Lori Vallow: Untangling the Death Web, Part 1
Updated: Aug 24
I went on a long journey reconstructing the crime scene of Lori Vallow's children, Joshua "JJ" Vallow, 7, and Tylee Ryan, 17, while uncovering what unraveled from the "fatal attraction" between Lori and her newest husband, Chad Daybell.
For many, that word conjures up warm feelings of compassion, trust, empathy, and support. Some people might imagine their own mother — someone who emulates these loving and protective characteristics; someone who has their child's best interest at heart.
But what about a mother who is none of those things. A woman who is cold, cunning, manipulative, and callous?
Someone like Lori Vallow.
Lori is a 47-year-old "cult mother" with multiple children from different husbands. She is a recent widow — to two dead husbands out of 5 total men. Lori has a brother, Alex Cox, who has gone to extreme and violent lengths in the past to do Lori's mischievous biddings.
Lori has also been open about the fact that she has extreme religious beliefs and is a member of a doomsday Latter-day Saints “cult,” — beliefs that seem to have steered her to kill.
And finally, Lori was officially charged with neglect and desertion for two of her children, Joshua “JJ" Vallow, 7, and Tylee Ryan, 17 — both who completely vanished at different times in September of 2019. The charges were dismissed after their bodies were found in June 2020.
For 10 months, Lori skated around friend's concerns over JJ and Tylee, lied when family asked questions regarding their whereabouts, and blew smoke in mirrors while being uncooperative with law enforcement. She concealed the fact that she knew where her children were the entire time.
What's worse, Lori knew her children were murdered. She knew where they were buried — and I believe she masterminded their deaths with the help of her brother, Alex Cox, and her now-husband, Chad Daybell.
But, that's not where the macabre surrounding Lori stops.
JJ Vallow and Tylee Ryan's bodies were discovered in early June 2020, buried in the backyard of Lori Vallow’s then-boyfriend-now-5th-husband Chad Daybell’s property.
The discovery was horrific, as the children's remains were nearly unidentifiable — decomposed, dismembered, burned and reduced to char, and the killer[s] bagged them like garbage.
Just absolutely fucking sickening.
How is it even remotely possible for a woman to orchestrate the deaths of her own children? How could Lori Vallow fly off to Hawaii a month after her children disappeared and marry Chad Daybell — the man whose wife Tammy mysteriously died only a few weeks prior; the man who's property JJ and Tylee's bodies were eventually found on?
How is it possible that 5 people who are crucial in this narrative all died mysteriously over the period of just 6 months?
I've been racking my brain because this case is extensive.
As it turns out, when I started to look deeper into what the research says about female psychopathology, and when I learned more about the delusional and chaotic life that Lori was living, the pieces started to fall into place.
Let’s look at the sheet.
To begin understanding what happened to both JJ and Tylee, and what role Lori plays in this case, we have to first understand what the research says about female psychopathy. This is important because the data sets the stage for psychological context to build a better prosecutorial case.
The media has long painted Lori Vallow as the "mastermind" behind what happened to her children, and she has been the hyperfocus of all of its coverage. Truthfully, I can see why.
She's a mother with multiple failed marriages, 2 dead ex-husbands, 2 missing children, and Lori is a paranoid doomsday prepper that believes people around her are turning into zombies. She's confirmed that the only way to save their souls, in her mind, is to take their life.
It sounds like a plot out of a movie, but her beliefs have all been corroborated by friends, family, and recorded text messages.
So, How does her profile stack up to what we know about female psychopaths? Upon doing some digging, I can honestly say, Lori Vallow's profile is textbook.
Female Psychopathology & Lori
The most recent criminal behavioral data and research is compiled in the 11th edition of a 514-page textbook written by Bartol & Bartol (2017). I scoured the chapter on 'The Female Psychopath' hoping that I'd gain a better understanding of what we know to be true.
For starters, the research says that female psychopaths "may not express the same emotional processing abnormalities as male psychopaths," allowing them to still feel love, empathy, and grief — but reportedly at very low levels (Bartol & Bartol, 2017, p. 193).
"Female psychopaths tend to be more subtle and skillfull in their aggression, in their exploitative relationships, and in their manipulation of others, indicating that many of their harmful acts go laregly unnoticed by the authorities."
These findings caught me off guard, but it explains why Lori could still express love for her children, while also not be investigated by the authorities immediately following her children's disappearance.
Then, the data started to become more specific, fitting a clearer profile.
Data suggests that female psychopaths have numerous marital relationships, are sexually promiscuous, and become criminals later in their life.
This fits Lori Vallow, seeing that she's been in 5 marriages to date, and that she actively pursued Chad Daybell after meeting him at a Latter-day Saints conference. This was despite the fact that Lori was married to Charles Vallow, and Chad was married to his wife, Tammy.
Lori also didn't have any previously documented run-ins with the law — until her children went missing and the authorities were finally hot on her trail last year.
While this data explains a lot, it doesn't explain murder. We know that female psychopaths are not all killers, so I did some more digging on what we know about female serial killers to see if that would shed more light on the case.
This is when the puzzle pieces started to formulate the full psychological picture.
Bartol and Bartol (2017) begin the chapter on Female Serial Killers by sharing that there are "discernible differences" between male and female serial murderers.
For starters, a 2015 study cited in the textbook found female serial killers typically target "husbands, former husbands, or suitors," most often, "killing husband after husband for insurance or estate benefits and other resources." This is different from male serial killers who often kill strangers for sexual pleasure.
After reading this, I had chills down my spine, thinking: Lori Vallow's 2 most recent husbands, Joseph Ryan and Charles Vallow, both died and Lori couldn't stop talking about getting money from their deaths — fitting the profile perfectly.
The second largest group murdered by female serial killers are weaker individuals with little chance of fighting back — like children or the elderly, Bartol & Bartol (2017) explain.
My heart sinks for JJ and Tylee, knowing they fell into this category. JJ also falls into this category in a different way, considering he was on the autism spectrum and needed skilled help from special education services.
Furthermore, the most frequent method of killing is through poisons (usually cyanide) or overdoses of pills. Furthermore, "approximately half of the female serial killers had a male accomplice," and "murdered because of involvement in cults..."
Wow, talk about being spot-on.
Many of the people in the Death Web died under mysterious circumstances — deaths ruled as a heart attack, blood clots, or natural causes, all ways in which poisons can look like death to unsuspecting medical examiners.
And, then there are, of course, the obvious connections — Chad Daybell and Alex Cox as potential accomplices, and Lori and Chad's heavy involvement with their LDS cult.
Lori's best friend in her social life and religious life, Melanie Gibb, has publically said that Chad and Lori were "fatally attracted," and that together, their understanding of the world around them began to shift after meeting at the end of 2018.
Lori's Spiraling, Delusional, and Chaotic Life
In the spring of 2018, around the time that Lori's third ex-husband Joseph Ryan died, friends started to notice that something about Lori was...off.
Annie Cushing, Joseph Ryan's sister, spoke with KSL-TV and said when she saw Lori and the children after Joseph's passing, she was distraught over how Lori was acting.
“When I got there, it was as if nothing had happened,” Cushing told reporters. "People were hardly talking about Joe and when Lori did, the tenor was — she would actually say, 'The world is a better place without Joe Ryan.'"
Cushing continued to say that Lori was trying to preach her religious beliefs and warn that everyone should be "afraid of the end of times."
“There was one time where [Lori] was talking about it and she says, 'Sometimes, I think it would be better just to put my kids in a car and go off the side of a cliff,'” Cushing said.
This sounds a lot like foreshadowing — if you ask me.
Then, everything intensifies when Lori meets Chad Daybell.
After being introduced to one another at a religious conference in St. George, Utah where Chad was a speaker, the pair became literally inseparable.
Gibb said almost immediately, Chad told Lori he believed they'd been married multiple times in past lives — despite the fact that both Lori and Chad had different spouses in their current life.
Within weeks of meeting, Lori had a separate cell phone just to talk to Chad, and the two opened a "spiritual portal" in Lori's closet by saying a prayer. This way, they believed, they could interact spiritually.
The pair were frequent guests on the Preparing a People Podcast Network’s “Time to Warrior Up.” They also appeared together on several other podcasts — many of which talked about the end of the world.
"They did believe they were the head of the 144,000," Gibb told reporters, referring to a Bible passage from the book of Revelations about an exclusive group of people chosen by God to enter into Heaven.
As time passed into 2019, Lori's alleged beliefs grew more disordered and radical, Gibb shares with the media.
Lori discussed the existence of "zombies," "teleportation," "souls going dark" and people who have been "possessed by a demon." Lori eventually tried to tell her then-husband, Charles, that he was possessed by a new spirit named Ned Schnider, all according to court documents.
Due to her erratic behavior, Charles Vallow tried to involve the police in January of 2019. On Jan 31, Charles called the police to their house saying that Lori had "lost her reality" and expressed concern that she might harm JJ and Tylee, citing that he hadn't been able to speak to his children in days.
"I don’t know what she’s going to do with them. I don’t know if she is going to flee with them, if she’s going to hurt them," Charles said in the released bodycam footage in response to a police officer's question.
Charles eventually filed for divorce from Lori in February 2019, telling the court that Lori viewed herself as "a God preparing for the second coming of Christ" and that she "would kill him if he got in her way to perform that mission," according to additional court documents.
This was around the same time that JJ's special education school called Child Protective Servies on Lori because her whereabouts were not known at that time.
Eventually, Charles drops the divorce filing, saying that he wanted to work on his relationship with his wife — but it was clear that Lori didn't want to reconcile anything.
Both Lori and Chad openly discussed that their respective spouses, Charles and Tammy, would die in car accidents, allowing them to be together, Gibb said. But, when neither of them died in a car accident by mid-late 2019, it seems as though they took things into their own hands.
Both Charles and Tammy passed away within months of each other, and along the way, JJ, Tylee, and Alex Cox died too.