Police, no-knock raid caught an LDS apostle in another woman’s bed

(To see Cal Grondahl’s cartoon that goes with this post, click here). On Nov. 11, 1943, LDS apostles Joseph Fielding Smith and Harold B. Lee gathered with Salt Lake City police officers, including Chief Reed Vetterli, outside the small Center Street apartment of elderly Anna Sofie Jacobsen. The apostles and officers burst into the home, breaking the door according to some accounts, and discovered LDS Apostle, Richard R. Lyman, 74, in bed with Jacobsen, who was not his wife. After gathering evidence, the two apostles reported back to J. Reuben Clark, first counselor to LDS President Heber J. Grant. Clark, who handled most of the church’s duties because Grant was ill, had ordered the raid. A day later, Lyman was excommunicated “for violation of the Christian law of chastity.”

The case of Richard Lyman is recounted by historian Gary James Bergera in the Fall 2011 Journal of Mormon History. Unlike the case of Albert Carrington, a 19th century LDS apostle also excommunicated for adultery, Lyman’s case is more complex. Unlike Carrington — who seems to have used his power to satisfy his lechery — Lyman appears to have been a victim of his own personal compassion, sexual dysfunctions within his marriage to his wife, Amy, personal tragedy in his family, and a rationalizing that his affair with Jacobsen was part of a polygamous pact that he had made with his mistress. For years, Lyman was bitter over his excommunication and sporadically continued his relationship with Jacobsen, who was also excommunicated.

There is some mirth in the idea of apostles in suits breaking in on the love nest of two senior citizens. However, by Bergera’s account, the affair shook the Quorum. In his diary, Spencer W. Kimball writes, “… To see great men such as the members of this quorum all in tears, some sobbing, all shocked, stunned by the impact was an unforgettable sight. …” In his memoirs, Kimball recounts the years that was spent getting Lyman ready for rebaptism and still lamented that the apostle eventually “… died a lay member of the church without Priesthood, without endowments, without sealings. …”

Bergera, in his article, has recounted trials in Lyman’s life that may have led to his rationalization that a sexual relationship with Jacobsen was not a violation of his church calling. His marriage to Amy Cassandra Brown ceased to have a sexual component after the birth of their second child. As Bergera relates in a footnote, “according to one family member, once Amy had brought forth two children, she informed Richard that their relationship from that point on would be celibate, living in amiable harmony …” Amy Brown’s biographer, David R. Hall, believes the pair’s gradual remoteness and lack of communication may have led to Richard’s adultery, writes Bergera.

In the 1920s, Lyman was assigned to assist Jacobsen in her efforts to return to the LDS Church. She was a Denmark native who had been excommunicated after being involved in a polygamous relationship after the church had banned the practice. In interviews just before he died (in 1963), Lyman recalls Jacobsen as “wonderfully unselfish and helpful.” As he prepared her for her rebaptism, the pair developed a close friendship and Lyman recalls that “she ‘was getting along in years with little or no hope of having a husband even in the great beyond,’” recounts Bergera. In 1925, after she was baptized, Lyman, suggested to Jacobsen, that the survivor among them get sealed to the other. Those preparations, which undoubtedly were a secret to Lyman’s sole wife, Amy, eventually progressed to sexual relations between the pair, who considered themselves “married.”

The death of the Lyman’s son, Wendell, 35, likely contributed to stress that Richard and Amy, with their emotional distance, probably didn’t handle well. Although Wendell’s death from carbon monoxide was reported in the press as an “accident,” it was most likely a suicide. Wendell had been depressed since the death of his young wife several years earlier and had recently clashed with his father over his drinking problems.

Given these trials, it’s not a surprise to consider that Lyman, in need of an emotional affair, allowed himself one that not surprisingly led to adultery. Bergera includes how Lyman rationalized his affair: “This woman had so many virtues and had done so much in an unselfish way for others that she and I agreed that while the present practice of the Church would not permit her to become my plural wife I began regarding her as my prospective plural wife with the mutual understanding that when by death or any other cause it would be possible for her to be my plural wife the ceremony would be performed.”

When Amy Brown Lyman was informed of her husband’s adultery and excommunication, her first words, according to Bergera’s article, were “I do not believe it. I do not believe it.” For Amy, the leader of the LDS Church’s women auxuiliary The Relief Society, it was understandably a torturous blow. Bergera recounts that some advised Amy that she would be justified in leaving Richard. However, during this time of intense trial, as well as personal, public, and religious humiliation, Amy stayed with Richard. Frankly, it shows an admirable capacity for love, compassion and forgiveness by her. The pair went into seclusion for a while, in contact with family and close friends.

A comparison of the distinct strengths, temperament and even sensibility of the pair was demonstrated soon after the excommunication, recounts Bergera. Richard, soon after being expelled from his church, went to the LDS Church Office Building and asked to use his office. He was refused and told he had to leave. Amy, who also worked there, was greeted with warmth by future LDS Church President David O’McKay, who escorted her to her offices. Although Amy died four years before Richard, she enjoyed better health than him and nursed him through several age-related illnesses. Her explanation for her loyalty was simple: As Bergera notes in a footnote, Amy told “family members that ‘in every other way been an ideal husband and father ‘ and ‘she was not going to leave him now.’”

As mentioned, it took 11 years for Lyman to be rebaptized. He made many requests but they were defiant gestures, opportunities for him to criticize his former colleagues in the Quorum of the 12 Apostles who had kicked him out earlier. Finally, in the fall of 1956, Lyman’s repentance, couple with his wife’s assurances that she had forgiven him, resulted in his rebaptism. He died, as mentioned, a lay member without priesthood or temple recognitions. Those, Bergera recounts, were restored six years after his death.

As for Jacobsen, she lived the rest of her life in her Salt Lake City apartment. Bergera was unable to learn if she as ever rebaptized. Because the Lyman family, understandably, retreated into silence during crisis, it’s difficult to know why Lyman was defiant to former leaders, or the reasons for his sudden desire to repent and be baptized, or his late-in-life apathy that prevented priesthood blessings while he lived. His case is fascinating; it bridged the older church with its polygamy and preoccupation with making eternal plans while on earth, with the modern church and its more PR-friendly responses. Bergera notes that had Amy Lyman not left her husband in the 19th Century, she might have been excommunicated later for adultery as well, because 19th century church leaders considered adultery a dissolution of marital vows. There’s no doubt that the episode really shook up Lyman’s colleagues in the Quorum. Some speculate that the uncompromising message, considered harsh by some, of Kimball’s later, landmark LDS book, “The Miracle of Forgiveness,” is shaped by his experiences with Lyman’s sin and efforts to return to the church.

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25 Responses to Police, no-knock raid caught an LDS apostle in another woman’s bed

  1. Myth Buster says:

    Apostle: One sent forth, a messenger of the Gospel. Apparently he was sent forth by Satan to spread the gospel of Adultery.

  2. Preston says:

    The last paragraph is inaccurate, according to my reading of LDS history. Divorce was common in the early years of the Utah settlement, and Ann Eliza Dee Young, the only woman to divorce Brigham Young, was a divorcee when he married her. The notion that divorce became common for the first time in the latter 20th Century is incorrect. It only became uncommon for a few generations at the close of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th.

    Otherwise, most interesting and informative.

    • Doug says:

      Preston, I apologize if it wasn’t clear. I added that after the draft. Marshall has tagged what I mean. What I meant is that for divorces caused by adultery in the 19th century, followed by excommunication of the offending spouse, the other spouse was expected to divorce the adulterer. If he or she did not, they could be disciplined up to excommunication. The idea was that the sin of adultery destroyed the marital convenant.

  3. Marshall says:

    Great post. Very interesting stuff.

    Preston, I think the author is saying that she might have risked excommunication for NOT getting divorced.

  4. Bob Becker says:

    I understand Doug’s interest in LDS history and in examining the origins and nature of changing practices within the Church and that that informed much of his commentary, as it did the comments of at least two others who’ve posted so far. But, I have to confess, my attention was riveted on a different element of Doug’s article. This one: 74.


    • roostergirl says:

      if you go most of your married life without intimacy, i imagine there would be an awful lot of pent-up energy by the time you are 74…

    • tom says:

      Mr. Becker,

      I was wondering about that 74 business myself.

      I mean, how carnally knowledgeable could a guy be at 74?

  5. Charles says:

    The dates and/or ages are off in this article. In the first paragraph Lyman is said to have been 74 when the Nov. 11, 1943 raid took place. Yet in the fifth paragraph, Lyman was said to be 74 and Jacobsen, 72, in 1925. I assume they were actually in their early fifties when they began their affair.

  6. Kathy says:

    I read this blog twice earlier this week and have not been able to get it out of my mind. It cleared a lot up about what little I knew of Apostle Lyman’s situation. First of all, that was definitely a time gone by. I don’t think today any male church authority, especially a married one would ever assigned a one-on-one relationship for reactivation. Because something like this could happen. And having the Chief of Police and two Apostles breaking into someone’s apartment. Wouldn’t happen today either. And certainly, there is a certain admiration and hope to be able to be so vigorous at such an age. But, I think what really got to me is this: Some were surprised and almost encouraged Amy Brown Lyman to divorce Richard Lyman. I am glad she did not. Because personally, I consider her having been in breach of her marital vows right along with him. Unless there was some extenuating circumstance such a danger in pregnancy, or chronic female health issues, (and even then, there was some medical help available depending on the condition), It was a terrible betrayal on her part to just decide after what was probably only a few years of marriage that she was going to expect her husband to live in a sexless marriage for the next 25 or 30 years. In some faith traditions, he would have had every right to divorce her over such a thing. It is not a surprise that they grew apart emotionally. Taking care of him might have been a bit of emotional penance on her part. He still chose to do what he did, but she had a part in it too. As to why Richard was slow in his efforts to come back to full fellowship, perhaps it had some elements to do with the marital situation. He likely didn’t feel comfortable discussing such a thing with church authorities, and I doubt even if he had, if they would have felt comfortable counseling her on such intimate matters. And I don’t generally like church authorities inquiring into such things, but this might have been a case where some counseling could have helped the marriage. Because why she felt that way, I am curious, there is a lot of issues there. Lyman likely felt emasculated by the whole situation and was ripe for first an emotional, then physical affair which sounded like it had gone on for years in some manner. The other thing being, that it sounds like Richard and Amy were born either while polygamy was still being practiced or they had family who had and Lyman probably felt a bit cheated that way too…If they had been adults just 30 or more years before, He could have taken Jacobsen as a plural wife and not cared about being cut off by Amy. He probably resented not being able to deal with the situation in that manner. And as it was, it sounds like Jacobsen wound up alone in all of it. I do feel for her, even though I never condone anyone violating marital vows or being the one who helps the other do so. It is an interesting story with a lot of layers to it. If you have any other information on some of these questions Doug, I’d be interested to know.

    • April says:

      Perhaps if Amy’s situation was fully understood it would make sense. Who are we to judge? Adultery, though— straight up always wrong.

  7. Norma Wright says:

    It’s sure fascinating how some people get so interested in the faults and weaknesses of others. And can project their values and assumptions beyond what anyone actually knows. And draw conclusions.

    Obviously, Mr Lyman was born that way, couldn’t help having a need and right to sexual satisfaction. And there is no such thing as changing once he had that desire. Why is the church so judgmental, as if the 10 commandments still apply? It’s none of there business what he did in his spare time.

    • Ron says:

      Just ran across this. Interesting article and haven’t read the Bergera article as I’m not a paid subscriber to JMH. Couple of questions pop to mind. The Jacobsen woman on Center Street was a Norwegian native, not Danish, and there were two Norwegian-born Anna Sofie Jacobsens in SLC for a number of years, just a few years apart in age. Would like to find out more about the actual raid itself and documentation for same – is it contained in the Bergera piece, or references to sources the average person could access? Would also like to know what finally happened to Anna herself.

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  13. Scott Cisney says:

    I am surprised that no one has raised the obvious question….why was it legal to break into someone’s home without a warrent and a crime being committed? Why were LDS apostles allowed to do it with the police? There is so much wrong with this story that is not even addressed either by the author or those reading it.

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  15. Dave says:

    (This is submitted well over a year after this blog was written in, and largely abandoned)—

    But was not her unwillingness to comply with the scriptural admonition, “wives, submit yourselves to your husbands”, as well as not keeping the Temple covenant, for wives to “hearken to their husband” not only a torturous, but also tormenting blow to him for close to HALF A CENTURY?

    And, in my mind, she likely must have realized that she was intimately complicit in driving him to this relationship. Her guilt in that regard, I would hope, would have been [should have been], a driving force for her to forgive him of so much wrong, since she did so much wrong to him to begin with!!!

    And, the matter of her complicit guilt in driving him to this, should have been a major reason for her to “hang on to him”. For one who wants forgiveness must give forgiveness. Blessed are the merciful, for they [TOO] shall obtain mercy)!

    I wonder, had he forgiven her? Had she, perhaps, begun again to allow her husband his ‘manly privileges’ with her again, after apparently forcing his abstinence from them for close to half a century? Heavens, I would view HIM to ‘be the saint’ in that marriage, more even perhaps than her—since he had apparently stayed with her, though denied from bed by her for so long!!!

  16. Charles Vance says:

    My great-great Aunt Roberta Flake noted in a taped interview that Richard Lyman essentially had proposed to her years before (after the Manifesto). I wonder if there had been others.

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