EDITOR’S NOTE: This story contains graphic information that may be disturbing to some readers.
REXBURG — Court documents released Friday evening detail the horrific manner in which Joshua “JJ” Vallow and Tylee Ryan were found in Chad Daybell’s backyard. JJ was wrapped in plastic and bound by duct tape, while Tylee was dismembered and burned.
The information is in an 11-page affidavit of probable cause that was unsealed by Magistrate Judge Faren Eddins on Friday. The documents are about Chad Daybell, who is charged with two felony counts of concealment or destruction of evidence. He was arrested and booked into the Fremont County Jail on June 9 after investigators excavated two sections of his Salem property and discovered the remains of Tylee and JJ.
The children’s mother, Lori Vallow Daybell, is in the Madison County Jail charged with desertion of children and three misdemeanors.
What happened to Tylee
The last time Tylee Ryan was seen alive was on Sept. 8, 2019, on a trip to Yellowstone National Park with their mom, uncle, Alex Cox, and JJ. Rexburg police released photos of the trip earlier this year.
It’s not clear how Tylee died, but police learned about a possible motive for the death from Lori’s friend Melanie Gibb.
Months earlier, in the spring, Lori had told Gibb that Tylee had become a “zombie,” meaning her spirit had left her body, and she had become “dark.”
“Gibb was on the phone with Lori and heard Lori call Tylee a zombie to which Tylee responded, ‘Not me, mom,'” the affidavit states. “This arose out of Lori requiring Tylee to babysit JJ, and Tylee did not want to. Lori Vallow also told Gibb that Tylee had turned into a zombie when she was 12 or 13, which was approximately the same time Tylee had become ‘difficult’ to deal with.”
Gibb traveled from Arizona to Rexburg with her boyfriend, David Warwick, from Sept. 19 through Sept. 23. They never saw Tylee, and Lori said she was attending school at Brigham Young University-Idaho.
Cox had a townhouse in the same complex as his sister. Investigators obtained Cox’s cell phone records and compared his activities on Sept. 9 with other days the same month.
“On Monday, Sept. 9, from 12 a.m. and 12:44 a.m., Cox’s phone was located at his apartment (107). However, at 2:42 a.m. to 3:37 a.m., Cox is located again at Lori’s apartment (175), where Lori lived with Tylee and JJ. This is significant, not only because he is there in the middle of the night, but also because this is the only time in September he appears to go over to Lori’s between midnight and 6 a.m.,” the probable cause states.
Cox returned to his apartment at 4:37 a.m., and at 9:21 a.m., he was located at Chad Daybell’s property. The GPS datapoint placed him near the east end of the barn, according to court records, and he was still at the property at 10:30 a.m.
“At 10:47 a.m., his phone shows a hit at the City of St. Anthony. At this time, we are unable to tell if he was actually inside the city limits of St. Anthony … or if this was a cell tower ping on his phone while he was still at the Daybell residence,” Lt. Ron Ball of the Rexburg Police Department wrote in the statement. “At 10:57 to 11:39, Cox is located at the Daybell property. At 11:52 to 12:02, he was at Dell Taco in Rexburg. He appears to spend most of the rest of the day in his apartment.”
That same day, the FBI found the following text message conversation between Chad and his wife, Tammy Daybell:
Chad to Tammy at 11:53 a.m.: Well, I’ve had an interesting morning! I felt I should burn all of the limb debris by the fire pit before it got too soaked by the coming storms. While I did so, I spotted a big raccoon along the fence. I hurried and got my gun, and he was still walking along. I got close enough that one shot did the trick. He is now in our pet cemetery. Fun times!
Chad to Tammy at 11:56 a.m.: Gonna shower now and then go write for a while at BYU. Love you!
Tammy to Chad at 2:47 p.m.: Good for you!
Chad to Tammy at 2:48 pm: I’m back home now
Ball wrote the following about the exchange:
“I found the text suspicious because raccoons are normally nocturnal animals and are not regularly out during the day. It should be noted that from interviewing neighbors of Chad Daybell, we are aware that in mid-July of 2019, Garth Daybell, Chad’s son, told their neighbors that Chad had shot a raccoon out of a tree on their property during the day. Garth told (a neighbor) about the raccoon in response to a question from (a neighbor) about hearing a gunshot. (Neighbors) informed me that the fire pit in the back of the Daybell property was hardly ever used until the last few months.”
As police learned this new information, they consulted with Tammy Daybell’s sister, Samantha Gwilliam. They asked her if she knew about a pet cemetery on the Daybell’s property. She said she knew about it as both she and Tammy “were pet people,” and they both had pet cemeteries.
“When asked the location of the pet cemetery on the Daybell property, she stated that it was east of the red barn and near the fire pit,” the affidavit reads. “She informed me that she was aware of the location of the pet cemetery on the Daybell property because Tammy had shown it to her. Samantha was then shown an aerial photograph of the Daybell property, and she pointed to the same area near the fire pit where Alex Cox’s phone pinged on Sept. 9, 2019.”
Last week, investigators dug at the location while executing their search warrant and made a grisly discovery.
“Ground in this area was probed with a steel pole, and several areas of disturbed ground were located. During a search of this ground, a buried cat and dog remains were found. A backhoe was used to dig further layers of dirt. While doing this, bricks were located approximately a foot below the ground,” the affidavit reads. “The dirt in this area was searched, and several other items of interest were found, including other bones, charred tissue and charred bones. Cheryl Anderson (a Boise State University anthropologist on-site) indicated these additional bones, both charred and uncharred, and tissue found were human remains.”
What happened to JJ
Lori withdrew JJ from Kennedy Elementary in Rexburg on Sept. 24 and told administrators she was going to homeschool her son. He had not attended class for at least two days. Police say they never found any sign of homeschooling during their investigation.
When Gibb arrived at Lori’s house in September around the same time, Lori told her JJ had become a zombie.
“Gibb that JJ had become a “zombie” and (Lori) pointed out behaviors such as sitting still and watching TV, claiming JJ said he loved Satan, and an increased vocabulary as evidence that JJ was now a zombie,” Ball wrote in the affidavit. “Gibb observed JJ’s behavior and felt it to be the same as she had always observed it.”
Gibb told detectives that Lori told her Chad had taught that once a person becomes a zombie, “death of the physical body is seen as the mechanism by which the body’s original spirit can be released,” according to the probable cause.
Lori told Gibb that it was her and Chad’s mission to rid the world of “zombies.”
The last time Gibb and Warwick saw JJ was the night of Sept. 22. Warwick told investigators it was late, and he was going to do a podcast with Gibb and Lori. Warwick said JJ was acting up, so Cox took JJ to his apartment.
“When Alex returned later that night, he was carrying JJ, who appeared to be asleep with his head on Alex’s shoulder,” Ball wrote. “Warwick specifically remembered this because he saw it as a tender moment.”
The next morning, between 8 and 9, Warwick asked Lori where JJ was. Lori told Warwick and Gibb that JJ “had been acting like a zombie” and crawling on and on top of the kitchen cabinets.
“She informed Warwick and Gibb that when JJ had climbed upon the cabinetry that he had knocked a picture of Jesus off the refrigerator,” the probable cause says. “Vallow then informed Warwick and Gibb that Alex had come and taken JJ.”
The FBI analyzed Cox’s cell phone movements on the morning of Sept. 23. He was at the Daybell property from 9:55 a.m. until 10:12 a.m. — a total of 17 minutes — near the pond. Police searched the area last week.
“Members of the FBI removed the top layer of sod. Underneath the layer of sod were several large flat rocks. The rocks were removed, and two pieces of flat paneling were found. The paneling was removed, and investigators exposed a round object covered in black plastic,” the affidavit reads. “Upon exposing the round object covered in black plastic, a strong odor was noticed. An FBI member used a small sharp instrument and made a small incision in the plastic and a layer of white plastic was observed. An incision was made into the white layer of plastic exposing what appeared to be human remains, the crown of a head covered in light brown hair.”
The affidavit says JJ’s body was wrapped in tight black plastic and secured with gray duct tape.
It is not clear how JJ died either.
Chad watches events unfold
As law enforcement executed their search warrant, Chad was “continuously watching where officers were searching. He was observed watching officers while sitting in his vehicle in his front driveway and while sitting in his vehicle across the street at his daughter’s residence,” the affidavit reads.
When JJ’s remains were discovered, police wrote Chad left his daughter’s house in an SUV. He was arrested about a mile from his home.
He remains in custody in the Fremont County Jail on $1 million bail. Lori is in the Madison County Jail, and her bail has also been set for $1 million.
Cox died in December 2019, apparently of natural causes.
Tammy died in October 2019, and Chad married Lori a few weeks later. Results from her autopsy have not been released.
Chad was scheduled for a preliminary hearing on July 1 and 2, but it has been postponed to Aug. 3 and 4.