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John Ortell Kingston (Elden’s Brother) Leads 1948-87

 Ortell Kingston in the Military 

Upon the death of Elden Kingston in 1948, his brother Merlin Kingston was listed as the formal head of the organization.  However, another brother, John Ortell Kingston,  made most of the day-to-day leadership decisions and was soon revered as God’s prophet and presiding priesthood leader on earth by Kingston followers.  Like Elden, Ortell believed he came from genetically superior ancestry.  Accordingly, he and other members of the Kingston clan had an advantage over almost any outsider.  Convincing teenage women, sometimes as young as fourteen, to join their bloodline as part of the polygamous family was often easy.[1] 

During the 1940s, Ortell worked on a dairy farm owned by the co-op at Woodscross, Davis County, Utah where he reportedly developed theories on genetics, theories he later decided could be used to purify his own family pedigree.[2]  Connie Rugg, one of Ortell’s plural wives remembered: “[Ortell Kingston] experimented inbreeding with his cattle and then he turned to his children.”[3]  As a direct literal descendant of Jesus Christ, he desired to perfect his own bloodline and implemented practices, which encouraged marriages of close relatives.  Those unions fell within Utah’s consanguinity restrictions and if discovered, would be considered incestuous under the laws of the state.[4]  Utah Code 30-1-1 declares: 

 (1)  The following marriages are incestuous and void from the beginning, whether the relationship is legitimate or illegitimate:

(a)  marriages between parents and children;

(b)  marriages between ancestors and descendants of every degree;

(c)  marriages between brothers and sisters of the half as well as the whole blood;

(d)  marriages between uncles and nieces or aunts and nephews;

(e)  marriages between first cousins 

Unlike his brother Elden, Ortell aggressively pursued a financially expansive agenda for the Co-op and the wealth of the Kingston clan grew.  Ironically, it appears that the plural wives of the wealthy Kingston leaders are sometimes found living in almost inhumane conditions.  Even Kingston children must prove themselves worthy of the higher benefits available to the leaders of the Cooperative before receiving them.[5] Small rundown clapboard houses, with pealing paint and broken windows have often greeted recent brides as they were introduced to their new “homes.”  One former member, Connie Rugg, recalled:  “The men in the Kingston group do little or nothing to support their many wives and children.  Often women turn to welfare as ‘single’ mothers.”[6]  Sometimes their plight would compel them to go “gardening,” scrounging through garbage cans to help provide food for themselves and their children.[7]  In 1983 the State of Utah sued Ortell Kingston for welfare subsidies his alleged wives had received.  While admitting no wrongdoing, Ortell paid the state $250,000 and the case was dropped.[8]

J. Ortell Kingston died in 1987 having accumulated at least thirteen wives and dozens of children.[9] His seven sons from his first wife comprised most of the members of the highest echelon of leadership (the “inner circle”) within the financial conglomerate as well as the primary focus of plural marriage activity within the group.


[1].  Tracy, Secret Story, 95; Moore-Emmet, God’s Brothel, 146.

[2]  Tracy, Secret Story, 88-92.

[3].Moore-Emmet, God’s Brothel, 88.

[4]. Moore-Emmett, God’s Brothel, 67, 145; see also Greg Burton, “When incest becomes a religious tenet,” Salt Lake Tribune, April 25, 1999, A1.

[5].  Quinn, “Plural Marriage and Mormon Fundamentalism,” 20. [Dialogue article]

[6].  Andrea Moore-Emmett, God’s Brothel, 144. 

[7]Andrea Moore-Emmett, God’s Brothel, 144.  Gardening was also practiced by other fundamentalists.  See Bradlee and Van Atta, Prophet of Blood, 205.

[8].Ray Rivera “Utah Attorneys Key Figures in Polygamist Kingston Clan,” Salt Lake Tribune,  July 19, 1998, URL, last retrieved January 18, 2006.

[9].  Andrea Moore-Emmett, God’s Brothel, 28.