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Tom Green, polygamist whose trial captured international attention, dies at 72

Posted at 2:11 PM, Mar 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-03 20:00:16-05

SALT LAKE CITY — Tom Green, a polygamist who promoted his lifestyle on television – until he was convicted of bigamy and then raping a 13-year-old girl – died Sunday of COVID-19 pneumonia. He was 72.

Green’s legal wife, Linda Kunz, and two of his plural wives, Cari Green and Shirley Beagley, confirmed his death in a brief phone call Wednesday with FOX 13.

Green began marrying in 1970 and had 10 wives over all, according to law enforcement investigations that were shared with journalists. Some of the spiritual marriages, as they’re often called, sputtered.

Tom Green
Tom Green speaks during his parole hearing Thursday afternoon at the Utah State Prison, on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2004.

By 2000, he was living with Kunz, Beagley, Cari Green and two other women he considered wives, Hannah Bjorkman and LeeAnn Beagley. Also by then, readers and television viewers across the world had heard Green’s story.

He allowed journalists into his home in the desert near the Nevada line. He went on “The Jerry Springer Show,” “Dateline” and a variety of other programs preaching his belief in polygamy. Photos and footage would later be used as evidence in his bigamy trial.

Green contended it was his openness that Utah was really prosecuting. While Utah outlawed polygamy as a condition of statehood, there were – and still is – thousands of polygamists in the state.

Tom Green
Tom Green's five wives, son John and daughter Roseanna bid their husband and father goodbye some 17 days before his bigamy trial date.

Yet before Green’s first trial – months before Utah hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics -- there hadn’t been a polygamy prosecution in years.

"There is a lot of pressure to send a message [to other polygamists] and lock me up so that they can shut me up during the Olympics," Green told the British newspaper The Guardian before his 2001 trial. "I am sorry for the hardship that this causes my family but I believe I have done the right thing."

A jury in Provo convicted Green in May 2001 of four counts of bigamy and a count of failure to pay child support. Green was sentenced to concurrent terms of five years in prison.

The following year, Green waived his right to have a jury decide whether he was guilty of rape of a child and left the verdict up to 4th District Court Judge Donald Eyre. The victim was Kunz, his stepdaughter and now his legal wife, who was 13 when she gave birth to Green’s child in 1986. Green was 38.

Tom Green
Tom Green answers questions from media during a press conference. With him are two of his wives LeeAnn (left) and Linda holding her nine month-old daughter, Roseanna. Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2004.

After a bench trial in Nephi, Eyre in June 2002 found Green guilty. The judge sentenced Green to up to life in prison.

Green received parole in the summer of 2007. He had told the parole board he would not marry any more wives. As for the wives he already had, he told the board he and the women would live in adjoining units of a quadplex in Springville to not again violate Utah’s bigamy law.

Green had about 30 children at the time of his parole, and he told the board he wanted to spend time with them, too.

Thomas Arthur Green was born June 9, 1948. He was largely raised in Holladay in a household that belonged to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The church officially abandoned polygamy in 1890 and excommunicates members found practicing it.

Green developed a relationship with the polygamist and religious leader Ross Wesley LeBaron.

"I consider Ross my adoptive father," Green told The Salt Lake Tribune in 2000.

Tom Green & wives.JPG
Tom Green says goodbye to his wife LeeAnn Beagley in the company of the other 4 wives in the early hours of Friday, May 18, before Green's last day of testimony in his trial on charges of bigamy and criminal non-support.

By 1984, Green was courting his first plural wife. That spurred Green’s first legal wife, Lynda Penman, with whom Green had three children, to file for divorce.

Green’s wives came from a variety of polygamous sects, and some came from monogamous households. While Green’s beliefs were rooted in similar fundamental Mormonism, he considered himself an independent polygamist – one not affiliated with a specific church.

Green and his family lived in Sandy until being evicted from a trailer park there in 1995. For $30,000, Green purchased the 15 acres in Utah’s west desert, planted a convoy of mobile homes there and called the place Greenhaven.

If Green’s lifestyle upset Utah’s public officials, they weren’t the only ones. When a group of former plural wives formed Tapestry Against Polygamy in the late 1990s, they made prosecuting Green one of their top causes.

Then-Juab County Attorney David Leavitt filed the bigamy and failure to pay child support charges in April 2000. He filed the rape of a child charge two months later. (Leavitt is now the county attorney in Utah County.)

Leavitt expressed his condolences Wednesday to Green’s wives and children.

“Premature death under any circumstance is a tragedy,” he told FOX 13, “which unfortunately we are dealing with all too often during this tragic pandemic.”

Utah’s Board of Pardons and Parole terminated Green’s parole at the end of 2019. He remained on Utah’s sex offender registry at the time of death. That said he lived in South Jordan.

Green’s son Mel Green said his father developed ties late in life with the Davis County Cooperative Society, also known as the polygamous Kingston Group or the Order, and occasionally worshipped with its affiliated church.

In 2020, the Utah Legislature reduced polygamy to an infraction – an offense less than some traffic tickets. Polygamy can still be a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison if it’s practiced in conjunction with frauds and abuses.

Supporters of the change said it would encourage plural families to report crimes like sex abuse.