older sister first. Tolman doesn’t want to talk about her sister, claiming both have come to terms with the past. Kathleen Mackert perceived a situation that led to “extreme jealousies between the two sisters.”

A year after Mackert married Myra’s older sister, he then took Myra as his second plural wife. Myra moved to Colorado City, Ariz., where her husband was one of two school teachers. One night, dynamite explosions woke Tolman up, signaling a raid was in progress. It was the infamous 1953 Short Creek raid by Arizona state authorities. Then Attorney General Ross Jones sent Tolman back to Utah. “We don’t want you here,” he told her.

On the Utah side of the border, things weren’t much better. When a plane flew overhead, the FLDS women hid their children under pine trees so they couldn’t be seen. “[My sister] and I lived with the fear each night we put our children to bed it would be the last time we would see them,” Tolman says.

Clyde Mackert’s daughters had very different fears at nighttime. “The fear every time you went to bed was so intense,” Kathleen recalls. She’d smell his cigarette smoke or see the lit butt and know her father was out there.

“Either you were violated or you were afraid he would violate someone you love,” Kathleen Mackert says. Each child tried to protect the younger ones from their predatory father. Six-year-old Laura asked then-10-year-old Kathleen if she could sleep between her and the wall in Kathleen’s bed. “I told her I would keep her safe, and a good part of my life I tried to protect her,” she says. Kathleen would stroke her back until she fell asleep.

But Kathleen couldn’t always protect her. Clyde Mackert was a remorseless predator. He would steal into a bedroom where sisters Rena and Laura were sleeping, put his hand over Laura’s mouth, Laura recalls, and take her to another room. “He made me touch him and backhanded me when I tried to fight him off,” she says.

Such fears haunted the Mackert girls well into their adult lives. Rena Mackert cannot smell beer, tobacco and Brut cologne without wanting to flee. While her father violated Kathleen, he would tell her how beautiful she was. “He made me feel ugly from the inside out,” she says. When a man in the street told her she was beautiful after she was married, her first urge was to run, followed by a numb desire to swerve her car in the way of a speeding truck. Only the thought of her children kept her from jerking the steering wheel.

After her father bought six acres of land at State Street and 9400 South, he put up a triplex. Then Clyde Mackert brought in his fourth wife, Maurine. He met her at a bar after numerous affairs, Kathleen and her mother agree, including one with a well-known local stripper. Kathleen Mackert says he promised Maurine he would eventually leave his other wives for her. She was allowed to smoke, to drink, to wear her hair down and show a little cleavage. “The others hated her, thought the things she was allowed to do evil,” Kathleen says. She was also, she adds, the only mother who hugged and played with the children.

Kathleen loved the way Maurine pounded out Tchaikovsky on the piano. She remembers Maurine’s room decorated in purple and turquoise, and full of flowers. The rest of the house, she says, was stale and lifeless, with only pictures of Christ or the prophets in the women’s bedrooms. The other wives crocheted booties. Maurine did a needlepoint of a proud peacock which now hangs in Kathleen Mackert’s Las Vegas apartment. In 1988, Maurine died of lung cancer at age 60.

“She had been very worldly,” Myra Tolman says about Maurine. “She was not of a strict religious background. She came into the family, didn’t do any work, sat around and played with the kids and we were supposed to treat her right.”

Tolman’s fondest memories of polygamy do not include Maurine. She says the three wives were fairly well-educated compared to many in the community. Tolman and Clyde’s first wife liked to cook, sew and entertain, while Tolman’s older sister—whom she calls an accomplished poet—was more into writing. They would go on family outings with their many children, picnicking in one of the canyons. “All working together, there were many happy moments between us,” she says.

But Kathleen’s most shining childhood memory is away from her parents, rather than with them. In winter, a nearby Sandy canal would freeze. As she and her siblings ice-skated, the canal’s walls echoed with their shrieks of laughter. For a little while, the children were hidden and safe.

Even that memory can’t dilute the cruelty of her father’s actions. It culminated on her 16th birthday in a ritual he inflicted on all of Myra’s daughters. He took Kathleen out to dinner and explained he could do whatever he wanted to her. Now she was on a par with her mothers sexually. “After the date, he came into my bedroom and demonstrated things physically,” Kathleen Mackert says.

This echoes a pattern an affidavit in the Texas YFZ case refers to, when a social worker accused the FLDS of both indoctrinating and “grooming” minor females through sexual abuse to become wives of adult members of the sect’s patriarchal leadership.

Kathleen believes her mother could have spared her that horror. According to her and her sister Rena, in the fall of 1971, shortly after she begged her father to stop molesting her, then 17-year-old Rena went first to her “aunt/mother” (Tolman’s older sister), then to Myra, and told them a little of what their husband did to her. Her aunt rebuked her. Myra did nothing. Kathleen was 13 at the time. Three years later, Kathleen went on her daddy-daughter date. Before the youngest sister, Laura, went on hers, Tolman told her what Rena had said but did nothing to stop the so-called date.

Tolman adamantly denies this. She says Rena told her in 1978 that her father had fondled her breasts and that she warned Laura. By then, Rena had been married six years. Tolman says she made plans to leave Clyde Mackert, although it took her three years to do so. “In a plural marriage situation, men can hide [abuse] better,” she says. “I would come home from work, ask the children why their father came home while I was out, and they’d say, “I don’t know,” and clammed up. If they had told me, I would have protected them.”

Her mother’s denials infuriate Kathleen Mackert. “She’s like a child who can never accept she did anything wrong,” she says.