Leah Sottile makes chilling murders into a gripping cultural study.
Sottile, a Gonzaga alum who previously worked as a music editor at the Inlander, spoke Wednesday night to a full room at Spokane’s Montvale Event Center as part of The Spokesman-Review’s Northwest Passages Book Club.
She talked with The Spokesman-Review’s Emma Epperly about her new book, “When the Moon Turns to Blood: Lori Vallow, Chad Daybell, and a Story of Murder, Wild Faith, and End Times.”
Sottile commented on her strange journey from sports intern, to Inlander music editor and eventually freelance journalist specializing in the fringes of the American right.
“Most people here who know my work know that I was the music editor at the Inlander,” Sottile said of her unique career journey, “so it was a very odd path that I took.”
Her work on American extremism began when a group of armed men took over a wildlife refuge in Oregon, the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016.
“I was just fascinated by it,” Sottile said. “I thought it was so strange that it went on for so long.
“I started reporting on the things that weren’t being covered.”
When the story of Vallow and Daybell and their two missing children reached Sottile, she was drawn in by its possible relationship to religious beliefs and the fringes of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“I have started and not finished lots of (books),” Sottile said. This time, “the pandemic hit, and it was a story that was so strange, that I just all of a sudden had a ton of time on my hands to fall into it.”
The resulting book is not a typical true-crime novel, she explained.
“The way that I’ve always practiced journalism is to make sure that it’s victim-centered,” she said, distinguishing her work from a genre of true crime that “can build (suspects) up into a kind of weird hero.”
Instead, Sottile emphasizes through the story’s “crazy twists and turns” the notion that “if ideologies are left unchecked, there could be innocent people that pay the price for that.”
Sottile also reflected on the role of her work on extremism in 2022, calling her work’s increasing relevance “chilling.”
“I was writing about the fringes, and that suddenly became the mainstream, and I could have never expected that,” she said.
“I spent so many years writing about people who are very obviously extremists.
“With this story , it presented something really scary, which is this idea that extremism could be sitting next to you at church.”
When asked about whether she would be following the upcoming Vallow and Daybell trials, which are set to begin in Boise this January, Sottile replied, “Of course, I mean that’s the job, right?
“I can’t stop; I can’t stop until it feels like it’s at a logical end.”
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