Meet Sam Brower: The man who helped nab polygamous prophet Warren Jeffs
More than 30 years ago, Sam Brower was the best man in his friend’s wedding. Three months later, he was carrying that friend’s body in a casket. Killed in a home invasion in California, his friend was the impetus for Brower’s long career in criminal justice and private investigation.
Today, Brower is best known as the man who cracked open the secretive world of the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints (FLDS). His work led to the arrest and conviction of prophet Warren Jeffs, who is currently serving a life sentence plus 20 years in a Texas prison for child sexual assault.
Brower details the investigation in his new book, Prophet's Prey: My Seven-Year Investigation into Warren Jeffs and the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints. CultureMap spoke to Brower in advance of his appearance at Austin's Texas Book Festival. Here’s a preview of what the Utah-based private eye reveals in his book:
CM: How did you gain the trust of the FLDS community?
SB: The community itself is very distrustful, very isolated, very insular. It literally took years, baby steps, little bits at a time, getting to know somebody and then them having a brother or some other contact that would slowly begin talking to me. It was a very cumbersome process.
CM: The conviction of Warren Jeffs was a huge feat, but how much will it really change within the FLDS community?
SB: Even though Warren’s in prison in Texas right now, [the FLDS] are still doing the same things. They have this network and support of this crime syndicate and the same things are still going on... Warren’s brother, Lyle Jeffs, has already taken over.
CM: So it’s sort of like Al Qaeda or the Mafia in that respect?
SB: It’s even more insidious than the Mafia. The Mafia threatens you with your life, but the FLDS threatens you with your family and your eternal salvation, and people that lose their family are without hope, and that’s worse than death.
CM: The investigation must have been emotionally taxing on you. Did you ever want to give up?
SB: It’s been an emotional roller coaster. I’ve been skewered by FLDS apologists, harassed by high-powered FLDS attorneys. I’ve had people try and run me off the road. I wanted to give up many times. By the same token, I’m glad I did get involved, and I’m glad I’m on the right side of the table and helped expose it.
CM: Now that Jeffs is in prison will you continue to investigate the FLDS?
SB: My personality is such that, the harder they push, the more I want to stay involved. So I am. I am staying involved, and I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to turn my back on it.
CM: Was it difficult diving back into seven years of material for the book?
SB: The hardest part was not trying to figure out what to put into the book but what to leave out of it. There’s so much that’s happened, there’s so much that can’t be said at this time because there are ongoing criminal investigations.
CM: What do you want readers to take away from the book?
SB: My motivation was to put this in the public face and make people aware of it. It’s catching on more in the West, but it seems like in the East it’s not their business as much. But in actuality, it’s everybody business. It’s child abuse, for crying out loud.
CM: What shocked you most about the FLDS community during your investigation?
SB: I’d heard of polygamy and what was happening to these young girls, but I had no idea how young they really were. His one victim in Texas was barely 12 years old. One of the things that was also a great revelation that came from everybody’s investigation was Warren’s priesthood journal that was found in Texas. It was voluminous. It probably had over 10,000 pages. And there were computers and hard disks and flash drives and external drives and all this evidence chronicling Warren Jeffs’ FLDS criminal activities. That was so implicating for me. I’ve talked to all these people, but here it is in Warren Jeffs’ own words. It was a private investigator’s dream come true.
CM: You’re Mormon, which often gets confused with fundamentalist Mormonism. How did that affect your role in the investigation?
SB: I get it from both sides, whatever the group’s agenda is. Warren Jeffs’ attorney says that because I’m LDS, I’m out to get Warren Jeffs and all Mormons hate the FLDS. And other activists say that because I’m Mormon, I’m out to cover up what FLDS does. The fact is, I’m just like anybody else. Anybody with a moral compass that reads this book and finds out what’s going on within the FLDS is going to reach the same conclusions as I have.