It was a memorable year for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Church President Spencer W. Kimball, accompanied by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, had a revelation instructing them to reverse racial restriction policies held by the Church since 1840. President Kimball also announced plans to construct the Jordan River Utah Temple. The following year, he would lead the groundbreaking ceremony mounted, with helmet, on a Caterpillar tractor. Salt Lake City, the holy land in the Utahan wilderness, surrounded by mountain ranges, prairies and lakes, Joseph Smith’s Mecca and pilgrimage destination of the faithful. It was summer in 1978, and the faithful were rejoicing. Which made what transpired that autumn so jarring.
Matthias Slate and his wife, Joan, had been members of the 15th ward congregation in the Grantsville Utah West Stake since pre-adolescence. A younger couple, well-dressed and community oriented. Mr. Slate was especially respected for starting a dentistry practice while still making time to coach the church baseball team. In fact, 19 witnesses would swear Matthias Slate had been at Wednesday night practice when, between 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. on 9 August, 1978, Joan Slate was violently murdered in her home. Not that Mr. Slate was the primary suspect for long; as the investigation soon revealed, in 1974, Matthias had begun an affair with another congregation member, someone who seemed to have an appeal to him that Joan noticeably lacked. The lover was Henry J. Mitchell, a charismatic church elder. Two days after the murder, Mr. Mitchell was arrested.
The four-year affair between Henry Mitchell and Matthias Slate is a predictable one, perhaps, to the non-orthodox mind. The falsified motel registrations, the lunch dates, the late church meetings that never seemed to reach the church bulletin. It is speculation to question how long Joan Slate new about it, and Henry Mitchell never said because the prosecution never got the chance to ask. Days before the first jury selection, Henry Mitchell committed suicide in his cell. His suicide note hinted that Joan had threatened to inform their stake president if the lovers continued to see each other. When she discovered her coercion had not worked, she attempted to make good on her word. Maybe beknownst and maybe unbeknownst to Matthias Slate, Henry Mitchell killed her, and attempted to make it look like a breakin gone awry.
The stake disciplinary council posthumously excommunicated Henry J. Mitchell, and disfellowshipped Matthias Slate. (The distinction being the Mr. Slate, while still a Church member, was no longer in good standing.) Matthias Slate, however, had left Utah for San Francisco by the time the stake council convened, and Salt Lake City has not heard from him since.
Accompanied by The Mormon Tabernacle Choir performing Over the Rainbow
Henry Mitchell’s funeral service was brief, and concluded “the spiritual progression after death and subsequent repentance, though more difficult than in mortality, is possible and necessary for some, for the “final” judgement will not be until the second coming.”
The church’s stake disciplinary council convened in 2 January, 1979 on the misconduct of Elder Henry J. Mitchell. However, of the offenses Elder Mitchell stood accused, murder was not one. The council reasoned the charge inappropriate, considering Henry was never actually convicted in court. Further, his suicide note could not be ethically referenced as a confession without Henry’s consent. This was not forthcoming. Instead, Elder Mitchell was found guilty of adultery, homosexual relations, and behavior unbecoming a holder of the Melchizedek priesthood. As a result, he was posthumously excommunicated, and remains one of only a handful of people in the Mormon Church to reach that distinction post-mortem. Mr. Mitchell’s Report of Church Disciplinary Action is filed on permanent record in the office of the First Presidency in Salt Lake City.
Matthias Slate’s lesser misdemeanors warranted only ward-level disciplinary council. For adultery and homosexual relations, Mr. Slate was disfellowshipped, meaning no longer eligible to give sermons, teach lessons, offer public prayer, or partake of sacrament. He was, however, still permitted to wear his temple garment, fast, and pay tithing. But the 13th ward congregation of Grantsville Utah does not know if Matthias Slate elects to do these things or not. Mr. Slate moved to San Francisco four days after Henry Mitchell’s death, and at the time of this writing, his name is not listed in the California LDS member database.