A cellphone belonging to Lori Vallow Daybell's brother was present on her husband's land when the bodies of her children, Joshua "JJ" Vallow and Tylee Ryan, were buried there shortly after they were last seen, according to a newly unsealed affidavit written by the lead detective in the case.
The data points matching the location of Alex Cox's cellphone and the locations of JJ and Tylee's remains were analyzed by a special FBI team and are "considered to be highly accurate and can place the device within a 6-meter radius," according to an affidavit of probable cause written by Lt. Ron Ball of the Rexburg Police Department and unsealed Friday.
The affidavit also states that Lori believed her 7- and 17-year-old children had become "zombies" and that she and her fifth husband, Chad Daybell, were on a mission to "rid the world of 'zombies.'" The couple believed that while a zombie's "dark spirit" is inhabiting a person's body, "the person’s true spirit goes into 'limbo' and is stuck there until the host body is physically killed," their friend, Melanie Gibb, told investigators, adding that it was a belief Lori had learned from Chad.
Police believe the children have been dead and buried on Chad's property since they were last seen in September, according to the affidavit. The following story contains disturbing details and reader discretion is advised.
Disappearance of Tylee Ryan
Gibb told police Lori had called her teenage daughter, Tylee, a "zombie" in the spring of 2019 after Tylee said she didn't want to babysit her little brother, JJ.
"Gibb was on the phone with Lori and heard Lori call Tylee a zombie, to which Tylee responded, 'Not me, mom,'" Ball wrote in the affidavit. "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," the document states.
Tylee was present when Alex shot and killed her stepfather, Charles Vallow, on July 11, according to police. Alex claimed he fired in self-defense and wasn't charged in the incident.
Tylee moved with her mother and JJ to Rexburg, Idaho on or around September 1, according to the affidavit. She was last seen at Yellowstone National Park on Sept. 8, where she had traveled with her mother, brother and uncle Alex, according to investigators.
Cellphone data analyzed by the FBI's Cellular Analysis Survey Team (CAST) shows that Alex's phone exited Yellowstone National Park at 6:40 p.m. on Sept. 8 and was present at a barbecue restaurant outside the park shortly after.
Alex's phone then registered as being at Lori's Rexburg apartment where Tylee and JJ also lived between 8:37 p.m. and 9:35 p.m on Sept. 8, according to police, before appearing at a local gas station and then briefly returning to Lori's apartment. Data then shows the phone at Alex's own apartment, which was near Lori's, from 11:44 p.m. into the early morning hours of Sept. 9.
But between 2:42 a.m. and 3:37 a.m. on Sept. 9, cellular data shows Alex's phone returned to Lori's apartment, according to police. "This is significant, not only because [Alex] 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.," Ball wrote in the affidavit.
At 9:21 a.m. the following morning, data from Alex's cellphone showed it was on Chad's property, near the barn where Tylee's remains was ultimately found by investigators executing a search warrant months later on June 9, according to the affidavit.
While Alex was on Chad's property that morning, police said, Chad texted his wife, Tammy Daybell, that he had shot and killed a raccoon and lit a fire to burn "all of the limb debris" on the property, according to police.
"The above facts establish that Alex Cox appeared to be at the Daybell property on September 9, 2019, until at least 11:39," Ball wrote in the affidavit. "Chad sent the text to Tammy about burning debris and shooting and burying the raccoon in the pet cemetery only 14 minutes later at 11:53. The pet cemetery referenced by Chad Daybell is located at the same location as most of the pings on Alex Cox’s phone on September 9, 2019."
Tylee's remains were later discovered in the pet cemetery on Chad's property, police said.
Disappearance of JJ Vallow
Gibb, the couple's friend, said she never saw Tylee during her visit to Lori's house in Rexburg from Sept. 19 to Sept. 23. But Lori's son, JJ, was there.
"Soon after [Gibb] arrived, Lori Vallow informed Gibb that JJ had become 'zombie' and 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. Gibb observed JJ’s behavior and felt it to be the same as she had always observed it," Ball wrote in the affidavit.
Gibb said she and her boyfriend last saw JJ on the night of Sept. 22 when "Alex Cox took JJ to his apartment in the complex. When Alex returned later that night, he was carrying JJ who appeared to be asleep with his head on Alex’s shoulder," Ball wrote in the affidavit.
When Gibb and her boyfriend asked where JJ was the next morning on Sept. 23, Lori said that "JJ had been acting like zombie and had been crawling on the kitchen cabinetry and had gotten on top of the cabinetry in the space between the cabinetry and the ceiling" and that "Alex had come and taken JJ," according to the affidavit.
At 9:55 a.m. on Sept. 23, cellular data analyzed by the FBI showed that Alex's cellphone was again on Chad's property near the pond until 10:12 a.m. JJ's remains were found buried near the pond by investigators, police said.
In September, Lori told Gibb and JJ's school that he would be staying with his biological grandparents, Kay and Larry Woodcock. But the boy was never seen again.
Discovery of children's remains
In the intervening months, as investigators searched for the children, the Daybells' neighbor also told police he had seen "frequent bonfires in the pit on the Daybell property over the last few months," according to the affidavit.
During investigators' search for JJ and Tylee, Alex himself died. His death was ruled to be from natural causes after he was found unresponsive on Dec. 12, but his death remains under investigation.
JJ and Tylee's extended families, as well as Rexburg police and the FBI, pleaded for help finding the missing children throughout the winter and the spring of 2020.
But, according to the affidavit, investigators now believe the children's bodies had been buried on Chad's property since September.
Investigators executing a search warrant on Chad's property on June 9 found a body wrapped in plastic and duct tape buried near the pond that autopsy results confirmed was JJ, according to the affidavit.
Investigators then found "bones, charred tissue and charred bones" near the fire pit and pet cemetery on Chad's property, which autopsy results confirmed belonged to Tylee, according to the affidavit.
As they searched his property on June 9, Ball wrote, "Chad Daybell was observed by officers to be 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."
"Around the time [JJ's] head ... was discovered, Chad Daybell was observed leaving his daughter’s residence in a grey SUV. I and other officers pursued him in police vehicles, conducted traffic stop and detained him due to the fact that human remains were discovered on his property," Ball wrote.
Chad was arrested and charged with two felony counts of willfully destroying, concealing or altering evidence. He is currently being held on $1 million bond at the Fremont County jail, and is due to appear in court on August 3 for a preliminary hearing. Chad has pleaded not guilty and denied all allegations of wrongdoing.
Lori is also being held on $1 million bond on felony charges of deserting JJ and Tylee, as well as misdemeanor charges of resisting and obstructing an officer, solicitation of a crime and contempt. Lori has pleaded not guilty, and is due to appear in court for a preliminary hearing on July 9.
The Rexburg Police Department asks anyone with information regarding the case to contact the department at 1-208-359-3000.