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Culture Investigations

Cult Leaders Charged with Murder of Children, Ex-Wife

Couple part of apocalyptic Mormon group

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Mormon writer Chad Daybell and his wife Lori Vallow were indicted by an Idaho grand jury Tuesday. They are charged with murder, the latest development in a tragic case of the couple that fell in love and then allegedly killed Daybell’s wife Tammy and Vallow’s two children before leaving for a monthlong honeymoon in Hawaii.

The couple was scheduled to appear in court to hear the charges Wednesday (May 26).

Additional charges include conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and grand theft by deception in the death of the two children. Vallow also faces a charge of grand theft related to the Social Security Survivor benefits she received after her children’s deaths, and Daybell faces two insurance fraud charges related to life insurance policies he had on his ex-wife.

Vallow was arrested in Hawaii in early 2020 after refusing to help officials find her two missing children, 16-year-old daughter Tylee Ryan and 7-year-old son JJ.

Daybell, who promoted Mormon apocalyptic beliefs in self-published books, was arrested last June after human remains were found on his property near the small town of Salem, Idaho. The remains were identified as Vallow’s two children. Daybell had worked as a sexton and gravedigger at a city cemetery in Utah. He watched investigators search his property before driving off in his SUV, and was arrested about a mile away.

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The complicated, multi-state case has drawn international attention and generated episodes of “20/20” and “Dateline.”

Vallow’s two children mysteriously disappeared shortly before she married Daybell in November 2019. Daybell’s ex-wife Tammy had also been found dead, from what was then believed to be natural causes.

Daybell owned Springcreek Book Company, which published his Mormon apocalyptic novels. His books described a coming societal collapse that would require extreme responses: “members of the LDS Church will be invited by their leaders to survive the civil unrest by gathering to holy refuges,” he wrote.

Investigators found that Daybell and Vallow were also part of a Mormon-related group called “Church of the Firstborn,” which exists to serve 144,000 believers described in the biblical Book of Revelation, and to rid the world of “zombies,” a term that means an individual’s mortal spirit has left their body and that their body is now the host of another spirit. In such cases, it is taught that the death of the physical body is seen as the mechanism by which the body’s original spirit can be released from “limbo.”

Witnesses reported hearing Vallow call her two children “zombies” in the year before they disappeared.

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Steve Rabey

Steve Rabey is a veteran author and journalist who has published more than 50 books and 2,000 articles about religion, spirituality, and culture. He was an instructor at Fuller and Denver seminaries and the U.S. Air Force Academy. He and his wife Lois live in Colorado.