Wives of Alleged Polygamist Cult Leader Samuel Bateman Were Victims Despite Kidnapping Charges, Lawyer Says

A generic image of female members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS).
A generic image of female members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS).Getty

Donnae Barlow, who appeared in court alongside Naomi Bistline, has a seventh-grade homeschool education and believed her family members were in trouble, her attorney claimed.

Naomi Bistline and Donnae Barlow, wives of polygamous cult leader Samuel Batemen, appeared in federal magistrate court in Flagstaff, Arizona, Wednesday as 19-year-old Moretta Rose Johnson, a third wife, awaits extradition from Washington state, the Associated Press reported.

Federal prosecutors alleged in court Wednesday that Bateman instructed Bistline and Barlow to retrieve the eight girls and reunify the family, and the pair had been in frequent contact with Bateman through video calls shortly after the girls disappeared from the group home on Nov. 28, the Arizona Republic reported.

Bateman was previously indicted for destroying or attempting to destroy records, after allegedly instructing his followers to delete incriminating evidence shortly after his initial arrest in August, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Arizona.

Bistline’s attorney said during the court hearing on Wednesday that Bistline, who had appeared in the court room to support Bateman during an Oct. 7 hearing, and the other women being charged were victims of “Bateman and other elders in power in the FLDS (Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) community,” according to the Arizona Republic.

Barlow, who only had a seventh-grade homeschool education, didn’t understand she had to abide by court orders when she contacted the children, and believed that her family members had been in trouble, her attorney said in court Wednesday, the Arizona Republic reported.

Johnson was arrested last week while driving away from a Spokane, Washington, Airbnb with the eight girls in the car, KSL.com reported, citing charging documents. The Airbnb had been booked under a credit card linked to one of Bateman’s followers, Fox 13 reported.

The eight minors in the car with Johnson had gone missing from state-run group homes last month, the Washington Post reported. In total, nine girls were taken into custody by the Arizona Department of Child Services during the September raid of Bateman’s compound, according to the Washington Post.

The minors had been using a group message chat with adult wives of Bateman, according to investigators, who claimed they had been organizing a trip, KSL.com reported.

The three women have each been charged with obstruction of justice and kidnapping after eight minors taken from their compound disappeared from state-run group homes, according to KSL.com. All three remain in federal custody, and Bistline and Barlow due back in court next week.

All three women are relatives of the children, and are either current or former wives of Bateman, the AP reported, citing an FBI affidavit.

Bateman, who broke away from the FLDS to lead his own group comprised of about 50 followers, was arrested on Aug. 28 when the Arizona Department of Public Safety troopers found three girls aged 11 to 14 in an unventilated trailer with a makeshift toilet and camping chairs, officials said. He has been in and out of jail since.

Bateman faces state charges of child abuse and federal charges of tampering with evidence. Bateman has pleaded not guilty to all state and federal charges against him. He has not been charged with sexual abuse or trafficking.

Related Stories