A judge ruled Tuesday there’s enough evidence for a man to go to trial after the bodies of his new wife’s two children were found buried on his Idaho property. The bizarre case involving doomsday beliefs and the deaths of several people linked to the couple has attracted national headlines.
Chad Daybell, 52, has pleaded not guilty to charges related to hiding the remains of 7-year-old Joshua “JJ” Vallow and 17-year-old Tylee Ryan. Investigators found their bodies during a search in June, months after they were last seen in September.
Daybell last year married Lori Vallow Daybell, who has pleaded not guilty to conspiring to help him keep the bodies of her children hidden. Authorities have yet to file charges related to the deaths of the children.
They also have yet to say how or when the children died, but the prosecuting attorney on Tuesday during closing arguments called both deaths homicides based on the condition of the bodies.
The two-day hearing included graphic testimony about unearthing the duct-tape bound body of the boy and the charred and dismembered remains of the girl.
A friend of Lori Daybell, Melanie Gibb, testified how people involved in the case became acquainted through a doomsday belief system that led them to “preparedness” meetings loosely affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
An FBI analyst who reviewed cellphone records testified that on Sept. 9 Chad Daybell sent a text to his then wife, Tammy Daybell, saying he was burning debris and that he had also shot and buried a large raccoon on his property. The analyst said that was notable because Tylee Ryan was last seen alive on Sept. 8 in Yellowstone National Park.
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Prosecutors also said cellphone location records indicated that the day after Joshua “JJ” Vallow was last seen alive in late September, Lori Daybell's brother, Alex Cox, showed up at Chad Daybell's property just as he had shown up at Tylee Ryan's grave site the day after she disappeared.
Cox died in December, and the former spouses of both Chad Daybell and Lori Daybell also died last year.
Police started investigating a missing child case last year and eventually arrested Lori Daybell on charges she abandoned her children.
She called Chad Daybell from jail on June 9, the day authorities arrived to search his property with at least five cadaver dogs, according to testimony at Tuesday's hearing.
“I love you so much,” Chad Daybell said somberly after telling her police were searching the field behind the house.
“I love you,” she responds. "Should I try to call you later?
“I don't know,” he said. “You can try.”
Chad Daybell was taken into custody later that day after searchers found one of the bodies.
Investigators said they found the bodies by tracking Cox's cellphone movements. Police said Cox was involved in the conspiracy to hide the children’s remains. He died of an apparent blood clot in his lung at his Arizona home last December
Court documents in Lori Daybell’s criminal case include claims that the couple believed dark spirits, or “zombies,” would possess people. Gibb said Lori Daybell told her at different times last year that both children had become zombies and that the couple believed the only way to rid a person of a dark spirit was by killing them.
Much of Gibb's testimony revolving around a phone conversation she recorded with the couple after she became suspicious and confronted them about the missing children and accused them of multiple lies.
Gibb acknowledged to Chad Daybell’s attorney, John Prior, that she initially lied to police about having Joshua “JJ” Vallow with her. She said she was persuaded to lie by Lori Daybell. Gibb said she became concerned that she could be blamed for the children's disappearance, leading her to call the couple and record the conversation, which she shared with police.
The strange case also includes the shooting death of Lori Daybell’s estranged husband, Charles Vallow, in suburban Phoenix by Cox. He asserted the shooting was in self-defense. Vallow had been seeking a divorce, saying Lori believed she had become a god-like figure who was responsible for ushering in the biblical end times.
A short time later, she and the children moved to Idaho. Daybell ran a small publishing company there and had written many books about apocalyptic scenarios loosely based on the theology of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Friends said he claimed to be able to receive visions from “beyond the veil.”
At the time, Chad Daybell was married to Tammy Daybell. She died in October of what her obituary said were natural causes. Authorities grew suspicious when he married Lori Vallow just two weeks later. Police had Tammy’s body exhumed last December in Utah for further investigation; the results of that autopsy have not been released.
Lori Daybell faces a hearing next week on whether the case against her will proceed to trial.