Religious cult leader found with trailer full of underage wives, officials say

New documents now reveal how Bateman has been able to coerce these young girls and multiple wives, even while locked up.
Published: Dec. 6, 2022 at 10:46 AM AKST
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SPOKANE, Wash. (KPHO/Gray News) – A self-proclaimed leader of the Fundamentalist Church of the Latter-Day Saints was found in Arizona with a trailer full of underage girls, authorities say.

The FLDS is known for its history of marrying underage girls.

The “prophet” or president of the group, Warren Jeffs, was sentenced to life in prison in 2011 for the rape of numerous underage girls.

With Jeffs serving out his sentence, other members of the group have stepped up claiming to be prophets.

Authorities said one of the self-proclaimed prophets is 46-year-old Samuel Bateman.

On Aug. 28 of this year, Bateman was spotted with a box trailer “full of people including children” at a gas station in Arizona. A state trooper found Bateman on the nearby interstate a few miles away. The trooper reportedly saw “children’s small fingers moving in the gap of the rear trailer door.”

According to court documents obtained by KPHO, Bateman’s SUV held two women and two girls under the age of 15. In the trailer were three girls between the ages of 11 and 14 years old. The trailer also had a bucket used as a makeshift toilet, a trash bag and a toilet seat.

There was also a couch and some camping chairs, but no air ventilation despite the Arizona heat.

This undated photo provided by the Coconino County Sheriff's Office shows Samuel Bateman, who...
This undated photo provided by the Coconino County Sheriff's Office shows Samuel Bateman, who faces state child abuse charges, and federal charges of tampering with evidence. Bateman is the leader of a small polygamous group near the Arizona-Utah border.(Coconino County Sheriff's Department via AP)

Bateman was later arrested and charged with three counts of child abuse, Arizona’s Family reported. Bateman was also indicted in September on three counts of destroying or attempting to destroy records and tampering with criminal proceedings.

Despite being behind bars, Bateman has retained influence over the women and girls. Authorities said Bateman had recently had a video call with his wives. Shortly after, the wives and the girls went missing from the group home.

Officials said they were able to track credit card information to one of the wives to an Airbnb in Spokane, Washington. There, they said they found Bateman’s 19-year-old wife Moretta Rose Johnson, along with the eight missing girls.

KPHO reports Johnson was arrested in Washington and will be transferred back to Arizona. Two of the other women were also arrested for their involvement.

Bateman remains in prison for his previous charges. He looks to face up to 20 years in prison on each charge if convicted.

The FBI has not disclosed what happened to the girls or where they were placed after they were found at the Airbnb.