BOISE, Idaho - It all started with a call about a Jeep suspected in a shooting, an Idaho detective told jurors Tuesday in the triple murder trial of a woman accused in the death of her two children and a romantic rival.
But investigators soon found evidence that raised suspicions of a bigger crime, Rexburg Detective Ray Hermosillo said, including lying witnesses; a stash of weapons, duct tape and rope; and evidence that two children were missing. The search eventually led them to a local man’s yard and two gruesome burial sites containing the kids’ remains.
Lori Vallow Daybell and her fifth husband, Chad Daybell, are both charged with multiple counts of conspiracy, murder and grand theft in connection with the deaths of Vallow Daybell’s two youngest children: 7-year-old Joshua "JJ" Vallow and big sister Tylee Ryan, who was last seen shortly before her 17th birthday in 2019. The children were buried on Chad Daybell’s eastern Idaho property. Prosecutors also charged the couple in connection with the October 2019 death of Chad Daybell’s late wife, Tammy Daybell.
Both defendants have pleaded not guilty and are being tried separately. Chad Daybell’s trial is still months away. Vallow Daybell faces up to life in prison if convicted.
Madison County Prosecutor Rob Wood spent the morning questioning Hermosillo about the initial steps of the investigation.
The case was sparked by a Nov. 1, 2019 call from police in Gilbert, Arizona, Hermosillo said. The agency wanted help from Rexburg police to perform surveillance on the couple and seize a Jeep Wrangler that was suspected of being used in an attempted shooting. On Monday, jurors heard testimony from an Arizona man who had recently divorced Vallow Daybell’s niece. Brandon Boudreaux said someone driving a Jeep Wrangler shot at him outside his home, and the Jeep resembled one that belonged to Tylee.
Investigators surveilled Vallow Daybell’s apartment in Idaho and snapped photos of Vallow Daybell and Chad Daybell entering and leaving, Hermosillo said, and spotted the jeep on Nov. 4. But they never saw any kids at the home, and were surprised when officers from the Arizona agency showed up two weeks later and told them about JJ and Tylee.
"We weren’t told they were missing — we were told their grandmother Kay Woodcock was concerned she hadn’t spoken with JJ for awhile," Hermosillo said. Rexburg police agreed to keep a watch on the residence while Gilbert police checked for the kids in Arizona.
Woodcock asked law enforcement to perform a welfare check on JJ in Idaho on Nov. 25, Hermosillo said.
The next morning, officers approached Vallow Daybell’s brother Alex Cox, who was standing with Chad Daybell outside the apartment. Both acted suspiciously, Hermosillo said, with Cox telling officers that JJ was with Woodcock and Daybell claiming he’d only met Vallow Daybell once or twice.
Why was Daybell’s claim suspicious? "We knew that Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow had been married two weeks prior," Hermosillo told the jury.
Rexburg police got search warrants for Vallow Daybell’s apartment, Cox’s apartment and the apartment rented by Melani Pawlowski, Vallow Daybell’s niece who was married to Boudreaux.
Vallow Daybell’s apartment looked like a normal, lived-in apartment, with dishes in the sink and food in the refrigerator, but not a stitch of clothing was in the closets, Hermosillo said. Two white disposable coveralls, like those used for painting or working with hazardous materials, were discovered during the searches. Investigators also found several weapons including two rifles and silencers, a military-style ghillie suit used for blending in with natural terrain, and a Halloween costume-style mask sitting atop a bag containing rope and duct tape.
JJ and Tylee were added to a national registry of missing children in December and police asked the public for help finding them. The last known proof-of-life was in the form of snapshots, Hermosillo said — one taken of Tylee in West Yellowstone in early September and one taken of JJ sitting on a couch later that month.
Vallow Daybell never reported her two youngest children missing, Hermosillo told jurors, and defied a court order to show them to police. The search ended in June 2020, when Tylee’s and JJ’s remains were found buried in Chad Daybell’s yard.
JJ’s body was bound with duct tape, wrapped in plastic and buried under a tree, Hermosillo said. Tylee’s body had been burned and destroyed — a mass of blood and tissue placed in a partially melted plastic bucket and buried in a part of the yard the Daybell family called the "pet cemetery," Hermosillo said.
More of Tylee’s remains were found at a burn pit on the property, he said.
Seventh District Judge Steven Boyce directed the court to take an early lunch break, presumably so jurors could eat before they would be shown graphic photos of the children’s remains.
On Monday, prosecutors attempted to paint Vallow Daybell as a woman who would do anything to remove obstacles — including her own kids — to her relationship with Chad Daybell. They said she conspired in the death of Chad’s previous wife Tammy Daybell, who died in October 2019. Tammy Daybell’s death was initially reported as being from natural causes, but authorities had her body exhumed and determined in an autopsy that she died of asphyxiation.
Defense attorneys, meanwhile, suggested prosecutors didn’t know what had happened and pointed to language in the murder charges that accused Vallow Daybell of either directing, encouraging, ordering or participating in the deaths. A reasonable jury would have to find her not guilty, her attorney Jim Archibald said.
Prosecutors also described extreme religious beliefs that they said Vallow Daybell and Daybell promoted. They said the pair claimed to be able to tell if people were possessed by dark spirits, that some possessions turned the inhabitant into a "zombie," and that the only way to save a zombie’s soul was by killing the person’s body.
Friends of Vallow Daybell will testify that she said the children and Tammy Daybell were "dark" before their deaths, Prosecutor Lindsey Blake said. At least one friend told police that Vallow Daybell called both children "zombies" before they disappeared, according to police records.
"The common theme was the body has to be destroyed," Blake said. "The defendant and Chad used their self-proclaimed religious teachings to justify their actions to others — their actions from affair to murder."
The Associated Press (AP) contributed to this report.
FOX 10's Justin Lum is in Idaho covering the trial. Follow him at @jlumfox10 on Twitter for the latest from the courtroom.