book reviews, LDS, narcissists, religion, tragedies, true crime

A review of The Doomsday Mother: Lori Vallow, Chad Daybell, and the End of an American Family by John Glatt…

As I write today’s book review, I reflect on the last twenty years or so and realize that Bill and I have been relatively lucky. I complain a lot about Bill’s ex wife, who converted to Mormonism during their marriage, and then used the religion as a tool to alienate him from his daughters and former stepson. There is no doubt in my mind that my husband’s ex wife, who is on her third husband, and has had two more children with him, is not the sanest person. She has legitimately put Bill through several layers of hell over the years. He has many scars from that marriage, both figurative financial and psychological ones, and literal physical ones. But at least, as far as I know, Ex hasn’t killed anyone, and at least Bill was able to fully recover from their relationship. Bill and I have been very fortunate on many levels. At least his ex wife mostly leaves us in peace. For that, I am genuinely grateful. After reading British true crime author John Glatt’s most recent book, I know not everyone who splits from a relationship that involves religion, mental illness, and narcissism is that lucky.

The book I’m referring to is titled The Doomsday Mother: Lori Vallow, Chad Daybell, and the End of an American Family. It was published January 18, 2022, making it very fresh reporting, as Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell are still awaiting trial for their roles in the gruesome murders of Lori’s children, 16 year old Tylee Ryan, and 7 year old J.J. Vallow, both of whom were last seen alive in September 2019 and “disappeared” for months before their brutally desecrated remains were found in a pet cemetery on Chad Daybell’s property in Rexburg, Idaho. The children were not actually killed by their mother; instead, Lori’s brother, Alex Cox, who had a violent streak and a touch of mental illness, did the deed. Alex Cox is not being prosecuted because he suddenly died in December 2019. Also dead are Charles Vallow, Lori’s fourth husband and the adoptive father of J.J., and Tammy Daybell, Chad’s first wife, who died under sudden and suspicious circumstances.

A couple of other people– to include Lori’s ex husband and Tylee’s father, Joe Ryan, and Lori’s older sister, Stacy, are also dead, but not due to foul play. However, they both figure in this complicated and tragic story. I’m going to try to break it down a bit, and it may seem like I’m giving a lot of details. Trust me. This is a very convoluted story and there’s plenty to unpack. There’s no way I could possibly give away too much information. I also want to note that when this was hot news, and people on the Recovery from Mormonism messageboard were posting a lot about it, I deliberately avoided reading the details. I’m not sure what made me decide to read Glatt’s book, but now that I have, my mind is blown. So here goes…

Lori Norene Cox

Just from the previous paragraph, you already know that a lot of people in Lori’s and Chad’s circle did not survive their connection. But even before Lori Vallow Daybell met Chad Daybell, a gravedigger, author, and publisher of weird Mormon based books about the “end times”, Lori was a troubled soul with a long history of failed relationships. Unfortunately, Lori, who was born Lori Norene Cox in San Bernadino, California on June 26, 1973, had a devastatingly appealing combination of superficial charm, good looks, and vivaciousness that men found very attractive. She was also a very troubled and manipulative person who left heartbreak and devastation wherever she went, even among those who managed to survive having anything to do with her.

Lori Cox was raised in California by her parents, Janis and Barry Cox, who had four living children besides Lori: Stacey, Alex, Adam, and Summer. A fifth child, Laura, had died soon after birth. Stacey died young, having developed Type I diabetes that she refused to take care of properly. Stacey left behind a daughter named Melani. Lori’s parents were LDS, but they weren’t considered extremely devout. Her father, Barry, had served as a missionary in England in the 1960s, and then came home to California to sell life insurance. He was successful at his job, and the Coxes lived comfortably. They went to Hawaii frequently. Barry Cox was very vocal about his opposition to taxation, and he and his wife would later get in serious trouble with the Internal Revenue Service for tax evasion. Even in the 80s, Lori’s older brother, Alex, seemed sinister. Glatt interviewed one of Lori’s best friends, who told him that she always tried to avoid creepy Alex. Lori also told the friend that Alex had sexually assaulted her. Alex was a “wannabe” stand up comedian who was supposedly “obsessed” with Lori and would do anything for her.

Lori’s string of men

Lori married her first husband, Nelson Nelson Yanes when she was just out of high school, but that marriage ended very quickly. Her marriage to second husband, William Lagioia, lasted three years, but produced their son, Colby, in 1996. Lori quickly set about alienating Lagioia from Colby as she married her third husband, Joe Ryan, who eventually adopted the boy after their 2001 nuptials. Lori and Joe had their daughter, Tylee, in 2002, but their marriage soon faltered. Joe Ryan filed for divorce in 2004, and it was granted in 2005. Ryan, like Lagioia before him, also experienced parental alienation as Lori did her best to destroy his bond with Tylee. In 2007, Lori’s brother, Alex, tasered Joe Ryan after Lori accused Ryan of being abusive to her and the children. Alex had meant to kill Joe, but did not succeed. However, Joe later died of heart disease, a broken and destitute man who, by then, had lost contact with his daughter, Tylee. His body was found three weeks after he died alone in his bed; the walls of his home were plastered with pictures of his beloved, estranged daughter. Lori nonchalantly collected life insurance benefits and later casually ripped off Social Security money meant for Tylee.

In February 2006, Lori married Charles Vallow, a handsome Catholic man from Louisiana who was financially successful and had two sons from a previous marriage. Vallow converted to Mormonism for Lori, and the two of them adopted Charles’s grandnephew, J.J. J.J., whose original name was Canaan, was the biological son of Charles’s nephew, who, along with the boy’s mother, had a severe drug problem. Originally, J.J. was awarded to Charles’s sister and J.J.’s grandmother, Kay Woodcock, and her husband. But although the Woodcocks loved the boy, they felt like they were too old to raise J.J., who besides being born prematurely, also had autism. So initially, it seemed perfect that Lori and Charles would raise J.J. Lori was younger, and seemed like a great mom to her biological children. Again, Lori was almost always able to charm most people, at least when they first met her. After awhile, her true colors showed.

For a few years, the marriage seemed to go okay. Lori was preoccupied with trying to alienate Tylee from her father, Lori’s third husband, Joe Ryan. Once Joe was dead, she was free to turn her attentions elsewhere. Lori began becoming obsessed with “the end times”, which if you know anything about Mormonism, will be a familiar theme. Many members of the LDS church think we are now living in “the end times”. Lori became fixated on a passage in the Bible about 144,000 people who would survive the rapture and witness the second coming of Jesus Christ. Lori was a talented singer and dancer, and Charles built her a special mirrored room– probably much like the Sealing Room in a LDS temple– where Lori would dance to religious music or her favorite 1980s era pop love songs. She also read many books written by LDS authors, including some written by Chad Daybell, who would eventually become her fifth husband.

Lori wasn’t one to stay in one location for long. She lived in several places, including Texas, Arizona, Utah, and Hawaii. She was especially wedded to Hawaii– and lived in Kauai several times, where she made friends and mingled in the local LDS church. At one point, she and Charles lived in Kauai. She would return there after Charles was murdered by Lori’s brother, Alex, who shot him twice in the chest. She would eventually be arrested at a Kauai condominium, just across the street from where she’d once lived with Charles Vallow, after she and Chad Daybell fled after Lori’s children disappeared.

Chad Daybell

Chad Daybell was born August 11, 1968 in Provo, Utah. He often heard voices and saw spirits of his ancestors, to include his grandfather Keith. Chad would often claim that his ancestors would bring him messages from beyond, which he would follow– promptings of the spirit.

Chad Daybell was raised a devout Mormon in Utah, completed a two year LDS mission in New Jersey, and in March 1990, married the former Tamara “Tammy” Douglas at the Manti, Utah temple. They are the parents of five children. Chad graduated from Brigham Young University in 1992 with a degree in communications; he worked as a copy editor at a newspaper, but also did a lot of work as a sexton– that is, gravedigger. That skill would eventually come in handy after he and Lori Vallow got together.

Chad fancied himself a writer, and he started his own publishing company called Spring Creek Book Company. He also decided, after a prompting from the spirits, that he would move his family from Utah to Rexburg, Idaho. He made this decision without consulting his wife, Tammy. He also gave up a lucrative job so that he could publish LDS themed books about the end times. Chad was successful in recruiting other LDS writers, including Julie Rowe, whose books were very popular. However, his decision to publish books made life somewhat financially challenging for his family. Tammy Daybell often worked in schools as an assistant librarian to help pay the bills.

Daybell was known as a “prepper”– meaning, he was preparing for the end times. He spoke and wrote extensively about the topic and became well known in certain LDS circles. Although Chad Daybell’s own books were considered “cheesy” by some readers, Lori Vallow was a super fan of his. She came to one of the conferences where he gave a speech. It wasn’t long afterwards that they became obsessed with each other and formed their own religious cult. They were seeing each other, even though both were married to other people. The other people– Tammy Daybell and Charles Vallow– were soon dispensed with– and once those inconveniences were gone, Lori and Chad were free to get married on a Hawaiian beach. It would be Lori’s second Hawaiian beach wedding.

Chad Daybell’s obsessions with the end times, coupled with Lori Vallow’s mental illness, would lead to the tragic, horrifying, and absolutely heartbreaking destruction of several people’s lives, especially Lori’s own children’s. Her son, Colby, is the only one left to live with the absolutely crazy wreckage left in the wake of his mother’s relationship with Chad Daybell. But even if she had never met Chad Daybell, Lori Vallow would have been responsible for hurting many people. Maybe fewer of them would be dead.

My thoughts

At this point, Lori and Chad Daybell are still awaiting trial. Justice has been delayed because of the pandemic, as well as Lori’s mental illness. She was deemed unfit to stand trial because she needed psychiatric treatment. For that reason alone, John Glatt’s book will probably need a sequel, because I am sure the court case(s) will be explosive. Lori’s fourth husband, Charles Vallow, was killed in Arizona, while her children were murdered in Idaho. Lori may also face charges for grand larceny, because she collected her dead children’s Social Security benefits from their fathers for several months before the game was up and she was arrested in Hawaii.

One thing I did notice about this book is that it didn’t appear to me that John Glatt knows that much about Mormonism. He often used terms that Mormons would not use, such as “congregation”. LDS “congregations” are called wards. He also refers to Lori and Charles “attending the temple”, as if perhaps they were Jewish, and visiting the temple was a regular weekly thing. Mormons do have temples, but they don’t typically attend them regularly, as they would a church meeting (Mormons called their services “meetings”). Temple ordinances are usually “special”; they require a “temple recommend”, which is a special ID card that members in good standing carry. The ID allows them to enter the temple for certain religious ceremonies that are only open to Mormons who are deemed “worthy”. A person can be LDS, but not worthy to enter the temple. Members have to convince their bishops that they are worthy, and get that temple recommend, before they can visit the temple. Plenty of LDS members haven’t done that.

I can’t really fault Glatt for not explaining all of this stuff. I don’t know how much he knows about Mormonism. For all I know, he might know a lot, but have decided not to try to explain everything totally accurately. It IS kind of complicated for the uninitiated, and I suspect most of the people who read The Doomsday Mother are not going to be well-versed in the LDS religion’s less popular beliefs. I do think it’s important to understand the church on a basic level, though, because Mormonism does figure very prominently in this story. It helps to know a bit about the church to get a grasp of how and why things unraveled the way they did.

It’s true that Lori is mentally ill, but she and Chad Daybell got together because they were both obsessed with the LDS religion, the Bible, and some of the more obscure teachings. Indeed, the children were murdered because Lori and Chad believed that they were “zombies”. To my knowledge, “zombies” are not part of Mormonism, but the faith does put a lot of emphasis on spirits, supernatural events, “promptings”, “burnings in the bosom”, and “signs”. Most rank and file Mormons can separate the “woo” from the useful church teachings, but someone who is mentally ill probably could take some of the church’s stranger beliefs and really run with them. It sounds like that is what happened in this case.

I do think John Glatt writes well. He included photos, and wisely divided this book into sections. This is not a story that can be successfully written as one big tale. Both Lori and Chad had such complicated histories that created this perfect storm that readers need to get an idea of both of them as individuals, before they met each other and destroyed so many lives. Even without Mormonism, I think this would be a very complicated story. In fact, I think both Lori and Chad could merit their own books about their lives before their abbreviated existence as a married couple.

I also liked that Glatt added a few trivial tidbits. For example, back in 2007, before Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell became huge news, Lori’s brother, Alex Cox, was working as a morning disc jockey in Sacremento, California. Adam and his fellow deejays decided to have a contest called “Hold your wee for a Wii.” The object was for listeners to drink as much water as they could without going to the bathroom. The winner would get a Nintendo Wii as a prize. A nurse called in to the show and warned the deejays that this was a dangerous idea. They blew her off, which led to tragic consequences for the second place finisher, Jennifer Strange, who died of water intoxication after taking part in the contest. I remember when the Wii contest was news, and was surprised that one of the people who masterminded it is related to a notorious killer.

Those who are interested in this story can also watch ABC’s Dateline program, “The Gravedigger’s Wife”, which at this writing, has been uploaded to YouTube. I’ll be watching it myself later today.

On a much more personal note…

I mentioned my husband’s ex wife at the beginning of this post. Those who have been following my blog for awhile might know why I found the story of Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell even more chilling than I otherwise might have. There are just so many similarities between Lori Vallow’s and Ex’s stories, right down to connections to Texas, the LDS church, multiple marriages, sexual abuse, parental alienation campaigns, narcissism, crazy religious visions, theft of money, and even autism. Ex has a son who has severe autism.

Ex has always promoted the narrative that she’s an “excellent, caring, and devoted” mother. If you look at her social media footprint, you can see that she promotes that image somewhat convincingly to the unaware. However, if you know the truth about her, and hear stories from people who have been close to her, you see there are a lot of cracks in the facade.

Likewise, Lori Vallow came off as this lovely, vivacious, caring mother who loved people. But then look beyond the surface, and you see someone who is extremely troubled and damaged. If she hadn’t had that very attractive and alluring visage, people would be running away from her. Unfortunately, people tend to believe people like Ex and Lori Vallow. Ex looks like a devoted mom to her five children by three men, but her three eldest children were prevented from having relationships with their fathers, and Ex has repeatedly exploited them for her personal gain. Meanwhile, she posts on social media about everything she’s supposedly doing for her youngest son, who will probably always be under her thumb due to his disability.

In his book, Glatt writes about how Lori Vallow got her son a service dog named Bailey to help him negotiate the world. Later, after Charles Vallow’s death, Lori decided to “rehome” the dog, which really upset her daughter, Tylee. Ex has also been making noises about getting a service dog for her son with autism. Ex also reportedly made her daughters get G.E.D.s (just as Lori Vallow’s daughter, Tylee, did), then enroll in college and take out student loans. Ex then allegedly used the excess loan money to pay her own bills, which the girls were expected to repay. Remember, Lori Vallow used her daughter’s father’s Social Security money and her cell phone to do her dirty work.

While I don’t think Ex is as crazy as Lori is, they do have a lot in common. This book was pretty eerie for me, personally, for that reason. Over the years, I’ve gotten a lot of comments about how I’m an obsessive second wife. Maybe there’s truth to that, but there’s also a lot of truth to the fact that my husband was married to a toxic person who has harmed a lot of people. Ex hasn’t killed anyone, that I know of, but I have always felt that if the conditions were right, she definitely could kill someone– including herself. In fact, Ex supposedly did attempt suicide at one point, and landed in the hospital. These comments are based on what I’ve heard from family members and have seen Ex post about publicly.

So, my heart goes out to the “sane” people in Lori’s family who stood by and watched her work. I know from personal experience just how scary and unnerving that can be. The sad thing is, narcissistic, manipulative people tend to get the benefit of the doubt, and it often takes an explosive situation involving horrific crimes before they are finally stopped. Lori Vallow manipulated and conned so many people– friends, relatives, church acquaintances, and the like– before people finally opened their eyes to the person she is.

Likewise, Chad Daybell, a very manipulative man with disturbing delusions of the “end times” also fooled a lot of people, taking on jobs that others wouldn’t seek. Daybell’s knowledge of gravedigging proved handy, as he disposed of Tylee Ryan’s and J.J. Vallow’s remains in the pet cemetery on his property. I will warn that the descriptions of how the bodies were disposed of are especially heartbreaking and horrifying. I especially felt terrible for J.J. Vallow, who probably experienced torture before he died. And now, I feel terrible for the heartbroken relatives– especially his grandparents– who are left missing him and know about the terrible things that happened to him because they didn’t raise him themselves. They must be riddled with guilt.

Anyway, I do recommend The Doomsday Mother to those who enjoy true crime and have both a stout heart, and a strong stomach. There’s a lot of death and sadness in this book, but it’s coupled with a lot of crazy “woo” that is a challenge to comprehend, but I think John Glatt has done a good job explaining this story. It’s definitely NOT an easy story to write. It’s amazing what some people get away with in life, and how long they can get away with it before they are finally stopped.

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