LeBaron family murder
Bullet-ridden bodies of multiple members of the LeBaron family were found in a burnt-out car.

The gruesome killing of at least nine Americans, most of them children, in the badlands of Mexico has trained the spotlight on the LeBaron clan. Media in North and central America are awash with the details of the murders, which happened on a dirt road connecting two Mexican border states where drug lords and cartel gunmen have a free reign. Who are the LeBarons? How did they get entangled in the blood-curdling drug war in Mexico? Why are the LeBarons considered a secretive sect? Why is crime endemic in the community?

Who was Alma Dayer LeBaron? A vision of multiple wives and 'God's mission'

The founder of the Colonia LeBaron sect is Mormon leader Alma Dayer LeBaron. He set up the Mormon colony in Chihuahua, Mexico, in the 1940s as he wanted to follow the "Fundamentalist Mormonism." This version of faith basically follows the principles of Mormonism that were followed nearly two centuries ago, such as polygamy. The official Mormon church proscribed polygamy around 1890. Alma Dayer LeBaron saw himself as the torchbearer of the ancient tradition. He reportedly had visions in which God told him to practice polygamy so that he could be bestowed with 'priestly glory'. But he was excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1924 for the practice of polygamy. That's how LeBaron joined the huge Mormon exodus in Mexico and carved out the fundamentalist sect within the community. His many sons would go on to become the chief propagators of the Colonia LeBaron community.

US-mexico border
US-Mexico border Reuters

Who was Joel LeBaron? A new church is born

Joel LeBaron, the son of Alma Dayer LeBaron, gave the community its faith fundamentals. He told followers in 1955 that God asked him to lay down the exact rules for setting up 'the house of God'. The church he founded was known as the Church of the Firstborn of the Fulness of Times. "Joel summoned all true saints of God's kingdom to leave the United States and other 'nations of Babylon' and gather in the Mexican wilderness, where the kingdom would be built anew under his divine leadership. New converts' bloodlines would be fused with Joel's own royal blood, as firstborn," said anthropologist Janet Bennion in her book 'Desert Patriarchy: Mormon and Mennonite Communities in the Chihuahua Valley.' Joel was killed in 1972, years after his brother Ervil launched a long drawn murder spree. His death was in the hands of the followers of his own brother.

Who was Ervil LeBaron? The story of blood and killings begins here

When Joel started the Church of the Firstborn of the Fulness of Times, brother Ervil was one of the first followers. Ervil LeBaron was an avid follower of polygamy and had 54 children in 13 wives. Ervil is credited with creating the early Mormon doctrine of "blood atonement," under which he assumed the right to kill those who have sinned in the name of God. The breakaway church he founded came to be known as the Church of the First Born Lamb of God. Ervil and his followers went on a startling killing spree, murdering as many as 25 people in southern US states like Utah, California, Texas and Colorado. He eventually died in a prison in Utah in 1956.

LeBaron family murders in Mexico
The bullet-ridden bodies of four children and a woman were found in a burnt-out car.

Who is Aaron LeBaron? More crime in modern age

Aaron LeBaron, the son of Ervil LeBaron, was sentenced to 45 years in jail in late 90s for the murder of three cult defectors and a child witness. Aaron LeBaron became the cult's patriarch while he was still in his 20s. He organised the killings alongside his brother Heber LeBaron. He ordered the killings of the defectors under the policy of "blood of atonement" environed by his father. His sister Cynthia LeBaron' gave the crucial testimony in the case. He died in the Utah State Prison in 1981.

Who killed LeBaron men in 2009? Kidnap, extortion and revenge murder

The more recent cycle of blood and gore surrounding the LeBaron clan happened in 2009. This started with the abduction of 16-year-old Eric LeBaron and his younger brother near the Colonia LeBaron. Though the kidnappers threatened to kill Eric if the family did not cough up $1 million in ransom, a public outcry and strong action from Chihuahua authorities averted the killing. The boys were released by the cartel four days after the abduction. However, months later, Eric's older brother Benjamin and his brother-in-law Luis Widmar were killed by the cartel gunmen.

Which cartel is behind the latest killing of 9 LeBarons?

The bullet-ridden bodies of four children and a woman were found in a burnt-out car in the dirt tracks around Chihuahua on Monday, proclaiming the ghastly return of crime around the LeBarons. The victims were more than half a dozen innocent children, some as young as six months. Unconfirmed local reports said about 12 family members may have been killed.

The needle of suspicion point to two cartels -- the dreaded Sinaloa cartel once controlled by El Chapo, and the equally deadly rival gang known as the Juarez cartel. The two cartels have of late faced off against each other over territorial control in the region. The local franchises of the Sinaloa cartel and the Juárez cartel have been fighting against each other over territorial supremacy in the region. The Sinaloa group is called "Los Chapos", while La Línea form the henchmen of the Juárez cartel. It's not clear if the killings were premeditated revenge attacks by either of these factions or if the large LeBaron family came in the crossfire between the cartels.