Lori Vallow Case: “When the Moon turns to Blood”

It’s an uncomfortable thing to admit that America is a country besieged by extremist ideologies. After the 2016 election of a President who made far-right fringe views the norm for the Republican Party, and the January 2021 storming at the United States Capitol by hundreds conspiracy-minded citizens trying to overturn the election in 2018, Americans cannot continue to treat extremist ideologies only as an illness of people far away, far away, or out of sight. Truth is, violent far-right ideologies still simmer in school boards and within police departments. They also rage across social media platforms as well as from flag poles. Extremism is quiet in churches on Sundays.  

In late 2019, speculation swirled around the disappearance of two children from a small Idaho city — that perhaps the reason they couldn’t be found had something to do with their parents’ “cult-like” religious beliefs. It raised the alarm of journalist, Leah Sottile, who had written about fringe beliefs at the edges of the LDS Church — particularly the “White Horse Prophecy”: A disputed revelation that was condemned by the mainstream church. It blends Patriotism and the faith and suggests that only a few Mormons will save Constitution in the End Times.

In When the Moon Turns into Blood, Sottile’s book out on June 21, she interrogates the apocalyptic belief system of the children’s mother, Lori Vallow, and the doomsday writings of her husband, Mormon fiction writer Chad Daybell, tracing their origins to a paranoia that exists inside the culture of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is the story of fake prophecies and snake oil charlatans, as well as a story about a beauty queen whose husbands end up dying. And it is a story of how a horror plot can play out in real-life, right in front of everyone’s eyes, and no one will bat an eye.

Lori Vallow, Chad Daybell, and Chad Daybell are currently in jail. They await a January 2023 trial. Both are being accused of first-degree murder, conspiracy and conspiracy. Idaho’s prosecutors say that they will seek the death penalty. They have each pleaded guilty.

This excerpt is taken from courtroom testimony and footage from police bodycam footage.,Readers meet the couple in November 2019 on a cold day just before everything began to crumble. 

Rexburg, Idaho. November 26, 2019

A boy was missing. His disappearance had been reported for days, weeks or even months. But no one was able to say whether it was a coincidence or not. Two days before Thanksgiving, two police detectives arrived at the Pioneer Road townhouse to find out what had happened. The boy couldn’t be anywhere else.

All the tall Rock Creek Hollow town houses are painted in the same muted, beige tone. The same faux brick facades are used and the same tight-cut green lawns. They have beige marble and carpeting. The beige uniformity of these rooms can lead to a child getting lost as they try to find their way home. Some residents leave bundles of pumpkins and cornstalks out in the fall and sprinkle the grass with fallen leaves. The evidence of small children can be seen everywhere in good weather: toys, bicycles, and even metal scooters are scattered on the grass as though they were being called in for dinner. Unit #175 was where the boy went missing with his family.

Joshua was his name, but everyone referred to him as JJ. He was seven years of age, and had a big, toothy smile and a laugh that rocked his entire body. He loved to video chat with his grandparents in Louisiana and carried an iPad tablet everywhere. He called them Paw-Paw, Maw-Maw, and Paw-Paw. Sometimes they spoke twice in one day.

JJ was only a temporary resident of Rexburg, Idaho with his mother Lori Vallow and his sister Tylee Ryan when the local police first learned his name. They had come from outside the state to this remote town of 28,000. This is a place where the landscape rises so abruptly it almost feels like it’s cowering. This is the Idaho where the wind is unrelenting, where the trees are thin and weary, where everything underneath the wide unyielding sky appears to be genuflecting — like it is the blue iris of God, whose gaze is fixed on this very place.

Just up the hill from the townhouse is the Idaho campus of Brigham Young University — the school operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more commonly known as the Mormon Church — and the gleaming white Rexburg Idaho Temple: it was the third of its kind to be constructed in the state of Idaho by the LDS Church. The temple, and this city, are among many that the church has birthed and raised around Interstate 15 — the “Zion Curtain,”As some people call it. The corridor runs south through Salt Lake City, like a spine that holds up Utah’s middle.

Downtown Rexburg businesses pay homage to one thing everyone knows: it may not be Utah but it is certainly Mormon country. This part of Idaho was established by the LDS Church in rapid expansion after the clashes between the Shoshone Tribes and the Bannock Tribes. So there are the Eden Apartments and Righteous Slice Pizza, as well as 15 LDS Churches. Rexburg, and all the surrounding towns, radiate outwards from BYU and its temple like a stone dropped into still water. Everything is a ripple in the faith.

The college district becomes a bustling hub of activity, giving way to a downtown filled with brick facades that evoke Old West towns founded in the middle of 1800s. Rexburg’s ragged edge is like that of many small western cities. It has loading docks, railroad tracks, and metal-sided buildings with large trucks parked on the lot. Beyond the temple grounds are dusty tractors that blow into alfalfa fields and wheat fields.

On that cold morning, two men answered when detectives knocked at #175’s wooden door. One was Alex Cox — Lori Vallow’s eldest brother. The 51-year old bald man had large eyes and a pinched nose. He also had gray whiskers running across his chin. He liked to prop his wraparound sunglasses up on top of his head, even when it wasn’t particularly sunny outside. Lori considered her older brother her protector. Her guardian angel.

Standing at Alex’s side was Chad Daybell, a 51-year-old LDS father of five who ran a small book publishing company. Daybell was a short, slender, and lanky man who possessed a quiet, awkward demeanor. He seemed to be deeply insecure about himself. Daybell wore large clothes, had a forward-leaning gait, and spoke sleepily.

Detective Ray Hermosillo questioned the men about JJ Vallow’s whereabouts. The detective looked like a TV show cop with his shiny head and goatee. If Rexburg were that type of college town, he could easily have worked as a bouncer.

At the detective’s question, Alex looked to Chad, but neither man said a word. Hermosillo repeated his statement. Alex told the officers the boy — his nephew — was out of town, actually. He was visiting his grandmother in Louisiana.

Hermosillo knew that wasn’t true. He told Alex they were asking about the boy because JJ’s Louisiana grandmother, Kay Woodcock, had called the police out of desperation to track down her grandson. Woodcock had told the police that she and her husband had not spoken to JJ in three months and that the last video call they’d had with the boy had struck them as peculiar. JJ answered the phone when they called in August and greeted his grandparents with his trademark enthusiasm. But after a few seconds, they noticed the boy’s eyes flick away, off-screen, as if someone was trying to steal his attention.

“I gotta go!”They were told by the boy. “Bye!”

The call lasted for about 35 seconds. There were months of silence after that. Their calls went straight to voicemail. Lori, his mother, did not return their calls. Her reply was terse and dismissive. They felt that something was wrong.

Hermosillo asked Alex for Lori Vallow’s phone number, but he said he didn’t know it. Chad asked Hermosillo about Lori’s phone number, but he stated that he and Lori had only been to each other a handful of times.

Hermosillo found everything very bizarre. The story Alex Cox told about the boy being in Louisiana was a lie, and he knew Chad was Lori’s brand-new husband. They had married three weeks before on a Hawaiian shore, in bright white clothes and purple orchid lei around their necks.

Hermosillo called his lieutenant after the men had closed the door and explained the situation. He instructed him to go directly to the Madison County Prosecutor’s Office. They would need a search warrant.

Later that morning, a new pair of Rexburg officers arrived on the doorstep of Lori’s beige town house: Detective Dave Stubbs and Lieutenant Ron Ball. They were still searching for JJ Vallow.

Lori Vallow smiled and answered the door. “Hi!”She said this at the sight of them and invited them inside.

At 46 years old, Lori still looked the part of the beauty queen and high school cheerleader she’d once been: sparkling blue eyes, a fluorescent white smile, and always, without fail, wheat-colored hair falling in dreamy curls over her shoulders—the kind of woman who has no bad angle. She believed in the Mormon faith and was a strong believer.

As Lori showed the men inside, she told them that she’d just hung up the phone another detective, who was asking about the whereabouts of her son. “This is a big mess,”She spoke.

“So, JJ would be where?”Ball inquired.

“He’s with one of my friends in Arizona. My friend Melanie. Her son has autism,”She elaborated. Lori informed them that JJ was autistic too.

“We’re a little concerned,”Ball admitted it. Officers who had previously stopped by had been able to get Ball. “a bad vibe”From Alex and Chad. “Nobody knew anything about a child,”He stated.

“It’s because a lot of stuff has gone on, if you want to know,”She said, “annoyance at her edge of voice.”

“That’s why we’re concerned,” Stubbs said. Their encounter with Daybells and Cox “was kind of weird.”

Lori agreed. “It is very weird. I’ve had to move around a lot,”She elaborated.

Rexburg was her first visit from Arizona. However, she had already made plans to move back to Arizona with her children. She spoke of Kay Woodcock — JJ’s grandmother in Louisiana, who had alerted the police that something might be wrong with her grandson — like the woman was a splinter caught underneath her fingernails, a gnat she couldn’t bat away.

It was true that Kay Woodcock was JJ’s grandmother. It was harder to explain her relationship with Lori. By November 2019, Woodcock technically was Lori’s ex-sister-in-law. Lori had been married to Woodcock’s brother, Charles Vallow, for thirteen years. And Charles and Lori had adopted JJ — Kay Woodcock’s grandson, the son of her own son — when the boy was two years old because his birth parents were unable to care for the boy. Lori Woodcock and Woodcock were not good friends.

The officers were not informed that Charles Vallow had been murdered several months before. She told them only that Vallow had died, but she had no life insurance for her or JJ. However, he had given Kay Woodcock everything he had.

After Charles’s sudden death, Kay Woodcock had become a greater presence in Lori’s life — intrusive, needling, asking questions Lori didn’t want to answer. She was worried that Woodcock might take JJ.

“I’m a good person,”She spoke. “Raised all of my kids! I’ve done everything that I’m supposed to do in life. But everyone is causing me trouble right now.”

Lori shared with them the story of her daughter Tylee Ryan. The only reason they’d moved to Rexburg was for her to attend BYU–Idaho, just up the hill from the town house.

leah sottile

Author Leah Sottile. Her latest book, ‘When the Moon Turns to Blood’This publication is available from June 21.

Holly Andres*

Before they left, the officers asked about the men they’d seen earlier. She asked her brother who was that guy? They were told by his friend. Chad.

“What’s his last name?”

“Daybell,”She spoke.

“Chad… Daybell?”Ball clarified. “D-a-y-b-e-l-l?”

“Mm-hmm. He’s an author,”She spoke.

“Doesn’t he live, like, out in the… Isn’t that the Chad Daybell that, uh…”Ball lost his words. “Didn’t his wife pass away recently?”

“I think so,”She spoke.

The officers said they were sorry for bothering her — they didn’t mean to add to her problems.

“I’m sorry that people are constantly knocking on my door looking for me! And I just don’t want to be found,”She snarled, not understanding their kindness.

Before they left she asked a question which seemed to be directed towards no one. It was a question that had been answered by the officers unbeknownst. “What are they going to do with JJ and Tylee?”Her voice was not a hint that she had said something.

According to the detectives, Melanie was asked by them to call her Arizona friend Melanie as soon as possible, so that they can officially locate JJ.

The whole thing was over once Melanie called the police. Lori said she’d pass the message along. Lori thanked the detectives and said goodbye.

By the next morning — November 27 — when no law enforcement officer in either Idaho or Arizona had located JJ Vallow, and Melanie had not called the police, Detective Hermosillo returned to the beige townhome community—this time with a search warrant.

Inside, the officers found a half bottle of pills with JJ’s name on the label on the kitchen counter—prescription Risperidone, which can treat irritability associated with autism. There were toys. The refrigerator had a framed image of Jesus Christ. An assortment of hangers unoccupied hung from rods that were hung in empty closets.

Lori Vallow could not be found.

 

Excerpted formWhen the Moon Turns into Blood: Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell and a Story of Murder and Wild Faith. © 2022 Leah Sottile and reprinted by permission from Twelve Books/Hachette Book Group. 

You can preorder the book Here.

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