At first, 49-year-old Tammy Daybell's death was chalked up to natural causes.
The popular school librarian had married her college boyfriend and helped him found Spring Creek Book Company, where they self-published apocalyptic novels aimed at a Mormon audience. The fantasies that Chad Daybell spun up featured Chinese bioterrorism attacks, devastating pandemics and hurricanes, and rising civil unrest. Tammy's family described her as "the true backbone" of the operation, designing book covers while also managing the company's finances.
After she was found dead in her Idaho home last October, Tammy's obituary said that she "passed away peacefully in her sleep." But when Chad, 51, quickly remarried then went on the run with his new wife, authorities soon came to see her death as potentially suspicious. Amid an investigation into two missing children and allegations that Chad belonged to a fringe, cultlike religious group, the FBI and local law enforcement agencies raided the family's former home. According to the East Idaho News, they were looking for any potential forensic evidence that could help to explain Tammy's death.
The investigation into Chad and his new wife, 46-year-old Lori Daybell, who are wanted for questioning about the kids' disappearance but have not been charged with a crime, began on Nov. 26. According to police in Rexburg, Idaho, Lori's extended family had grown concerned that they hadn't been able to speak to her 7-year-old son, Joshua, since September. Two days before Thanksgiving, they asked for a welfare check, noting that the boy had special needs.
When police showed up at the beige townhouse, the couple told them Joshua was staying with a family friend in Arizona. It didn't take long for investigators to find out that wasn't true. But when they showed up the next day with a search warrant, Lori and Chad were gone.
Authorities soon learned that Joshua had left his elementary school in September and never returned. His sister, 17-year old Tylee Ryan, had disappeared around the same time. Neither had been reported missing. Meanwhile, the Fremont County Sheriff's Office started to question whether Tammy really died a natural death, noting that Chad and Lori had married roughly two weeks later. In a December statement, officials announced that her body had been exhumed so that a complete autopsy could take place.
"Those are the two pieces of this," Fremont County Sheriff Len Humphries told Fox 13 in Salt Lake City. "And how they're related we're not quite sure, but we do believe they are related."
As it turned out, Lori had a complicated backstory of her own. Joseph Ryan, Tylee's father, died of a heart attack in 2018, the Rexburg Standard Journal reported. At some point - it's not clear when - Lori married Charles Vallow. But by February 2019, they had become estranged, and Vallow told a divorce court judge that Lori believed she was a reincarnated deity, sent to Earth to prepare people for Jesus' second coming.
Lori was convinced she was eternally married to the Mormon prophet Moroni, Vallow's attorney wrote in court filings recently unearthed by Fox 13, and also the grandmother of Mormon founder Joseph Smith. If he stood in the way of her divine mission, "she would murder him."
Just five months later, in July 2019, Lori's brother, Alex Cox, shot and killed Vallow in a Chandler, Arizona, dispute that is still under investigation. According to Fox 10 in Phoenix, Cox said that he intervened in an argument between the estranged couple, and Vallow hit him in the head with a baseball bat. He had shot the man in self-defense, he claimed. Then, on Dec. 12, Cox himself died of unknown causes.
Another relative soon came forward with a story of his own. Brandon Boudreaux had been married to Lori's niece until last summer, when she abruptly asked for a divorce. Boudreaux attributed the split to the fact that his wife had started spending more time with Lori and other members of the radical religious group that Lori belonged to. "I thought I had a happy marriage, so it was pretty overwhelming," he told the Arizona Republic.
On Oct. 2, the Republic reported, Boudreaux was driving home from the gym when someone shot at him. The bullet shattered the window of his Tesla, missing his head by mere inches. In what Boudreaux believes is more than just an eerie coincidence, the car he had been driving was a Jeep still registered to Vallow.
Chad and Lori have both denied any wrongdoing toward their family members. "Chad Daybell was a loving husband and has the support of his children in this matter," their attorney, Sean Bartholick, said in a December statement to local media outlets. "Lori (Vallow) Daybell is a devoted mother and resents assertions to the contrary. We look forward to addressing the allegations once they have moved beyond speculation and rumour."
Like a number of Lori's relatives, Boudreaux has accused Chad of leading her into a cult, though that hasn't been officially confirmed. "There is a ton of speculation and a lot of rumours, but nothing that we have determined of classified as a cult," Rexburg Assistant Chief of Police Gary Hagen told the Standard Journal.
Before they married, Lori and Chad appeared together on podcasts distributed by Preparing A People, a media company which touts the tagline, "Helping to prepare the people of this Earth for the second coming of Jesus Christ." The company has since denied being a cult and distanced itself from the couple, deleting the podcasts in question and saying in a December statement that it was "shocked" and "deeply disturbed" to learn of the investigation.
"We also do not share any of Chad Daybell's or Lori Vallow's beliefs if they are contrary to Christian principles of honesty, integrity and truth, or if they do not align with the doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," owners Michael and Nancy James wrote.
Some family members are skeptical. "I don't want to attack anyone's beliefs . . . but when you look at the fruit that's come from this group and its beliefs . . . it certainly, from my mind, doesn't come from God," Boudreaux told the East Idaho News.
Tylee and Joshua, also known as "J.J.", are still missing, and it's unclear if they are alive. Last week, police said they were certain Lori knew what happened to them, but she had left Idaho with her new husband and "refused to work with law enforcement." She also reportedly told people that her daughter had died.
"Our primary concern at this point is simply locating Joshua and Tylee and charging decisions will be made in due course based upon the evidence available," the statement said. "If we find that harm was done to these children within our jurisdiction, we will prosecute whoever caused that harm."
Tammy Daybell's relatives are equally eager to learn the truth, and have said that she seemed to be healthy and was in good spirits just two weeks before her death. Some have expressed suspicion about a call she made to 911 in the days before her death, saying that a man was pointing what appeared to be a paintball gun at her.
"We speculate like everybody else," her father, Ron Douglas, told Fox 13. "It's hard to know that we lost our daughter and that our son-in-law of 30 years has stepped into this mess. We don't know. We'd like to hope for the best. Every time you peel a layer off the onion it makes you scratch your head."