A string of family deaths surround tragedy of Lori Vallow’s children

The investigation revealed a much darker tale beyond the missing kids.

March 2, 2021, 3:56 PM

Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell had both been recently widowed when they were married on a beach in Hawaii in Nov. 2019. It was Daybell’s second marriage and Vallow’s fifth.

The newlyweds posed for photos with flower leis across their necks for the celebration on Kauai’s picturesque shores. It all seemed perfect -- except neither of their families or friends were there for the occasion.

"I don't think I knew that Lori married Chad Daybell until I saw it on TV," Vallow's mother Janis Cox said in an interview with "20/20" in May 2020.

Shortly after Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow’s wedding, the country learned that Vallow’s two minor children, 7-year-old J.J. Vallow and 16-year-old Tylee Ryan, had not been seen for weeks.

“20/20” followed the investigation of the two missing children for over a year, through Arizona, Hawaii, New York, Idaho, Utah, California and Texas.

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The investigation revealed a much darker tale beyond the missing kids, including a string of deaths of people close to either Vallow or Daybell, as well as adherence to a strange doomsday ideology.

Lori Vallow’s first three marriages: 1992-2006

At 18 years old, Lori Vallow left home and married her high school sweetheart Nelson in 1992. Their marriage didn’t last, and she married William in 1995. She had her first child, Colby, in 1996. She and William separated and she married Joseph Ryan in 2001.

“One reason Lori had wanted to get married was to have another baby,” her mother said. “So, she got pregnant with Tylee right away, and she was really excited about having Tylee.”

PHOTO: Authorities say no one saw Tylee after a trip to Yellowstone National Park on Sept. 8, 2019.
Authorities say no one saw Tylee after a trip to Yellowstone National Park on Sept. 8, 2019.
April Raymond

During their marriage, Vallow went on “Wheel of Fortune,” where she spoke about their family life.

“I have a wonderful husband, Joseph, at home, who is watching our two beautiful children,” she said on the show in 2004. “We like to play all kinds of sports on our three acres.”

However, behind the facade, their marriage was falling apart.

Vallow filed for divorce, claiming her husband was abusive toward her children. The abuse claims were never substantiated against Joseph Ryan.

Through the couple’s long and contentious custody battle, Vallow's family played a vital role in supporting her.

“[Alex Cox said] that he kind of took it upon himself to protect Tylee and Colby, and that he had attempted to take Joe's life,” April Raymond, Vallow’s friend, said.

PHOTO: Summer Shiflet, Janis Cox, Melani Pawlowski, Lori Vallow (from left to right)
Summer Shiflet, Janis Cox, Melani Pawlowski, Lori Vallow (from left to right)
Melani Pawlowski

Lori Vallow’s brother, Alex Cox, assaulted Joseph Ryan during a visitation with daughter Tylee in Aug. 2007 with a taser, according to police.

Alex pleaded guilty to an aggravated assault charge in the second degree and served three months in jail.

The single mother of two was on her own again, until she met Charles Vallow.

“I don't know why Lori's been married so many times,” Janis Cox said. “She’s always worn her heart on her sleeve. She thinks that she is trying to help people when she marries them.”

Janis Cox added she thought Charles Vallow was “the best of Lori's husbands.”

“We all liked him. He's from the south, very well-mannered, and they seemed like a really good couple," she said.

Charles Vallow converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when he married Lori, a lifelong practicing member.

Lori and Charles Vallow were married in 2006 in Las Vegas. The family settled first in Texas, then moved to Arizona.

They blended their families, and adopted Charles Vallow's nephew J.J., who was diagnosed with autism.

PHOTO: J.J. and adopted mom Lori Vallow.
J.J. and adopted mom Lori Vallow.
Woodcock Family

“Tylee was the dearest, dearest little girl. She has a tough exterior, but she's got a marshmallow heart,” Janis Cox said. “Lori was who Tylee really loved, and really, I think she looked up to her mom.”

She also said her daughter embraced J.J. and took him in as her own.

J.J.’s grandfather, Larry Woodcock, said, “We loved Lori. … She was a wonderful mom.”

Lori Vallow’s fourth marriage unravels as she embraces doomsday prophecy: 2006-2019

For the better part of 14 years, Lori and Charles Vallow seemed to have a happy marriage -- until Lori Vallow’s friend April Raymond said she started talking about a new religious group she became involved in.

“She would bring it up more and more often, and I could see that she was becoming more involved with it and it was kind of becoming more of the focal point in her life,” Raymond said. It began to cause friction in Lori Vallow’s marriage.

Lori Vallow spoke often about an author named Chad Daybell, who wrote doomsday books about the end of the world.

“Lori had always been a fan of Chad's books, and so that's how I first heard about Chad, from Lori… She would talk about this author that she was really interested in and really connected with his work,” Raymond said. “I would describe her as a super fan.”

Friends say Lori Vallow was fascinated by Daybell’s teachings.

“What they basically said is … ‘We're here to gather the 144,000 [who are prophesied to survive the apocalypse] and you are one of them,’ and I just didn't want any part of that,” Raymond said.

Raymond admitted she eventually felt the need to distance herself from Lori Vallow.

Janis Cox remembered her daughter telling her that Charles Vallow had accused her of having an affair with Daybell. Friends say Lori also accused Charles of infidelity, but that claim has not been corroborated.

The couple's problems came to a head in Jan. 2019 when Charles Vallow was traveling home from a business trip in Texas. Raymond said Lori told her that when she learned of Charles Vallow’s alleged affair, she canceled his return flight, took his truck from the airport, hid it and threw all of his clothes away as revenge.

According to court documents, Charles Vallow claimed his wife drained $35,000 from their bank account, too.

That’s when Charles Vallow called police saying his wife “lost her mind” and had told him “I can murder you now with my powers.”

“She said, ‘You’re not Charles. I don’t know who you are or what you did with Charles but I could murder you now with my powers,’” Charles Vallow was recorded saying on police body camera. “She won’t go to the doctor because she’s a translated being and they would find out she’s translated. She cannot be killed. She cannot die.”

Within days, Charles Vallow hired an attorney.

“I've been a divorce attorney for 30 years… I've never had anybody that came in that was this specific, that said, ‘I'm afraid I'm going to be murdered and this is who's going to do it and here's why it's going to happen,’” Steven Ellsworth, Charles Vallow’s divorce attorney, said.

Lori and Charles Vallow briefly attempted to reconcile, but then separated.

Charles Vallow is killed: July 2019

“Charles knew his destiny,” Larry Woodcock, his brother-in-law, said. “He was able to see his own demise.”

On July 11, 2019, Charles Vallow went to his estranged wife’s home in Chandler, Arizona, to pick up his son J.J. and take him to school.

Alex Cox told police he was at the house to make sure the handoff of J.J. between Lori and Charles went smoothly. In an alleged scuffle, Cox shot and killed Charles Vallow.

In a 911 call to police, Cox said it had only been five minutes since the shooting, but Cox was already alone in the house, meaning Lori Vallow and kids J.J. and Tylee must have left almost immediately after the shooting.

Police thought it was strange that Lori Vallow had prioritized taking J.J. to school as her husband lay dying. She and the kids stopped at Burger King to get J.J. breakfast, keeping his routine for his special needs, police said.

Lori Vallow told police that her estranged husband came over and took J.J. to the car when he realized he’d left his cell phone in the house.

Lori Vallow claimed that’s when they got into an argument. She said that Tylee came into the room, holding a bat and stood beside her. Lori Vallow also said Charles Vallow ripped the bat from Tylee’s hands, prompting Alex Cox to intervene. Alex Cox retrieved a gun as Lori Vallow and her daughter left the house to join J.J. outside.

Alex Cox said he told Charles Vallow to drop the bat, but he allegedly refused and attacked Cox, which is when Alex Cox said he shot Charles Vallow in self-defense.

“He said, ‘Charles just kept coming with the bat. ... I didn't have any other choice,’” Janis Cox said. “‘Mom, I feel terrible,’ he said, ‘but I'd do anything to protect Lori and Tylee.’”

Police did not arrest Alex Cox, but Det. Nathan Moffat said he remembers thinking, “This just doesn't feel right."

“The odd part about it would be the complete lack of emotion. It was pretty nonchalant. Lori had a big smile on her face,” Moffat said of Lori’s demeanor as he drove her home from the police station.

PHOTO: Investigators Nathan Moffat and Cassandra Ynclan.
Investigators Nathan Moffat and Cassandra Ynclan.

Chandler Police detectives say they were investigating the self defense claims from Alex Cox when he and Lori moved to Idaho. The case remains open.

Lori Vallow and kids move to Idaho, closer to Chad Daybell: Sept. 2019

A month and a half later, Lori Vallow, brother Alex Cox and kids J.J. and Tylee relocated to Rexburg, Idaho, where Chad Daybell had lived with his wife and children for years.

Kay Woodcock says she only saw her grandson J.J. three more times - on FaceTime calls - after her brother was killed.

“The last one [was] 35 seconds,” she said. “[J.J.] said a couple little things and then you could see his eyes look up and [he said], ‘I gotta go. I gotta go. Bye.’ And then boom, it was just that fast. And that's the last time we saw him.”

PHOTO: J.J.'s grandparents Kay and Larry Woodcock.
J.J.'s grandparents Kay and Larry Woodcock.

The grandparents learned the family had moved to Idaho but didn’t know their exact location.

“Her move to Idaho...that was completely out of character because I know her...If it's below 80 degrees, she is freezing,” Kay Woodcock, Lori’s former sister-in-law said. “So for her to move to Idaho [it] was just, oh, no, something's up. I knew something was up with that.”

J.J. and Tylee seen alive for the last time: Sept. 2019

Lori Vallow and Alex Cox took Tylee and J.J. to Yellowstone National Park on Sept. 8, 2019. No one saw Tylee after that trip.

The FBI later released a photo from Lori Vallow from the Yellowstone trip, saying it was Tylee's last known photo, as the search continued for the children. She is seen in the photo with J.J. and uncle Alex Cox.

Two weeks later, on Sept. 22, Lori Vallow was talking with friends when she expressed frustration, saying she believed J.J. had become a zombie, according to police records.

Lori's friends told police, Alex came over to Lori's apartment and took J.J. out for awhile, but brought J.J. back that evening, when guests were present. Friends say J.J. was sleeping on Alex's shoulder.

The next morning, J.J. was gone and the guests asked Lori Vallow where he was. According to police records, Lori explained J.J. was acting up so her brother came and took him back in the middle of the night. J.J. was never seen again.

Tammy Daybell's frightening encounter, days before her sudden death: Oct. 2019

Chad Daybell’s wife, Tammy Daybell, was returning home from work on Oct. 9, 2019 when someone rushed her from behind.

The 49-year-old librarian later posted on her Facebook page that “a guy with a ski mask was suddenly standing by the back of my car with a paintball gun. He shot at me several times, although I don’t think it was loaded.”

“I yelled for Chad and [the masked man] ran off, around the back of my house,” she wrote. “I have no idea what his motive was and we never spoke, even after I asked him several times what he thought he was doing.”

Just 10 days later, she was found dead. Tammy Daybell’s obituary says she died in her sleep from natural causes. She was training for a marathon when she died.

Chad Daybell declined to have an autopsy. She was buried in Utah and he received a $430,000 life insurance payout.

Meanwhile, Kay Woodcock decided to do some investigating of her own. She and her brother, Charles Vallow, shared everything, including his passwords to online accounts.

“I saw emails, and that email account was linked to the Amazon account,” Kay Woodcock said. “Lori was ordering from the Amazon account still, so I clicked on those and boom. There, I see the address they're at in Rexburg, Idaho, apartment number, everything.”

The account's purchase history showed that two wedding rings had been recently shipped to Lori Vallow. The shipping address led police to her new home in Rexburg, Idaho.

Suspicion mounts against Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell: Nov. 2019

Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell were married on the Hawaiian island of Kauai on Nov. 5, 2019. As they were enjoying paradise, investigators were methodically gathering evidence.

Photos from the wedding show Lori Vallow wearing what appears to be the same ring as the one purchased on Charles Vallow's Amazon account. The order records obtained by ABC News showed the rings had been ordered in early October, two weeks before Tammy Daybell was found dead.

The couple returned to Rexburg, and on Nov. 26, 2019, Rexburg police conducted a child welfare check at the request of Kay and Larry Woodcock.

Police first spoke to Alex Cox and Chad Daybell outside of the townhomes. According to officers, Daybell acted as if he didn't know Lori Vallow despite just marrying her.

Alex Cox told police J.J. was fine and with his grandmother Kay Woodcock in Louisiana. Rexburg Det. Ray Hermosillo said that was unlikely because she was the one who asked police to conduct a welfare check.

When Rexburg police spoke to Lori Vallow at her townhouse, she said J.J. was with her friend Melanie Gibb in Arizona. According to police records, Gibb said that Lori Vallow then called her and asked her to back up her story to police about J.J.'s whereabouts, even though it was J.J. was not with Melanie. Melanie told police the 7-year-old was not with her.

With police closing in, Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell were back in Hawaii within the week.

On Nov. 29, 2019, Alex Cox drove with his girlfriend Zulema Pastenes to Las Vegas and got married in a simple and short ceremony. Cox took his wife’s last name, according to the owner of the chapel the couple were married in.

Alex Cox dies: Dec. 2019

On Dec. 8, 2019 Gibb recorded a phone call with Lori Vallow in which she confronted her about asking Gibb to lie to police. Lori Vallow told her she and Chad Daybell were not in Idaho, but would not reveal where they were.

“I just needed to talk [to] somebody, so I wouldn’t have to tell them where he really was if they were going to tell Kay where he is,” Lori Vallow said. “Most of my family is working against me. … [J.J.] is safe and happy.”

On Dec. 11, 2019, Tammy Daybell’s remains were exhumed in Springville, Utah, as investigators re-examined her unexpected death. She was re-buried the same day after an autopsy was performed. Her autopsy was recently completed but has not yet been released.

The very next day, and only two weeks after his wedding, Alex Cox collapsed in the upstairs bathroom of his wife Zulema Pastenes’ home. Her 25-year-old son, Joseph Pastenes, called 911, apparently unaware that Cox was his step-father and told the 911 operator he didn’t know what Cox’s last name was.

Paramedics took Alex Cox to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Months later, a medical examiner concluded that he died of natural causes.

Alex Cox’s mother said she didn’t know he had died until seven days later, or that he had recently married.

“About Alex's death, we had him cremated, which were his wishes, and we had a service for him,” Janis Cox said. “We didn't invite anyone to his service that believed that he was a murderer, so it was a very small, precious group of us who loved him.”

Rexburg police and the FBI issued a press release announcing J.J. and Tylee are missing endangered children on Dec. 20, 2019 and the story erupted across the U.S.

On Jan. 25, Lori Vallow was ordered by an Idaho court to “physically produce” Tylee and J.J. within five days. Lori never responded and the deadline passed without any sign of either child.

Lori Vallow is arrested: Feb. 20, 2020

Five months after J.J. was last seen, Lori Vallow was arrested in Princeville, Hawaii, and extradited to Idaho.

She was charged with two felony counts of child desertion, along with three misdemeanors, and held on $5 million bond. She pleaded not guilty and the two felony charges were later dropped.

Alex Cox’s phone leads police to kids after his death: June 2020

After Alex Cox died, police did a forensic examination of his phone. It's through that examination investigators were able to extract key evidence that led them to Tylee and J.J. In court documents, police noted they worked with the FBI's Cellular Analysis Survey Team to pinpoint Cox's whereabouts within 20 feet of a location.

After Tylee was last seen in a Sept. 8, 2019 photo with J.J. and Alex Cox taken at Yellowstone National Park, investigators placed Alex Cox’s phone at Lori Vallow’s Rexburg, Idaho apartment in the early morning hours of Sept. 9. It was the only time Alex Cox's phone was on between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m, investigators said.

At 9:30 a.m., Alex Cox’s phone placed him at Chad Daybell’s property about 8 miles away. A short time after Alex Cox had left the property, Chad Daybell sent a text message to his then-wife Tammy saying he had shot a raccoon and buried it in the pet cemetery, according to police records. Yet, investigators have not found a raccoon there.

Two weeks later, on Sept. 22, J.J. was last seen in the evening by overnight guests in Lori Vallow’s home. The next morning, J.J. was nowhere to be found.

Alex Cox’s phone places him at Chad Daybell’s property four times. In two of those cases, police believe he’s indoors, inside the home. The other two instances occur on Sept. 9 and Sept. 22, and during both times, Alex Cox is believed to be in the backyard.

Remains of J.J. and Tylee are found on Chad Daybell’s property: June 9, 2020

Early in the morning of June 9, a team of FBI investigators, assisted by local authorities, arrived at Chad Daybell’s property in Salem, Idaho.

“They removed some top soil that was underneath the sod, which revealed three white rocks,” Rexburg Det. Ray Hermosillo said in court. “Underneath the white rocks was some thin wood paneling... As soon as they removed the wood paneling, I could smell the odor of a decomposing body.”

“It was a small body tightly wrapped in black plastic, covered in duct tape,” he said.

Investigators said they immediately recognized what could be J.J.'s hair.

In another section of the property, they found charred remains, which the FBI had a forensic anthropologist analyze. They also found a melted green bucket where flesh had apparently been placed and, under the bucket, part of a human skull, Hermosillo said.

The human remains were matched through dental records to Tylee Ryan.

While the search was underway, Chad Daybell watched from the driveway, sitting in his car. First, he moved across the street and, as the remains were uncovered, he pulled away and started driving.

Police quickly pulled him over and arrested him.

Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell await their fate behind bars: Feb. 2021

After the remains were identified as Tylee and J.J., Lori Vallow’s sister Summer Shiflet posted a statement.

“We have prayed for the truth to come to light, but we never thought it would look like this,” she wrote. “Tylee and J.J. are completely irreplaceable in our family… There are no words that can capture this loss. Words are just inadequate... Our family will never be the same.”

PHOTO: Lori Vallow’s sister Summer Shiflet
Lori Vallow’s sister Summer Shiflet

As of now, no murder charges have been filed against either Lori Vallow or Chad Daybell.

However, Vallow has pleaded not guilty to two felony charges of conspiracy to commit destruction, alteration or concealment of evidence. If convicted, each charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

“Mrs. Vallow is entitled to all the privileges and rights that accompany our cornerstone belief of innocents, until proven beyond a reasonable doubt otherwise,” her lawyer Mark Means said in a March 2020 statement. “Mrs. Vallow is guaranteed access to a fair and impartial legal process.”

“In the coming days we look forward to the opportunity to work through the Court system to bring a resolution to this matter.”

Daybell has pleaded not guilty to two felony counts of destruction, alteration or concealment of evidence. If convicted, each charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow’s next court date is March 22, as their team moves to dismiss the charges, as well as to change venue. The couple’s cases have been joined by the court.