It was the extended family who grew suspicious first, and then at their urging, local police: Seven-year-old Joshua “JJ” Vallow and his 17-year-old sister Tylee Ryan hadn't been seen in far too long, and their mother wouldn't give a straight answer about where they were.
Soon strangers around the world were following the case, transfixed by the increasingly strange circumstances surrounding Lori Vallow Daybell and her new husband, Chad Daybell. The investigation grew to include the mysterious deaths of their former spouses, rumors of doomsday cult-like beliefs and their sudden move to Hawaii.
The case took a grim turn this week when investigators announced they found human remains while searching Chad Daybell's property in rural Idaho. In a field near his house, the FBI and local authorities erected canopies, draped blue tarps on the ground and brought in heavy equipment to dig. Victim advocates began calling family members Tuesday, telling them about the remains.
Relatives released a statement the next day, saying the bodies belonged to JJ and Tylee. But officials have yet to confirm that.
Earlier Wednesday, Chad Daybell was charged with concealing or destroying human remains. His attorney didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Lori Daybell already has been charged with child abandonment, obstructing an investigation, contempt of court and soliciting a crime. Her attorney has said she intends to defend herself against the charges. The Daybells are both in jail on $1 million bond.
Court documents suggest that things began to unravel for the family early last year, when Lori was still married to Charles Vallow. The couple were estranged, and Vallow had filed for divorce, saying he feared she would kill him and that she had developed cult-like beliefs. He said she claimed to be “a god assigned to carry out the work of the 144,000 at Christ's second coming in July 2020.”
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The family was living in a Phoenix suburb in July when Lori's brother, Alex Cox, shot and killed Vallow. He asserted that the shooting was in self-defense after Vallow came at him with a baseball bat. Police investigated, but the case didn't go far before Cox died of a blood clot in his lung in December.
Lori Vallow moved to Idaho with the kids, getting an apartment in the small town of Rexburg and spending time with Chad Daybell. The couple had known each other for a while, sometimes participating in podcasts about preparing for the biblical end times for an online organization aimed at members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
At the time, he was married to Tammy Daybell, a fit 49-year-old school librarian who helped him run a small publishing company. Chad Daybell also had written several books, largely focused on doomsday scenarios and loosely based on church theology.
Tammy Daybell died in October, her obituary saying she passed away in her sleep of natural causes. The family declined an autopsy before she was buried in Utah.
About two weeks later, Chad Daybell married Lori Vallow.
The quick marriage drew the suspicion of officers, who had Tammy Daybell's body exhumed for an investigation. The results of that autopsy have not yet been released.
Meanwhile, JJ’s grandparents, Larry and Kay Woodcock of Louisiana, were growing increasingly worried about the kids. They said once-regular phone calls with JJ had grown infrequent and then stopped altogether. They said Lori Daybell wouldn’t tell them why the boy was always unavailable.
Tylee was last seen in early September headed into Yellowstone National Park with her mom and other family for a day trip, and JJ was last seen by school officials later that month.
The Woodcocks asked Rexburg police to check on the kids. When officers stopped by to question Lori Daybell, they said she and Chad Daybell lied about the children's whereabouts. When investigators returned the next day to follow up, the Daybells were gone.
While the couple slipped away to Hawaii, the investigation pushed forward in Idaho, Arizona and Utah. Eventually, they were found in the islands, and a judge ordered Lori Daybell to bring the children to officials to prove they were safe. She refused and was charged with child abandonment and other crimes, then extradited to Idaho.
In the weeks since, the Idaho attorney general's office took over the investigation into Tammy Daybell's death and children's bodies were found on Chad Daybell's property.
Though relatives say those remains are Tylee and JJ, they are still waiting for answers. They watched JJ’s birthday arrive in late May.
“Our feelings of extreme anguish and despondency were prevelant throught the period approaching JJ’s 8th birthday,” Kay Woodcock wrote in a Facebook post. “Our Rexburg family hosted a poignant vigil on Monday 5/25 in honor of our little man ... We are comforted knowing their commitment is as strong as ours.”
This story has been corrected to show that Lori Vallow Daybell has not yet entered a formal plea, but her attorney says she intends to defend herself against the charges.