While the age of her daughter when she conceived a son is now the focus of the felony child rape charge facing outspoken polygamist Thomas Green, Beth Cooke has dodged state investigators and prosecutors. Her testimony could be key in this high-profile polygamy prosecution that also includes four felony counts of bigamy and one of criminal non-support. Having grown tired of what she calls a witch hunt, Cooke, who has shunned news media, recently approached Salt Lake City Weekly in an effort to tell her side of the story.
She describes dueling emotions of fear and outrage as she watches the case against her daughter and former husband unfold. Meanwhile, she stays one step ahead of agents of the Utah attorney general’s office who would like to depose her for the trial scheduled in May. Her anger is directed toward the state, the LDS church, Juab County Attorney David Leavitt and the private organization Tapestry Against Polygamy. She says those entities are conspiring in a serious attempt to root out polygamy—the first real assault on the religious-based practice of plural marriage since 1953 when polygamists in Utah were rounded up and jailed.
Although authorities have failed to track her down, she has first-hand knowledge of Green’s intimate relationship with her daughter, which began when Linda Kunz was 13 years old. Green has had a number of wives over the years, and is now married to five women he married as teenagers who are now in their 20s. But prosecutors are focusing on Cooke’s daughter because they want to prove that Green had sex with her at age 13 in 1986, violating state law.
Following are some questions that Juab County Prosecutor David Leavitt likely would put to Cooke under oath. Included also are questions that Green’s defense attorney John Bucher would certainly ask as well.
City Weekly: Were you married before you met Tom Green?
Beth Cooke: My first husband had seven wives. We had two children. I was also later married to a man who had one other wife, who was my sister.
City Weekly: When did you first meet Tom Green?
Beth Cooke: I observed him at a meeting. I paid particular attention to him, because my friend said she had met Tom Green and he was the ugliest man she had ever met.
CW: What was your impression?
I thought, gee, he’s not bad looking at all. I thought he was very handsome.
CW: When did you see him again?
I saw him at a Sunday school class. My daughters, Linda and Pam were with me. He was taking charge of the meeting. I could tell that he was highly intelligent. I saw him later at a picnic. That day at the picnic was when Tom first mentioned he would like to ask me out. Later, we had a four-hour conversation, and that was when Tom knew he was going to marry me. At the time, I knew I was interested in him, but didn’t want to say anything. I had been hurt too many times in the past. He was four years younger than I was, and I didn’t know if I could still have children. I wanted to be sure that he wanted me, so I waited for him to ask me to marry him.
CW: Did you ever feel like Tom Green married you simply to gain access to your daughters?
No! My sister approached me to say he was just marrying me to get my daughters. That was the last thing that ever crossed my mind. I never thought that for one minute. It’s not true. After being hurt before, I had to be secure in his love before I would marry him. I had to know he loved me for me.
CW: When were you first concerned about Linda’s relationship with Tom?
Tom and I were both concerned that Linda was showing feelings toward him. When he would sit at his desk, she would come and put her arms over his shoulders and watch him work. She would hang onto him for the longest time, and it was bothering me. I was not jealous. I was worried. There was even a time that I was so concerned that I was tempted to take her and leave and go away from Tom. But I realized there was no changing her mind. And I was also in love with Tom. She kept expressing more and more affection for him. She kept talking about him. She sent him a card when he was away visiting his children from his first family. Tom and I were both concerned about it, and I said, maybe you need to talk to her, and tell her that she needs a father figure, not a lover. For a long time, she would not be discouraged, even though he sat her down and had a long talk with her. He told her she should be cautious about not mixing up her feelings and that she needed to forget about any romantic feelings.
CW: When did you realize that a marriage between your daughter and your husband might take place?
Linda came to me and asked if she could marry him. I told her I would agree to a legal marriage when she was 14, the legal age in Utah. She said she would be willing to wait until she was 14.
CW: What happened in the meantime?
We were already planning to leave the state to sell magazines. We decided to just take Linda with us. During this time, we became convinced that she was serious about pursuing Tom, and she became betrothed (engaged) to him. But everything was on hold. We expected to wait until she was 14 to obtain a legal marriage. We felt that the state would not make the age 14 if they did not feel that a woman was ready to be a wife and mother at that age. Otherwise, why was that the age limit?
CW: You were not legally married to him yourself?
No. I have never wanted to be legally married.
CW: Where did you go when you left the state?
We traveled throughout the West, selling magazines in Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, and Arizona. In January of 1986, we decided to vacation in Baja. While there, we went to visit a friend in Los Molinos, a polygamous community in Mexico. We heard while we were there that it was legal for a girl who was 13 to marry there. We considered it. Linda pushed for it, and rather than having a legal marriage performed, we found someone there who was authorized to perform a plural marriage. We had the religious ceremony performed in Mexico. Tom and Linda went on their honeymoon, and my grandson, Melvin, was conceived in love in Mexico.
CW: How did you feel about your husband and daughter going off on a honeymoon together?
I was happy for my daughter because she was happy and it was what she wanted. I was happy to share her with a man I loved very dearly and thought was a very special person. Fifteen years later, I feel that time has proven it was a good decision.
CW: Did you ever see your actions ending in prosecution?
No. I thought that we were safe anywhere. No one was prosecuting polygamy. I was absolutely shocked to hear that David Leavitt, the Juab County Attorney, had gone to the Greens’ home and sat at their table and asked them to be a “test case” to get the anti-polygamy laws off the books. He visited with them like they were old friends and received a lot of information from them.
CW: What was your reaction to the news of his visit?
I said to Tom, are you sure he is coming as a friend, or will he turn on you later? Tom said the last thing Leavitt said before he left the house was that he hoped that they would be friends after this was all over. Although I halfway expected it, I was shocked and devastated when the charges were made.
CW: In the court hearings, it has been suggested that Tom threw out his older wives once he had the young girls. Is that why you ultimately left him?
No. The real reason I left is that I came to a point in my life where I needed a traditional mother and daughter relationship with Linda, not a sister-wife relationship with my daughter. Also, Tom and his family had been run out of the trailer court where they lived. Their landlords were prejudiced against polygamists. They were planning to move to where they live now, in the west desert. I was taking care of my ill daughter, Pam, who suffered from diabetes for many years. I knew they were heading to the desert and I thought I needed to be where she could get medical care quickly.
CW: Are you married now?
CW: How has the prosecution affected the Green family emotionally?
When Tom’s wife Shirley was leaving for court, her four year-old boy grabbed her skirt and asked “Mommy, are they going to cut your head off?” These are my grandchildren and their family is their stability. I think that if the Leavitts cared about families, they could not do what I see as child abuse to Tom’s family. Some people in Utah think it would be best to take children from polygamist families and put them in good Mormon homes. How can they repair the damage done to these children—to their hearts and minds? It stays with you forever.
CW: How do you feel when they describe Tom’s relationship with Linda as rape of a child?
It makes me sick inside that they would even classify it as such a thing. There was too much love, too much beauty. Linda wanted that child. She was ready to go on with her life and have children. And Melvin has proven to be an exceptional child.
CW: Do you understand why it is considered rape? Because she was too young to give consent?
It is only a legal technicality, in terms of rape. It’s sad that the law uses the same term for an underage marriage. Rape is a technicality. Years ago, a girl could consent at age 12 in common law. It wasn’t rape then, how could it be rape now?
CW: As a wife, how did you feel about Tom Green?
I thought I finally found a man that loves me for me. Felt secure in that he loved me.
CW: How do you feel when people say Tom forces young girls to marry him?
Both Lee Ann and Linda pursued their marriages all the way. I was the only one he asked to marry him. All of the others proposed to him.
CW: Would you ever marry him again or go back to his family?
No, but I sure miss being around him. I miss learning from him. He is like a walking encyclopedia. He’s a born teacher. The times when Tom and I would visit together and talk and discuss were the most precious moments and I miss those.
CW: What do you feel about the current prosecution?
I’m outraged. On one side there is the attorney’s general’s office, Tapestry, David Leavitt, his brother Mike, all ganging up on Tom and poor little (John) Bucher. They’ve hired three detectives from the attorney general’s office who go from door to door, day after day and harass my family. They would harass me if I allowed them to. My family and friends don’t even want me around because they are afraid of what David Leavitt is going to do to them. They won’t even allow me to visit. I refuse to become a part of this witch hunt. I’m not really willing to end up on his court bench. I’m not willing to sit there and be badgered into lies, which is what I believe they want me to do.
CW: Why hasn’t the prosecution talked to you?
I’m not going to volunteer myself. I don’t understand why they want me so bad. They are certainly harassing all of my friends and relatives and grandchildren. They didn’t even call my granddaughter at work to let her know they were coming. They walked in there, in a public restaurant where she was waiting on tables and harassed her. They pulled her aside and made her talk to them. They were trying to find me and dig it out of her. They asked personal questions about her family. She said, “This is not relative to anything.” I have health problems and was moving around getting treatment. They came to my daughter’s house once when I thought I was on my deathbed. I said to tell them I don’t want to talk to them. They went to the hospital and coerced the doctor into calling me. They have gone to other places and walked in and got information without any rhyme nor reason. Why do they pry into other people’s personal lives? They are fishing for anything they can grab. I’m not going to stand out on the sidewalk and announce my presence, even though I know that they want me; I have a life to live. I don’t want to live it in a courthouse with a bunch of lies. I don’t want to be coerced. I don’t think David Leavitt could recognize the truth if it was staring him in the face.
CW: What would you prefer that Leavitt do?
I would like David Leavitt to be honest with the whole situation and stop trying to dig up information that does not exist and create stories that are nothing but lies. Nobody is being hurt. Leavitt is the only one that is pushing this, other than others who are pushing it behind him. I’m disgusted that he has spent about three-quarters of a million dollars prosecuting a crime that never existed. I wonder where the money is all coming from. Tapestry Against Polygamy has admitted that the LDS church paid money into their system and Tapestry is behind this trial 100 percent. It has been documented that (former LDS President) David O. McKay forked out the money for the ‘53 raid. I was a victim of that when I was nine years old. I saw the state-induced child abuse that went on. My parents were pulled away and put in jail. My mother was locked in a cannery. After two weeks, she escaped and crawled through a creek that was a mile or so long to avoid the guards that were stationed on telephone poles. She eventually got to our house and knocked very softly on the door that night. We didn’t dare open the door because we thought it was the police. She came in and her long black hair was full of weeds from crawling through the creek. I was only nine and I had been worried for two weeks not knowing where she was. I had younger brothers and sister. When they came to get us, we ran and hid in the cellar.
CW: Does the current situation remind you of that time?
It’s just like that time. When Tom’s wife Shirley goes to court, her four year-old son grabs her skirt and asks, Mom, are they going to cut your head off? Isn’t this the worst abuse that can happen? A peaceful home is important to kids. This is their stability. The prosecutor and detectives are threatening that every day of the kids’ lives. These are my grandchildren. Am I going to go down there and support putting their father in prison? They’ve got a good father, I don’t know of a mother that is better than Linda. Someone asked Leavitt on TV what would happen to Tom’s family if he went to prison. He said the same thing that would happen to a drug dealer’s family. That made me ill inside. His crime wasn’t drug dealing and shouldn’t be classified as such.
CW: Are you worried about being prosecuted yourself?
I’m not worried about it, but I believe that is what they want to hold over my head to get me to turn against Tom. Ron Allen’s anti-polygamy bill just went through the (state) Senate, so could it be believed that the LDS church is the one forking out a good deal of the money?
CW: Do you think you actually will be prosecuted?
It’s possible, but I’m not spending time worrying about it. They may try to prosecute me, but they don’t have any jurisdiction here, when the marriage took place in Mexico. Why are we going through all this harassment, over and over, that never comes to an end? The detectives keep going back to the same people trying to create something that isn’t there. Linda was not even married in their state. Melvin was not conceived in their state. Why can’t they go away and let our family be a family?
CW: How has the prosecution affected you personally?
I’m tired of being hunted like a wild animal. It’s just been luck that they have passed me by every time. It’s either luck or God’s will. I’ve been listening to all of the lies and all of the trash that Leavitt has been putting out to the public. It just makes me ill, angry and outraged that a good LDS person would do this. I figured it’s time for the public to know the truth and the whole story.
CW: What about the charges of criminal nonsupport?
I lived in Tom Green’s house. I worked with his family and worked with him and I saw where the money went. Every dime that man has ever made goes to support his family. If he needed a little bit of help when their house burned down and when their baby was born with severe birth defects, why is that an issue? Who threw him out? What about the people who ran him out of the mobile home park so he now has to live in the middle of the desert, when he makes his income in the city? He couldn’t afford to live anywhere else. If they needed a little help they had a right to it. What’s the difference if it’s Tom Green and five wives or five single mothers with children? If they need the help and they qualify, what’s the difference?
CW: So they are on welfare?
They do get food stamps like one out of every seven families in America. If this is something that is available to them and they qualify, why does that matter? Tom’s income has dropped in half since the prosecution began. The distraction and stress has cut their income in half from the year before. Their food stamp case is closed now.
CW: How does Tom feel about taking as much taxpayer’s money as he has in the past?
Tom has tried to negotiate with the state. He went to the welfare department and said, I’ll pay it back, and I will work with you. David Leavitt took it out of his control and said, I will take care of this and he won’t have a chance to repay it. That’s obviously what happened. He would rather prosecute Tom, even though there was never criminal nonsupport. He lives with his family and works to support them. The County prosecutor cites the amount to vex the public. Now it’s out there, the $53,000 that Tom Green owes the public and is willing to pay back, and the state is spending almost $700,000 to collect it. In the mean time, they are trying to stir people up about the $50,000.
CW: How do you feel about the bigamy charges?
They are prosecuting Tom based on 19th century morals. Now, who cares who sleeps with who? They are all consenting adults. Right now, there are lesbians, homosexuals and single people living together all the time. There are married people living with others they are not married to. I’ve heard that a teenage girl gets pregnant every 28 seconds. They get abortions. There are married men out there impregnating women they are not married to day after day. They leave and turn the child’s care over to the government. Tom is doing his level best to try to support this family and he has taken the responsibility of this family.
CW: What about Tom’s other young wife, Lee Ann?
Lee Ann was not forced to marry. When we told her to wait until she was older, she cried. She was 14, and had somehow thought that when she turned 14, Tom would marry her. She thought about going down to Colorado City and visiting with her father. Her mother was opposed to that, thinking if we sent her down there, they would put her into an arranged marriage. Her mother’s sister would sit there and tell her, If you don’t find somebody you love, present yourself to the priesthood, and they tell you who you should marry.
CW: While polygamists are very private, Tom Green has been frequently featured in the media. How was this for you?
It took a lot of courage to let them put the first article about us in a magazine. After we had prayed about it, we felt it was time for us to do that. The answer that came to us was, don’t hide your light under a bushel, particularly about God’s preferred system of marriage.
CW: Did you ever dream that your media activities would lead to prosecution?
I never dreamed it would end up in a courtroom. Tom would always say, it could happen. But I thought it never would. At the time, they were not prosecuting polygamy. In the state’s official centennial history, Utah: The Right Place, it says they don’t prosecute polygamy any more.
CW: And you feel that the LDS church is involved in the prosecution?
As I have watched over the years at the persecution [sic] that the LDS Church and its political hirelings have imposed on the polygamists, I can’t help but wonder if God is sitting up there on his throne in heaven, thinking to himself, why did I promise I would never flood the earth again? The LDS Church should know what it’s like to be persecuted. The persecuted are now the persecutors. Since about 1933 or earlier, the LDS Church has relentlessly, through their political hirelings, persecuted, arrested and jailed the families who have sought to live plural marriage, under the guise that they must protect monogamy.
CW: How are the Greens handling it?
The parents are trying hard to maintain a calm attitude. But it was especially hard when the investigators went out to the West Desert and asked how are the children being taken care of. They were asking the kind of questions that would justify pulling the children out of our house. They fear that they are going to be taken away to live in foster homes. They are after cultural genocide—trying to wipe out our whole culture that has existed. I do think that if Tom is prosecuted successfully, there will be more. The Tooele County prosecutor has come to watch the hearings. He’s just watching to see if Leavitt can be successful enough and he can become as well known as the governor’s little brother.
CW: So this time during the prosecution feels like the 1953 raid?
I think it’s a repeat of history. It’s a hard time because you don’t feel safe in your own home any more. They’ve got detectives running around. You don’t know when they are going to show up or what they will want.
CW: Were the polygamists becoming more open because of Tom’s media appearances?
That helped a lot of people to start feeling a little bit more open. This is only going to push polygamists further underground, now that they feel the State is out to harm them and get rid of them, whether there is anything there or not. It’s starting to feel like the old Hitler thing, with the situation getting a little worse and a little worse.
CW: And were you happy with yourself as a wife and mother when you were married to Tom?
I tried to put the other wives first. Allowing them to sit by their husband when I wanted to sit by him. Being married to Tom, I learned to really appreciate plural marriage more than I ever had and to realize the beauty that can be had in it. When I first met him, I saw he had a high respect for the law of plural marriage. I knew he would live it and I wanted to live it with him. Tom helped me because of his positive, uplifting attitude about it. I learned to be open about it and proud of it in any circumstance. I would never give up my memories of the experiences of living in his home.
CW: You feel he is right in defending his stand?
I feel like it is his calling. He is a man who is prepared. God has prepared him for this.