PHOENIX - In the months after her husband’s death, Lori Vallow Daybell aroused suspicions among relatives who told investigators that she believed a demon had overcome her estranged spouse.
They also worried about the whereabouts of the couple’s 7-year-old son, and even the boy’s school in Arizona relayed a lie Daybell told that raised red flags: that his father had died from suicide. In reality, he had been shot and killed by her brother, according to newly released police documents.
The 2019 shooting death of Charles Vallow is one of four killings that Daybell is charged with conspiring to commit in a bizarre and complicated case spanning several states and tied to her and a new husband’s doomsday beliefs. A friend has previously told police that Daybell remarked that her children had become "zombies" because dark spirits had taken over their bodies and that she believed the only way to rid a person of a dark spirit was by killing them.
Daybell and her new husband, Chad Daybell, have been charged in Idaho with conspiracy to commit murder in the deaths of those children, 7-year-old Joshua "JJ" Vallow and 17-year-old Tylee Ryan. They were missing for several months — when police say the couple lied about the children’s whereabouts and then slipped away to Hawaii — before their bodies were found buried on Chad Daybell’s property in rural Idaho.
JJ Vallow and Tylee Ryan (file)
The couple faces the same charge in the death of his previous wife, Tammy Daybell, having raised suspicions after he and Lori married two weeks later. Prosecutors have declined to charge Chad Daybell in Vallow’s death, saying there was no likelihood of winning a conviction.
Police provided The Associated Press with more than 2,500 pages of documents from the investigation into Vallow’s death in response to a public records request, and they offer new details about the case.
The documents say Vallow was killed when he went to pick up his son at his estranged wife’s home in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler on July 11, 2019. He wanted to carry out a mental health intervention on his wife, but she was tipped off to the plan, leading her and her brother to concoct their own plot, investigators said. Her brother claimed he acted in self-defense after Vallow attacked him with a baseball bat, but his account of the killing has been called into question by investigators. He later died, intensifying the mystery.
Mark Means, Lori Daybell’s lawyer in the Idaho case, didn’t return a call and email seeking comment.
Among the documents were emails sent to investigators from JJ’s grandmother, Kay Woodcock, who said relatives believed Lori Daybell was involved in her son’s death and worried about the whereabouts of her grandson.
She also explored getting custody of JJ after Vallow’s death and mentioned how odd it was that the wife of Chad Daybell — whom Vallow suspected was having an affair with Lori — had died.
Woodcock and her family were distraught when Lori Daybell decided not to bring JJ to his father’s memorial service in Louisiana.
"We are moving to Hawaii asap before school starts there," Daybell wrote in a text message to Woodcock. "Please send me the address that you want me to send the ashes to for your memorial."
Lori Daybell’s sister-in-law, whose name has been redacted from the records, told a detective in an email the day after Vallow’s death that Daybell had told relatives that Vallow needed to die because his body had been overcome by a demon.
The sister-in-law told police that Vallow believed his wife and her brother, Alex Cox, were going to kill him. She also questioned Lori Daybell’s decision to bring JJ to school just after the shooting that killed the boy’s father.
"How are you rational enough to drive a kid to school and your husband is dead on the floor?" the sister-in-law wrote.
About two weeks after the slaying, Daybell told people at JJ’s metro Phoenix school that his father had killed himself and that the boy didn’t know he had died, the school’s chief executive, Margaret Travillion, wrote in an email to police. Two school officials learned with an online search that Vallow was killed in a family dispute. JJ, who on some days seemed sad and distressed, told a person at the school that his father was traveling, Travillion wrote.
Daybell withdrew him from the school about two months after his father’s death, saying she had to move immediately because she got a job in California, Travillion wrote.
Investigators questioned the account of Vallow’s killing from Daybell’s brother Alex Cox, but he was never arrested in the case and died five months later from what medical examiners said was a pulmonary blood clot.
Investigators say Cox waited about 43 minutes to call 911 after shooting Vallow, and records show that Cox called Lori Daybell during that time. They also say Cox acted as if he tried to revive Vallow, when it didn’t appear he had.
Cox claimed he shot Vallow twice while Vallow was standing, but forensic evidence shows Vallow was already on the floor when the second shot was fired, police said. Investigators say Daybell took Vallow’s rental car and cellphone and that GPS data showed she went to get fast food for her son and bought flip-flops at a pharmacy before returning home.
It wasn’t the first time Cox tangled with one of Lori Daybell’s husbands. Twelve years earlier, police say Cox shot Joseph Ryan — who had been married to Lori and is Tylee’s father — in the back with a stun gun in Texas. Ryan told police that Cox said he was going to kill him during the attack, according to police records. Cox later pleaded guilty to assault.
After Vallow’s death, Lori and the two children moved to Idaho, where Chad Daybell lived. He ran a small publishing company with his first wife and released several of his own books — doomsday-focused fiction loosely based on the theology of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Idaho case against Lori Daybell is on hold while she’s treated at a mental health facility. A judge had her committed after determining she wasn’t competent to assist in her defense. She hasn’t yet entered a plea in the Arizona case.
Chad Daybell has pleaded not guilty in Idaho. His attorney, John Prior, declined to comment on the newly released records.
Boone reported from Boise, Idaho.
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