Thou Shalt Kill: The Bloody Trail of an Apocalyptic Mormon Couple

Lori Vallow is a Mormon mom and podcast host. Chad Daybell is a gravedigger-turned-doomsday-prophet and self-publishing LDS visionary. They ran off to Hawaii like newlyweds — while police search for her missing kids and investigate the suspicious deaths of their spouses and her brother

Belief is a powerful force for the devout. It can — as is often said — move mountains. It can also lead a person to possibly murder their spouse and children, and then run off to Hawaii to be with their one true love, a former gravedigger-turned-writer of Mormon-themed apocalyptic self-published novels about the End of Times, a man who may have also killed his spouse.

Such is the belief of Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell. 

The couple is presently in the Aloha State acting like newlyweds, defying an Idaho court order to produce Vallow’s missing children and prove that the kids aren’t dead. The children haven’t been seen by anyone since September. Her adopted son, Joshua “J.J.” Vallow, is (or was) 7 years old. His big sister, Tylee Ryan, is (or was) 17. Law enforcement also has two other ongoing murder investigations its pursuing. One is the strange death of Tammy Daybell, Chad’s wife. The other is Charles Vallow, former spouse of Lori. Charles was shot and killed by Lori’s brother. Originally, his death was ruled “self-defense.” However, due to the current circumstances, the investigation into his death has been re-opened and is being treated as a possible murder. There’s one big problem with that investigation, though: Lori’s brother is also now dead. 

Charles drew up divorce paperwork last Valentine’s Day, and in the document, he included bizarre quotes attributed to his wife: “Mother [Lori Vallow] has recently become infatuated, at times obsessive, about near-death experiences and spiritual visions. Mother has told Father [Charles Vallow] that she is sealed [eternally married] to the ancient Book of Mormon prophet Moroni and that she has lived numerous lives on numerous planets prior to this current life.” 

From there, things only got stranger — e.g., Charles claimed that Lori told him that she’s “a translated being who cannot taste death.” Furthermore, Lori also said she was “sent by God to lead the 144,000 into the Millennium.” This is all based on her personal belief that she’s “receiving spiritual revelations and visions to help her gather and prepare those chosen to live in the New Jerusalem after the Great War as prophesied in the book of Revelations.”

She also believes she has a deadline to get the world right before the End of Days. To that end, Lori told Charles that “she was a God assigned to carry out the work” to prepare for “Christ’s second coming in July 2020.” This work was so important to her that she warned Charles that if he got in the way of her mission, “she would murder him.” She ratched up that threat the day after she got the divorce papers, at which time Lori called Charles and promised “she would kill him upon his return home and had an angel there to help her dispose of the body.” In the order of protection Charles filed with the divorce papers, he claimed, “I want to make sure that everyone knows that if something happens to me, Lori & Alex did it.”

Alex is Alex Cole, Lori’s brother. In the wake of Charles’ death, his sister has described Lori as a “black widow,” and pointed out, “(Husband) three and (husband) four are dead. Five? He’s next. How’s he gonna go? I don’t know. But I wouldn’t sleep with my eyes closed.”

To fully understand how this seemingly normal wife and mother of a special needs son, a woman who was a part-time podcast host of a Mormon-themed show for women, could also secretly be a husband-murdering black widow who runs off to Hawaii with her fellow doomsday-prepping, vision-having, self-publishing new husband, you need to understand the role of visions and revelations in the Mormon faith. 

“Just like people living in ancient times, we need continuing revelation to help us know what Heavenly Father wants us to do,” reads this article by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, aka the Mormon Church. The article later further establishes this fact of Mormon life: “Revelation is how Heavenly Father tells us what we must do in order to return to Him.” 

Chad Daybell definitely believed he had such holy visions. A gravedigger — well, technically, a cemetery sexton, a fancy title for a person who’s responsible for tending to the graves of the deceased — he first allegedly experienced them after a near-death experience when he was 17. As he mentions on his personal website in a description of his self-published autobiography

“When Chad Daybell was 17 years old, he had a near-death experience while cliff jumping. He crossed into another dimension and realized there was a world beyond this one. A second near-death experience in his early 20s was much more in-depth. He was hit by a monstrous wave at La Jolla Cove in California. While his body was being tossed by the wave, his spirit was visiting with his grandfather, who showed him future events involving his still-unborn children. This accident caused his ‘veil’ that separates mortal life from the Spirit World to stay partially open, so he often feels as if he has a foot in both worlds.”

Chad was born in 1968 in Provo, Utah. The oldest of five children, he was an honor roll student. Right on schedule then, in 1986, he graduated from high school and got a job working as a part-time cemetery sexton. He also enrolled in Brigham Young University. In March 1990, he married Tamara “Tammy” Douglas. The two met while attending BYU. They have five children of their own (and three grandchildren). Their marriage lasted 30 years — or better put, until late last year when Tammy died unexpectedly after a “coughing fit.” 

Meanwhile, around the same time Chad and Tammy met and married, Lori Cox graduated from high school in Rialto, California. The next year, she got married, too. But sadly, the marriage wasn’t to last. Sometime around 1992, the couple got divorced. Not long after, Lori got married for a second time and gave birth to her first child, a son. But again, in 1996, a divorce quickly ensued. 

The next year, Chad heard a voice whisper to him as he was working at a cemetery, “In late 1997, two years after I became the sexton, I was shoveling snow at the cemetery when I felt the prompting, ‘It’s time to write your books.’ This came as a complete surprise to me.”

The books arrived fully formed. They’re predominantly futuristic imaginings of an apocalyptic Mormon fight over good and evil. One series of his novels, Standing in Holy Places, is about, as Chad describes it, the creation of a new center for the truly faithful: “The highly anticipated third volume in the bestselling Standing in Holy Places series has arrived! As The Rise of Zion begins, a remarkable year has passed since the Saints established New Jerusalem. Now it has become a rapidly growing city in a time of peace, but several important events are taking place, including the dedication of the New Jerusalem Temple and the return of the Ten Lost Tribes. Unfortunately, the Coalition forces have regrouped and are planning another attack that will affect the entire world prior to the Second Coming.”

Of course, “New Jerusalem,” “the Second Coming of Christ,” “Mormons under attack from non-believers” is nearly verbatim what Lori reportedly told Charles. There’s a good reason for that, too: Lori was a superfan of Chad’s books. 

According to a friend of hers who spoke with the local news, Lori was like “mother of the year here.” For example, she “would fly her daughter’s friend from Arizona to come see her just so that she would have a better week.” But then Lori came across Chad’s books and grew obsessed with them. As such, the same friend said, “She was 100 percent into the end of times, the end of the world, and she would tell me, ‘No, you really gotta start preparing for the end of the world. You gotta start getting your stuff together.’” 

This also ostensibly meant taking care of things at home. Or as she told her friend, “[Lori] would tell me, ‘You gotta get rid of your husband. We’ll just go off and do our own thing. It’s gonna be the end of the world, and we should all just drive off a cliff and kill us and our kids and die all at the same time.’”

All the while, for unknown reasons, Charles changed his mind about divorcing Lori, and rescinded his court filing. In fact, last June, the couple signed a new lease. But a month later, on July 10th, Charles texted his landlord, stating that he intended to find somewhere else to live.

The very next day, he was shot and killed by Lori’s brother, Alex Cole.

Cole claimed the violent encounter wasn’t intentional and that he was merely trying to protect himself. He told police that Charles hit him in the head with a baseball bat first. After he shot him, Cole called 911 and even attempted CPR. But to no avail. The police in Chandler, Arizona (where the Vallows lived), ruled that Charles’ death was a clear case of “self-defense.” (Once more, they’ve since reconsidered that determination.)

Charles and Lori Vallow

Back in Chad’s world, roughly three months later on October 9, 2019, his wife Tammy was attacked outside of her home by a masked man who she reported was armed with a gun. In a now-archived Facebook post, she wrote: “I had gotten home and parked in our front driveway. As I was getting stuff out of the back seat, a guy wearing a ski mask was suddenly standing by the back of my car with a paintball gun. He shot at me several times, although I don’t think it was loaded. I yelled for Chad and he ran off around the back of my house.” 

Nine days later, Tammy had a coughing fit that sent her to bed. At least that’s what Chad told Tammy’s family when he informed them that Tammy had passed away. A medical examiner in their hometown of Rexburg, Idaho, spent a few hours with her corpse and declared that Tammy died of natural causes. “I woke up that morning and she had been dead for a couple hours but she had a peaceful look on her face at her burial,” Chad later texted (more or less) a complete stranger. “I felt her tell me she was happy and helping our family on the other side of the veil.”

He certainly moved on quickly afterward, as he married Lori in November, just a couple of weeks after Tammy’s death.

On November 26th, Rexburg PD stopped by the newlyweds’ home and asked to see 7-year-old Joshua “J.J.” Vallow. The welfare check was requested by J.J.’s grandparents, desperate for an update on their grandson, whom they hadn’t seen or heard from in two months. Typically, the grandparents spoke with their special needs grandson on FaceTime multiple times a week. Hearing nothing for weeks was more than unusual, when it stretched to months it was downright worrying. Lori and Chad greeted the cops and informed them that J.J. was visiting a family friend in Arizona, an answer that law enforcement found perfectly acceptable. 

Yet when law enforcement called that family friend to verify the story, they learned that the boy wasn’t staying with them after all. Then, later that same night, neighbors spotted Lori and Cole loading up a truck. But because it was so close to Thanksgiving, the neighbors assumed they were leaving for holiday travel.

When Rexburg PD returned to the home the next day for a secondary welfare check — and to execute a search warrant at the request of police in Arizona investigating the missing children — they discovered that the townhouse had been abandoned and that Lori and Chad had fled. They contacted the FBI, initiating a multi-state, international hunt for the missing children and the couple.

To keep things at fever pitch, two weeks later, Cole was discovered dead. His stepson found him passed out in the bathroom, sitting in his own shit and piss. The stepson called 911, but there was no saving Cole. His autopsy results have yet to be released. The same for Tammy, whose body has been exhumed for a secondary autopsy to determine the true cause of her death.

Rexburg Chief of Police Shane Turman explained to the local press, “They told us several stories about where the children are, but when we investigate, the children don’t exist where they say they should. We don’t know where they’re at, but we think they’re in pretty serious danger.”

Not long afterward, the department released a full statement on the case: “We know that the children are not with Lori and Chad Daybell, and we also have information indicating that Lori knows either the location of the children or what has happened to them. Despite having this knowledge, she has refused to work with law enforcement to help us resolve this matter. It is astonishing that rather than work with law enforcement to help us locate her own children, Lori Vallow has chosen instead to leave the state with her new husband.” 

“From an investigation point of view, this is a disaster,” Sheriff Len Humphries of Fremont County (home of Rexburg) told the media shortly after the New Year. “There are multiple agencies involved — us, Rexburg police, the FBI, as well as police departments in Arizona. There are people who have died strangely in several places, and two kids that we have absolutely no idea where they are. Add to that, the mother is known to have told family members that her daughter died a year ago, which we know is not true. And then she claimed that the 17-year-old had run off with the 7-year-old and didn’t say anything to authorities. What kind of parent doesn’t help try to find their own kids when they are missing?”

Throughout all of this, Lori and Chad have been essentially honeymooning in Hawaii. “They said that they waited all day for God to tell them which house to go to and he told them to come to mine,” their prospective landlord, Jeannie Martin, told the local media. “They were just like two teenagers that had just been set free. And they were just giddy.”

The reason why no charges have been filed yet comes down to Idaho law. As former Idaho Attorney General David Leroy has explained, “To fail to obey a court order to produce the children is typically a contempt of court in a civil nature and not a crime in Idaho. However, there is a statute in Idaho that makes woeful disobedience of a court a potential misdemeanor.”

But their world will end eventually. Just not in the fiery apocalypse they so fervently desire. Instead, when July rolls around — their predicted date for Armageddon — its much more likely theyll be behind bars.