The harrowing, tragic tale of the murders of JJ Vallow and Tylee Ryan made national headlines, first as a disappearance, then something more unseemly in whispers about doomsday cults and zombies. And in a three-part Netflix docuseries, “Sins of Our Mother,” director Skye Borgman attempts to separate fiction from heartbreaking reality.
The series, which released Wednesday, is a mix of interviews, news footage, courtroom video and audio files, from podcasts to secretly recorded calls. In grainy, black-and-white police video, Charles Vallow pleads for help to save his children from his wife who has “lost her mind.” Cellphone video films Chad Daybell speaking about the end times during a conference. Lori Vallow herself talks, of the coming apocalypse on a podcast where she first interacted with Daybell, and of the need for trust to friends and relatives who know something is wrong.
Across just more than two hours, “Sins of Our Mother” tries to figure out where it all went wrong, why a religious belief system gave way to radical fanaticism and how 7-year-old JJ and 16-year-old Tylee ended up dead, buried and burned in a shallow grave in Daybell’s backyard in June 2020.
Here’s what we learned:
Vallow told at least three different stories about Charles’ death
On July 11, 2019, Charles Vallow, Lori’s fourth husband, went to pick up adopted son JJ from their house in Chandler, Arizona. Instead, he is met by Lori’s brother, Alex Cox, who told police that the pair got into a loud argument, which woke Tylee. Tylee charged out with a baseball bat and tried to separate the pair, Cox told police. That’s when Charles allegedly grabbed the bat and hit Cox in the back of the head. Cox responded by shooting Charles twice, the second time when he was already lying on the ground. According to the medical examiner, Cox never attempted CPR or other life-saving measures. He told police it was self-defense and was never charged.
Lori, who left with Tylee and JJ in the middle of the fight, with stops at Burger King, JJ’s school and Walgreens, returned home with her daughter. On police body camera footage, she was smiling and never asked about her husband.
After the scene cleared, Lori called her eldest son, Colby Ryan, and told him it was a heart attack. She told JJ’s school it was suicide. In texts to Charles’ children, she just said, “your father passed away yesterday.”
Chad Daybell thought he and Lori were a king and queen who would start the Church of the Firstborn
Daybell, who like Vallow was raised in the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, convinced himself through what he claimed were two near-death experiences that he was a prophet who could “look beyond the veil and bring back visions from the future.” Eventually, his beliefs changed and so did his self-proclaimed importance in the apocalypse.
At some point, Daybell came to believe that he and Vallow were the Davidic king and queen who would start Church of the Firstborn, his colleague and fellow doomsday writer Julie Lowe said. That church, an offshoot of the LDS church, is almost entirely defunct.
Daybell also believed that Rexburg, Idaho, where Vallow and several relatives moved, would be New Jerusalem after the apocalypse and that he would lead the true believers, not Christ himself, according to Lowe.
Vallow and Daybell began hunting zombies
Beyond the 144,000 chosen ones who would be saved from the apocalypse, another number also populated their belief system: 20,000, for the number of zombies wandering the earth infected by evil spirits. In an email that Charles Vallow forwarded to relatives, Daybell had ranked everyone as a dark or a light spirit, and then the shade of corruption; Tylee, for example, was marked as a 4.1D.
In texts between Lori and her brother Alex, she said she was “working on some Zs,” identifying one as “Brandon,” seemingly referring to Brandon Boudreaux, who was in the middle of a divorce from Lori’s niece, Melani. On Oct. 2, 2019, Boudreaux reported to Gilbert police that someone in a gray Jeep Wrangler had shot out his car window. Police eventually traced the car, which was registered to Charles Vallow, who had already been dead for months.
Vallow still thinks she did nothing wrong
Vallow remains in jail following an extended stay in a mental health hospital after being pronounced unfit to stand trial for the murders of JJ and Tylee. She has pleaded not guilty to all charges, as has Daybell, including the deaths of JJ, Tylee and Daybell’s late wife Tammy.
“I’ve done everything to protect them their whole lives,” Vallow told Colby of her children in a jailhouse call.
Colby finally got to say goodbye
On the island of Kauai, Colby, wife Kylee and their daughter, Riley, held a memorial for Charles Vallow, Tylee and Riley.
“If I didn’t have Riley, if I didn’t have my wife, I’d probably have just died from sadness,” Ryan said. “I have a purpose beside myself.”
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