It’s a cold December evening in Utah, and police are desperately looking for two missing girls. Months before, they had been snatched by their father – a key figure in a mysterious cult. A tip to law enforcement, however, has narrowed the search to a remote part of the state. And it’s there that the cops make a shocking discovery after looking inside a pair of water barrels.
The dad who had taken his children is John Coltharp; he and their mom, Micha Soble, had first met in Highlands Ranch, a suburban community south of Denver, Colorado. And while growing up in the area, the pair were both members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. What’s more, Soble and Coltharp would go on to marry. She was just 16 at the time; he was several years her senior.
However, it would soon become apparent that Coltharp was harboring outlandish beliefs that went against the traditions of Mormonism. In fact, soon after his marriage to Soble, he even started to indoctrinate his wife with these same principles. Eventually, though, Coltharp was banished from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for the ideas that he was expounding.
And, in time, the marriage faltered, too. Apparently, Coltharp wished to drop out of society and live an rural, off-grid existence; Soble, however, wasn’t so keen on this idea. The couple would subsequently separate, ending a union that had by this time produced four children – Dinah, William, Seth and Hattie.
But although Coltharp and Soble were no longer romantically involved, they and their kids would nevertheless remain together in the same home in Provo, Utah. It was after that, however, that Coltharp’s beliefs would take a sinister turn. Together with a man named Samuel Shaffer, he established a bizarre cult dubbed the Knights of the Crystal Blade.
Apparently, the organization was formed after Shaffer insisted that he had received teachings directly from God – ones that could be found on his website The Kingdom of God or Nothing. And like Coltharp, Schaffer was interested in both polygamy and preparing for the end of times. Perhaps most worryingly, though, The Kingdom of God or Nothing also seemed to espouse the concept of child brides.
Then, in September 2017, Coltharp took the couple’s four children to his parents’ home in Spring City, Utah, some 70 miles away from Provo. During that month, Soble would initiate divorce proceedings, and in November of that year 4th District Judge Derek Pullan would subsequently rule that Dinah, William, Seth and Hattie should now only live with their mom.
At that time, though, the children were still with their father, and so Soble asked police to check in on them. But when law enforcement arrived at the given address, they found that neither Coltharp’s parents, nor Coltharp and the children, were present at the home.
On December 1, 2017, however, police tracked Coltharp down to Spring City, where he was apprehended on suspicion of kidnapping the four children. But even though he was being taken into custody, he still refused to reveal where Dinah, William, Seth and Hattie were being held. Meanwhile, Soble and Cindi Ray, Coltharp’s sister, grew increasingly worried for the kids’ welfare.
Indeed, according to Soble and Ray, Coltharp had previously claimed that he would murder his children rather than allow them to be taken away from him. And perhaps with that threat in mind, police began a desperate hunt to track the younger Coltharps down. Luckily, though, they eventually received a tip that led them to Lund in southwest Utah.
So, equipped with helicopters and police vehicles, authorities descended on the sparsely populated region. There, they discovered a structure in the desert which seemed to correspond with the information given in the tip. It was a makeshift compound, comprised of a trio of trailers arranged closely together – and it wasn’t a particularly suitable environment for young children.
And in an 2017 interview with The Washington Post, Iron County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Del Schlosser would reveal just how rudimentary the set-up was. “[Coltharp and Shaffer] had manufactured this place for them to live,” he told the newspaper. “It wasn’t the safest conditions, by any means, for where we are. They do not have any power at the residence. They have no heat.”
Fortunately, on December 4, William, seven, and Seth, six, were found safe at the compound. However, there was still no sign of the two Coltharp girls: eight-year-old Dinah and four-year-old Hattie. And, to make matters even worse, Shaffer’s own two daughters were also missing.
Shaffer’s location was a mystery at first, too, as he was nowhere to be seen at the compound. An Amber Alert put out on behalf of Dinah and Hattie soon yielded results, though, as a lead came in that stated that the 34-year-old had been spotted a few miles away. In time, then, Shaffer was finally apprehended on suspicion of kidnapping and child abuse – and, thankfully, he would go on to give the police some highly valuable information.
Specifically, Shaffer would inform the authorities of the whereabouts of the four missing children. And, fortunately, that led police to discover two of the girls in one of the trailers. The others, meanwhile, were found to have been kept in empty water barrels – presumably to hide them from prying eyes. Most disturbingly of all, though, none of the children had been given anything to eat or drink for the past 24 hours.
Indeed, for Schlosser, the discovery came not a moment too soon. “Had we not received that tip today,” he admitted to The Washington Post, “these girls probably wouldn’t have been alive in the morning.” Finally, at around 7:00 p.m., the Amber Alert for the Coltharp children was called off. Then, the following day, Coltharp was formally charged with kidnapping.
Since the girls’ rescue, however, new evidence has emerged that further explains what went on at Coltharp and Shaffer’s compound. Alarmingly, a January 2018 report from The Salt Lake Tribune alleged that Coltharp had promised his young daughter as a wife for Shaffer; Shaffer, in turn, was said to have made the same pledge with one of his own daughters for Coltharp.
In fact, according to Shaffer, he was already married to Dinah. Coltharp, meanwhile, had similarly taken Shaffer’s own daughter – just seven at the time – as a bride. And while the revelations were disturbing, they appeared to tie in with Shaffer’s bizarre beliefs.
Then, on January 8, Coltharp was charged with another crime that had reportedly taken place several months prior to the raid on the compound. According to The Salt Lake Tribune, he had allegedly committed a sexual act with a child back in August 2017. Both he and Coltharp are awaiting trial; Dinah, William, Seth and Hattie, meanwhile, have since been reunited with Soble.
And just days after the dramatic rescue, Soble told Utah-based Fox affiliate KSTU that, incredibly, her daughters were recovering well. “It took three baths to get their hair unmatted,” she revealed to the station. “They are happy to be clean and brushing their teeth again. They are also happy to have a warm place to sleep at night.” However, the mom added, “[Although] they are in high spirits, [they] will need some help.”