Polygamy had become a favorite topic on reality-television shows, and “Escaping Polygamy” captured the interest of cable viewers quite easily. While other polygamy series centered on exploring the dynamics of people participating in this unconventional relationship, this TV show focused on individuals who escaped, or wanted to leave the polygamy community. After being on air through the Lifetime Network since 2014, fans wondered why it stopped airing new seasons, when no cancelation announcements were made by network officials.
- 1 All about “Escaping Polygamy”
- 2 Meet the different women they rescued in “Escaping Polygamy”
- 3 Real or Reel narrative of abuses inside The Order
- 4 Theories why “Escaping Polygamy” was canceled
All about “Escaping Polygamy”
“Escaping Polygamy” was labeled as a documentary reality-TV show, which featured three young ladies in their twenties who were former members of the Mormon fundamentalist group called the Kingston Clan, located in Salt Lake City, Utah. These ladies made it their advocacy to help members of any polygamy group who wanted to leave that life behind and start anew.
Understanding polygamy in the United States
In the US, polygamy, or the practice of having more than one female spouse at the same time was declared unlawful under the federal law, the Edmunds Act, punishable by imprisonment or fine. Back in 1852, when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the LDS Church announced that they were allowing plural marriages as it was part of their sacred doctrine, it became a huge issue, and started both political and social debates. This persuaded Wilford Woodruff Sr., the fourth president of the LDS Church, to ban its practice in September 1980. However, there were members of their church who refused to obey the order and broke away from the original group. They created new religious sects known as Mormon fundamentalist groups and continued with the practice. While it was considered a crime in all 50 states, Utah and Colorado had a high tolerance for its practice, as long as they would not advertise it.
The origins of the Kingston Clan
Not all the people featured in “Escaping Polygamy” that the three ladies helped escape were from their former group. They also received requests from other religious sects, such as the AllRed and the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS). However, the main focus of their stories in the show was the Kingston Clan, also known as the Kingston Group, the Kingstons, or what the former members usually referred to as The Order.
It was Charles Elden Kingston who founded the new sect after his father, Charles Sr., broke away from John Y. Barlow’s group, Short Creek, one of the splintered sects from the original council headed by Lorin D. Wooley. The fundamentalists believed that Lorin was granted special priesthood authority to continue supervising the Mormon plural marriage practice, by Wilford Woodruff’s predecessor John Taylor. The Order wasn’t as huge as the FLDS, but it had still accumulated thousands of members over the years.
In 2019, it was believed that the Kingston Clan had approximately 6,000 members. The group was initially known as the Davis Country Cooperative Society, or DCCS, and worked as a political, social, and economic movement. John Ortell Kingston took over the group when Elden died, and created a religious sect called The Latter-Day Church of Christ.
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Ortell had 13 wives, and had seven sons with his second wife, Ladonna Kingston, who was known to be his favorite. Those sons run the Kingston Group today, and one of them was Paul Kingston. He had 27 wives and was appointed the leader of The Order after Ortell died. It was believed that between these seven brothers, they had 90 wives who were their half-sisters or half-nieces; there were 850 children in all. One of the seven brothers was John Daniel Kingston, the father of the main stars of “Escaping Polygamy.”
TV Premiere and premise of “Escaping Polygamy”
Andrea, Jessica and Shanell shared the same father, Daniel Kingston, and they all belonged to one of the most powerful polygamous cults in America. Andrea’s mom was the 7th wife. while Jessica and Shanell’s mother was the sixth. The reality-TV series started when these three members left The Order. They were made to believe since the day they were born that it was a commandment of God to live a polygamous lifestyle, and claimed that they were taught that it was all about religion, but later realizing that it was all about sex. According to them, The Order ruled over the families by fear and intimidation. After they escaped, they started helping other individuals who wanted to get out of the polygamous community. “Escaping Polygamy” made its television debut on 30 December 2014, initially aired on the A&E cable channel, but later moved to the Lifetime Network.
The main stars of “Escaping Polygamy”
Initially, the reality-TV show introduced three ladies, but later adding more women whom they’d helped break free from their former group. They also joined in rescuing those who were still unwillingly trapped in the polygamous way of living.
Shanell was married to one of her cousins when she was 18 years old; she said that she was physically abused almost daily. At the start of the show, it had been five years since she escaped from The Order. Jessica, at 14 years of age, was courted by her 42-year-old Uncle and would have been his third wife if she hadn’t managed to get away. Andrea was told all her life that if she left the group, she would go to hell, however, she said that being in The Order was already like living in hell.
It was difficult for them to leave The Order at first, because it meant abandoning everything and everyone they had known all their life. The three girls made a pact when they were younger that they would someday get out, and they did. After their successful escape and transition outside, they made helping others to get out of their former group one of their main goals in life. They said that they needed to make the other believers realize that they wouldn’t be punished for leaving the abuse and the pain. Other former members of their religious sect including Amanda, Mary and Kolleen also helped the girls in their advocacy.
Meet the different women they rescued in “Escaping Polygamy”
Over the course of the four seasons of the TV show, they helped many former members of The Order. Here are some of the stories that were told about these girls:
Melanie who was being forced to marry one of her relatives
It started when Jessica continually received weird text messages from a random person. It said, ‘I want to leave and I want to leave now but I’m scared and I don’t know who I can trust.’ They replied, but made sure to use the right words because they were also wary since they had previously received many threats from their former group. They didn’t give out their trust easily, so they took proper precautions when dealing with people asking for help.
Jessica met the person in a gym, and she immediately recognized her as one of her half-sisters, but couldn’t remember her name. The 18-year-old girl introduced herself as Melanie, and the main reason she wanted to leave home was that their father, Daniel, was forcing her to marry one of their relatives. She had already been given a list of potential husbands, including an uncle, two cousins, and three brothers-in-law. She was the youngest of 11 kids from Daniel’s second wife, and Melanie was taught all her life to help build the kingdom of God and their religious sect. She shared that she had a poor life growing up, and would participate in monthly dumpster diving to help put food on the table. The girls successfully rescued Melanie from her home, but not before they had a huge confrontation with Melanie’s mother.
Kathy who wanted to protect her remaining unmarried daughter
Shanell was contacted by one of her cousins named Mark, who’d left The Order years ago to help in getting his mom, Kathy, out of the group. Kathy Brown was born and raised in the Kingston clan and stayed with the community all her life. Growing up in The Order, they were encouraged not to get an education, instead being taught that their main goal was to marry and have a family. She and Robby Brown had 16 children, and she felt blessed that 14 out of the 16 kids were boys, as they wouldn’t suffer the horrors of polygamy perpetrated on females. She claimed that she was physically abused, especially when the second wife came into the picture.
Mark said that the rescue would be quite risky, as she was the first wife of Robby, which meant that she was the legal wife and that Robby also had rights to Mark’s younger siblings. Kathy was wary of the plan because her husband was one of the ‘numbered men’ in The Order, meaning that Robby was one of the high-ranking men in the group. It was Paul Kingston who personally designated him with the number 63. Members of their group were taught to respect these ‘numbered men’ as they were considered the patriarchs of their Church. However, Kathy was highly motivated to leave The Order, because she needed to protect her remaining unmarried daughter, Becky, who had just turned 14 years old, so had reached the age at which the men in their group started courting her, and later would be given to a much older cousin or uncle for an arranged marriage. They planned the rescue carefully, as they knew the legal issues that came with Kathy being the legal wife. Fortunately, they made it out successfully and moved into a house that was prepared by her older sons, who were working hard to support them during the difficult transition. All the kids were excited about the house, and most of them were surprised that it had enough space for everyone.
Priscilla who tried many times to leave The Order
Amanda received text messages from a 17-year-old girl named Priscilla, a friend who asked for her and Kolleen’s help to successfully leave The Order. Apparently, she’d tried a couple of times to escape, but all her plans failed as she was still a minor – in Utah, anyone under the age of 18 was regarded as a runaway if she or he left home, and would be returned by the police to their parents’ care. She had the option to apply for emancipation, which was a legal process that terminated any parental authority over a child, but five days before the court hearing, people came into their house to forcibly take her to an institute for troubled kids, as instructed by her mom. Priscilla’s mother and grandmother thought it would make her more obedient to The Order, but the program made her even more determined to leave the religious sect.
Priscilla Tucker was born and raised in The Order. Her father died in a vehicular accident when she was two years old, and her mother became the second wife of Linc Kingston. Priscilla informed them that their leader, Paul, wanted to have a meeting with her, and she was afraid that it would be about marriage. Amanda and Kolleen were worried that the meeting would end with Priscilla becoming engaged – normally, a wedding would take place three days after the engagement, so they had to move fast. Priscilla knew that if she didn’t get out at that time, it would be harder in the future, because she might have kids of her own by then.
Amanda contacted Christine, a friend in Las Vegas who was in a child rights advocacy group, and she was willing to welcome Priscilla into her home. They were advised by a former member that the moment Priscilla ran out the door, it must be straight to the car, and they needed to leave immediately for Las Vegas without looking back. In Las Vegas, it wasn’t a crime to be a runaway, and the police wouldn’t necessarily bring minors back to their parents if they could prove that they were doing well in their current residence. The girls helped Priscilla escape, and united her with Christine.
Real or Reel narrative of abuses inside The Order
There were allegations that the show was scripted, and presented a false narrative in general about the Mormon fundamentalist communities, by exaggerating the fear that was brought on by past convictions of some former leaders of other huge polygamous groups. Some members of the Kingston family said that the TV producers even made false claims in the stories that were depicted. Allegedly, these young women were offered $5,000 for their participation in the program, lured to leave their homes in exchange for money, but the producers did little to nothing to help them after they left the group. This was reportedly confirmed by Christine who helped Priscilla escape in the first season.
Also, a huge lawsuit was filed by a former escapee, Mary Ann Kingston, against more than 200 members of the Kingston family as well as their business empire. She said that she fled an arranged marriage to her uncle, David Ortell Kingston, which was forced on her at the age of 16. Her father Daniel Kingston had hit and whipped her with a belt until she lost consciousness. He served prison time for it, as he pleaded no contest when he was arrested, while the others settled after battling it out in court for seven long years.
Theories why “Escaping Polygamy” was canceled
While there were no official announcements of any cancelations from Lifetime Network, no new episodes were aired. The last time the fans watched an episode was back in April 2019, entitled “Top Ten Escapes.” There were many controversies surrounding the show and one of them was that the producers were sued by Melanie’s mother, who was one of the girls who’d escaped during the first season of the series. Apparently, at the time they fetched Melanie from her home, her mother told them they were trespassing, but the camera crew continued to film the situation in the yard. Some of the fans believed that the production crew settled with the mother, because that particular episode was no longer available on Lifetime Network’s programming menu.
There were real problems in the Kingston family as revealed during the Mary Ann Kingston case, and some were similar to the experiences depicted in the show. The Order wasn’t able to refute the abuse allegations that happened in their community, even if they presented that it wasn’t the norm in their group.
There were also allegations that some of the girls that they helped escape were harmed during filming – such claims might have contributed to the show’s demise, along with the possibility of more lawsuits being filed. While the TV network wasn’t included in the Mary Ann Kingston case, it was reported that the lawsuit wasn’t only exhausting, but quite expensive as well. These legal issues could have discouraged the Lifetime Network executives from continuing with the production of the show.
On the other hand, the non-renewal of “Escaping Polygamy” could also be just a simple and direct result of the decline of TV viewership after four seasons. Whatever the real reason behind it, polygamy remained a fascinating topic for many people, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the TV series made a comeback after the producers straightened out the controversial issues associated with it.