BOISE, Idaho – It has been more than three years since police announced that two kids were missing from a rural eastern Idaho town, and each twist in the grim investigation has seemed stranger than the last.
Their mother claimed to be a deity, her estranged husband wrote in divorce papers. She called the children “zombies” before they vanished, a friend told police. A handful of followers seemed to buy into her doomsday claims, Arizona investigators reported.
Those are just some of the details that could be aired in court starting next week, when Lori Vallow Daybell stands trial on murder, conspiracy and grand theft charges in the deaths of 7-year-old Joshua “JJ” Vallow, and Tylee Ryan, who was last seen a few days before her 17th birthday.
Her husband, Chad Daybell, faces the same charges. And they are both also charged in the October 2019 death of Daybell's late wife.
Here's a look at what is known and what is next in the bizarre case:
HOW DID THE CASE BEGIN?
JJ's grandparents, Larry and Kay Woodcock of Louisiana, were increasingly worried about the kids in 2019. For the first half of the year, Lori Vallow Daybell was still married to JJ's father, Charles Vallow, but the two were estranged and he had filed for divorce.
In the divorce documents, Vallow claimed his wife believed she was a god-like figure, sent to usher in the apocalypse and carry out the work of 144,000 believers.
Their marriage ended suddenly in July when Lori's brother, Alex Cox, shot and killed her husband outside the family's suburban Phoenix home. Police initially determined the shooting was in self-defense and Cox was never charged.
Vallow Daybell, the kids and Cox moved to eastern Idaho, and JJ's grandparents struggled to reach him by phone. The Woodcocks said Vallow Daybell wouldn't tell them why the child was always unavailable. They grew suspicious and called police.
WHEN DID THE CASE BECOME A MURDER INVESTIGATION?
Rexburg police performed a welfare check in November of 2019, and said Lori Vallow Daybell and Chad Daybell — an Idaho man who had known Lori for months — lied about the children's whereabouts.
When police returned the next day, the couple had left town.
Police determined Tylee Ryan was last seen in September headed into Yellowstone National Park with her mom and other family for a day trip, and JJ was last seen by school officials several days later.
The search spanned several states and continued until June 2020, when the children's bodies were found buried in the yard of Daybell's eastern Idaho home.
Detectives meanwhile learned that his previous wife, Tammy Daybell, had unexpectedly died in October 2019 of what was initially reported as “natural causes,” and the family had declined an autopsy.
Chad and Lori married just two weeks after Tammy's death. Authorities exhumed Tammy Daybell's body and expanded their investigation.
WHAT DO PROSECUTORS SAY HAPPENED?
Prosecutors say the Daybells espoused strange doomsday-focused beliefs to further their alleged plan to kill the kids and Tammy Daybell, then collect life insurance money and the kids' social security and survivor benefits.
Several family members and friends described to detectives a group led by Lori and Chad that met to pray, believing that they could drive out evil spirits and seek revelations from “beyond the spiritual veil.”
Though the beliefs Vallow Daybell’s friends described to detectives were loosely based in theology from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they veered into the extreme.
In police reports, one friend said Vallow Daybell told her she could “teleport” between Arizona and Hawaii, and that Daybell said he had a “portal” in his home where he could receive revelations and travel to other realms.
Vallow Daybell’s close friend Melanie Gibb told investigators that the couple used a scoring system to determine whether people were good or evil, and that they believed people became “zombies” when they were possessed by evil spirits.
The group would spend time praying to get rid of the zombies, and believed that if they were successful the possessed person would physically die, freeing their trapped soul from “limbo.”
Vallow Daybell called JJ and Tylee “zombies” several times before they died, Gibb told investigators.
WHAT DO DEFENSE ATTORNEYS SAY?
Vallow Daybell is being represented by eastern Idaho-based attorneys John Thomas and James Archibald.
She has pleaded not guilty in the case, and her attorneys have submitted formal notice that they intend to offer an alibi.
In that court document, Vallow Daybell's attorneys said she was in her own apartment in Rexburg, Idaho, when the children died at a nearby apartment where her brother lived. The attorneys said she was with a couple of friends, “and/or Chad Daybell.”
Her attorneys also wrote that Vallow Daybell was in Hawaii with other friends when Daybell’s previous wife died the next month.
Daybell's attorneys haven’t offered details about his planned defense, other than saying in court that Daybell and Vallow Daybell will have “ mutually antagonistic defenses ” — a legal term that generally means a jury would have to disbelieve one defendant in order to believe the other.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN DURING THE TRIAL?
Vallow Daybell’s trial is expected to last up to 12 weeks. Jury selection begins Monday.
The judge has banned cameras from the courtroom and the trial was moved to Boise to increase the likelihood of finding jurors that aren't deeply familiar with the case.
Her husband will be tried later.
Prosecutors announced they would seek the death penalty against both defendants. But just two weeks before the trial was to begin, 7th District Judge Steven Boyce granted a request from Vallow Daybell's defense attorneys to take the death penalty off the table.
The judge said the decision was made because of the volume of evidence that was turned over to the defense team. Vallow Daybell has not waived her right to a speedy trial, so it could not be delayed.
Daybell still faces the death penalty in his case.
ANY OTHER CHARGES?
Vallow Daybell has also been indicted in metro Phoenix on a charge of conspiring to murder Charles Vallow. The indictment says she conspired with her brother, Alex Cox, in Vallow's death.
Cox was never arrested in the case. He died five months after Vallow was killed from what medical examiners said was a pulmonary blood clot.
Idaho likely won't agree to extradite Vallow Daybell to face the Arizona charges until the case against her in Idaho is completed. She has not yet entered a plea in the Arizona case.