After a nearly nine-month search, investigators found 7-year-old J.J. Vallow—still clad in red pajamas and “tightly wrapped” in black plastic—in the backyard of doomsday author Chad Daybell’s Idaho home, a detective testified Monday. The little boy’s head, arms, and feet were bound in duct tape.
Several feet away, authorities discovered “a mass of burnt flesh and charred bone” they later determined to be the remains of 17-year-old Tylee Ryan, in a “pet cemetery” on Daybell’s property, said Ray Hermosillo, a detective with the Rexburg Police Department.
Hermosillo described the gruesome finding on the first day of a two-day preliminary hearing in Fremont County Courthouse, where prosecutors will sketch out their case against Daybell, 52, who’s accused of hiding evidence when authorities began to investigate the disappearance of the two children of his second wife, Lori Vallow.
The hearing comes nearly two months after authorities found the remains of Vallow’s children on Daybell’s Idaho property. Daybell and Vallow, who are members of a community of doomsday preppers and were married two weeks after Daybell was widowed, have not been charged in the deaths of the two children, whose bizarre missing-persons case has garnered national attention.
Hermosillo described in graphic detail how authorities on June 9 found a small child’s body in a “shallow grave” near a tree that had “three large white flat rocks” placed “in a row” with “thin wood paneling” underneath.
“As soon as we lifted the wood paneling out of the hole in Chad Daybell’s backyard, I could immediately smell the odor of a decomposing body,” Hermosillo said. Later, the detective said that investigators found the “burnt mass” in a melted green bucket near the remains of a dog and a cat.
J.J.’s body was clad in a red pajama set and Sketcher socks. A white-and-blue blanket had been placed over him, the detective said, while duct tape tightly covered his head, arms, and feet. Hermosillo added a light plastic bag was also found on top of J.J.’s head.
“His hands were folded about chest high. He had duct tape continuously wrapped from elbow, all the way around his arms over his hands, all the way to his right elbow—several layers, tightly wrapped,” Hermosillo said.
“He had a ball of duct tape over where his hands would be,” Hermosillo added. “His wrists were also bound by another layer of duct tape. His ankles were also bound with duct tape.”
Dressed in a white shirt and blue tie, Daybell sat quietly next to his attorney, John Prior, as Hermosillo answered questions from Madison County prosecutor Rob Wood.
Daybell faces two felony counts of conspiracy to commit destruction, alteration, or concealment of evidence, and two felony counts of destruction, alteration, or concealment of evidence. Vallow, whose preliminary trial is set for next week, is being held on child desertion and other charges.
Kay and Larry Woodcock, J.J’s grandparents, were also present at the Monday hearing, telling reporters “it’s showtime” before walking past dozens of media outlets and several community members holding signs in support.
J.J., 7, and Tylee, 17, had not been seen since September, although it wasn’t until relatives asked police to check on them in late November that they were registered as missing.
Hermosillo testified on Monday that he first began an investigation into Vallow’s children on Nov. 26, 2019, after the autistic 7-year-old’s grandparents contacted police for a welfare check. Upon arrival, Hermosillo found Lori’s brother, Alex Cox, at the home—without J.J. or Vallow. Hermosillo said after Cox refused to cooperate with authorities, the detective found Daybell near a second apartment, and he insisted he didn’t really know Vallow, only meeting her a few times through her brother.
“I again found it suspicious because I knew they were married two weeks prior to my contact with Mr. Daybell,” Hermosillo said. A few minutes later, Daybell gave up his wife’s phone number, telling the detective he didn’t initially provide it because “he felt like I was accusing him of something,” Hermosillo testified.
Rexburg Police Department Detective David Stubbs also testified Monday, describing how he met Vallow twice on Nov. 26 as authorities performed a welfare check on her 7-year-old son.
In body-camera footage played in court, Vallow can be heard telling Stubbs and another officer that “this is a big mess” and that J.J. “is in Arizona” with one of her friends, Melanie Gibb.
Gibb, who testified on Monday, admitted she had initially lied to authorities about being with J.J after Vallow told her the 7-year-old was in danger.
When Stubbs explained to Vallow they “are concerned” after getting “a bad vibe,” she begins a bizarre explanation about her family history, claiming that “lots of stuff” is going on and that she has had to move several times.
“One of my brothers is trying to kill me,” Vallow says at one point, adding that Kay Woodcock has been trying to “fight” her for custody of her adoptive son since her husband, Charles Vallow, died.
“I just don’t tell people where I am,” Vallow said. As Vallow could be heard telling police that Woodcock “does nothing but cause me trouble,” the grandmother shook her head in court and looked at her husband in anger.
When asked about the whereabouts of Tylee Ryan, Vallow told Stubbs her daughter was attending school at BYU-Idaho. On Monday, Wynn Hill, the dean of students at the university, testified there is no record the 17-year-old was enrolled at the university.
Hermosillo said the suspicious nature of his meeting with Cox and Daybell prompted detectives to ultimately search three apartments rented to Vallow, Cox, and another family member, Melani Boudreaux. In one of the units, the detective said said, police found a suitcase inscribed with J.J.’s name and a half-filled prescription bottle of pills for the 7-year-old. The other two units appeared to be empty.
With Vallow and Daybell refusing to cooperate, Hermosillo said the investigation quickly expanded into a search for Tylee Ryan as well, after relatives said she had also gone missing.
In January, after Vallow repeatedly lied about the kids’ whereabouts and then fled to Hawaii with her new husband, Hermosillo said the mother-of-two was served an order instructing her to return the two minors. He said there was no sign that J.J or Tylee were staying at the Hawaii home.
Vallow was eventually arrested in Hawaii after failing to produce her children. After tracking the cellphone movements of Lori’s brother, authorities were able to locate the children’s remains on Daybell’s property on June 9. Hermosillo said Daybell was arrested less than three hours after they found the bodies.
The children’s disappearance brought scrutiny to the couple’s involvement in the prepper community—and to the deaths of Vallow’s and Daybell’s previous spouses.
Last October, Daybell’s wife of 30 years, Tammy, died of unknown causes, after which the author of apocalyptic novels for a Mormon audience declined an autopsy—a move that raised eyebrows. He married Vallow weeks later.
Vallow’s husband, Charles Vallow, was shot in July—supposedly by her brother Alex Cox, who said he fired in self-defense during a domestic dispute. Cox was not charged and later died of natural causes.
Charles Vallow had written in divorce and custody petitions that Lori had become obsessed with doomsday visions and had threatened his life. He said she believed she was reincarnated to lead people during the second coming of Jesus Christ in July 2020 and said that if he got in the way of her saving humanity, she would kill him, NBC News reported.
Police have exhumed the body of Tammy Daybell, who was found dead at home. While her death was initially listed as “natural,” it has since been classified as suspicious; an autopsy report has not yet been released.
The Idaho Attorney General’s Office in April took over an investigation into Daybell and Vallow in connection with Tammy's death. One court document in the case reveals potential charges could include conspiracy and murder, but no one has been charged.