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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PLYG BRIDE
One midnight just before Kathleen Mackert’s 18th birthday, her father roughly woke her, shaking her arm. A year before, she had told him never to touch her again or she would go to the priesthood council. He did not molest her again. That night, he summoned her to his office. The four wives were lined up behind his chair. She stood there in her nightgown, silent, quaking with fear that she would be “poofed.” This was the term used by young polygamous girls when a bride on the day of her wedding disappeared from her family. This happened to Kathleen’s oldest sister, then 17-year-old Mary, after she married a 50-year-old man with six other wives.

“The prophet [then LeRoy Johnson] had a revelation on who God wants you to marry,” Clyde Mackert said.

Kathleen was too terrified to reply.

“Don’t you want to know who it is?” her father boomed.

“Yeaahh,” she said hesitantly.

He told her it was her stepbrother, William. He had come to live with them three years before. [Editor’s note: William is a pseudonym. Kathleen Mackert requested her ex-husband’s real name and that of her children not be used to protect their privacy.] He was Maurine’s oldest son. He had just got out of the Air Force and was handsome in his uniform, Kathleen Mackert recalls.

“Thank God,” she thought. “He’s someone I know, he doesn’t have other wives. I’m not going to disappear in the middle of the night.”

Tolman disputes Kathleen was forced to marry. “She could say yea or nay.”

Kathleen and William’s spiritual marriage took place at LeRoy Johnson’s house on Lincoln Avenue near downtown Salt Lake City. On a rainy November 7, a week after her 18th birthday, it was sealed for time and all eternity with a secret handshake. Her father wore the black and gray charcoal suit she had sewn for him from fabric she had kept in her hope chest.

“Somehow, I felt guilty telling him to leave me alone,” she says. Making the suit was “the little girl in me trying to make him love me like a daddy should love his girl.”

As she walked down the street after the ceremony, looking down to avoid a puddle, her husband grabbed her and kissed her for the first time.

The newlyweds received permission from LeRoy Johnson to live outside the community, in northern Utah, because of her husband’s work. Kathleen Mackert suffered four miscarriages in as many years. “I thought God was punishing me for what my father did to me,” she says.

By the time her first daughter was 9, Kathleen knew she had to get out of the FLDS. She convinced her college-educated husband they could never hand over their daughter to the FLDS leadership to assign to whom they wanted. They agreed to leave polygamy.

“My leaving was made so much easier by others who had left before me, my sisters Rena and Mary,” Kathleen Mackert says. Both her sisters had successfully fought to take their children out of the sect. “If it was possible for them to be free, then I could be free, too,” she says. “That’s what I’ve been looking for my whole life: freedom.”

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OUT OF THE FRYING PAN
Kathleen Mackert and her husband joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After a year, they were married in the LDS Temple in downtown Salt Lake City. It was an experience that deeply disturbed the 30-year-old mother of four. The ceremony’s wording, the subservience of women to men, the secret handshakes through the veil—it was alarmingly similar to the FLDS ritual. “When we left, I was in shock at how different it was from what I had been led to believe in and how similar it was to what I had already gone through,” she says.

A year later, in 1991, she asked her husband for a divorce. The marriage didn’t survive, she says, “because it wasn’t based on love.”

For a year, she worked as a dispatcher for the Brigham City Police Department. When her $10-an-hour position was cut, she desperately struggled to make ends meet, frightened she would lose her kids if she couldn’t provide for them. Her boyfriend suggested she try stripping. She went to a club in Ogden. The dancing “was almost artistic,” she says. She auditioned and was hired. The first night she pulled a double shift and earned $800, more than she made in a month at her previous 9 to 5 job. It still wasn’t easy. “I was a mother of four in my early 30s,” she says. “The other girls there were 21 years old. I was very self-conscious of people critiquing my body.” She tried a humorous tack to her new profession, stripping out of a white wedding dress and veil to Billy Idol’s “White Wedding” for bachelor parties. As a sideline to make more money, she and her children made pasties for her and other dancers. One set, which she used when she danced to the song “Angel Eyes” by the Jeff Healey Band even had an eye that winked.

Polygamy had left Kathleen Mackert with no discernible skills, except sewing. Stripping, in turn, not only paid well, it was something she was good at. Her boyfriend told her, “You have a way of looking at a man that says I want sex more than anything, and you are going to give it to me,” she says.