Charles Vallow’s ex-wife had concerns about Lori Daybell over 10 years ago and thinks his shooting death was ‘100% planned’
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AUSTIN, Texas — Cheryl Wheeler will never forget how she found out her ex-husband, Charles Vallow, was dead.
It was July 2019 and Cheryl was in her Austin, Texas, home when her 24-year-old son, whose father is Charles, walked into the room.
“He had just literally received a text from Lori (Charles’ wife) saying his dad was dead,” Cheryl tells EastIdahoNews.com. “We were shocked. He tried calling her back, he tried texting, but she would not answer.”
Text messages obtained by Justin Lum of Fox 10 Phoenix show what Lori allegedly sent to Charles’ sons.
“Hi boys. I have very sad news. Your dad passed away yesterday morning. I’m working on making arrangements, and I’ll keep you informed with what’s going on. I’m still now sure how to handle things. Just want you to know that I love you and so did your dad,” the first message read.
A group text chain shows Lori was asked multiple questions about Charles’ death, but her responses were vague and did not provide answers. Cheryl went online for help.
“I checked the medical examiner’s webpage and found Charles had been killed the day before, and they had it classified as a homicide,” Cheryl recalls. “We further Googled and saw all of the news reports out of Chandler. We found out that Alex (Cox, Lori’s brother) had shot him.”
Cheryl has closely followed the bizarre events surrounding her ex-husband’s wife, Lori Vallow Daybell, and her new husband, Chad Daybell, for several months. She has not spoken publicly until now and says she’s doing so to raise awareness that her son’s half-brother, 7-year-old Joshua “JJ” Vallow, and Lori’s daughter, 17-year-old Tylee Ryan, are still missing.
Cheryl and Charles met through mutual friends in 1991. They were living in Austin and were married within a year.
“He was very charming and always dressed very nicely. He’s definitely a salesman,” Cheryl says. “He helped a lot of people and had a lot of good friends. He came from a big family who was very close, and here was this interesting guy from Louisiana that ended up in Austin.”
The couple was married 12 years and had two sons. The boys adored their father, and Charles was nicknamed the “Disneyland Dad” because he was so much fun.
“He would take them fishing and to campouts and Boy Scouts and just loved doing all that,” Cheryl recalls. “Charles was an athlete, but my boys were not into baseball or football. They did rowing and soccer, and he was very, very supportive of all their activities.”
Cheryl and Charles divorced in 2003. Cheryl remarried, and in 2006, Charles married Lori Ryan in Las Vegas. She had previously been married to Joseph Ryan, and they had Tylee together. They divorced in 2004, and Joseph died of an apparent heart attack in April 2018.
Charles was raised Catholic but converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after meeting Lori, a lifelong Latter-day Saint.
Cheryl remembers first meeting her at a son’s baseball game and thinking she was a nice woman.
“We were sitting next to each other and she looked at me and said, ‘You probably think I’m an idiot because I’m with your ex-husband,'” Cheryl says. “I found that very funny, but that was the only pleasant moment we ever had in all these years.”
The women had little interaction, although Cheryl and her husband shared custody of the two boys with Charles and Lori. The boys would spend weekends, summers and alternating holidays with their dad while remaining with their mom the rest of the time.
A year after Charles and Lori got married, Cheryl became concerned about Lori’s mental state.
“She just seemed off. There were a lot of strange goings-on at their home to the point that a judge ordered cameras to be put in their home to protect the children,” Cheryl recalls.
Nothing suspicious or criminal was ever found on the video footage, Cheryl said, but she said something wasn’t right with Lori. During child custody hearings, Cheryl says Lori seemed to enjoy being in court and “all the drama” surrounding it.
“Lori was also in a custody battle with Joseph Ryan, and it was so intertwined that the judge combined our cases altogether in the courtroom,” Cheryl recalls. “It was quite odd, but she loved it. That’s when I learned she doesn’t do what she’s told to do if she doesn’t want to. I saw that a lot in court.”
After Cheryl and her husband spent thousands of dollars in the custody dispute, they were perplexed when Charles and Lori announced they were moving to Arizona.
Arizona, Hawaii and JJ
Despite the move, Cheryl’s sons continued to spend summers with their father and his wife, but the circumstances were unusual.
“The way they would describe it is that Dad went to work and Lori would leave. She has never had a job that I’ve known of, other than being a hairdresser before they married, but she would leave and go be with her family or do other things,” Cheryl says.
Cheryl’s sons were in the home with Tylee and Colby Ryan, Lori’s son from her third husband, William Lagioia. In 2014, Charles and Lori adopted Joshua “JJ” Vallow from a family member and Cheryl’s kids loved spending time with their new half-brother.
“My boys adore him. They have funny stories and funny videos with him. He is their brother,” she says.
Social media posts indicate that sometime in 2014, Charles and Lori moved to the island of Kauai in Hawaii. The couple operated a small juice business on the island, according to business records. They moved back to Arizona between 2016 and 2017.
When they returned, Charles spent thousands of dollars getting a properly trained service dog for JJ, who has autism. Bailey, a labradoodle, became JJ’s best friend, and Cheryl’s sons loved spending time with their stepbrother and his dog.
“Three weeks after Charles was killed, Lori put the dog up for sale. She listed it for $2,500, and it was so shocking because Bailey was such an important part of JJ’s life,” Cheryl says. “Fortunately the trainer saw the listing and told Lori she had to give it back to the rescue group. They were able to take him back and re-home the dog to another special-needs boy.”
Divorce and death
Charles filed for divorce from Lori in February 2019. In court documents obtained by Fox 10 Phoenix, he claimed she viewed herself as a god preparing for the second coming of Christ. Charles said Lori would kill him if he got in her way of performing that mission.
“Charles was a very religious man, and faith is a big thing for him,” Cheryl says. “For him to say things got that weird means it was weird beyond what any of us know. Otherwise, he would have probably jumped right in and gone along with it.”
During divorce proceedings, Lori disappeared in February for nearly two months and took Tylee to Hawaii. They stayed at the Kauai Beach Resort, the same hotel where she and Chad Daybell were stopped Jan. 26, 2020, and served search warrants.
Charles ended up stopping divorce proceedings and tried to work things out with Lori.
Months later, on July 11, the Chandler Police Department were called after Alex Cox, Lori’s brother, shot and killed Charles. Although police are still investigating, detectives initially ruled the shooting as self-defense as Alex claimed Charles hit him with a baseball bat.
“Charles was a semi-pro baseball player. If he hit Alex in the head with a bat, he would be dead, but Charles was not a violent person,” Cheryl says. “We were married and divorced and not one time, not one second, was he ever physically threatening to me. There are no police records of any domestic violence calls between him and Lori, so to say it was self-defense because he was violent — it’s just not who he was.”
Alex waited five minutes to call the police, Cheryl said, and the landlord reports that later in the day a pool party was held at Lori’s house. It was so loud, neighbors could reportedly hear it.
After Cheryl learned how Charles died, she tried to find funeral information so her sons could honor their father.
“Lori’s family scheduled no funeral services — nothing,” Cheryl says. “The Vallow family put together a memorial and Lori sent all of Charles’ ashes. Kay and Larry (JJ’s grandparents) begged Lori to have JJ there, but she didn’t let him go to his own dad’s funeral. They didn’t even have an obituary.”
Cheryl believes Charles’ death was “100% planned” and says her ex-husband told people that if something happened to him, Lori was behind it. Since he was shot seven months ago, Cheryl and her sons have not heard from anybody in Lori’s family.
“They basically grew up with my boys. It is really odd, and it hurt my sons’ feelings. I had to explain this is not normal. Normally, family embraces each other and reaches out. No one did and has not to this day,” Cheryl says.
Alex died Dec. 12 at the age of 52. He was married 10 days before his death and an autopsy is currently underway to determine how he died. Cheryl believes he was poisoned.
She also thinks Tammy Daybell, Chad’s first wife, was poisoned in her Salem home in October. Fremont County Sheriff Len Humphries says his office is awaiting results from her autopsy and a cause of death has not been determined.
Cheryl did not know JJ and Tylee were missing until news reports began circulating in December. She says the complicated twists and turns of this case have given her family little time to mourn.
“It comes in waves. We think it can’t get any weirder, and then we get a phone call,” she says. “I think we were numb from November to January. You can’t make this stuff up.”
Cheryl and her family hope JJ and Tylee are still alive and wants everyone to know that Charles was a good, kind man who got tied up with an “evil” woman.
“He was a loving person and father and friend. He was always looking out for JJ’s protection. I know autism is difficult to deal with, and for him to have that type of patience is just extraordinary,” Cheryl says. “He was a very, very kind person, and I just wish Lori would have divorced and not had him killed. It’s a huge loss for the family, friends and the kids.”