Documents reveal details in Coltharp kidnap case

Satellite view of the compound.

Documents reveal details

in Coltharp kidnap case


By James Tilson
Staff writer

Apr. 26, 2018


MANTI—The defendants in the Coltharp kidnapping case allowed their doomsday beliefs to provide the rationale for hiding and abusing their children, according to investigative information that has come out since the sensational recovery of the Coltharp children from Iron County in December.

John Alvin Coltharp and Samuel Shaffer became the leaders of a fundamentalist religion they called Knights of the Crystal Blade.
According to charges filed against them, as part of the practices of that church, they married and sexually abused each other’s daughters. The have also been charged with obstruction of justice for trying to hide what was going on from authorities.

Probable-cause statements and other document files in the criminal cases shed light on their state of mind and activities in the months prior to their arrests and prior to an Amber alert being issued seeking the public’s help to find the children.

Coltharp was the leader of the church and Shaffer the self-proclaimed “prophet.” The church was founded on hyper-fundamentalist principles that descended into conspiracy theories and doomsday prophecies. While the two men and their followers prepared for the Muslim invasion of the United States, they also preached child marriage.

Their church came to widespread attention when Coltharp and Shaffer began to practice their beliefs.

The first indication that something was amiss came when Coltharp’s recently separated wife, Micah, called the Spring City police to check on her children on Sept. 16, 2017.

She told authorities she had left the home in Spring City where she and Coltharp lived in mid-August because of differences with Coltharp. Micah said she had left the children in his care, due to Coltharp’s intimidation and threats.

When the police checked the marital residence, it was vacant. Witnesses told the police the occupants had vacated the residence during the night of Sept. 14. Police checked with a U-Haul rental outlet and learned Coltharp had rented a U-Haul and taken it to Cedar City.

John’s sister, who allowed the police into the residence, described John as heavily armed and said he had threatened to kill his children if anyone were to try to take them from him.

Micah then filed for divorce and began pursuing custody of the couple’s four children. On Nov. 27, the 4th District Court entered a decree of divorce, which awarded Micah sole custody of the children.

Along with the decree, the court issued an Order for Writ of Assistance directing law enforcement officers to take custody of the children and protect them until they could be re-united with their mother.

On Dec. 1, the Spring City police received information of suspicious activity at the former family residence. When Chief Clarke Christensen responded at approximately 10 p.m., he found John Coltharp outside the residence.

Upon questioning, Coltharp was very evasive about the whereabouts of his children and would not allow entry into the house, although he did state that his “partner” Sam was inside. Christensen took Coltharp into custody on suspicion of kidnapping and custodial interference.

According to police and court documents, police later learned that the children being sought were with Coltharp and Shaffer at the Spring City house. While Coltharp was being questioned, Shaffer hid the children in the cab of an antique truck parked a block and a half away. They were left there in freezing temperatures while Shaffer went back to the residence.

Later that night, Shaffer went back to the truck, picked up the Coltharp children, and went to his father’s home in Nephi before eventually going to Iron County.

The day of Coltharp’s arrest, the Iron County Sheriff’s Office received a copy of the writ of assistance for the Coltharp children.

On Dec. 3, deputies located a vehicle registered to the parents of John Coltharp, Keith and Catherine, in a remote part of Iron County, approximately 1 mile west of Lund. On Dec. 4, the parents were located at a makeshift residence constructed from storage containers. Two children, both boys, were found with them and taken into custody.

Authorities started to conclude that two of Coltharp’s female children, along with two of Shaffer’s own female children, were with Shafer. The police began an extensive ground and air search looking for Shaffer and the children.

About an hour and a half after the search started, Shaffer was located walking alone several miles west of the storage containers.

After being taken into custody, Shaffer revealed that two of the children had been hidden in a plastic, 50-gallon water barrel about 1,000 yards south of the compound. The children had been hidden in the barrel for approximately 24 hours in sub-freezing temperatures. The other two children had been hidden an abandoned mobile home.

During the investigation, authorities discovered that Coltharp and Shaffer had become “betrothed” to each other’s eldest daughter and then to each of their own younger daughters.

Since then, Shaffer has pleaded guilty to charges in Iron County, and faces up to 25 years to life in prison. His sentencing date is in May. Shaffer also has charges pending in Sanpete County, where his next court will be a waiver of preliminary hearing on May 14.

Coltharp still faces charges in Sanpete County, and his trial date has been set for the first week of July.

The children were returned to their mother, Micah, on Dec. 4. She no longer lives in Utah and is trying to help the children heal from their trauma.

Some of it was immediate and easily dealt with—the malnutrition and physical neglect. However, some of the trauma is hidden but is beginning to come out. Healing will undoubtedly take years.

The children cannot stand pop-tarts and spam, which is what they subsisted on while with their father. They fear the dark. They keep their house cold, because they became so used to it. They are wary of strangers.