This is Part 1 in a 3 part series diving into Lori’s psychological profile, the deaths connected to her, and a timeline reconstruction of what happened to Lori’s children, JJ and Tylee.
On May 12, 2023, a jury found Lori Vallow Daybell guilty on all counts of killing her two children and conspiring in the murder of her husband’s ex-wife. On July 31, 2023, Lori was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. In a dramatic reading before her sentencing, Lori read bible verses, shared stories of her near-death experience, and said she communicates with her spirit children.
“Jesus knows me, and Jesus understands me… Jesus Christ knows that no one was murdered in this case,” Lori said.
For many, that word conjures warm feelings of compassion, trust, empathy, and support. Some people might imagine their own mother — someone who emulates these loving and protective characteristics and has their child’s best interest at heart.
But what about a mother who is none of those things? A woman who even the people closest to her are calling cold, cunning, manipulative, and callous?
Someone like Lori Vallow.
Lori Vallow Daybell is charged with two counts of first-degree murder, one count of conspiracy to commit murder, and two counts of conspiracy after her two children, Tylee Ryan, 17, and Joshua Jaxon “JJ” Vallow, 7, were found dred and buried in her new husband’s backyard.
When her children vanished in September 2019, Lori skated around concerns for over 10 months. Prosecutors now argue that the entire time, Lori knew her children were murdered and where they were buried. What’s worse, experts believe Lori 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.
Investigators say there’s a possibility at least 5 people crucial to this story all died mysteriously within a year. This is Lori Vallow’s death web.
On top of the lives lost, Lori has admitted to being a “paranoid” doomsday prepper who believed people around her were turning into zombies. She believed that the only way to save their souls, in her mind, was 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.
But it’s important to set the psychological stage for context before understanding how she’s possibly connected to multiple deaths and uncovering the circumstances surrounding Tylee and JJ’s deaths.
So, How does her profile stack up to what we know about female psychopaths?
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 better understand 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 feel love, empathy, and grief still — but reportedly at very low levels (Bartol & Bartol, 2017, p. 193).
“Female psychopaths tend to be more subtle and skillful in their aggression, in their exploitative relationships, and in their manipulation of others, indicating that many of their harmful acts go largely unnoticed by the authorities.”
These findings caught me off guard, but it explains why Lori could still express love for her children while not being 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.
While this data explains a lot, it doesn’t explain murder. We know that female psychopaths are not all killers, so I did more digging into 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.
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.
Knowing they fell into this category, my heart sank for JJ and Tylee. JJ also falls into this category differently, considering he was on the autism spectrum and needed skilled help from special education services.
The most frequent method of killing perpetrated by a female serial killer 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.”
The similarities are uncanny.
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 section of the LDS church that had different beliefs.
Lori’s best friend in her social and religious life, Melanie Gibb, has publicly 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 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 that when she saw Lori and the children after Joseph’s passing, she was distraught over how Lori acted.
“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.” She added, “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.”
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 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 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, according to court documents.
Due to her erratic behavior, Charles Vallow tried to involve the police in January 2019. On January 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 Services on Lori because her whereabouts were unknown then.
Eventually, Charles dropped 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.
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.
Charles and Tammy passed away within months of each other, and along the way, JJ, Tylee, and Alex Cox died too.
Love this post? Meet the Author.
Andrea Cipriano is the Digital Content Specialist at Uncovered, where she writes for the twice-weekly true crime newsletter, The Citizen Detective. Andrea graduated with a Master of Arts in Forensic Psychology from John Jay College of Criminal Justice where she focused on researching and peeling back the criminal mind. Andrea believes that it’s never too late for justice.