'Do they know?' Phone records show what doomsday cult author Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow talked about the day her 2 kids' bodies were discovered on his property

Insider/August 5, 2020

By Erika Celeste

The doomsday cult author accused of conspiring to conceal evidence and concealing evidence in the deaths of his new wife's two children is headed to trial. Chad Daybell is suspected of aiding Lori Vallow and her brother Alex Cox in misleading police and hiding the bodies of Lori's children, Tylee Ryan and JJ Vallow, in his backyard.

Daybell is charged with two felony counts of conspiracy to commit destruction, alteration, or concealment of evidence, and two felony counts of destruction, alteration, or concealment of evidence.

A number of witnesses provided evidence that there was probable cause to remand Daybell — who's been in custody at the Fremont County Jail since June 9 — over for trial.

JJ, age 7, and Tylee, 16, were first reported missing in September 2019, after their grandmother Kay Woodcock contacted police. Detective Ray Hermosillo, of the Rexburg Police Department, who conducted the initial welfare check on JJ Vallow, took the stand first.

He testified when he questioned Chad Daybell the first time on November 26, 2019, Daybell told him he had met Lori Vallow only "a couple of times" through her brother Alex Cox and didn't have her phone number.

"I thought that was suspicious because I knew they were married two weeks prior," Hermosillo testified.

Hermosillo was also present when the bodies of JJ and Tylee were discovered on Daybell's property and attended their autopsies.

JJ, Hermosillo said, was wrapped in black plastic, with an additional white waffle garbage bag over his head and excessive layers of duct tape binding his face, arms, hands, and feet. He described what he saw when the medical examiner cut open the black plastic.

"I observed a small child in red pajamas, red pajama shirt, red pajama pants, black socks that had the words Sketchers in orange across the toes," Hermosillo said. "I also observed a white and blue blanket that had been placed across the top."

Because Tylee's body was dismembered and burned, there was little left to find. Portions of her skull, jawbone, and pelvis were recovered.

Results of the children's autopsies have yet to be released.

Prosecutor Rob Wood later played new police body-cam video from the initial welfare check in which a bubbly Lori Vallow greets the officers with "Wow, this is a big mess."

She told the officers that she didn't want people to know where she was because "one of my brothers is trying to kill me."

In the same conversation, she mentioned Tylee went to BYU Idaho, and that because JJ wasn't doing well in school, they'd be moving back to Arizona. Vallow then said she was moving in with Melanie Gibb and putting everything in Melanie's name so that no one could find her.

Lori's former best friend, Melanie Gibb — whom Lori first told police JJ was with during the welfare check — testified Chad Daybell called her the same day and told her not to pick up when the Rexburg police called.

Gibb testified that Vallow told her Kay Woodcock was trying to kidnap JJ and that Lori was just trying to protect him and other family members.

Gibb further testified she lied to Gilbert police officer Ryan Pillar for Vallow: "I told him I had been with JJ, but he was back with Lori."

About a week later, Gibb came clean to Pillar and offered him a recording of a 21-minute phone conversation with Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell.

During the conversation, played in court, Gibb asked the couple where they were and Daybell told her Idaho. (They were in Hawaii.)

Throughout the call, Gibb repeatedly asked Vallow and Daybell where JJ was, if he was safe, and if they'd share his location with her, she testified.

According to Gibb, Daybell at one point responded, "If you knew, that would put you in danger."

Vallow quickly corrected him, "Well, in a bad position, and everybody, if they don't know anything, then they don't have to say they know."

Vallow insisted that JJ was "safe and happy" and that she couldn't tell anyone where he was to "keep him as safe as possible."

When Gibb pressed her, Vallow accused Gibb of being like King Noah, a wicked monarch from the Book of Mormon, and the two launched into a scripture quote battle, which Vallow said, "I have done nothing wrong in this case but sometimes you have to hide in the cavity of rock for your own life's safety."

Daybell added: "Know, Melanie, that you just have to have faith and this is not some sort of master plan. There's no way Lori and I could ever come up with this."

Back in the courtroom on the second day, with JJ's grandparents sitting directly behind him, Daybell wore a permanent scowl as he listened to a second recording of a phone call he made to Vallow in jail, the day authorities found Tylee and JJs remains.

A downtrodden Daybell told Vallow, "They're at the house," to which she asked, "Do they know?" Daybell then responded "not properly."

The pair talked for a few more minutes. Daybell told Vallow, "I'm feeling pretty calm. I would call Mark [Lori's attorney], though, and talk to him." A short while later the couple hung up. That same day Daybell was arrested and booked into the county jail.

Special agent Steve Daniels, who cut open the black plastic containing JJ's remains, described the moment that confirmed they found one of the missing children.

"When I made the cut, that's when possible human hair fell into my hands," Daniels said on the stand.

He described what the agents found at the second burial site not far from Daybell's pet cemetery.

"To the side of the skull, the team found a jawbone with teeth," then referred to a mass of charred bone and flesh. "The team tried to lift the remains out of the grave but the mass fell apart."

The hearing came to an abrupt end after state testimony when defense attorney John Prior declined to call any witnesses.

In closing arguments, prosecutor Rod Wood laid out a simplified but precise timeline of events surrounding the deaths of JJ Vallow and Tylee Ryan and the steps Daybell took to help mislead law enforcement and cover up the deaths.

Prior argued "the testimony provided by this prosecuting attorney is that Mr. Daybell is married to Ms. Vallow, that doesn't provide anything. Marriage is not an overt act towards a conspiracy and marriage isn't an agreement to conceal or conspire."

After a brief recess, Judge Eddins found probable cause that Chad Daybell committed the offenses and bound him over to district court for trial. An arraignment hearing is scheduled for August 21.

Lori Vallow Daybell's preliminary probable cause hearing on two felony counts of conspiracy to conceal the deaths of her children is set for August 10.

A list of suspicious deaths surrounds the couple including two of Vallow's former husbands, Daybell's former wife, Vallow's brother Alex Cox, and her two children, Tylee and JJ.

Murder charges have not been filed against the couple in any of the deaths.

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