true crime

Missing children, a cult, and three deaths: The mystery surrounding Lori Vallow's family.

In January, an American man named Colby Ryan posted a seven-minute video to YouTube addressing his mother, Lori Vallow.

“I want you to end this. I want you to end it for everybody, for the kids, for yourself, for all of us,” he said.

“I know you know [what] the right thing to do is and I know you have a good heart… It’s time to do the right thing.”

Lori and her new husband, Chad Daybell, fled in November 2019, the day after being questioned over the disappearance of Lori’s two youngest children: Joshua “JJ” Vallow, seven, and Tylee Ryan, 17.

Watch: Colby Ryan’s plea to his mother.

The half-siblings were last seen in their Idaho town on September 23, but were never reported missing by the couple.

After three months on the run, Lori Vallow was arrested in Hawaii on February 20.

Bizarre details of the case have gripped the US: from Lori and Chad’s doomsday beliefs to the recent deaths of their former partners.

This is what we know.

Lori’s strange beliefs.

In 2019, people close to Lori Vallow started to notice a change in her. She became infatuated with near-death experiences and spiritual visions and began spouting strange delusions about a second-coming of Christ. According to the Associated Press, she worked on a since-deleted podcast about the subject with Chad Daybell, who is the author of more than a dozen doomsday novels.

Lori’s then-husband, Charles Vallow, became suspicious of the pair’s relationship and increasingly concerned about her mental state. He explained his concerns in a petition for divorce, which was filed in court on February 15 2019.

“Mother [Lori Vallow] 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,” the filing read, according to Utah network Fox-13.

“On January 29, 2019, during a phone conversation between the parties and after their physical separation, Mother informed Father that she was a God assigned to carry out the work of the 144,000 at Christ’s second coming in July 2020 and that if Father got in her way [sic] of her mission she would murder him.”

Months later, before their divorce was completed, Charles was dead.

Mysterious deaths and a marriage.

Charles Vallow was fatally shot on July 11 by Lori’s brother, Alex Cox. The details of the killing are under investigation, but Fox-10 reported that Cox claimed to have acted in self-defence after he was attacked while intervening in an argument between the estranged couple.

The month following her husband’s death, Lori moved JJ (who has autism) and Tylee to Rexburg, Idaho — the town where Chad Daybell lived with his wife and five children.

But in October, another tragedy.

Chad’s wife of 30 years, Tammy, “passed away peacefully in her sleep” at their family home, according to an obituary. She was 49.

Just two weeks after Tammy’s death, Chad and Lori married.


The children vanish.

Lori Vallow and her late ex-husband Charles had been married for 13 years before their divorce. They’d adopted JJ together, and Tylee is Lori’s daughter from a previous husband.

On November 26, 2019, concerned relatives asked Idaho police to perform a welfare check on JJ, who they hadn’t been in contact with since September. Lori and Chad told authorities the boy was in Arizona with a family friend. Police were unable able to locate him or Tylee.

Authorities returned the next day to execute a search warrant, but the parents had vanished.

“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,” Rexburg police said in a statement.

As the police investigation ramped up, on December 11 the body of Tammy Daybell was exhumed from a Utah cemetery for further investigation. Police are now treating her death as suspicious.

The next day, Alex Cox — the man who’d shot Lori’s former husband, Charles Vallow — died in Gilbert, Arizona, of unknown causes. A toxicology report is pending, according to Associated Press.

Now, the children have not been seen since last September.

Fox News recently revealed that Lori Vallow asked her then-fiance in October 2018 to determine if her children had “light or dark spirits” in an email, 11 months before their disappearance.

Tylee was determined to be a dark spirit, as was her father, Joseph Ryan (who died in 2018).

JJ, the other child currently missing, was labelled a light spirit.

‘Find it in your heart’: a family’s plea.

And so, with two missing children, two vanished parents and three people dead, the investigation continued across multiple states and with the involvement of the FBI.

According to CNN, investigators didn’t believe the children are with Lori, but they suspect she knows where they are or what happened to them.


In his desperate YouTube clip in January, Colby Ryan urged his mother to at least make a video call to authorities and show them his siblings’ faces.

“I just want them to be safe and I want them to be OK,” he said. “And I just want you to find it in your heart to be able to help this situation.”

JJ’s grandparents, Kay and Larry Woodcock, are offering a US$20,000 reward (AU$29,000) for information leading to the children’s safe return.

“If there is anything that Lori can come forth with and help us, please do it. She knows how much we love these kids. We want only the best for them. Please give them back to us,” Kay told a recent press conference.

“They’re good kids,” Larry added. “They don’t deserve this. And we as a family don’t deserve this.”

Lori Vallow’s arrest.

On February 20, Lori Vallow was arrested by the Kauai Police Department on a warrant issued in Idaho.

Police arrested her in Hawaii in February after she failed to comply with a court order to produce her missing children by January 30.

lori vallow
Image: Freemont County Sheriff's Office.

She is facing multiple charges, including two felony counts of desertion and nonsupport of dependent children, police said in a statement and her bail was set at $5 million - although has since been lowered to $1 million.

Lori Vallow appeared in court for the first time last week, asking for the bail to be reduced once more, with her defence attorney arguing the coronavirus pandemic was hampering their ability to communicate.  The request was denied and Lori Vallow remains behind bars.

Chad Daybell, husband of Vallow, does not face any charges related to the missing children.

A hearing date has been postponed, also due to the global pandemic.

Feature Image: AAP.

This article was originally published on January 10, 2020 and was updated on May 3, 2020.

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