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‘Cult mom’ Lori Vallow’s triple murder trial – here’s what to know

Lori Vallow smiles in court

Lori Vallow appears in court on Aug. 16, 2022. (Law&Crime Network)

Accused “doomsday cult” mom Lori Vallow’s triple murder trial began this week in Ada County, Idaho. Jury selection is likely to last for at least one more day. As the prosecution and the defense – and court watchers – prepare for proceedings to begin in earnest, here are some key issues in the complex conspiracy-infused case to keep in mind.

There’s a complicated cast of characters and family tree

Lori Vallow is accused of murdering her adopted son, Joshua Jaxon “JJ” Vallow, 7, and her biological daughter, Tylee Ashlyn Ryan, 17. The murders are believed to have occurred sometime in September 2019. Both children went missing on different dates that same month.

The defendant adopted JJ Vallow. She and her fourth husband, Charles Vallow, the boy’s uncle at the time, raised him as their own in July 2014. The Vallows were married in February 2006 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Previously, Lori Vallow’s co-defendant in the case was her fifth husband, Chad Daybell, who she met in October 2018. In April that year, Lori Vallow’s third husband, Joseph Ryan, biological father to Tylee Ryan, died of an apparent heart attack.

Charles Vallow filed for divorce in February 2019 after Lori Vallow started seeing Daybell – and after she accused him of having an affair. In a court filing, he wrote that his wife had threatened to kill him and stolen substantial cash from him and his truck. In July 2019, Alex Cox, his wife’s brother, killed Charles Vallow.

At the time, Cox claimed self-defense, but authorities later termed his death a homicide. In October 2019, Tammy Daybell, 49, died in her sleep – weeks before the two alleged killers got married. Her death was initially attributed to “natural courses,” but authorities later reversed course and re-opened the investigation. In May 2021, authorities in Fremont County, Idaho, charged Lori Vallow and her current husband with the murder of JJ Vallow, Tylee Ryan, and Tammy Daybell.

But the central players in the sad tale don’t even begin to crack the complex surface of the numerous relationships involved.

The reason the term “doomsday cult” is used in this case

When Charles Vallow filed for divorce, he also noted a distinct change in Lori Vallow’s worldview, writing in one filing that his estranged wife believed she was “a god assigned to carry out the work of the 144,000 at Christ’s second coming in July 2020.” The deceased man’s brother-in-law, Larry Woodcock – who is also JJ Vallow’s biological grandfather – would echo that understanding, telling ABC News in 2019: “Nothing with Lori right now makes sense” and that the woman he knew for 12 years “is not the same person that is here on Earth today.”

Chad Daybell appears to be the source of some, but perhaps not all, of Lori Vallow’s religious beliefs. The two met at an “end-times” conference and later appeared on a podcast about “doomsday” preparations soon after. Daybell is the author of various novels related to end-times theology.

The couple appears to have started as Mormons who eventually came to believe certain people had become inhabited by “zombies” that had distinct names as they turned away from the “light” and moved greater into “darkness.” Law enforcement in Arizona – where Lori Vallow is charged with conspiracy to commit murder – believes that Charles Vallow was killed “in order for Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow to marry and fulfill their religious prophecy.”

The death of the children is believed to be religiously-motivated

In a March 2020 court filing, in a child custody case tangentially related to Lori Vallow’s case, relatives of the accused laid out some of the cult beliefs in detail. An attorney filed the document for Brandon Boudreaux, the ex-husband of Vallow’s niece, Melani Boudreaux Pawlowski. Boudreaux and Pawlowski have children together, and the father, at the time, claimed that Pawlowski shared Vallow’s alleged doomsday belief system and knew where the then-missing children were. In an earlier court filing, Brandon Boudreaux accused his ex-wife of conspiring with her uncle, Alex Cox, to kill him.

Ian Pawlowski, who married Melani Boudreaux after her divorce from Brandon Boudreaux, described the doomsday cult in the following terms in a document he allegedly wrote after being questioned by police in 2019: “[Melani] explained zombies and her fears about what Chad and Lori stated concerning the original spirits being caught in limbo until the body’s death. She stated that [Boudreaux] had been possessed by a demon or another dark entity sometime after June of [2019]. She was told either through revelation or by Chad…that something needed to happen to [Boudreaux] in order for his spirit to progress and for the Lord’s plan to continue. She didn’t take well to the idea of her husband dying as part of the Lord’s plan but didn’t think action would be taken by anyone.”

Melani Pawlowski denied all of the charges leveled against her by her ex-husband. The children’s remains were buried underneath Chad Daybell’s Salem, Idaho property in June 2020.

Daybell and Vallow allegedly asked a friend to lie for them

Melanie Gibb, Lori Vallow’s longtime best friend, has testified extensively in the case by way of Chad Daybell’s preliminary hearing. Aside from offering additional details about the bizarre belief system attributed to the two alleged killers, Gibb also discussed a phone call she recorded with the couple on the day police contacted her about JJ Vallow’s whereabouts.

“I was wondering why you told the police that he was with me?” Gibb asked her friend.

Lori Vallow replied, invoking Kay Woodcock, who had made the initial phone call asking for a welfare check on the special needs child: “I just needed to [unintelligible] to have somebody that I – so I wouldn’t have to tell where he really was cause they were gonna tell Kay where he is.”

Daybell allegedly called and asked Gibb to say JJ Vallow was safe and with her – prompting her to record the next phone call of her own volition. She later turned the recording over to the police.

“If you really loved me, you would not have told the police that I had JJ with me,” Gibb said later in the phone call. “That’s not what a friend does. That just makes me look weird, and it’s just, it’s not safe for me. I don’t look good. I mean, you had to think of my welfare if you loved me.”

Vallow and Daybell were finally tracked down in Hawaii

Chad and Lori were married in Hawaii in November 2019. Investigators alleged neither of the then-missing children was present in photographs of the marriage – and for good reason. At the time, they told people in Kauai that Tylee Ryan had died some two years prior and that Lori Vallow had no minor children. After the ceremony, they returned home to the Gem State. But then they left again – after Gibb and the Woodcocks got local, state, and federal law enforcement involved in the hunt for the missing children.

By December 2019, the couple was back in Hawaii. According to Lori Vallow’s criminal complaint, she and her current husband were spotted together as late as January 2020 – while a nationwide search was raging for the children. In late February 2020, Lori Vallow was arrested on felony charges of child desertion, nonsupport of dependent children, and a handful of misdemeanors. Somewhere along the way, Chad Daybell went back home alone. A search warrant was executed at his property in June 2020, and he was arrested soon after the bodies were found.

The couple’s cases were recently severed and will be tried separately.

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