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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Rachel Sharp

Lori Vallow is facing life in prison for her children’s murders. We only know one side of the story

AP/Hnadout/Fox 10

Lori Vallow was silent when authorities demanded to know where her missing children JJ Vallow and Tylee Ryan were.

She wouldn’t speak when their remains were found – Tylee hacked to pieces and burned, JJ still in his red pyjamas – in shallow graves on her new husband Chad Daybell’s property.

She refused to give any answers when confronted by her distraught surviving child, sister and other loved ones as they begged her to tell them the truth in heartbreaking jailhouse phone calls.

She even continued to stay quiet over the next three years as she was hit with new charges for the murders of her fourth husband Charles Vallow and Mr Daybell’s first wife Tammy Daybell, spent time in a psychiatric facility and had her case severed from her alleged co-conspirator.

And now, even as she stares down the prospect of spending the rest of her life behind bars, she is still silent.

This week, during her high-profile murder trial, the 49-year-old shocked the court when she not only declined to take the stand to testify in her own defence – but refused to entertain putting on any defence case at all.

In a final bid to save herself from life in prison, Vallow’s attorneys (in what many are mulling may have been a revolt against their client) turned on her lover, fellow cult member and alleged accomplice Mr Daybell in closing arguments – arguing that she was “under his control” but that she was not involved in any of the murders.

But it wasn’t enough.

On Friday (12 May), Vallow was convicted of all charges.

The jury took less than seven hours to find her guilty of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and grand theft over the deaths of Tylee and JJ. She was also found guilty of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder in the death of Mr Daybell’s first wife Tammy, 49.

Dressed in a black suit, with her blonde hair down in waves around her shoulders, Vallow once again said nothing as she learned that she would likely be spending the rest of her life behind bars.

But given her silence, it’s perhaps unsurprising.

Lori Vallow Daybell stands and listens as the jury's verdict is read (AP)

When jurors retired for deliberations, the only story they had about what happened to little JJ, 7, teenager Tylee, 16, and mother-of-five Tammy was the one laid out by the state of Idaho.

And it was a horrifying story at that – one involving a warped plot to kill off almost everyone around the doomsday cult couple.

“Money, power, and sex – that’s what this case is about,” prosecutors said in both opening and closing statements.

Over 27 days of trial, prosecutors laid out their case that Vallow conspired with Mr Daybell and her brother Alex Cox to murder JJ, Tylee and Tammy – driven by her doomsday cult beliefs, her lust to be with Mr Daybell and greed.

The trio allegedly spent months orchestrating a plot whereby they justified their plans to kill by claiming that the victims were “demons” or “dark spirits”.

Then, after brutally murdering the two children and mother-of-five, Vallow looked her concerned family, friends and authorities in the eye, refusing to reveal where her son and daughter were.

Instead, she and Mr Daybell began a new life together, swanning off to Hawaii to get married in what appeared to be every inch the perfect fairytale romance.

This photo of Tylee Ryan and her brother Joshua “JJ” Vallow with their uncle Alex Cox was taken days before they were killed (Handout)

Doomsday cult beliefs

Over a dramatic month-long trial, jurors heard how bizarre cult beliefs lie at the centre of the case against Ms Vallow.

Jurors heard how the deadly saga began when Vallow – a member of the Church of the Latter-Day Saints – and Mr Daybell – an LDS member and self-published doomsday books author – embarked on a romance.

After speaking for some time, they eventually met in person at a religious conference in October 2018 while they were both married and prosecutors say their love affair, cult beliefs – and murderous plans – all grew from there.

Vallow and Mr Daybell believed that they were on a religious mission to gather the 144,000 and they believed in a “rating system of light and dark” for how they ranked the spirits of the people around them.

Over time, this evolved into the belief that some people – including the children – were “zombies” and the only way to get rid of the zombies was for the human body to be destroyed.

Prosecutors alleged that these beliefs were used to “justify” the murders of those around them.

In the weeks and months leading up to the murders, Vallow told friends that her children and fourth husband Charles Vallow had become “demons” or “dark spirits” – some of them bearing names.

In February 2019, Vallow allegedly told a friend that she believed Charles was possessed by demon called Ned Schneider and that he was “already dead” with the demon “using his body as a host”.

Two days before Charles was murdered, Vallow texted her niece Melani Boudreaux: “They have an elaborate plan... This week will change everything.”

Two days later, in July 2019, Cox shot Charles dead at Vallow’s home in Arizona in what was claimed to be self defence at the time. (Now, Vallow is facing murder charges in Arizona.)

Chad Daybell is set to face his own trial for the murders (Post Register)

Then, in September 2019, Vallow allegedly told another friend that JJ and Tylee had been taken over by “dark spirits” and that JJ would say things like “I love Satan”. Tylee was possessed by a demon named Hillary and “had to be freed,” Vallow told another friend.

Text messages between Vallow and Mr Daybell also reveal her complaining about being “tired of taking care of demons” while referring to her children.

“We r both so tired of taking care of demons,” she wrote in a bombshell text in August. “We are weary. Please ask the Lord to take them.”

Jurors also heard how the couple discussed inflicting pain on the children, giving them “a reason to scream” and also spoke about the so-called “death percentages” of Tylee and JJ.

In the defence’s closing statement, Vallow’s attorneys argued that Ms Vallow was only a “follower” of her new lover Mr Daybell and was “under his control” and the “craziness” of his cult beliefs.

Conspiracy and greed

Prosecutors alleged that – as well as the cult beliefs – greed also drove the three alleged accomplices to conspire to kill the victims.

And based on text messages, internet searches, financial records and witness testimony presented in court, the murders were months in the making.

Internet searches revealed that Vallow shopped for life insurance policies for her children in July 2019 – two months before they were murdered.

That same month, her Gmail account also searched for how to sell a service dog – like the one JJ, who had autism, was using at the time.

In the months leading up to the murders, jurors heard that Vallow also made several suspicious changes to Social Security payments meant for Tylee and JJ.

It was a pattern where Vallow altered the payments to go directly to her and then the respective child wound up dead days later.

Even after the deaths of JJ and Tylee, prosecutors say Vallow continued to collect the Social Security payments.

Mr Daybell, meanwhile, also made a life insurance claim for Tammy just days after she died.

The doomsday couple was also planning for their new – spouse-less and child-less – life together in other ways, jurors heard.

In August 2019 – while Tammy was still alive – Vallow searched for “malachite wedding rings”. She then bought a pair on 2 October 2019 – days before Tammy was killed – and wedding photos show her and Mr Daybell wearing matching rings.

Chad and Tammy Daybell before her death in October 2019 (Facebook)

Brutal murders

The most harrowing and disturbing part of the trial came as jurors learned harrowing details of the children’s murders and saw graphic photos of the state of their remains.

Tylee was last seen alive on 8 September 2019 when she, JJ, Cox and Vallow went on a trip to Yellowstone National Park. A photo of the teenager at the park marks her last proof of life.

The next day, Mr Daybell sent a chilling text message to Tammy claiming he had shot a raccoon and buried it in the pet cemetery on the grounds of their property in Rexburg – the same location where Tylee’s remains would be found months later.

Days later on 22 September, JJ was last seen alive at his mother’s apartment. A photo taken that night showed the little boy sitting on a sofa dressed in a matching set of red pyjamas.

Vallow’s former friend David Warwick testified that he saw JJ that night when he and his wife Melanie Gibb were staying with her for the weekend. The next morning, JJ was gone.

When he asked about the boy’s whereabouts, Vallow allegedly told him that JJ had “an episode and knocked over a picture of Christ”.

It wasn’t until 9 June 2020 that the children’s remains were discovered on Mr Daybell’s property – JJ’s body buried in a shallow grave close to a tree and Tylee’s remains close to a fire pit in the pet cemetery.

Graphic photos revealed that JJ was still wearing his red pyjamas and a pull-up nighttime diaper.

His arms were wrapped in duct tape and his head was wrapped in plastic bags with thick layers of duct tape over his mouth.

Autopsy findings showed that the little boy had the date rape drug GHB in his system when he was smothered to death with the plastic bags. He also had scratch marks on his neck suggesting he was awake and fought for his life to get the bag off his head.

Jurors heard that Cox’s fingerprints were found on the plastic bag.

Tylee’s body meanwhile was so badly burned that an autopsy to determine her cause of death was impossible with jurors hearing gruesome testimony of how search teams found “pieces of bone, charred flesh, just globs of flesh” belonging to the 16-year-old.

Investigators are seen digging up the bodies of JJ and Tylee in June 2020 (Post Register no sales no mags)

Before her remains were dispersed on the grounds, the killer or killers had brutally attempted to dismember her body with a pickaxe which was found at the Daybell home, with Tylee’s DNA found on both the pickaxe and on a shovel.

Despite the efforts to hack at the teenager’s body, the killer did not appear to manage to dismember her and her burned body parts were scattered in the grounds.

While all horrifying, perhaps the most damning evidence tying Vallow alone to the murders was the discovery of a hair.

DNA analyst Keeley Coleman testified that a single hair had been found on the duct tape used to wrap the plastic bag around little JJ’s head. That hair belonged to Vallow.

Jurors heard that the chances of finding a match were one in 71 billion.

A search of Vallow’s home in November 2019 – when the children were reported missing – also uncovered a trove of concerning items including several guns, ammunition, empty magazines, silencers, Army-grade knives and Hazmat-style suits. Meanwhile, JJ’s toys and prescription medication were found in black trash bags and Tylee’s in a storage unit.

Just one month after the children were last seen alive, Tammy was also murdered.

Jurors heard how the healthy 49-year-old died suddenly on 19 October 2019, with a chilling 911 call revealing Mr Daybell bluntly saying she’s “clearly” dead. At the time, Mr Daybell declined an autopsy and her death was ruled natural causes.

Tammy’s sister Samantha Gwilliam told the court that she sensed things didn’t add up as her sister was perfectly healthy when she saw her two weeks earlier.

Jurors also heard how 10 days before her death, Tammy had been shot at by a masked man on the driveway of her home.

Two separate witnesses had testified that Mr Daybell had a dream or “vision” that his wife would die before she turned 50.

When Tammy’s death was tied to the disappearance of the children, her body was exhumed and an autopsy revealed she died of asphyxiation.

Cox allegedly raised concerns about being made the “fall guy” for her death by the doomsday couple.

One day after he made that comment – on 11 December 2019 – Cox also died suddenly at the age of 51. His death was also ruled natural causes, however the overdose drug Narcan was also found in his system.

Silence and secrecy

In the aftermath of the murders, Vallow showed no concern for her children and refused to reveal what had happened to them.

Despite repeatedly being confronted by family members and authorities, she made a series of lies about where they were.

In one instance, she allegedly told police that JJ had gone to see Frozen 2 with Ms Gibb and had asked her to take photos of random children to show to authorities.

In another instance, she allegedly threatened to kill another friend, “cut her up” and then bury her remains “in a place nobody would ever find” when she questioned her about the missing children.

Following the June 2020 discovery of the bodies, Vallow showed no signs of her surprise at their deaths.

Video shows the moment Lori Vallow was served with court documents over her missing kids (FOX 10/ screenshot)

Instead, in one jailhouse phone call with her sister, she appeared to confess that she was aware the children were dead all along.

In the 24 June 2020 call, a distraught Summer Shiflet accuses her sibling of throwing her murdered children “away like garbage” and questions how she could have gone to Hawaii and married Mr Daybell in a fairytale wedding on the beach knowing that her children were dead and buried in a pet cemetery.

“You were dancing on a beach with a smile on your face taking wedding photos,” she shouts.

At this point of the call – where she repeatedly dodges questions about what she knew – Vallow appears to unwittingly slip up.

“Yeah, months later,” she says of the gap between the deaths and her wedding.

In both this call and a distressing call with her eldest son Colby Ryan, Vallow continues to give no account as to what happened even in the face of confrontation from some of her closest family members.

While the remains of her children lay buried on Mr Daybell’s property, the couple headed to Hawaii where they got married on the beach on 5 November 2019.

They were still there two months later relaxing by a pool when Vallow was served with court papers demanding that she present her children to authorities.

Shocking video, taken in January 2020, captured the bikini-clad mother-of-three sunbathing by a pool with Mr Daybell in Hawaii when she was confronted about JJ and Tylee’s whereabouts.

There was no effort to argue against the official. No explanation for where the children might actually be. No concern for their safety.

Instead – true to form – Vallow simply asked: “Do you need something from me?”

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