What we know about the Lori Vallow Daybell ‘doomsday cult’ murder trial
It looked every inch the fairytale wedding.
Dressed in white with pink flower garlands around their necks, the bride and groom couldn’t have looked happier as they exchanged vows on a paradise beach in Hawaii.
Photos captured the apparently blissful day as they toasted their nuptials, embraced and she danced to him playing the guitar.
But, behind the photos, something much more disturbing was going on.
Her two children had not been seen alive in two months.
His wife of three decades – the mother of his five children – had died suddenly just two weeks earlier.
And her husband had been shot dead by her brother (who would also soon be dead) not long before.
In the three years since the November 2019 wedding of Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell, a deeply disturbing tale of suspected murders, unexplained deaths and apocalyptic cult beliefs about killing zombies has come to light.
Five people close to the couple have wound up dead.
And the couple are now charged with murder.
On 3 April 2023, Ms Vallow’s murder trial began in Idaho.
Infamously dubbed the “cult mom”, she is charged with the murders of her two youngest children Tylee Ryan, 16, and Joshua “JJ” Vallow, seven, whose remains were discovered on the grounds of Mr Daybell’s property in Rexburg, Idaho, in June 2020 – nine months after their last signs of life.
She is also charged with conspiracy to murder Mr Daybell’s first wife Tammy Daybell.
Separately, Ms Vallow is also facing charges in Arizona for the murder of her fourth husband Charles Vallow.
Following a last-minute ruling from an Idaho judge last month, the doomsday couple are standing trial separately with Mr Daybell’s trial postponed to a later date.
It’s a bizarre and tragic case that has captured the attention of the nation, leaving many with one big unanswered question: how could a woman who for years appeared to be a loving, doting mother allegedly murder her children in the belief that they had turned into “zombies”?
That is just one of the questions her trial could now untangle as more disturbing details are expected to come to light over the coming weeks.
Here’s what we know so far about the case:
JJ and Tylee’s disappearance and murder
JJ and Tylee were last seen alive in September 2019 – not long after Ms Vallow had moved the two children from Arizona to Idaho, allegedly to be close to Mr Daybell.
Chilling photos captured a smiling JJ, Tylee and Ms Vallow’s brother Alex Cox on a visit to Yellowstone National Park on 8 September.
The photo is now believed to be the last proof of life of 16-year-old Tylee.
After that day, she was never seen or heard from again.
Days later, on 22 September, JJ was also seen for the last time – at his school in Rexburg and by his mother’s friends at her apartment that night.
By the next morning, the seven-year-old – who had autism – had vanished.
When asked where he was, Ms Vallow allegedly told friends Melanie Gibb and David Warwick that he had to be taken away because he was “being a zombie”.
Cellphone data places Ms Vallow’s brother Alex Cox in the yard of Mr Daybell’s property in the hours after both of the children’s disappearances. The morning after Tylee was last seen alive, Mr Daybell also sent a text to his wife to say that he had shot a raccoon and buried it in the pet cemetery on the grounds of their property.
It would be many more months before investigators – and the children’s desperate family members – knew what had happened to the two siblings.
JJ’s grandparents raised the alarm after they were unable to get in touch with their grandson but Ms Vallow refused to tell authorities where either of the children were.
According to Ms Vallow’s friends, she had claimed that her children were “zombies” and that the only way to free someone’s soul from evil spirits was to kill them.
In June 2020, the children’s family members’ worst fears were realised when JJ and Tylee’s remains were discovered buried in Mr Daybell’s backyard.
Their causes of deaths have never been released but court documents give a harrowing picture of what may have happened.
JJ’s body was found in a black plastic bag wrapped in duct tape while Tylee’s body had been dismembered and burned in a fire pit, before being buried in the pet cemetery.
The children’s disappearance and deaths brought to light a series of other mysterious deaths connected to the doomsday couple, revealing a pattern of people close to the pair dying suddenly.
Before the search for JJ and Tylee shot to national attention, no connection appears to have been made.
Instead, two deaths that are now alleged to be murders at the hands of the doomsday cult couple, had been written off as self-defence – or even natural causes.
Charles Vallow’s death: Self-defence or murder?
Two months prior to when prosecutors say Ms Vallow and Mr Daybell murdered JJ and Tylee, Ms Vallow’s brother Alex Cox shot and killed her husband Charles Vallow.
It was the morning 11 July 2019 and Charles had gone to his estranged wife’s home in Chandler, Arizona, to pick up JJ.
Charles and Ms Vallow had been married since 2006 and had adopted JJ – who was the biological grandson of Vallow’s sister.
Cox claimed that Charles attacked him with a baseball bat so he shot him in self-defence.
Police interviews with 16-year-old Tylee and a smiling Ms Vallow gave a similar version of events.
However, Cox did not perform CPR on Vallow and waited 43 minutes to call police. Investigators say that Charles was also already down on the ground when Cox shot him a second time.
Charles’ death came months after he had filed for divorce from Ms Vallow, saying that he feared for the safety of himself and the children and that Ms Vallow had threatened to kill him.
In February, he had pleaded with authorities to stage a mental health intervention for his wife, warning that she believed she was a god preparing for a second coming.
Court documents reveal that he had also learned about Ms Vallow’s relationship with Mr Daybell that June and had emailed Tammy with the information. He and one of Ms Vallow’s other brothers were planning an intervention over her cult beliefs at the time of his death – an intervention she is believed to have been tipped off about.
At the time of Charles’ shooting, the case was ruled self-defence.
Following his death, Ms Vallow became a free agent but Mr Daybell was still married – for a while.
Tammy Daybell dies in her sleep
Mr Daybell married his first wife Tammy in 1990 and they had five children together. They also founded a publishing company together – the company that released his doomsday books.
Just one month after the children vanished – on 19 October 2019 – Tammy, an otherwise healthy 49-year-old, died suddenly in her sleep.
In a bizarre twist, her death came just 10 days after she had called 911 to report someone shooting at her with a paintball gun in the driveway of their home.
Despite the mysterious circumstances, her husband declined an autopsy and her death was ruled natural causes.
It was only after the two children were reported missing – and authorities began delving into Ms Vallow and Mr Daybell, their sudden remarriage and bizarre cult beliefs – that questions began being asked about her death.
Investigators exhumed her body for an autopsy in December 2020.
Once again, officials have not revealed how Tammy died.
But her husband and his new wife are now charged with her murder, with prosecutors alleging that the couple conspired with Cox to kill the 49-year-old.
Alleged co-conspirator Alex Cox dead
The deaths didn’t end there.
In December 2019, Alex Cox also died suddenly aged just 51.
At the time, authorities were demanding Ms Vallow present her children.
Tammy was about to be exhumed.
And Cox had killed Charles.
One day, Cox was found gasping for air on the bathroom floor of the home he shared with his wife Zulema Pastenes – who he had married just two weeks earlier.
The autopsy found he had a blood clot wedged in the arteries of his lungs and his death was ruled natural causes. However the overdose drug Narcan was also found in his system.
Days before his death, Ms Pastenes said he suggested his death could be looming.
“Like one or two days before he passed, he said to me, ‘Zulema, if anything happens to me, I want you to know that there is money in a bag in the closet and it’s for you. It’s not much but it’s for you,’” she told police, according to court records.
The day he died, he had also allegedly called Mr Daybell to receive a “blessing” over the phone.
No charges have ever been brought in connection to his death.
The doomsday cult
At the centre of the string of alleged murders and mystery deaths stands the couple’s bizarre doomsday cult.
Mr Daybell ran a publishing company that put out books about apocalyptic scenarios loosely based on the theology of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Ms Vallow followed his books for some time, before the pair finally met in person at a religious conference in Utah in October 2018.
At this point, investigators say their relationship became romantic.
And as their relationship grew more intense, so too did their apocalyptic beliefs.
Vallow claimed in divorce documents that Ms Vallow believed she was a god-like figure chosen to carry out the work of 144,000 believers.
Multiple friends cited in police reports say that the couple believed they could drive out evil spirits and seek revelations from “beyond the spiritual veil”.
Ms Vallow even believed she could teleport between Arizona and Hawaii, according to documents.
But – most chillingly – the couple allegedly believed that people, including JJ and Tylee, had become “zombies”.
They allegedly had a scoring system for ranking how far people’s souls had gone from good to evil.
The only way to then rid an individual of the zombies would be for them to die, according to documents.
Prosecutors believe that Ms Vallow and Mr Daybell used these beliefs to further their plots to kill JJ, Tylee and Tammy.
Ms Vallow and Mr Daybell were charged with the murders of Tylee and JJ in May 2021 – almost one year after their bodies had been discovered.
They are each charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy and grand theft in connection with the deaths of JJ and Tylee and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder in the death of Tammy.
Mr Daybell is also charged with the first-degree murder of Tammy.
The couple are also charged with related financial crimes with Ms Vallow facing grand theft and insurance fraud counts for applying for Social Security benefits for Tylee and JJ after they died.
Prosecutors say that the couple conspired with Cox to kill the children and Mr Daybell’s wife both as part of their doomsday beliefs – but also to collect life insurance money and the kids’ social security and survivor benefits.
“All of these overt acts were done so Lori could eventually be with Chad Daybell and reportedly complete their mission here on earth,” according to an investigative report.
“This belief system, lust and greed would also lead to the deaths of Tylee Ryan, JJ Vallow and Tammy Daybell.”
In Arizona, Ms Vallow is also charged with conspiring to murder her ex-husband Charles Vallow with Cox.
The Maricopa County Attorney’s office annoucned that it did not charge Mr Daybell as well with Charles’ murder – but only because there is “no reasonable likelihood of conviction”.
The trial of the doomday cult couple has stalled for the past few years – in part due to the Covid-19 pandemic, mental incompetence and legal wranglings.
Ms Vallow has been behind bars since January 2020 when she was arrested in Hawaii and extradited to Idaho for failing to meet a court order to present her children to authorities.
Mr Daybell has been in prison since the children’s remains were discovered in June 2020.
The case was largely put on hold when Ms Vallow was found not mentally competent to stand trial. She then spent almost a year at a mental health facility before she was ruled competent in May 2022 and the case proceeded through the courts.
So far, the pair are yet to turn on each other and have both pleaded not guilty.
However, that could all be about to change.
In March, an Idaho judge ruled that Ms Vallow and Mr Daybell will be tried separately for the murders – prompting Mr Daybell’s case to be pushed back to an unconfirmed date while jury selection began on 3 April in Ms Vallow’s trial.
The death penalty has now been taken off the table for Ms Vallow but not for Mr Daybell.
If found guilty, Ms Vallow faces life in prison.