Weird and Wonderful


A Brief History of the Kingstons

Part Two: Into the Spotlight


(In the previous installment we examined how the Kingston Clan was started by Charles Elden Kingston. Its religious practices were refined by his successor, John Ortell Kingston. The polygamous group operated pretty much out of the public eye until 16 year-old Mary Ann Kingston bolted the clan in 1998 to escape a forced marriage with her uncle. In the process she spilled the beans on Kingston practices and the public ate it up.)

All The Kingstons That's Fit to Print

The media pig-piled on the hapless Kingston Clan. Local newspapers like The Salt Lake Tribune and The Ogden Standard Examiner ran an endless stream of exposes. Even out-of-state papers like The Rocky Mountain News and The San Jose Mercury News got in on the act. Salon and Time magazines ran in depth stories. The Kingstons, after years of obscurity, were news.

Rowenna Erickson

Rowenna Erickson was willing to tell tales about her Kingston ordeal to anyone that would listen. "Ex-members" dished up the dirt to reporters with wanton abandon. Everything Kingston became fair game for the starved media.

Countless stories about teenage brides, incest convictions, and business holdings filled newspapers.

For the most part, the Kingstons hunkered down in siege mode and kept their mouths shut. Maybe they hoped the feeding frenzy would play out and they could get on with the business of acquiring wealth and wedding relatives away from the steely gaze of the public.

Elden Kingston, owner of record of several Kingston enterprises like Rocky Mountain Coin, did give a faxed interview to The Rocky Mountain News. He claimed the Kingstons were just plain folks trying to make their way in the world.

Elden Kingston

"If you ever got to know me, you would see that I put my pants on one leg at a time, the same as you," Elden Kingston claimed in the article. " I follow the Denver Nuggets, Broncos, Utah Jazz and other sporting events. I pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in state, local and federal taxes, and I try to comply with all the laws."

Just an ordinary guy!

Usually, the best the media can hope for is a terse response from Carl E. Kingston, clan leader Paul Kingston's brother and the lawyer handling most of the Kingstons' woes.

More Troubles

However, more and more of the clan's practices came out under media scrutiny. What really disturbed folk was how often various Kingston businesses intersected with government affairs.

Paul Kingston

Under public pressure, Jason Kingston resigned from his job at the Utah State Auditor's office after his polygamous marriages were uncovered. Jason worked with a team of accountants reviewing books of public or quasi-public agencies.

The Kingston-owned garbage company A-1 Disposal often bid on jobs funded by tax dollars. Standard Restaurant Supply, another Kingston venture, was also revealed to have done business with state-funded agencies.

The biggest blow to the Kingston business empire came in September 2003 when a former worker at the clan-owned Co-op Mines in Huntington publicly complained of bad conditions in the coal mining operations. Bill Estrada claimed the company hired mostly immigrant workers and handed out piss poor wages with no benefits for dangerous work.

Unions organized and picketed other Kingston businesses such as the East Side Market in Salt Lake City. The media jumped on the story and painted the Kingston clan as sweatshop employers. Estrada claims he was canned for trying to start a union. Co-op mine officials say he falsified a report about his job performance.

While all this mining hoopla was playing out another Kingston member was sentenced to a year in jail for marrying a 15-year-old cousin. Jeremy Ortell Kingston was convicted less than a year after David Ortell Kingston was released from prison for the crime that got all the scrutiny started in the first place.

A Pesky Lawsuit

Jeremy Kingston and family

His ex-wife, Mary Ann, has struck hard at the Kingston clan in a move that could prove the biggest threat to the secretive sect. In August 2003, she filed a $110 million lawsuit against the Kingstons. The suit names 242 members and 97 businesses operated by the Kingstons.

Mary Ann claims the Kingstons are "secretive religious society and economic organization" that teaches and promotes sexual abuse of young girls through illegal and underage marriages, incest and polygamy.

The clan kept silent about her abuse and aided it, she says. And she wants pay back.

"I am pursuing this lawsuit with the hope that other young girls and boys in the same position that I was in will see that the leaders of the Kingston organization are not above the law, even though they tell us that they are," Mary Ann said in a press conference. "I also hope that the people that we are bringing this lawsuit against, will realize the harm they have caused and continue to cause and that they will change their ways."

A trial of such magnitude threatens to reveal more about Kingston business holding than has previously come to light. Though the plaintiff and her lawyers are having a hard time serving papers on those named in her suit and the case is progressing at a snails pace, this lawsuit poses the biggest threat to the Kingston clan yet.

The Kingston org is well aware of the danger. Two Davis County couples, allegedly members of the clan, quickly filed countersuits against Mary Ann. They claimed she had defamed their character in a press conference about the lawsuit.

This tactic seemed to have been scotched in August, when a Davis County judge threw out the countersuit. Judge Michael Allphin ruled that the comments at the press conference were too general and did not defame individual members of the clan.

The Kingstons Strike Back

The Kingstons fired back on September 14. They refilled an amended counterclaim and third-party complaint against Mary Ann asking for millions in damages for defamation, invasion of privacy, and other charges.

The countersuit expands its scope in seeking damages. Named along with Mary Ann are her attorneys, the Salt Lake Tribune, three Trib employees (reporter Pamela Mason and editors Tim Fitzpatrick and Tom Baden). The suit also takes aim at one of the clan's biggest foes, Rowenna Erickson.

The document states Mary Ann Kingston's lawyers misused the court system in particularly unsavory ways. Mary Ann's law sharks sued innocent parties to blackmail put upon Kingston relatives into becoming "unwilling agents" for Mary Ann Kingston and others named in the suit. "Little fish" forced to become Mary Ann's pawns "as a way of getting to big fish," according to the countersuit.

The suit also contends this gathering of information through the civil discovery process is a ruse to provide dirt to government agents on the Kingstons that could be used against them.

Whether this is a heartfelt move by the clan to combat what they feel is discrimination or a tactic to force an out-of-court settlement and keep their dirty laundry from being aired in a public forum such as a trial remains to be seen.

One thing is sure; Mary Ann's lawsuit isn't coming to court in the foreseeable future. However, the Kingston Clan, once an unknown polygamous quantity, is in the public eye, their practices feeding an insatiable public appetite for all things Utah and weird. And that ain't ending anytime soon.

A Matter of Custody

In October 2004, a 3rd District court judge in Salt Lake City ordered Heidi Mattingly Foster to cut all ties with the Kingston Clan. Following this order was the only way for the Kingston wife to regain custody of her eight children.

John Daniel Kingston

This ruling meant she would have to give up her home and her job, both owned by the Kingstons. Foster was born into the polygamous family. She is one of the 14 "spiritual wives" of John Daniel Kingston.

The much-publicized case, in Utah anyway, was not a matter of religious persecution, but one of domestic abuse, according to assistant attorney general, Carolyn Nichols.

"It has to do with abuse - child abuse and domestic violence," Nichols said.

Kingston and Foster's 13-year-old daughter testified that the father had struck his wife several times and not provided adequate support for his family.

The Kingstons had a different view, of course. A statement released by Rachel Young, head of The Davis County Cooperative Society and daughter of John Ortell Kingston, called the ruling "an outrage."

"The state of Utah has torn this family apart." Young's statement read. "It is wrong to hold children hostage to further a political agenda. How can this kind of prejudice and injustice still exist in America? Every United States citizen should be outraged and ashamed."

At least every citizen that doesn't have a problem with incest, underage marriage and polygamy, a cynic might add.

Foster has been ordered to attend domestic violence therapy and is allowed to collect a little over in two grand in support until she can find a non-Kingston job and home.

John Daniel will be allowed "weekly supervised" visits with his eight young ones.

This is not enough according to Young: "We love Heidi and her children very much. We will not rest until this family is reunited."

And the Kingston Clan media circus goes on and on. However, one thing is clear, the Kingstons will no longer go quietly into that good night. They have joined the fray. Utah weirdness lives on. The Kingston have stepped forward, out of secrecy, to help bear the banner.

Return To Kingston History Part One