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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Fred Jessop, a longtime bishop for a polygamous community on the Arizona border who was stripped of his powers in a reported leadership struggle, has died of congestive heart failure. He was 94.
The circumstances of Jessop's final years remained in dispute on Thursday -- mysteries that could go to his grave. Even his death on Tuesday was shrouded in secrecy because of a federal privacy law.
Jessop was known as "Uncle Fred" to many who adored him in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which occupies the twin towns of Hildale and Colorado City astride the Utah-Arizona border.
Jessop was exiled 15 months ago because he threatened the authority of Warren Jeffs, who had taken over as presiding bishop of the church, said Flora Jessop, a distant relative who renounced the church and is an anti-polygamy activist living in Phoenix. She suspects Fred Jessop had been held against his will in an undisclosed location since January 2004.
"It does a disservice to him to say that he had been kicked out of the church. He was not. He simply wasn't the bishop any more," church attorney Rod Parker retorted Thursday.
The position of bishop is subservient to presiding bishop and "responsible for the well being of the people in the community and for distribution of property pursuant to the United Effort Plan," the lawyer said.
Parker disputed that Jessop ever was missing -- he couldn't say where he'd been -- or had been banished or ever was considered a threat to Warren Jeff's authority.
Parker even disputed reports that Jessop had about 100 children from multiple wives, saying Jessop was biologically incapable of fathering children and "adopted" children instead. Parker didn't dispute reports that Jessop had 30 or more wives.
Authorities in Utah and Texas who investigated a missing-person report filed by some of Jessop's relatives -- and questioned by others -- said they never were able to determine his whereabouts, whether he had been exiled or even which relatives took charge of caring for him.
On Thursday Jessop's body was at Spilsbury Mortuary in Hurricane, Utah. A memorial service and burial was tentatively scheduled for Sunday in Colorado City.
His survivors had yet to prepare an obituary for publication.
Jessop died Tuesday at a Lone Tree, Colo., hospital, although administrators, citing confidentiality laws, refused to confirm he had been a patient there.
The Douglas County, Colo., coroner's office refused to immediately respond Thursday to an Associated Press records request on Jessop's death. The office would not recite by telephone or supply by fax machine or e-mail the coroner's report on the death, instead mailing it and saying it would take several days to arrive.
The details of Jessop's death came from Texas, where Warren Jeffs is finishing construction of a temple on a 1,600-acre west Texas ranch.
Schliecher County Sheriff David Doran said Jessop died at 2:20 p.m. Tuesday of congestive heart failure at Sky Ridge Medical Center in Lone Tree, Colo.
Doran used his law-enforcement powers -- he assisted Utah authorities on the missing-person claim -- to get that information from doctors and administrators at the Lone Tree hospital. The sheriff said he didn't know how Jessop ended up in Colorado, or who brought him there or any of the circumstances of his final years.
Doran said no foul play was suspected in Jessop's death.
In Utah, "We never did locate him or talk with him personally. We heard different things. The church told us he was on a (proselytizing) mission," Washington County sheriff's deputy Rob Tersigni said Thursday.
Tersigni attributed the difficulties to "the close-knit organization out there that doesn't share information with us." The FLDS established the community, then known as Short Creek, in a remote corner of Washington County in the 1930s.
Fred Jessop was one of the original settlers.
"He was a neat old guy. He lived a long, long life and was a real pioneer and knew the entire history of that community. He was always a delight to run into," Parker said.
Jessop is the second major polygamist figure to die within the last five weeks.
Owen Allred, the leader of one of Utah's largest polygamous churches, died Feb. 14 at the age of 91. He was president of the 6,000-member Apostolic United Brethren, based in the Salt Lake City suburb of Bluffdale.
Allred's church is not linked to the FLDS.
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)