Two dead spouses, two missing children and rumors of a cult. Confusion is growing around a series of mysterious deaths and the disappearances of a 7-year-old boy and 17-year-old girl that tie back to a couple who have since vanished themselves.
Joshua "JJ" Vallow and Tylee Ryan haven't been seen since September. Lori Vallow and her husband, Chad Daybell, never reported them missing and disappeared soon after being questioned about the children. What has followed is a twisted tale spanning two states that revealed the deaths of both their previous spouses, the couple's doomsday beliefs and children who slowly slipped away from relatives who are desperate to find them.
"All I want before I go is just to see those children, and especially — and I’m being greedy — especially my boy JJ. My little man," grandfather Larry Woodcock said Tuesday at a press conference in Idaho announcing a $20,000 reward for information leading to the kids.
Wife Kay Woodcock's brother, Charles Vallow, adopted JJ when he was a baby. Charles and his wife, Lori Vallow, also raised Lori’s daughter from a previous relationship at their home in suburban Phoenix.
Lori Vallow was a hairdresser, always keeping JJ’s hair trimmed and styled, Larry Woodcock said. The Woodcocks, who live in Lake Charles, Louisiana, visited their grandson often and shared frequent phone calls and video chats when they couldn’t be there in person.
"I do know that Lori always had the best, the absolute best interest in heart for JJ. She and Charles were the absolute best parents," he said.
But things began to change a few years ago, Kay Woodcock said. Her brother confided that he feared Lori was cheating on him with Chad Daybell, an author of several religious-themed fiction books about prophecies and the end of the world.
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Charles Vallow eventually filed divorce documents in an Arizona court last February claiming that Lori believed she was a "translated being" and "a god assigned to carry out the work of the 144,000 at Christ’s second coming in July 2020," The Arizona Republic newspaper reported.
He also accused Lori of threatening to kill him if he got in her way, prompting him to seek a protection order.
"He was highly concerned about it: Her emotional state, her mental state, and the fact that she had made threats about him," Kay Woodcock said Tuesday. "It all culminated into that cult that she’s in."
Lori Vallow and Daybell did Preparing A People podcasts run by a small multimedia company that says it's not a cult or even a group to join and distanced itself from the couple's beliefs. It advertises its lectures, podcasts and videos as readying people for the second coming of Jesus Christ.
Charles and Lori Vallow's divorce was never completed — Charles was killed in July by Lori’s brother, Alex Cox. Cox told authorities that the shooting was in self-defense after Charles Vallow hit him with a baseball bat, but the case is unsolved. Whatever the findings, Cox won’t stand trial — he died of unknown causes in December. Toxicology results could take weeks.
Kay Woodcock said Lori acted strangely when she told the family about Charles’ death, not mentioning the cause. A relative had to search Charles’ name online to find out he had been shot.
"We knew it was a murder, we knew Charles’ death wasn’t a justifiable homicide," Kay Woodcock said. "It was like they set him up."
After the death, Kay and Larry Woodcock said they had a harder time reaching JJ. The once-frequent calls dwindled and grew short. The last one, in August, lasted just 36 seconds and seemed scripted, they said.
That month, Lori moved to Rexburg, Idaho, with the kids. It brought her closer to Chad Daybell’s hometown of Salem, Idaho, where he lived with his wife, Tammy Daybell.
The Daybells ran a publishing company that produced his fiction books about end times and theology around The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as well as other authors' works. He also spoke at Preparing A People events, hosted by Color My Media.
"‘Preparing A People’ is part of a media company that films speakers on a variety of topics not affiliated with any specific religion," Color My Media owners Michael and Nancy James wrote on the company’s website. "It is not a ‘group’ and is not a ‘Cult’ or something people join, but has educational lecture events that can be attended or watched on video."
They also said they didn't share any of Daybell or Vallow’s beliefs "if they are contrary to Christian principles of honesty, integrity and truth or if they do not align with the doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."
Church spokesman Eric Hawkins declined to comment, saying the case doesn't involve the faith.
Two months after Lori Vallow moved to Idaho, Tammy Daybell died at her home. She was just 49, and her obituary said she died of natural causes on Oct. 19. Police would later question that and have her body exhumed for an autopsy, whose results have not been released yet.
Chad Daybell married Lori Vallow just two weeks after Tammy’s death.
In the meantime, relatives were growing more concerned about the children. Larry and Kay Woodcock said they were only able to reach JJ a few times after his father died in July. They have left voice messages, emails and texts since August but haven't heard back.
Investigators later determined JJ and Tylee had not been seen since September, but Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell never reported them missing.
Julie Rowe, a self-described "visionary" and "energy worker" who says she has long been friends with Daybell, uploaded a video on her website defending him and claiming his innocence in the children's disappearances and the death of his previous wife. She said Daybell repeatedly told her he had a vision of Tammy’s death. Rowe claimed to have the same vision.
"My angels tell me that Chad Daybell is being falsely accused of the suspicious death of his wife," she said in the video. "I have talked to Tammy’s spirit."
Two days before Thanksgiving, officers visited Lori and Chad to check on the children after getting calls from worried family members.
Investigators said the couple claimed JJ and Tylee were visiting relatives in Arizona. After discovering the lie, investigators returned to the home the next day — only to find Lori and Chad had left town.
Local, regional and state authorities are still searching for the couple and the children, with help from the FBI. Chad and Lori have been named persons of interest in the children's disappearances.
Sheriff's deputies searched Daybell’s home last week, removing 43 items including computers, cellphones, medication and journals.
An attorney for the couple didn't immediately respond to a message seeking comment.