A Publishers Weekly Summer Reads Selection
“The Colony is one of the most gripping and disturbing true stories I’ve ever come across.” —Douglas Preston
An investigation into the November, 2019 killings of nine women and children in Northern Mexico—an event that drew international attention—The Colony examines the strange, little-understood world of a polygamist Mormon outpost.
On the morning of November 4, 2019, an unassuming caravan of women and children was ambushed by masked gunmen on a desolate stretch of road in northern Mexico controlled by the Sinaloa drug cartel. Firing semi-automatic weapons, the attackers killed nine people and gravely injured five more. The victims were members of the LeBaron and La Mora communities—fundamentalist Mormons whose forebears broke from the LDS Church and settled in Mexico when their religion outlawed polygamy in the late nineteenth century. The massacre produced international headlines for weeks, and prompted President Donald Trump to threaten to send in the US Army.
In The Colony, bestselling investigative journalist Sally Denton picks up where the initial, incomplete reporting on the attacks ended, and delves into the complex story of the LeBaron clan. Their homestead—Colonia LeBaron—is a portal into the past, a place that offers a glimpse of life within a polygamous community on an arid and dangerous frontier in the mid-1800s, though with smartphones and machine guns. Rooting her narrative in written sources as well as interviews with anonymous women from LeBaron itself, Denton unfolds an epic, disturbing tale that spans the first polygamist emigrations to Mexico through the LeBarons’ internal blood feud in the 1970s—started by Ervil LeBaron, known as the “Mormon Manson”—and up to the family’s recent alliance with the NXIVM sex cult, whose now-imprisoned leader, Keith Raniere, may have based his practices on the society he witnessed in Colonia LeBaron.
The LeBarons’ tense but peaceful interactions with Sinaloa deteriorated in the years leading up to the ambush. LeBaron patriarchs believed they were deliberately targeted by the cartel. Others suspected that local farmers had carried out the attacks in response to the LeBarons’ seizure of water rights for their massive pecan orchards. As Denton approaches answers to who committed the murders, and why, The Colony transforms into something more than a crime story. A descendant of polygamist Mormons herself, Denton explores what drove so many women over generations to join or remain in a community based on male supremacy and female servitude. Then and now, these women of Zion found themselves in an isolated desert, navigating the often-mysterious complications of plural marriage—and supported, Denton shows, only by one another.
A mesmerizing feat of investigative journalism, The Colony doubles as an unforgettable account of sisterhood that can flourish in polygamist communities, against the odds.
About the Author
Sally Denton is the author of eight books, including bestseller The Bluegrass Conspiracy, and the coauthor of a classic account of Las Vegas, The Money and the Power. She lives in Nevada.
Meticulously researched…. The author couldn’t have found a more bizarro clan to profile than the LeBarons, whose history of murdering family members, mental illness and incest rivals that of the Hapsburgs…. Denton provides an excellent history of a polygamist subculture… [her] book is a testament to what happens when male power, under the guise of religious conviction, goes unchecked.
— Julia Scheeres - New York Times Book Review
A mesmerizing deep dive into Mormon fanaticism, violence, deceit, mental illness, and misogyny, dating back to the religion’s mid-19th century founding by Joseph Smith.
— Lewis Beale - The Daily Beast
[An] intriguing portrait of fundamentalist Mormons in Mexico . . . Investigative journalist Denton (American Massacre) … describes the military-style attack in stark detail and shares evidence from the resulting investigation pointing to a local drug cartel . . . Drawing on interviews with former “sister wives,” Denton brings nuance and sensitivity to her discussion of the LeBarons’ polygamist practices and the status of women in the community. The result is a fascinating tale of religion, violence, and family secrets.
— Publishers Weekly
Riveting, insightful, ripped from the headlines, this should appeal to fans of true crime and of Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven.
— Michael Rodriguez - Library Journal
A multifaceted exploration . . . The author examines the messianic beginnings of Mormonism with Joseph Smith in the 1830s followed by Brigham Young and later highly flawed leaders, many suffering mental illnesses. Denton also dissects other elements of the Mormon practice, including legacies of male superiority, female servitude, and forced polygamy.... Thorough research and balanced reporting combine in a riveting investigation.
— Kirkus Reviews, starred review
Reminiscent of Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven, this is exhaustively researched and riveting.
— Karen Clements - Booklist