The station was covering a bizarre sex abuse case that involved a 51 year old man and his 16 year-old bride. The man was charged in a sex abuse case that included his wife and another girl as victims. The marriage took place a year ago in Missouri, which means the bride was 15 at the time. A news manager at the station asked if we could help them track down the Missouri angle to their story.
We looked at a map and quickly determined that Jasper County, Missouri was the closest county that would allow them to get married without a court order. The girl still needed proper identification and the approval of her parent.
That was easy.
Last year, the girl, her mom and 50 year old Donald Leacock drove more than 1,100 miles from Ash Fork, Arizona to Carthage, Missouri to fill out the paperwork needed for the marriage. Leacock and the girl returned a month later and were married by a local pastor.
Once we got the police reports, we started investigating how Missouri's marriage law compared with those in other states.
We were shocked.
In Massachusetts, a 12 year old girl can marry a 14 year old boy as long as a judge will approve the marriage. In New Hampshire, a 13 year old girl can marry a 14 year old boy, but a court order is also required there. Both states require a court order for the marriage of anyone under the age of 18.
It soon became clear why Leacock brought the 15 year-old to Missouri. This is the only state in the country where a 15 year-old can get married without a court order. The only thing standing in the way of the marriage was the girl's mother and she had no problem with it.
The marriage offended some employees at the Jasper County Recorder of Deeds office so much that they wanted to "hotline" their concerns to state officials for a possible child abuse investigation. However, since the marriage was legal the workers decided against it.
They were even more upset when I shared some of the allegations described in the 146 page investigative report on the Arizona case, including the disturbing allegations involving sex abuse, child pornography and prostitution. Police alleged that Leacock had his wife and a younger girl sign "contracts" allowing him to use them as sexual slaves. Investigators say Leacock setup "sex dates" for the girls with groups of older men.
Even though his final term expires before the next legislative session, State Senator John Louden promises to work with other legislators and write a bill that will change the law.
Ironically, at the time Leacock married the 15 year old girl there was a three day waiting period for a marriage license. The waiting period is no longer required.
I can't imagine anyone getting married at the age of 15. However, I suppose you could make an arguement for a pregnant 15 year-old to marry the father of her child. Still, it seems way too young for me, even under those extreme circumstances.
Loudon believes 15 is too young too, but he's clearly willing to compromise to make Missouri's law more restrictive. What would change? It's too soon to tell, but Loudon says he'll work with legislators to write a bill that would require a court order for a 15 year old to get married. He'd like the minimum age to be higher, but he's not sure it would pass the legislature.
What seems obvious to every state except Missouri is that a parent's permission should not be enough for a 15 year-old to get married. At the very least, every state should require the careful consideration of a judge who would review the case, ask questions and collect enough evidence to make a responsible decision about the marriage of someone so young and vulnerable.