Melani Pawlowski speaks about her childhood, family deaths and her sudden Las Vegas wedding
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IDAHO FALLS — Two key people tied to Lori Vallow Daybell are speaking about their relationship with her, Daybell’s missing children (Joshua “JJ” Vallow and Tylee Ryan), the death of Daybell’s brother (Alex Cox) and other events that have come to light over the past few months.
Melani Pawlowski is Daybell’s niece. She married Ian Pawlowski last November and lived next door to Daybell in Rexburg during the time her children were missing. Melani is currently involved in a custody dispute with her ex-husband, Brandon Boudreaux, regarding their four children. Brandon was shot at in October and believes Cox, his ex-wife’s uncle, was the shooter.
The Pawlowskis now live in Arizona and spoke with EastIdahoNews.com via Zoom on Saturday – the day after Cox’s autopsy report was released showing he died of natural causes.
Below is a transcript of the first part of their interview. It has been lightly edited for clarity. On Monday, we will post the rest of the interview, including questions about JJ and Tylee, Lori and Chad, the Pawlowskis’ religious beliefs, and why they are speaking out now.
Nate Eaton, EastIdahoNews.com: The first thing I want to ask, Melani and Ian, is your reaction to the autopsy results which came out Friday concerning Melani’s uncle, Alex Cox. What did you think when you heard the news?
Melani Pawlowski It was relieving but we weren’t surprised. We knew that it would be natural causes. We had no reason to think anything otherwise. I think it was just a comfort like, finally, this part is over and it’s one more stepping stone to just keep revealing truth. And then the second half of the day, (Gilbert Police) say it’s still under investigation. It feels like every time we get a little bit of good news, there’s a little bit of drag too, but overall, just relief and comfort to be in the right direction.
Eaton: You mentioned that police are still investigating and there is going to be people watching that still don’t believe the results or say there’s something more here. What do you say to them?
Melani: You post truth out there, and people have already made up their minds and decided. Ian made a bad joke saying, ‘Did they test for all the invisible poisons?’ People will still think whatever speculation or rumors or whatever they want to believe even when it’s right in front of their face.
When Tylee and JJ show up and are here again, I don’t know if people would even believe it. They still go on with their own…it’s still they’ve done something bad and a lot of people have already made up their minds.
We just want to come on and share what we do know and share truth and hopefully keep getting opportunities where more people will be open to that and be able to listen.
Eaton: Melani, Alex was your uncle and a lot of people have thrown questions out there as to why he died. Was this just a big coincidence? Did you think there might be something more here?
Melani: There was absolute shock when I got the phone call from Zulema Pastenes (Alex Cox’s wife), and she was telling me (he had died). I had spoken with Alex earlier that day, and he seemed OK, but I knew the week before he was having trouble. He was, overall, a pretty healthy guy but stubborn. He wouldn’t do regular checkups and was just was a tough guy.
I was going to bring him some of his stuff because he had moved down to be with Zulema, and he had said, “Let’s not meet up halfway. Let’s wait. I’m not feeling very good.” That was big for him to say that because he never would say that he wasn’t feeling good.
The week before, he said he had tightness in his chest and trouble breathing. He said he had bent down to get a water bottle and took the breath out of him. I was absolutely worried and was like, “You need to get to the doctor.” And he was like, “No, no, no, I’m fine.”
So that morning, I called him and Ian was at work. He was somebody I could kind of just – you could tell him anything. He’s like a vault. I was just openly telling him about things in my new marriage, things that were challenging or things that were going really well, and he was just my best friend at that point. He shared some things that I just felt I needed to write them down when he started talking to me.
Eaton: Like what?
Melani: He said, “Melani, the most important thing in your marriage is to be loving, be supportive, and be patient.” And he kept repeating that and I was like – I need to remember that always. It was his last words to me, and I didn’t know that, but it was really just special like that. He just said, “Everything’s going to be fine, just keep moving forward, you’re going to have your kids back soon and everything’s going to work out. Just go on in faith.”
Later that evening, I got a call from Zulema, and I was excited. I started telling her about my day, and then it shifted. I kind of just went into shock for a little bit, and I fell to the floor. I just felt all the feelings of losing a close friend. I hadn’t been very close with Alex most of my life. I was closer with my aunts and even my other uncle.
Alex was a truck driver, and after starting to have challenges in my last marriage, you could just call him, and he always answered. He would just talk and let you talk to him. And I do talk a lot. And he would let me just vent, and he never would put somebody down or judge them. He would just say, “Here’s how you handle that situation.” Nobody could do any wrong in his eyes. He just was very positive and somebody that was so influential to be around when I’m going through the hardest thing and missing my four children.
Eaton: How is Zulema doing?
Melani: I love Zulema with all my heart. I feel like it’s been really hard. She hasn’t been able to really mourn and grieve the loss of her husband with all the accusations. She doesn’t really feel ready to come forward and share her story and I respect that. She’s still just trying to get through every day and missing her husband. But she’s doing OK.
Eaton: There has been some limited information that’s come out about each of you, and I’m wondering if you could tell us about yourselves – how you guys met, how you ended up in Idaho and then back in Arizona?
Ian Pawlowski: I grew up in Southern California and I got married in 2010. I moved to Idaho in 2011 with my ex-wife, Natalie, and we have two kids together. Right now they’re nine and seven – Max and Lily. They’re fantastic kids. I miss them a lot right now, and I would love to get them down here in Arizona.
I started school at BYU-Idaho. I never finished. Just work, school and being a dad was too much, and I just figured I’d work. On our ninth anniversary, Natalie asked for a divorce. That was in March 2019. We worked our way through and got it all wrapped up in July.
I decided to try to jump back into dating a little bit. It wasn’t really my goal to find a wife – I just wanted to find people to hang out with. At the same time, I had just gone through a really rough divorce, and it kind of tore me up. I’m trying to put my life back together and was maybe looking for a little bit of validation – just somebody to talk to who’s not going to judge me and push me away.
I downloaded some dating apps and found Melani on one of them. I asked her on a date that day. I don’t feel like I communicate well over text – I’m sarcastic a lot and don’t come across well in text sometimes. So I invited her out to dinner, and we went to MacKenzie River.
Eaton: What month was this?
Ian: This was November.
Eaton: Melani, you had moved to Rexburg?
Melani: Yeah, the first week of November I moved. We were across the street from each other but didn’t know it.
Ian: I don’t know how to describe it other than everything just kind of clicked with her. We’d had so many similar experiences with the way our divorces went and struggles, and we understood each other. I found no judgment with her, no preconceived notions – she just wanted to get to know me. We spent the next two days basically just talking constantly. It was just easy to click, and I didn’t have to try to do mental gymnastics to justify a second date.
Eaton: Then you got married shortly thereafter.
Ian: Correct. So one of the things that led to us getting married so quickly was our children. She had four kids, and one of the first things I put on my bio is that I’m a dad. I’ve got two kids I love with all my heart, and I want them to be a big part of our lives.
I still haven’t had the opportunity to meet her kids yet, and I can’t wait too. The first time we came to Arizona, I came down with my two children to have Thanksgiving with my family. Melani was talking about how she didn’t have anybody to go to Thanksgiving with, and so I invited her to come be with my family. It was kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing. She showed up, and my kids immediately fell in love with her. My daughter can be a little shy, a little standoffish, and just immediately was attached to Melani. She wanted to take her around and show her everything she’d been doing, play games with her and tell her everything that’s on her mind. Just to see Melani interact with my kids – it made me fall really hard, really fast for her because she’s just so sweet and good with them.
Melani: We got married Nov. 30. It was really fast. I was in this battle with my ex, and I didn’t have my kids with us, but we both pray about decisions together, and we felt that it was right. A Vegas wedding wasn’t dreamy or anything, but our goal was to be sealed in the temple one day. So we said, “Let’s do this when we have Max and Lily, and then we have Braxton, Brighton, Blake and Brees too, let’s all get together on that special day where we can be together.”
Eaton: Did you guys have a joint wedding with Alex and Zulema, or was that separate?
Melani: Alex and Zulema had been dating for several months, and Alex was very ready to marry Zulema. She was waiting until she got an answer. She knew she was supposed to be with Alex but was going to wait until it felt like the right time.
They had talked about wanting to get married in Jackson or Las Vegas, and it just so happened when they picked their date, they had more of a plan than Ian and I did. The coincidence of us picking the day right after them wasn’t planned or anything – it was just what happened. We made the decision in Arizona during Thanksgiving and said, “Let’s do it.” And while we’re there, we need a witness, and Alex and Zulema are there. This wasn’t our big wedding day – just the beginning of our lives together, and then we’ll have that special moment when we’re all together as a family.
Eaton: So they got married the day before you guys did?
Melani: We got married on the 30th, and I think they got married on the 29th.
Eaton: Was it just an intimate ceremony for the both of you?
Melani: For Ian and I, we had two or three hours. We got a dress and a tux and got the kids all dressed up and their hair done. I think the Lucky Little Wedding Chapel is where we picked and it was a small room. It was very intimate and quick – not anything crazy or anything, but it was special to us. Alex and Zulema were our witnesses, and it was just planned last second. We didn’t have time to invite a lot of people. It was just a on-a-whim decision and (we) felt like it’s what we should do.
Eaton: Melani, were you born and raised in Arizona?
Melani: I was born in Utah, but I lived in Phoenix as a baby and then lived in California for a while. And then Seattle is where I spent a lot of time growing up.
Eaton: Your mother unfortunately passed away when you were young.
Melani: My mom got really sick a couple years after having me. She almost died having me because she had a deep vein thrombosis blood clot. And the Cox side doesn’t really have great genes. My grandpa’s had cancer and blood clots, and initially my grandfather was told by the police that Alex – they thought a lung clot was the reason for his death initially. So that’s what we thought this whole time.
I think my parents had a rough time when my mom got really sick with type 1 diabetes and gastroparesis. She didn’t have the ability to absorb nutrients and was in and out of doctors and hospitals, and I think it was hard on my dad. I know there was some infidelity on his part, and they tried to work through things, and they just couldn’t make it work.
I spent a lot of time in the Cox home. Barry and Janis, my grandparents, lived in California, and I lived with them for a while. My mom was sick and I remember my dad traveling a lot for his job, and my mom finally felt like she was healthy enough when we moved to Seattle, and my dad got a job there. It was just me, my mom and dad. My mom couldn’t have any more kids.
When I was 6, I can remember the night my dad took me and said, “We’re going to go get gas,” and we never came back. We left my mom there, and he turned the power off. He took all her credit cards, her planner and just left her there. She was really sick to the point she couldn’t really take care of herself. We hid out in a hotel for a couple months, and that started a nasty custody battle between them.
I remember just being quiet and not really understanding what was going on. I just remember not seeing my mom a lot, but she fought as much as she could. I grew up with my dad and then later my stepmom when my dad got remarried. I heard all manner of things about the Coxes, but my dad kind of cut off communication with them.
My mom later passed away when I was 9. Lori was the one that called and told me the news. She said, “Your mom’s in a coma and she’s probably not going to make it.” I remember that phone call and I’ve always loved and trusted. Lori. She’s always been somebody that has so much unconditional love and no judgment, no drama, and I admire her so much. I don’t think I would have wanted to have that phone call by anybody else to have to give me that news.
I remember flying up with my dad, who took me to see my mom last time in hospice. She passed, and my dad didn’t let me talk or see any of that side of the family. I didn’t know why other than he was saying all sorts of things about them.
Finally, when I was 15, I found my uncle Adam (a radio DJ). I think I Googled him on the computers in high school, and I found him, and he was one of my favorite, favorite people in my life. I remember growing up and connecting all the ties from age 9 to 15. For all those years, they didn’t have me, and they tried sending packages, and my dad would return them. I never understood why I just felt something off in my heart, but I have
no judgment or resentment on why my dad did the things he did. I wish to this day he would just say it for what it is and be real about it because that’s how we grow.
Eaton: So did Lori somewhat raise you after your mother passed?
Melani: Mainly my Grandma Janis. Lori was young and busy with her life, but she would take me and go do fun things. Also my aunt Summer and my uncle Adam. I wasn’t super close with Alex. … But they were so important in my life. I didn’t know that my dad had been telling everybody, “Hey, your mom died of anorexia,” and she was mentally ill and basically made himself look like a hero.
I have all of her medical records and all the court documents. It’s hard seeing the same patterns that happened to my mom now happening in my life where my kids are taken away from me wrongfully and things are said about me that aren’t true – but my kids know who I am. My own father is helping my ex-husband right now, and they’ve had my kids at their house and don’t tell me. I have bullying text messages from my dad, and that’s upsetting. I feel like you should love your kid no matter what. If all these false claims were true – if I was crazy or in a cult or done something horrible – shouldn’t they just reclaim me with kindness as their daughter and love me anyway?
It’s absolutely heartbreaking that I don’t have a good relationship (with them) right now where I feel like I can keep them close in my life. I’m kind of just loving them from a distance and letting everything play out. I don’t judge anyone for all the things they’re scared of or confused about. This case is heavy, and it’s unlike anything – I never thought this would be our lives. It’s unreal.
Eaton: There have been reports that Lori may be somehow tied to your mother’s death – that she may have been the first victim. Can you address that?
Melani: She died of natural causes. It’s on her death certificate. She had type 1 diabetes and gastroparesis. She went to every type of doctor, and I think she got tested for everything. It was so clear she was far from anorexic.
My dad ran with that story, and it’s hurtful and untrue, and she’s not here to tell that truth. Reading through court documents, there’s so many things he could have said because we’re real and open about our family and we make mistakes. It was mostly just lies about everything. That’s similar to what’s happening in my family court case – the same pattern. I think we go through these things to learn experience and seeing that same exact thing happened now in my life, it’s too ironic it’s the exact same patterns.
EastIdahoNews.com will post the rest of the interview Monday including questions about JJ and Tylee, Lori and Chad, the Pawlowski’s religious beliefs and why they are speaking out now.