Apr 11, 2023

Mother linked to 'doomsday' group faces trial in her children's killings. Here's what to know.

Brittany Shammas and Marisa Iati
Washington Post
April 10, 2023

It started with a pair of grandparents worried about their grandson. But the investigation into the 2019 disappearance of J.J. Vallow expanded to encompass three states, fringe “doomsday” religious beliefs and several suspicious deaths.

The 7-year-old boy’s mother, Lori Vallow, is now on trial on charges of killing him and his 17-year-old sister, Tylee Ryan. She also stands accused of other crimes alongside her husband, Chad Daybell — all driven by their alleged belief in an extremist, end-times ideology.

Here’s what to know about the case against Vallow, whose Idaho murder trial begins Monday with opening statements.


  • Who is Lori Vallow?
  • How did the case against Vallow begin?
  • What is known about Vallow’s religious beliefs?
  • What should we expect from Vallow’s trial?
  • What other details of people linked to Vallow and Daybell have authorities investigated?
  • What other charges do Vallow and Daybell face?

Who is Lori Vallow?

Before the disappearance of her children catapulted her into the national spotlight, Vallow was a onetime beauty pageant contestant who weathered failed marriages and was seen by friends and neighbors as a devoted mother.

Born Lori Cox, she grew up in a Mormon family in Southern California, Inside Edition reported. She was a cheerleader with a wide circle of friends who told the news outlet that they lost track of her after high school.

In 2004, while married to third husband Joseph Ryan, she competed for the title of “Mrs. Texas.” Footage obtained by ABC News’s “20/20” showed the smiling blonde striding across a stage in a blue bikini and a sparkling evening gown. When the judges asked what made her tick, she said, “Being a good mom is very important to me and a good wife and a good worker. And being all those things is not easy!”

Then she quipped, “So I’m basically a ticking time bomb.”

Those who knew Vallow described her as a cheerful and put-together mother to J.J. and Tylee and wife to fourth husband Charles Vallow. A neighbor in Hawaii, where the couple lived and ran a juice stand for a time, told People magazine that she “seemed like a supermom.”

But behind the scenes, Vallow had by 2018 become enamored with another man: Chad Daybell, an author of self-published apocalyptic novels who was alleged to belong to a fringe religious group. In February 2019, Charles filed for divorce from Lori, saying in court documents that she had taken on alarming beliefs. By his telling, she viewed herself as a reincarnated deity on a divine mission to prepare people for the second coming of Jesus.

By July, Charles Vallow was dead — shot and killed by Lori Vallow’s brother at the home where she was staying in Chandler, Ariz. The killing was considered self-defense at the time. Within a few weeks, Vallow had moved to Rexburg, Idaho, with her brother and children.

How did the case against Vallow begin?

After more than a month of being unable to speak with J.J. in the fall of 2019, his grandparents became concerned. They asked police to conduct a wellness check, noting that J.J. had special needs.

When officers arrived at Vallow’s townhouse in Rexburg two days before Thanksgiving, J.J. was nowhere to be found. Vallow and Daybell told them the boy was staying with a family friend in Arizona.

Authorities soon determined that the parents’ story was not true, but when they returned to Vallow’s home with a search warrant the next day, she and Daybell were gone. Investigators discovered Tylee was also missing and neither child had been seen since September.

Vallow and Daybell took off for Hawaii, where they got married and dodged questions from police and journalists about the children’s whereabouts.

The investigation continued for months, spanning several states and growing to include the deaths of other people close to the couple, before investigators found the children’s remains in June 2020 on Daybell’s property in Idaho. A grand jury would later indict Daybell and Vallow on charges including first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

Prosecutors also filed murder charges against the couple in the October 2019 death of Daybell’s first wife, Tammy. She was initially believed to have died of natural causes, but her death came under new scrutiny amid the ever-expanding probe into Vallow and Daybell.

What is known about Vallow’s religious beliefs?

Police and court records from several states offer a glimpse into Vallow and Daybell’s allegedly extremist beliefs.

In January 2019, Charles Vallow called police in Gilbert, Ariz., to express concern that his wife was falling prey to a darkening ideology. Body-camera footage obtained by Arizona-based TV station 12 News showed him telling officers that the couple had been Latter-day Saints but that Lori Vallow had come to see herself as a spiritual being who could “murder you now with my powers.” He petitioned to have her mental health evaluated, and she was cleared.

Records, published by Salt Lake City-based TV station KUTV, from the Gilbert police investigation into Charles Vallow’s eventual death state that “Lori Vallow believed she was an exalted Goddess.” She thought she and Daybell had been “directed to lead 144,000 people in preparing for the end of the world.” The two claimed to possess the ability to teleport, harm others, launch natural disasters and pray away demonic spirits occupying other people.

Using their purported powers, Vallow and Daybell determined whether a person had a “light” or “dark” scale, based on whether demonic spirits were attached to them, according to the records. A person who shared their belief system had a light scale, while someone who opposed it had a dark scale. Vallow and Daybell ascribed dark scales to Charles Vallow, J.J. and Tylee, whom they considered “zombies” possessed by others.

The pair had reportedly drawn a handful of followers who bought into their beliefs.

What should we expect from Vallow’s trial?

Jury selection began April 3 for what is expected to be a weeks-long trial in Boise over the killings of J.J., Tylee and Tammy Daybell. The witness list, which documents who is expected to testify, is sealed and not visible to the public.

Cameras will not be allowed in the courtroom under an order from Judge Steven Boyce, who ruled in September that visual coverage of the proceedings could impede the “fair administration of justice.” He noted that he had already moved the case from Fremont County, where the children’s remains were found, to Ada County because of the unlikelihood of finding enough Fremont jurors who were not intimately familiar with the case.

Prosecutors sought to impose the death penalty on Vallow in case of a conviction. But last month, Boyce sided with arguments by Vallow’s team that the death penalty should be off the table because of her mental state, minor prosecutorial violations and other reasons.

What other details of people linked to Vallow and Daybell have authorities investigated?

Three other people connected to Vallow and Daybell have died suddenly in recent years.

In 2019, Vallow’s brother, Alex Cox, fatally shot her estranged then-husband, Charles Vallow. Cox had intervened in a physical fight between the couple, according to a police report obtained by the Phoenix-based TV station Fox 10. When Charles Vallow hit Cox with a baseball bat, Cox fired a gun at him, Lori Vallow told police.

Months later, Cox died of natural causes, according to a medical examiner’s report obtained by the East Idaho News. He was never charged in Charles Vallow’s death.

The deaths of Charles Vallow, Tylee and J.J. also prompted authorities to take a closer look at the 2018 death of Lori Vallow’s third husband, Joseph Ryan, whom they initially said died of a heart attack. The renewed investigation led them to affirm that Ryan, Tylee’s father, had died of natural causes.

What other charges do Vallow and Daybell face?

Like Vallow, Daybell is charged with murder in the killings of Tylee and J.J., and with conspiracy to commit murder in Tammy Daybell’s death. He also faces a murder count related to her and two insurance fraud charges for allegedly collecting her life-insurance proceeds after her death. Prosecutors say he signed an application to max out her policy weeks before she was killed.

Vallow and Chad Daybell conspired in all three killings with Cox, and possibly others, the indictment says. Daybell, whose case was initially linked to Vallow’s, is expected to be tried later.

In addition to the murder charges, officials charged Vallow with grand theft for collecting Social Security money meant to be used to care for Tylee and J.J., after they were dead.

Vallow and Daybell have pleaded not guilty to all charges in Idaho. Vallow has maintained that she is innocent and has alibis for the days when her children and Tammy Daybell were killed.

Charles Vallow’s death has also ensnared Lori Vallow in legal trouble: An Arizona grand jury in 2021 indicted her on a charge of conspiracy to commit murder after police said they found evidence that she and Cox had planned Charles Vallow’s death.

A spokeswoman for the Maricopa County attorney told the Arizona Republic that Lori Vallow cannot be extradited to Phoenix to face that accusation until her case in Idaho is resolved.

By Brittany Shammas

Brittany Shammas is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post. Before joining The Post in 2019, she spent eight years writing for newspapers in Florida, including the Miami New Times and the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Twitter

By Marisa Iati

Marisa Iati is a reporter on the general assignment desk at The Washington Post. She previously worked at the Star-Ledger and NJ.com in New Jersey, where she covered municipal mayhem, community issues, education and crime. Twitter


No comments: