Lori Vallow trial hears JJ had date rape drug in his system as shocking cause of death revealed

·5-min read

Lori Vallow’s seven-year-old son JJ Vallow 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.

Shocking details about JJ and his sister Tylee Ryan’s causes of death were revealed for the first time on Wednesday in Ada County Courthouse in Boise, Idaho, where their mother is on trial for their murders.

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.

“That’s a red flag,” Dr Warren testified about the scratches.

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

The seven-year-old also had bruises on his wrists and ankles from where he had been bound with duct tape, the pathologist said.

In more harrowing details of the little boy’s final moments, jurors heard how he could have been drugged before his murder.

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.

“There was no way for me to tell for sure whether this is naturally occurring product or if JJ had been given GHB,” said the pathologist.

Dr Warren also ruled 16-year-old Tylee’s death a homicide but was unable to determine the means of death due to the state of her remains which were found burned, charred and dispersed in the ground on Ms Vallow’s new husband Chad Daybell’s property.

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

“The vast majority of the time when I perform an autopsy, I get an entire body and there’s a process we go through. Tylee’s case was different. Her remains were received in three separate sealed bags,” he said.

“I essentially received Tylee’s remains in multiple different bags.”

The organs that were found were in a stage of “severe decomposition” while the others were believed to have “burned away” or were never found, he said.

Dr Warren said that it does not appear that Tylee was alive when her body was burned because toxicology results showed an extremely low level of carbon monoxide in her system.

“The cause of death was by homicide but I just can’t pinpoint what that was,” he said.

Tylee and JJ were last seen alive in September 2019.

The last proof of life of Tylee was on 8 September when she, JJ, her mother and Ms Vallow’s brother Alex Cox were photographed together at Yellowstone National Park. JJ then disappeared weeks later on 22 September 2019, when he suddenly vanished from his mother’s house overnight.

On 9 June 2020, the children’s remains were finally found buried on Mr Daybell’s property.

Law enforcement find the remains of JJ and Tylee on Chad Daybell’s property (AP)
Law enforcement find the remains of JJ and Tylee on Chad Daybell’s property (AP)

JJ was still wearing his red pyjamas and a pull-up nighttime diaper when his remains were pulled from the earth.

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 a shallow grave close to a tree.

Tylee’s remains were found not far from her younger brother’s, close to a fire pit in a pet cemetery.

Jurors were previously shown graphic photos of the children’s remains and heard harrowing testimony from one of the officers on the scene of the grim discovery who described finding “blobs of flesh” and “bits and pieces” of what was left of Tylee.

For months after the children disappeared, Ms Vallow refused to reveal where they were or what had happened to them, only claiming that they were “safe”.

One month after JJ and Tylee were last seen alive, Mr Daybell’s wife of three decades Tammy died suddenly in her sleep on 19 October 2019.

At the time, the otherwise healthy 49-year-old’s death was ruled natural causes and – on 5 November 2019 – Mr Daybell and Ms Vallow flew to Hawaii and got married on a beach.

Investigators later exhumed Tammy’s body and carried out an autopsy, finding that she also died by asphyxiation.

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 doomsday 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.

As part of their cult beliefs, the couple 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.

Lori Vallow is on trial over the murders of JJ, Tylee and Tammy (AP)
Lori Vallow is on trial over the murders of JJ, Tylee and Tammy (AP)

Ms Vallow is charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy and grand theft in connection with the deaths of JJ and Tylee.

She is also charged with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder in the death of Tammy as well as related financial crimes.

Mr Daybell is also charged with the three murders but is due to stand trial separately at a later date.

Cox, meanwhile, died before he could face charges.

On 11 December 2019, Cox died suddenly at the age of 51. His death was also ruled natural causes, with indications of a blood clot wedged in the arteries of his lungs. However the overdose drug Narcan was also found in his system.

JJ, Tylee and Tammy aren’t the only alleged murders surrounding the doomsday cult couple.

In July 2019 – two months before the children’s disappearance – Ms Vallow’s fourth husband Charles Vallow was shot dead by Cox.

At the time, Cox claimed Vallow attacked him with a baseball bat and it was ruled self-defence.

Now, Ms Vallow is also facing charges in Arizona of conspiring with Cox to murder Vallow.