Cult beliefs, hazmat suits and charred remains: Key revelations from Lori Vallow’s murder trial so far

·23-min read
Lori Vallow is at the centre of a bizarre case involving cults and multiple deaths  (The Idaho Post-Register/AP/The Independent)
Lori Vallow is at the centre of a bizarre case involving cults and multiple deaths (The Idaho Post-Register/AP/The Independent)

“Cult mom” Lori Vallow is currently on trial in a case that has shocked the nation with its bizarre doomsday cult ties and the tragic deaths of almost everyone close to the mother-of-three and her new husband Chad Daybell.

The 49-year-old is charged with the murders of her children Joshua “JJ” Vallow, seven, and Tylee Ryan, 16, and conspiracy to murder Mr Daybell’s first wife Tammy Daybell.

JJ and Tylee vanished without a trace back in September 2019, with their mother refusing to reveal their whereabouts to authorities for many months.

One month after they were last seen alive, Tammy – an otherwise healthy 49-year-old – died suddenly and Ms Vallow and Mr Daybell soon jetted off to Hawaii to get married on the beach.

In June 2020, the remains of JJ and Tylee were found buried on the grounds of Mr Daybell’s property in Rexburg, Idaho, and the doomsday cult couple were eventually charged with murder.

Prosecutors allege that Ms Vallow and Mr Daybell conspired with Ms Vallow’s brother Alex Cox to murder Tammy, JJ and Tylee as part of their bizarre cult beliefs – but also for financial purposes so that they could collect Tammy’s life insurance money and the children’s social security and survivor benefits.

After lengthy delays – due to the pandemic and Ms Vallow’s admission into a mental health facility – her trial is finally under way in a courtroom in Boise, Idaho.

Here are the key revelations from the trial – so far:

‘Money, power and sex’

During opening statements, prosecutors said that Ms Vallow was driven by “money, power and sex” to murder her two children and her new husband’s then-wife.

“Money, power, and sex – that’s what this case is about,” said Fremont County prosecutor Lindsey Blake.

“Tylee had money. Lori wanted it. Tylee’s gone. JJ took time and he also lost his father. When he lost his father, he became much more difficult to care for. He was entitled to social security benefits. The defendant didn’t want to have to take care of JJ anymore. He had money. JJ’s gone.”

Ms Blake told jurors that the saga first began back in October 2018 when Ms Vallow and Mr Daybell met in person for the first time at a religious conference.

Despite both being married, their romance grew with Ms Blake saying: “The defendant will remove any obstacle in her way to get what she wants – and she wanted Chad Daybell.”

Lori Vallow is seen in a courtroom sketch (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
Lori Vallow is seen in a courtroom sketch (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Doomsday couple used cult beliefs to ‘justify’ murder

The doomsday couple allegedly used their cult beliefs to “justify” their actions, the prosecutor said in opening statements.

“She was here on a religious mission to gather the 144,000, so she needed to spend her time and energy there,” said Ms Blake. “What she did on earth no longer counted for her.”

As part of their cult beliefs, 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.

Tammy Daybell’s cause of death revealed

The cause of death of Mr Daybell’s first wife Tammy was revealed for the first time during opening statements.

Ms Blake told jurors that Tammy, 49, died “at the hands of another and died of asphyxiation,” citing the Utah medical examiner.

Tammy died suddenly on 19 October 2019. Mr Daybell declined an autopsy – despite her young age and lack of health concerns – and her death was ruled natural causes.

The prosecutor said that, 10 days before her death, Tammy had called 911 to report that someone had taken a shot at her in the driveway of her home.

When Tammy then died and her body was about to be exhumed, Cox raised concerns about being made the “fall guy” for her death by the doomsday couple.

Tammy and Chad Daybell were married in 1990. He is now accused of conspiring with Lori Vallow to kill her (Facebook)
Tammy and Chad Daybell were married in 1990. He is now accused of conspiring with Lori Vallow to kill her (Facebook)

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.

After the investigation into the missing children ramped up, Tammy’s body was exhumed and an autopsy carried out.

Sobbing Brandon Boudreaux testifies about children and shooting

Ms Vallow’s former nephew-in-law Brandon Boudreaux broke down in tears as he testified about the moment he learned about JJ and Tylee’s deaths – and then had to identify JJ’s remains.

He was married to Ms Vallow’s niece Melani Pawlowski for ten years and was close to JJ and Tylee.

However, in 2018 he said things changed and “got more bizarre” when Ms Pawlowski became more involved in the doosmday cult with Ms Vallow and Mr Daybell.

The couple divorced and he was living in a new home when, on 2 October 2019, he was the victim of a failed shooting attempt. After that, he said he began looking into his estranged wife’s doomsday cult and learned that Mr Daybell’s wife Tammy had also died recently.

Alarming items found in Vallow’s garage

Rexburg Police Detective Ray Hermosillo testified how his officers found several alarming items during a search of Ms Vallow’s home.

Arizona officials had raised the alarm about JJ and Tylee’s disappearance but, by that time, Ms Vallow had moved the children from Arizona to Rexburg.

After being railroaded by Ms Vallow, Mr Daybell and Cox as to the children’s whereabouts, police executed a search warrant on her home in November 2019.

In the garage, investigators found several guns, ammunition, empty magazines, silencers and Army-grade knives. There was also Hazmat-style suits and preparedness bags with emergency kits and a camouflage suit.

Black trash bags full of clothes and papers and JJ’s toys and prescription medication was also found in the search.

He testified that Ms Vallow appeared to have fled, with no clothes left behind in her closets.

The last photo – and known sighting – of Tylee Ryan (pictured with JJ and Alex Cox at Yellowstone National Park) (FBI)
The last photo – and known sighting – of Tylee Ryan (pictured with JJ and Alex Cox at Yellowstone National Park) (FBI)

Graphic photos show JJ was buried in pyjamas

Graphic photos revealed that JJ was still wearing his red pyjamas and a pull-up nighttime diaper when his remains were found buried in a shallow grave on Mr Daybell’s property on 9 June 2020.

The last proof of life of JJ is a photo taken on 22 September 2019 showing the little boy sitting on a sofa dressed in a matching set of red pyjamas.

Shocked jurors were shown images of JJ’s body found in the shallow grave – still dressed in the red pyjamas.

His arms were wrapped in duct tape and his head was wrapped in a white plastic bag with thick layers of duct tape around it. He had been partly covered in a blue children’s blanket before wood panelling and three white stones were placed on top of him in the shallow grave.

Det Hermosillo told the court that search teams digging on the property were first struck by the “strong odour” of a decomposing body.

The team then uncovered what “appeared to be the crown of a head” – later found to belong to JJ – protruding through the earth. Tylee’s remains were then found not far from her younger brother’s, close to a fire pit in the pet cemetery on the property.

JJ Vallow on the day he was last seen alive (Ada County Court)
JJ Vallow on the day he was last seen alive (Ada County Court)

State of Tylee’s remains meant autopsy was impossible

Tylee’s body was so badly burned that an autopsy to determine her cause of death was impossible, jurors heard.

The 16-year-old had been dismembered, burned and her body parts were dispersed around the grounds.

“Eventually we uncovered bits and pieces of Tylee, whom we assumed was Tylee, that had been burned. There were pieces of bone, charred flesh, just globs of flesh that were falling apart,” he said.

Jurors gasped and JJ’s grandparents sobbed as harrowing images were shown in the courtroom of both the burial site and images taken JJ’s autopsy.

At one point, Ms Vallow’s attorneys asked the judge to allow her to be excused from the court while the graphic testimony and photos were shown. The judge swiftly denied the request.

Jailhouse call reveals Daybell warning Vallow as police close in

Jurors heard a jailhouse phone call where Mr Daybell warned Ms Vallow that police were closing in on the day that her children’s remains were discovered buried on his property.

In the call, made at 11.03am on 9 June 2020, Mr Daybell is heard telling his new wife that law enforcement were on the scene searching his property in Rexburg, Idaho.

At the time, Ms Vallow was behind bars in Madison County Jail after she failed to meet a court order to present the children.

“They are searching the property,” a forlorn-sounding Mr Daybell says.

He later adds: “So, we’ll see what transpires.”

Just around one hour later, the remains of JJ and Tylee were discovered buried on Mr Daybell’s property.

Vallow lied that missing JJ was watching Frozen 2 with a friend

Ms Vallow’s former friend Melanie Gibb testified that the cult mom had lied to police about JJ’s whereabouts – using her as an alibi.

Jurors heard that Mr Daybell called Ms Gibb a few days before Thanksgiving 2019 to tell her that the police would be calling her about JJ and Tylee’s whereabouts and that she shouldn’t answer.

Investigators are seen digging in Chad Daybell’s yard on the day the children were found (AP)
Investigators are seen digging in Chad Daybell’s yard on the day the children were found (AP)

Ms Vallow had claimed to authorities that JJ was with Ms Gibb watching Frozen 2 and asked her friend to take photos of random children at the movies to show police, jurors heard.

Initially, Ms Gibb said she didn’t know what to do so ignored police calls before speaking to them and admitting she hadn’t seen JJ.

A December 2019 phone call, secretly recorded by Ms Gibb, captured her confronting Ms Vallow and Mr Daybell about asking her to lie about JJ’s whereabouts.

In the call, Ms Vallow also claimed that she was trying to protect JJ because his grandmother Kay Woodcock was trying to “kidnap him”. She insisted that JJ – who was already dead – was “safe and happy” but refused to reveal where he was.

Ms Gibb told her friend: “If you really loved me, you would not have told the police I had JJ with me.”

Ms Vallow responded by telling her it “sounds like you have been influenced by somebody dark and obey dark things”.

Cult mom believed children had ‘dark spirits’

Jurors heard testimony about the dark doomsday cult beliefs of Ms Vallow and Mr Daybell.

Ms Gibb testified that Ms Vallow told her JJ and Tylee had been taken over by “dark spirits” in September 2019 – the month of their disappearance.

She claimed that JJ had become “dark” that month, would climb on top of the fridge and cabinets, and would say things like “I love Satan”.

Ms Gibb testified that JJ appeared to be acting like a typical seven-year-old who had autism.

Ms Vallow allegedly also claimed that Tylee had moved into dorm rooms at BYU-Idaho and that all of the teen’s belongings had been moved into storage.

As part of their cult beliefs, the doomsday couple believed in a rating system ranking people’s spirits from “light” to “dark”, said Ms Gibb.

They believed 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.

Ms Vallow’s fourth husband Charles Vallow was also labeled as “dark”, said Ms Gibb.

Cult mom laughed as surviving child confronted her about dead siblings

In a chilling jailhouse phone call played to the court, Ms Vallow was heard laughing as her only surviving child confronted her about the deaths of his two siblings.

Colby Ryan, Ms Vallow’s eldest son from her second marriage, took the stand to testify against his mother on day six of he trial.

During his testimony, jurors heard an emotional phone call between him and Ms Vallow as she was held behind bars in August 2020 – two months after JJ and Tylee’s remains were discovered.

Lori Vallow being escorted to a court appearance in 2022 (AP)
Lori Vallow being escorted to a court appearance in 2022 (AP)

“My siblings, my whole family, my dad – everyone is gone except my mom and you’re in jail because of it. You ripped my heart out. You ripped everyone’s heart out,” he told her.

When Mr Ryan told her “you murdered my siblings”, Ms Vallow denied it saying: “I didn’t. I’m sorry you feel that way.”

In the call, Mr Ryan pleaded with his mother to tell him the truth about what happened to his brother and sister and questioned how she could believe Jesus Christ was on her side.

Ms Vallow was heard laughing in response, and saying that only Tylee and JJ know what happened.

“They love me and they are fine and they know the truth and we are the only people that do,” she said, claiming that all would become clear in the afterlife.

Mr Ryan also confronted his mother about texts that were sent from Tylee’s phone to him after she had already been killed, accusing her of posing as his sister to keep up the pretence that she was alive.

Vallow’s chilling response when asked about Tylee

Zulema Pastenes was in the cult with Ms Vallow, Mr Daybell and Cox and married Cox just weeks before he died suddenly.

She testified that Ms Vallow and Mr Daybell performed ritualistic “castings” to drive out “dark spirits” from individuals and that the cult mom also taught other women classes on how to “cast out demons”.

In September 2019, she said she went to Rexburg and saw JJ there alive but didn’t see Tylee.

She said she asked where Tylee was and Ms Vallow told her that her daughter “had to be freed”.

She then allegedly put her hand in front of Ms Pastenes’ face and told her: “Don’t ask.”

Prior to her disappearance, Ms Pastenes said Ms Vallow had claimed Tylee was possessed by a demon named “Hillary” and that JJ was also being attacked by dark spirits. She also claimed her husband Charles Vallow was possessed by a dark spirit named Garrett.

Vallow went to Burger King minutes after brother killed husband

Ms Vallow went to Burger King minutes after her brother Alex Cox shot and killed her fourth husband Charles Vallow, jurors heard.

Charles Vallow was shot dead by Cox at Ms Vallow’s home in Chandler, Arizona, in July 2019. Cox claimed he shot Charles in self-defence because he tried to attack him with a baseball bat. Ms Vallow is now charged with conspiracy to murder Charles in Arizona.

Detective Cassandra Ynclan, with the Chandler Police Department in Arizona, testified about Ms Vallow’s lack of concern for her husband when he was shot dead. She told the court how Ms Vallow claimed she did not witness the shooting but heard a gunshot and saw Charles on the ground.

Charles and Lori Vallow pictured together. Lori is charged with conspiracy to murder Charles in Arizona (Provided)
Charles and Lori Vallow pictured together. Lori is charged with conspiracy to murder Charles in Arizona (Provided)

She left the scene and took JJ to school, stopping off at Burger King on the way. She returned around an hour later.

A firefighter who responded to the scene also testified that no one had performed CPR on Charles before his arrival.

Vallow and Daybell were planning new life in Hawaii – without children

The doomsday couple was planning to embark on a new life together in Hawaii – without any children.

Jurors were shown an email sent by Mr Daybell to a realtor in Hawaii in November 2019, just days after the couple wed on a beach there.

In the email, he said that they were looking for a home for a couple “with no pets or children”.

“We are interested in seeing this property. Would the owners be interested in leasing this property to a clean couple with no pets or children? Please let us know. Thank you,” he wrote.

‘Grand theft timeline’ revealed 

Several law enforcement officials testified about what was described as “the grand theft timeline” – revealing the alleged financial motive for the killings.

Jurors heard how, in the months surrounding the murders, there were several suspicious changes to the social security payments meant for Tylee and JJ.

Tylee’s father – and Ms Vallow’s second husband – Joseph Ryan died in 2018 and so the teenager was eligible for the benefits.

On 16 August 2019, Tylee’s social security benefits were changed so that they would be paid into her mother’s bank account instead of her own. Three days later, Ms Vallow and Tylee opened a joint bank account.

Days later – on 31 August – Ms Vallow moved Tylee and JJ to Rexburg, Idaho, to where Mr Daybell lived. On 8 September,Tylee was last seen alive.

A similar pattern was presented to jurors with JJ’s finances. After Charles Vallow’s death, his son JJ began receiving social security payments. Ms Vallow began receiving the payments into her bank account on her son’s behalf in September. Days later, prosecutors say JJ was killed.

Even after the deaths of JJ and Tylee, Ms Vallow allegedly continued to collect the social security payments.

Chad Daybell pictured in court (Post Register)
Chad Daybell pictured in court (Post Register)

Ms Vallow’s accounts were then used to pay for flights for herself and Mr Daybell.

Jurors also heard how Mr Daybell made a life insurance claim for Tammy Daybell just days after she died in October 2019. He ultimately received $400,000 in benefits from it.

Vallow believed Charles was possessed by demon called Ned Schneider

Ms Vallow’s friend testified that the cult mom believed her fourth husband Charles Vallow was possessed by demon called Ned Schneider.

April Raymond said she met Ms Vallow at a church in Hawaii in 2016 – when she was married to Charles Vallow – and became very close. In February 2019, she said that Ms Vallow called her and asked if she and Tylee could stay with her because she was leaving Charles.

Ms Raymond testified that Ms Vallow told her that Charles was possessed by a demon.

“Charles was already dead and a demon was using his body as a host. The demon’s name was Ned Schneider,” she said.

Ms Vallow allegedly said she knew he was no longer Charles because he looked “shorter”.

She also allegedly told Ms Raymond that she was “done with JJ”.

Ms Vallow told her that she was the leader of the 144,000 and was there to “gather” her so she too could be saved.

JJ vanished after ‘knocking over picture of Christ’

Ms Vallow’s former friend David Warwick testified about the last time he saw JJ alive.

Mr Warwick said he and his wife Melanie Gibb visited Ms Vallow in Rexburg, Idaho, over a weekend in September 2019.

JJ was there for most of the weekend but then, on the morning they left, was nowhere to be seen.

Ms Vallow allegedly told him that JJ had “an episode and knocked over a picture of Christ”.

“We went downstairs to say goodbye and Lori was there and she just said that JJ had an episode,” he said.

“She said he was out of control and she could not control him and so she had Alex come get him… She said that he climbed the cabinets and the fridge and the upper cabinets and pushed over her picture of Christ.”

Chad Daybell’s chilling dream

Jurors also heard about a chilling dream that Mr Daybell claimed he had about his wife Tammy dying.

Mr Warwick testified that Mr Daybell told him he dreamt “Tammy was going to pass away by the time she was 50”.

“I asked him how his marriage was with Tammy and if she was a good wife and he said he had no complaints and she was a good wife,” he told the court.


“He said her time was coming up and him and Lori were going to do things they committed to do for God.”

Tammy died sudenly on October 19 2019 aged 49. he would have turned 50 in about six months’ time.

Chad Daybell’s ‘raccoon’ text

Jurors also heard about a chilling text Mr Daybell sent to his wife Tammy Daybell on the day after Tylee was last seen alive.

Tylee was last seen on 8 September 2019 at Yellowstone National Park.

On 9 September, Mr Daybell sent his wife this text: “Well, I’ve had an interesting morning! I felt I should burn all of the limb debris by the fire pit before it got too soaked by the coming storms.

“While I did so, I spotted a big racoon [sic] along the fence. I hurried and got my gun, and he was still walking along. I got close enough that one shot did the trick. He is now in our pet cemetery. Fun times!”

Months later, in June 2020, Tylee’s remains were found buried in the pet cemetery on the Daybell’s property.

Chilling internet searches revealed

Chilling internet searches have revealed that Ms Vallow shopped for life insurance policies for her children two months before they were murdered and buried on the Daybell property.

FBI analyst Nicole Heideman testified that Ms Vallow’s “lollytime4ever” Gmail account was used in July 2019 to google “gerber life insurance policy” and “life insurance for children – the Grow-Up Plan”. A few days later, the same Gmail account searched for how to sell a service dog.

At the time, Tylee and JJ were still alive and JJ, who had autism, was using a service dog.

Jurors also heard how Ms Vallow appeared to begin making plans to marry Mr Daybell as far back as May 2019 – while both of their spouses were still alive.

In August 2019, her account searched for “malachite wedding rings” before buying a pair on 2 October 2019 – days before Tammy was killed. On 22 October – the same day that Tammy’s funeral took place – Ms Vallow’s account then looked up “wedding dresses” and “wedding dresses in Kauai”.

Ms Vallow and Mr Daybell got married on a beach in Hawaii on 5 November 2019, with photos showing them both sporting rings that matched those ordered online.

Meanwhile, Mr Daybell allegedly searched on 8 September 2019 for what the wind direction was going to be the following day – the day prosecutors believe Tylee was buried on the grounds of his property.

Trove of burner phones

Jurors also heard that Ms Vallow and her alleged co-conspirators were using a trove of burner phones around the time of the murders.

In total, Ms Vallow, Mr Daybell and Cox used a total of 21 burner phones over an 18-month period – 18 of them billed to a PO BOX in Sugar City, Idaho.

Only one phone belonging to Cox pinged at both Ms Vallow’s apartment and the fire pet and pet cemetery on Mr Daybell’s property on 9 September and 23 September – the days when prosecutors say Tylee and JJ were buried there.

Sister says she threw children ‘away like garbage’

Jurors heard a devastating jailhouse phone call where Ms Vallow’s sister Summer Shiflet accused her sibling of throwing her murdered children “away like garbage.”

The call, made on 24 June 2020 when Ms Vallow was behind bars, reveals Ms Shiflet sobbing uncontrollably as she confronted her sister about the discovery of Tylee and JJ’s remains days earlier on Mr Daybell’s property.

“Did you know they were there?” she asked, to which she replied, ”I can’t talk about it.”

Ms Vallow continued to refuse to reveal what had happened to her children in the call, telling her sister “you have no idea what happened” when she asked why she did nothing after the children died.

“[JJ and Tylee] deserve a proper burial with their family that loves them, at the least,” Ms Shiflet shouted.

“You threw Tylee in a pet cemetery like a piece of garbage. That is not Christ-like. There is nothing good in that. They were innocent and they were loved.”

Ms Vallow responded saying: “I took care of them their whole life. Me, me.”

A key confession?

In the dramatic jailhouse phone call, the “doomsday cult mom” also appeared to make a key confession about her children’s murders.

Ms Shiflet questions how her sister could have gone to Hawaii and married Mr Daybell in a fairytale wedding on the beach knowing that her children had been killed, that their remains were buried in a pet cemetery on his property and that their family was desperately searching for them.

“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 – Ms Vallow appears to unwittingly slip up.

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

“Trying to go on with life, trying to be happy, trying to find some kind of happiness. You think I want to be alone?”

In her brief retort, Ms Vallow appeared to confess that she knew all along that her children were dead – and where their remains had been left. Ms Vallow has never admitted to having any knowledge of or involvement in her children’s murders to authorities.

JJ’s cause of death revealed as GHB found in system

JJ had the date rape drug GHB in his system when he was smothered to death with plastic bags around his head, according to harrowing testimony from a pathologist.

Forensic pathologist Garth Warren, who conducted the autopsies on the two children, revealed that JJ died by asphyxiation with multiple layers of plastic bags wrapped around the little boy’s head and duct tape over his mouth.

JJ, who had autism, also had scratch marks on his neck suggesting he was awake and fought for his life to get the bag off his head.

Tylee Ryan and Joshua “JJ” Vallow (Family handout)
Tylee Ryan and Joshua “JJ” Vallow (Family handout)

“Was JJ trying to get the bag off his head? It could be scratch marks of him trying to get it off his head,” he testified.

Jurors later heard that prints on the plastic bag and tape matched that of Ms Vallow’s brother Alex Cox.

The seven-year-old also had bruises on his wrists and ankles from where he had been bound with duct tape, the pathologist said. Liver samples showed that JJ had ethanol alcohol, caffeine, theobromine and gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) in his system when he died.

GHB is a sedative that can be used to treat epilepsy but is commonly referred to as the “date rape drug”.

Despite its presence in the seven-year-old’s body, Mr Warren said he could not say for sure if the boy had been drugged prior to his death because GHB can also appear naturally in the body.

Killer hacked at Tylee’s body with pickaxe

Lori Vallow’s daughter’s killer tried to chop up her body before burying her burned bones and organs on Chad Daybell’s property, according to disturbing courtroom testimony.

FBI Agent Douglas Halepaska, a forensic examiner in the firearms and tool marks division, described how Tylee’s hip bones and sacrum (the bone at the base of the spine) had injuries and fractures caused by a “chopping-type action” from what looked like a knife, hatchet, cleaver, machete or similar tool.

Some of the chopping and stabbing went all the way down to the hard part of the hip bone, causing it to fracture, he testified.

Katie Dace, a forensic psychologist with the Idaho State Police, later revealed Tylee’s blood was found on a pickaxe seized from the Daybell home. DNA found on a shovel also matched Tylee.

Despite the efforts to hack at the teenager’s body, jurors previously heard that the killer did not appear to manage to dismember her.

Tylee’s death was ruled “homicide by unspecified means” as the state of her remains made it impossible to determine cause of death.