Chad Daybell sentenced to death in the sex, money and dark spirits doomsday murders trial

Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow
Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow believed in dark spirits and zombies

Self-styled prophet Chad Daybell told the world the apocalypse was coming and spoke of dark spirits, but prosecutors say he lusted for sex, money and power.

Now the former gravedigger has been sentenced to death after being convicted of triple murder. A jury in Idaho unanimously agreed on Saturday that imposing the death penalty would be a just resolution to the case.

In 2017, Daybell wrote in his book that doomsday, in the shape of a huge earthquake, was coming. Two years later, five people in his life were dead, including two children.

Over the course of two murder trials, a web of lies and dark beliefs surrounding Daybell and his lover¬†Lori Vallow¬†has been revealed. Both have now been found guilty of murdering two of Vallow’s children, and Daybell was also convicted of murdering his first wife, Tammy.

Vallow, who is now his second wife, is already serving life in prison.

Daybell and Vallow identified anyone who stood in their way as “dark spirits” or “zombies”, an alternative reality that gave them pretext to remove them, prosecutors said. His defence team painted a picture of a simple author seduced by a manipulative woman.

“When he had a chance at what he considered his rightful destiny, he made sure that no person and no law would stand in his way,” prosecutor Rob Wood told his trial.

What was it like for Daybell’s followers, surrounded by talk of zombies and spirits, and why did two children end up buried in his backyard?

Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow. Pic: KSLTV
Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow. (Image: KSLTV)

 

Daybell and Vallow met at a religious conference in October 2018 in St George, a city in southern Utah surrounded by deep red rocks and distant mountains.

He was well known in the Mormon community as a publisher and author, whose books often featured themes of the apocalypse. Heavy set with brown hair, he was giving a talk at the event.

“Lori was being really flirtatious towards him,” her brother’s wife and a close friend Zulema Pastenes told Daybell’s murder trial years later. “She was really putting the moves on him.”

Vallow, a former Mrs Texas beauty pageant contestant with glossy blonde hair, clearly caught his eye. He giggled as they chatted, Zulema said.

FILE - Lori Vallow Daybell sits in a police car after a hearing at the Fremont County Courthouse in St. Anthony, Idaho, on Aug. 16, 2022. The sister of Tammy Daybell, who was killed in what prosecutors say was a doomsday-focused plot, told jurors Friday, April 28, 2023, that her sister's funeral was held so quickly that some family members couldn't attend. The testimony came in the triple murder trial of Vallow Daybell, who is accused along with Chad Daybell in Tammy's death and the deaths of Vallow Daybell's two youngest children. (Tony Blakeslee/East Idaho News via AP, Pool, File)
Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell met at a conference. (Image: AP)

 

Theirs was not a typical flirtation. He told her that he was the reincarnation of Saint James the Less, who some believe was Jesus’s brother, and told Vallow she had been his wife 2,000 years ago. She was captivated.

Daybell and Vallow were both married to other people when they met at the conference. Within a year, their spouses would be dead in mysterious circumstances.

It wasn’t long after that first meeting that their affair began.

Daybell called Vallow an “exalted goddess”, who had returned to Earth on a special mission, part of which involved being with him.

FILE - Chad Daybell appears during a court hearing in St. Anthony, Idaho, Aug. 4, 2020. The sister of Tammy Daybell, who was killed in what prosecutors say was a doomsday-focused plot, told jurors Friday, April 28, 2023, that her sister's funeral was held so quickly that some family members couldn't attend. The testimony came in the triple murder trial of Lori Vallow Daybell, who is accused along with Chad Daybell, in Tammy's death and the deaths of Vallow Daybell's two youngest children. (John Roark/The Idaho Post-Register via AP, Pool, File)
Daybell gathered followers who listened to his beliefs about dark spirits. (Image: AP)

 

He claimed to receive information from the spirit world through a portal in his home, Zulema said. This portal supposedly told him that his wife Tammy was going to die soon.

Daybell and Vallow shopped for wedding rings while Tammy was still alive. She moved from her home in Arizona to Rexburg, Idaho, with her brother and children to be closer to Daybell.

Daybell would give talks to Vallow and her female friends – who called themselves the “Seven Gatherers” – and would speak of light and dark spirits. The group would communicate on an email chain and meet to conduct “castings”, where they would pray for evil spirits to leave people.

The pair preached that only through spiritual intervention, burning or even death could these dark spirits be cleansed, the prosecution said.

“[Daybell and Vallow] identified those who stood in the way of their dream‚Ķ as dark spirits or even zombies,” prosecutor Rob Wood told the trial. “It dehumanised people who stood in their way and were labelled as obstacles.”

Items are seen hanging on the fence in memory of Tylee Ryan, 17, and Joshua "JJ" Vallow, 7, at Chad Daybell's residence in Salem, Idaho on Thursday, June 11, 2020. The remains of the two children were found at the residence on Tuesday. (John Roark/The Idaho Post-Register via AP)
The search for Lori Vallow’s 16-year-old daughter Tylee Ryan and seven-year-old son Joshua ‘JJ’ Vallow went on for months. (Image: AP)

 

The first to die was Charles Vallow, Lori Vallow’s fourth husband, who was labelled as “dark” by Daybell. He was shot and killed in July 2019 by his wife’s brother Alex Cox, prosecutors said, though he was never convicted. Charles claimed his wife threatened to kill him and believed she was a god.

Two months after his death, two of Lori Vallow’s five children vanished. The disappearance of her 16-year-old daughter Tylee Ryan and seven-year-old son Joshua ‘JJ’ Vallow sparked a months-long search and grabbed huge media attention across America.

Then Tammy Daybell was found dead on 19 October 2019. At the time it was put down to natural causes, but later examination revealed a cause of death of asphyxiation. Her life insurance was increased to more than $400,000 not long before she died.

Joshua Vallow and Tylee Ryan. Pic: Fremont County Sheriff's Office
Joshua ‘JJ’ Vallow and Tylee Ryan. (Image: Fremont County Sheriff’s Office)

 

Barely two weeks later, Daybell and Vallow got married and jetted off to Hawaii to celebrate their union. They laughed and danced on the beach. Neither ever contacted police regarding the missing children.

In December the same year, just as Tammy’s body was being exhumed by authorities who were questioning her cause of death, Vallow’s brother Alex Cox was found dead.

Strangers from around the world became transfixed by the search for JJ and Tylee, and the growing questions about Vallow and Daybell’s doomsday beliefs only made the story spread further.

FILE - In this aerial photo, investigators search for human remains at Chad Daybell's residence in Salem, Idaho, on June 9, 2020. The sister of Tammy Daybell, who was killed in what prosecutors say was a doomsday-focused plot, told jurors Friday, April 28, 2023, that her sister's funeral was held so quickly that some family members couldn't attend. The testimony came in the triple murder trial of Lori Vallow Daybell, who is accused along with Chad Daybell in Tammy's death and the deaths of Vallow Daybell's two youngest children. (John Roark/The Idaho Post-Register via AP, File)
Investigators looked for human remains at Chad Daybell’s residence in Salem, Idaho, in June 2020. (Image: AP)

 

It wasn’t until June 2020 that police found the mutilated remains of the children at a property in rural Idaho that belonged to Daybell. JJ’s body was wrapped in rubbish bags, his arms bound in front of him with duct tape. Tylee’s remains were charred.

Daybell, now 55, was charged with three counts of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, insurance fraud and grand theft in connection with the deaths of his wife Tammy, JJ and Tylee.

Speaking at the start of the trial in April, prosecutor Rob Wood said Daybell crafted an alternate reality so he could fulfil “his desire for sex, money and power”.

The prosecution argued that Daybell’s beliefs of dark spirits and the apocalypse were an elaborate scheme to remove obstacles and cash in on life insurance.

He described Tammy as a “vivacious, healthy mother” who was “labelled as a dark spirit to be removed”.

The search for Tylee and JJ Pic: KSLTV
The search for Tylee Ryan and Joshua ‘JJ’ Vallow. (Image: KSLTV)

 

Jurors heard grim testimony from police who described finding the children’s bodies in Daybell’s yard, and read dozens of phone records and messages between Daybell and Vallow.

The pair said JJ and Tylee were “zombies” and Daybell allegedly told her in one message that there “is a plan being orchestrated for the children”.

Chad Daybell
Chad Daybell was arrested and charged 

 

The prosecution said Vallow’s brother Cox was given a “blessing” by Daybell after they were killed. Daybell told Cox he had “assisted us in ways that can never be repaid” and earned a place in their exclusive religious group.

But in other text messages the pair discussed concerns that Cox could be the one to implicate them. Shortly before his death, as Tammy’s body was being exhumed, Cox voiced fears to his wife Zulema that he was going to be “Chad and Lori’s fall guy”, the prosecution said.

Daybell’s lawyer John Prior painted a picture of his client – who denies the killings – as simply a published author with mainstream religious beliefs.

He told jurors that Daybell’s books about the apocalypse were fiction, based on “premonitions” that he had. He would promote his books in order to make a living.

But Vallow was a different story, Prior argued.

Describing her as “very sexual” and “very manipulative”, he said she drew Daybell into an affair and that’s where things started going wrong.

Lori Vallow Daybell poses for a booking photograph after being found guilty of killing her two children and conspiring in the murder of her husband’s first wife, at Madison County Jail in Rexsburg, Idaho May 12, 2023. Madison County Sheriff's Office/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. THIS PICTURE WAS PROCESSED BY REUTERS TO ENHANCE QUALITY. AN UNPROCESSED VERSION HAS BEEN PROVIDED SEPARATELY
Lori Vallow in a police photo. (Image: Reuters)

 

Prior pointed the finger at Alex Cox, Vallow’s brother, who the court heard killed Vallow’s fourth husband Charles Vallow. “Whenever there was a problem or a threat to Lori Vallow, Alex Cox came to the rescue,” he said.

Cox died in December 2019, aged 51, apparently from natural causes. But the timing of his death – as authorities questioned what happened to Tammy – and the reported presence of the overdose drug Narcan in his system have fuelled speculation.

“Alex Cox is a murderer, and he is not shy about shooting people,” Prior said, noting that Cox had previously killed Charles Vallow and that the two kids were the only witnesses to that shooting.

Cox never faced any charges over any of the deaths.

Prior argued there was not enough evidence to tie Daybell to the deaths of Tammy and the children, or even to prove that Tammy had indeed been killed instead of dying from natural causes.

Daybell’s son Garth testified that his mother had been fatigued and sickly before she died.

Ultimately, the jury found Daybell guilty of the murders of JJ, Tylee and Tammy. Daybell was stoic as the verdicts were read out.

Chad Daybell listens to a motion to move his trial during a court hearing in St. Anthony, Idaho, Tuesday, April 19, 2022. Daybell...s wife, Lori Daybell, a mother accused of conspiring in the murders of her two children and her new husband's late wife is scheduled to be arraigned in eastern Idaho on Tuesday. (Tony Blakeslee/EastIdahoNews.com via AP, Pool)
Chad Daybell seen in court during his trial. (Image: AP)

 

In an autobiography published in 2017 – two years before JJ and Tylee went missing – Daybell wrote about his Mormon upbringing and his claimed brushes with death that he claims left him able to communicate with spirits and glimpse the future.

In one, he described jumping from a 60ft-high cliff into water, an experience he said left him “spiritually changed” having “glimpsed another dimension”.

His second alleged near-death experience apparently saw him hit by a giant wave and cut up on jagged rocks by the sea. He claimed to see a tunnel of light and be visited by the spirit of his grandfather.

From then on, he claimed, he could communicate with spirits and see glimpses of the future – including the apocalypse.

He spoke of “destruction and terror” in US cities as a foreign power invaded America, and an earthquake that would tear the land apart.

Cults expert speaks about the trial

Jackie Johnson is a social worker and cult expert who runs the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) which provides information and support for people affected by cults.

While not involved in the trial, she described how charismatic figures like Chad Daybell can draw people in by offering belief systems that resonate with people or offer comfort – to the point that nothing else matters.

Jackie said: “I wonder about Chad Daybell. Part of me perceives him as someone who was very purposeful, it gave him a lot of ego and strength.

“It’s hard to know if he really believes the things that he was teaching people‚Ķ In any case, he was certainly able to sit back and watch all of the horrific things that happened.”

Convicted in May 2023, Vallow is already serving life in prison for the murders of her children, and conspiring to murder Tammy Daybell.

Before her sentencing, she addressed the court claiming that a near-death experience allowed her to communicate with the “spirit world”.

She told the judge that she knew “for a fact” that her children and Tammy were happy in heaven. She said Tylee and JJ have communicated with her that they are happy after their deaths.

Source:  Sky News news.sky.com

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