PHOENIX, AZ — As far as investigators can tell, 7-year-old Joshua “J.J.” Vallow and his 17-year-old sister, Tylee Ryan, aren’t in Arizona, one of four states authorities have searched in a tangled missing persons case involving rumors of a religious cult, doomsday preparations, several suspicious deaths and an abandoned storage unit filled with the children’s belongings.
At the center of the case, according to J.J.’s worried biological grandparents, is a “monster” named Lori Vallow, whose children haven’t been seen since September in Rexburg, Idaho.
They had moved there from Phoenix just a few weeks after Lori Vallow’s husband had been shot and killed, and a couple of months before she married Chad Daybell, whose wife had only been dead a couple of weeks.
Rexburg police say they “strongly believe that Joshua and Tylee’s lives are in danger.” Their mother never reported them missing, police say, but relatives started worrying as contact with the kids dwindled and then dropped off completely.
The search for the kids also has taken investigators to Utah and, most last month, Kauai, Hawaii, where police pulled over and questioned Vallow and Daybell, and served her with an order to return to Idaho with her children. She ignored it, authorities said.
The strange case began to unfold July 11 after Vallow’s estranged husband, Charles, was shot and killed by her brother, Alex Cox, in a fight in their Phoenix home. Cox, who claimed he acted in self-defense, died of unknown causes in December. His death remains under investigation as police in Gilbert, Arizona, await results of toxicology tests.
On the same day her husband was shot and killed, Lori Vallow held a pool party at their home. It was so loud that neighbors reportedly complained, the East Idaho News reported.
By Aug. 31, the newly widowed Vallow had packed up her children and moved to eastern Idaho. Investigators putting together a timeline of her movements said they learned that by November, she had married doomsday prepper Daybell. He has written several apocalyptic novels loosely based on Mormon religious theology, and both had been involved in a group that promotes preparedness for biblical armageddon.
‘A Sign From God’
Investigators say Lori Vallow married Daybell, her fifth husband, possibly in Hawaii, two weeks after the Oct. 19 death of Tammy Daybell, Chad’s wife. Investigators initially thought she had died of natural causes but now say they regard her death as suspicious — in part because 10 days earlier, she made a 911 call reporting a masked assailant had shot her with a paintball at her Salem, Idaho, home.
Both of the dead spouses had life insurance policies, news station KLS reported. Charles Vallow’s policy was for $1 million, but Lori Vallow was not the beneficiary, the station said.
Newlyweds Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell showed up unannounced Nov. 7 at the Kauai, Hawaii, home of Jeani Martin and wanted to rent a bedroom, telling her they “relied on a sign from God,” Martin told Phoenix news station KSAZ.
“They said that they waited all day for God to tell them which house to go to, and he told them to come to mine,” Martin told the news station, describing the couple’s demeanor as “just giddy” and “like two teenagers that had just been set free.”
Meanwhile, Lori Vallow’s children hadn’t been seen since Sept. 25. A day earlier, she called J.J.’s school and told officials she would be home-schooling him, investigators have said.
Grandmother Sees A ‘Monster’
Larry and Kay Woodcock, J.J.’s grandparents, are offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to the discovery of the children. The Lake Charles, Louisiana, couple were discouraged after Lori Vallow didn’t return to Idaho with the kids by Jan. 30, as ordered by the court.
“The only word coming to mind right now is ‘monster,’ ” Kay Woodcock said at a news conference last week. “All this has been very disheartening … I’m a lot less optimistic at the moment.”
Charles and Lori Vallow had adopted J.J., but the Woodcocks are his biological grandparents. This week, they asked a court to make them J.J.’s temporary legal guardian.
The Woodcocks aren’t legally related to Tylee Ryan, and their application for guardianship didn’t include her; but Kay Woodcock told the Rexburg Standard Journal that “we’re more than happy to have her as well.”
The Woodcocks were worried about the kids before July, when Charles Vallow was shot and killed.
Five months earlier, he had filed for divorce. Worried his wife would kill him, he got a protection order, according to court documents that paint a picture of a woman who believed she was a “translated being” and “a god assigned to carry out the work of the 144,000 at Christ’s second coming in July 2020.”
Lori Vallow had already met Chad Daybell by then. They appeared together as part of a Dec. 5, 2018, podcast, “Time to Warrior Up,” according to a timeline put together by the East Idaho News.
Daybell: Dead Wife Medium For Love
In multiple books, blog posts and podcasts about the apocalypse, Daybell claims to have previously died and had near-death experiences that allowed him to see into the future. He even claimed in a text message to Jeani Martin, the Hawaii woman he wanted to rent a bedroom from, that it was his dead wife, Tammy, who had helped him find love again with Lori Vallow, KSAZ reported.
“I woke up that morning and she had been dead for a couple hours but she had a peaceful look on her face at her burial,” Daybell’s text to Martin said. “I felt her tell me she was happy and helping our family on the other side of the veil.”
By Nov. 24, the couple had returned to Idaho and were seen on surveillance video of a storage unit Vallow had rented in October. Police obtained a search warrant and found the children’s belongings, including bikes, a scooter and sports equipment, family photographs and winter clothing, the East Idaho News reported.
The footage showed Vallow and a man making about 10 trips in and out of the storage unit during October, including one time when they were carrying a heavy tote.
Rich Robertson, a private investigator hired by the Woodcocks, J.J.’s grandparents, told CBS News it was “disturbing to see that it was the children’s belongings that were in that storage unit.”
“If they had expected the kids to be coming home soon, why would that stuff be in a storage?” Robertson said. “On the other hand, if they didn’t think the kids were ever coming back, why keep it?”
Rexburg police questioned Vallow and Daybell about the whereabouts of J.J. and Tylee two days after they were seen at the storage unit, on Nov 26. They falsely claimed the children had gone to Arizona to live with relatives, police said, and were gone the next day when investigators returned with a search warrant.
Investigators think Lori Vallow is still in Hawaii, but she hasn’t been arrested or charged. Failing to obey a court order is typically a civil violation and not a crime in Idaho, former Idaho Attorney General Dave Leroy told news station KTVB. However, he said, there is a state law that allows misdemeanor charges for willful disobedience of a court order.
They’re not living in Martin’s house in Kauai.
“I’m not renting to these people,” she told KSAZ, “because I don’t want them at my house when the cops finally come to get them.”