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Bloody Battle Ends Standoff With Utah Clan

January 29, 1988|TAMARA JONES | Times Staff Writer

MARION, Utah — A 13-day standoff between police and a violent polygamist clan ended in a bloody shoot-out Thursday that left one policeman dead and the family's leader seriously wounded in the snowy barnyard of their mountain stronghold.

The gun battle that began around 8:15 a.m. concluded a long and frustrating war of nerves that involved harassing the 15 family members with floodlights and high-pitched noises blaring from loudspeakers in the hope that fatigue would wear them down.

After nearly two weeks of watchful waiting in the face of threatened violence, an undisclosed number of officers slipped into the polygamists' 2 1/2-acre compound early Thursday, hid in an empty house and waited for clan leader Addam Swapp, 27, to emerge from the main cabin 50 yards away.

When Swapp and his younger brother, Jonathan, 21, came outside to do chores, the officers unleashed an attack dog on them.

Bullet Misses Vest

Swapp was seen raising his rifle, and a volley of gunfire hit the house where police were hiding, said John T. Nielsen, Utah commissioner of public safety. The dog's handler, Lt. Fred House, 35, was killed when a bullet narrowly missed his bulletproof vest and struck his torso.

Swapp was shot in the chest and forearm but was able to get back into the house. He then began waving a white towel through the doorway and came over to an outbuilding where officers were hidden and surrendered, Nielsen said.

Police then moved an armored personnel carrier into the compound to evacuate the wounded. On its approach, gunfire poured from the main cabin.

Authorities said they refrained from returning fire into the main house because of the children inside. "There was extremely heavy gunfire," Nielsen said.

More than 100 rounds were fired from the log house before Swapp's brother, Jonathan, called the police command post on the compound's telephone and asked how to surrender, FBI agent Cal Clegg said. He said officers fired only the two shots that hit Swapp.

Patsy Lewis, a neighbor who lives across the highway about a half-mile from the Swapp house, watched from a telescope propped in her kitchen sink.

"I saw two adults and a smaller person come out with their hands up," she said. "Then I saw Timmy outside in his wheelchair and a couple of smaller children milling around."

Swapp was taken to the University of Utah Medical Center in Salt Lake City in critical condition, but his status was later upgraded to serious, and he was expected to recover.

After the shooting was over, agents entered the farmhouse and found 13 rifles, "numerous cases of ammunition," dynamite, knives and booby-traps, Clegg said.

At an afternoon press conference at the Capitol, Gov. Norman H. Bangerter choked back tears over the slaying of Lt. House.

"This morning's events in Marion are tragic because they could have been so easily avoided if every attempt for a peaceful conclusion had not been rejected," Bangerter said.

The 14 other family members were taken into custody. Authorities said the three youngest children would remain with relatives who are not in custody or under investigation. A 17-year-old was in juvenile detention.

"They're all OK," said Roger Bates, a cousin and brother-in-law of Swapp, who remained outside the compound during the ordeal. Bates, 27, lives on the clan's mountain farm with his wife and five children.

Send Unyielding Letters

Authorities moved in on the clan after Swapp and his mother-in-law, Vickie Singer, 44, sent out unyielding letters to Gov. Bangerter Wednesday night in response to his earlier pleas that they surrender. Addam Swapp, a construction worker married to two daughters of the clan's late patriarch, described the "hellish sounds" as torture and threatened to retaliate.

The rambling, seven-page letter in Swapp's cramped handwriting was carried out by a friend and declared the family "a free and independent nation" above the law.

Bangerter said the letters convinced authorities that action must be taken.

The family has had brushes with the law and their neighbors in this tiny farming community for over a decade.

The latest trouble flared Jan. 16, when Swapp allegedly crept down the dirt lane with 70 pounds of explosives and blew up a Mormon stake house (district headquarters).

He later told relatives and the media that he was following God's orders. He claimed a divine revelation convinced him that a battle with authorities would bring about the resurrection of his wives' father, John Singer, who was slain by police in a confrontation Jan. 18, 1979.

After the bombing, the six adults and nine children holed up inside one of three houses in the compound and waited.

Authorities Cut Utilities

Authorities cut off heat and water, knowing the family still had wood stoves to keep them warm and melted snow to drink.

Gunfire rang out from the compound sporadically throughout the standoff, but police did not return fire for fear of hurting the children, who ranged in age from 10 months to 17 years.

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