2013 Utah SPJ Awards – A Good Year

Had a great run in this year’s SPJ contest. Here are some awards I’m proud of…

Best Photographer

My thanks to these amazing photo editors: Jeremy Harmon, Keith Johnson, Lennie Mahler.

1st place Photo Essay – Life Under Warren Jeffs

My thanks to reporters Lindsay Whitehurst and Nate Carlisle and the Holm family.

1st place Best Single Blog PostTime Travel and Ethical Photojournalism.

HM Best Overall BlogThe Polygamy Blog
My thanks to co-bloggers Jim Dalrymple II and Nate Carlisle.

2nd place Sports Feature photo – Opening Day
Opening day at Brighton Ski Resort, Tuesday November 13, 2012 in Brighton.

3rd place General News photo - Last Goodbye

FLDS Blue Boy

Blue Boy

possible FLDS church security

While we sat in our car we spotted this boy in blue on the hill above the clinic. That photo is with a 600mm lens, so he’s way far away.

possible FLDS church security

He had a bluetooth headset on…

possible FLDS church security

…and it kinda looks like a camera tripod/monopod leg coming out of the bag

possible FLDS church security

he walked down off the hill

possible FLDS church security

and got into this car in front of the clinic and didn’t move as long as we were there. FLDS Church security on duty, that’s my guess.

Warren Jeffs House – The Round Room

view inside home built for FLDS leader Warren Jeffs

Only 24 men were deemed worthy to work on the home specially built for Warren Jeffs. Some had told us of a circular room in the home. Some people referred to it as a sex chamber. This is the view looking into that room, through a small hallway behind a soundproofed door. The doors throughout the home were thick and heavy, with soundproofing strips. We closed this door and had a guy on the other side talk loudly through it. All we could hear was a muffled voice.

The room had obviously been hastily remodeled before we got in. It wasn’t circular any more. Cheap carpet and poorly crafted woodwork and drywall were signs of the changes, along with some debris that hadn’t been cleaned up. Quick note: Warren Jeffs never even entered this house. He’s in prison.

But if you doubt the room was changed before we got there, look at the following two photos and take note of the vast differences in the quality of workmanship and features. Here is a typical room in the same home:

view inside home built for FLDS leader Warren Jeffs

And here’s the room that we’re told was altered:

view inside home built for FLDS leader Warren Jeffs

The carpet, light fixtures, woodwork and drywall texturing in the once-circular room were all of much lower quality. And here’s a detail of the bad drywall job, such low quality it wouldn’t pass any inspection:

view inside home built for FLDS leader Warren Jeffs

if you want to see more from inside the house, click here for thirty photos on the Tribune site.

© Trent Nelson

Short Creek

Tuesday, about to hit the road, headed south with JD2 to cover some stories in Short Creek. Not really sure how it will all pan out at this point. Willie Jessop is going to gain control of a large FLDS compound that includes a home built for Warren Jeffs. The whole thing is behind twelve foot walls and this specific home is secreted away. There’s also a school and a storehouse. Maybe we’ll get to see inside.

I love getting on the road. I love Short Creek.


By the time I’m writing this it’s already late Thursday night. I’m in my third hotel room in three nights. Lots of photos and thoughts to process. This sums up my mental state Thursday:

The walls of Warren Jeffs compound

We got inside the twelve foot wall, but just for a moment.

Friday we returned and were granted access to buildings that no non-member had ever entered. At that point my mental state went to this:

Wall in FLDS polygamist compound

LSJ Meetinghouse Cameras – #FLDS

We’ve been reporting on the surveillance cameras mounted around Short Creek and information is starting to pour in. A post by Jim Dalrymple II on the Tribune’s polygamy blog today has more information from someone with inside knowledge of the FLDS cameras, Guy Timpson, including something that jumped out at me:

Another camera sits high above the meetinghouse on a flag pole and spins 360 degrees at all times.
“We could see what people were saying just by reading lips if you were good enough,” he recalled.

Oh, very interesting. We were looking very closely at that flagpole on our last trip. I had spotted it from across town and thought to myself, that’s an excellent spot for a camera- you can see everywhere from the top of that pole. We drove over and tried to figure out if it was a camera or not but even after looking at a closeup photo of the ball we couldn’t be sure. Here is a photo of the ball, which I’ve lightened to show more detail:

And then I went back through my archive and found this photo of the Leroy S. Johnson meetinghouse from March 15, 2006. No visible cameras on this side of the building in 2006:

Leroy S Johnson meetinghouse, 2006

Okay, let’s zoom in on that flagpole:

A gold ball in 2006. Black today.

The part in today’s story that stood out to me was this:

He said that 25 or more cameras are positioned in the FLDS’s Leroy S. Johnson meetinghouse. Among other things, he said they can zoom in to see what people are writing or as close as “a spot on their faces.”

Note: A photo I took in 2007 that matches this 2006 shot does shows that a camera had been installed above the doorway.

Former FLDS Church Service

Sam Allred leads the conjuration in a hymn during a church service of ex-FLDS members Sunday, February 17, 2013 in Hildale. Left to right on stage are William E. Jessop, Garth Warner, Allred, Dan Timpson and Royce Jessop

Photographs from a church service held by former followers of Warren Jeffs’ FLDS church. These people, led by William E. Jessop, were kind enough to welcome us in to document their group. To my knowledge, this is the first time a religious service has been photographed by an outsider in Short Creek. I say that not to brag, but to point out the lengths that these people had gone to in letting me in. Thank you for your openness.

Portraits of former church leaders Parley Harker, Leroy Johnson and Fred Jessop hang on the wall at a church service of ex-FLDS members Sunday, February 17, 2013 in Hildale.

church service of ex-FLDS members Sunday, February 17, 2013 in Hildale

A young girl sings the hymn, We Thank Thee, Oh God, for a Prophet during a church service of ex-FLDS members Sunday, February 17, 2013 in Hildale

Royce Jessop says the closing prayer at a church service of ex-FLDS members Sunday, February 17, 2013 in Hildale