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SPRINGVILLE — As people across the country anxiously wait to learn whether Lori Vallow will post her $1 million bail in Idaho, friends and loved ones of Tammy Daybell — Chad Daybell's late wife — are wondering what happened to the family they knew in Utah before they moved about five years ago.
The Fremont County (Idaho) Sheriff's Office is handling the investigation into Tammy Daybell's death after the 49-year-old woman reportedly passed away in her sleep at the family's Salem, Idaho, home on Oct. 19.
Authorities have said they deemed Daybell's death as possibly "suspicious" and exhumed her remains with the assistance of local law enforcement on Dec. 11.
The autopsy was performed the same day — almost two months after her death.
"We did [the exhumation] as confidential as we could," said Rod Oldroyd, Springville City administrative services manager.
Employees with the city's parks department arrived at the Evergreen Cemetery at 6 a.m. that Wednesday to prepare for the exhumation.
"Many other people were here that had to be here — witnesses, county attorneys, the sheriff from Idaho, sheriff from Utah, coroners, coroners' assistants, funeral director — all of that had to be done," Oldroyd said.
Witnesses showed up by 6:30 a.m. and the exhumation began. By 2:30 p.m., Daybell's body was back underground, Oldroyd said.
"I have known Chad and Tammy for a long, long time — as many people in Springville have," Oldroyd said. "To this day, if I thought of Tammy Daybell, it would be that she's smiling and she's happy. That's how she was."
Where so much of this story started: Springville, Utah
Although Tammy Daybell passed away in Idaho, her family and so many friends remain in small-town Springville, Utah and surrounding cities in Utah County. The family was well-known in the community.
Springville is where Chad and Tammy Daybell both went to school, met, dated and raised their five children.
In fact, both Daybells graduated from Springville High School. Tammy Daybell's family moved there from Southern California when she was 13 years old.
The couple also both worked for the city, too.
"She worked for Springville City when they were engaged," Oldroyd explained. "Ambulance billing, cemetery billing, things like that is what she did.
"Tammy was excellent at what she did. She was congenial and happy to the customers and patrons of the city. She was helpful to customers and portrayed a positive image of Springville City. She worked at the city before she married and continued following her marriage."
According to city records, Chad Daybell worked for Springville on five separate occasions.
"Not unlike Tammy, Chad also had excellent reviews as a city employee. He had part-time and full-time positions. He continued to be rehired because of his reputation for honest work and integrity. He worked as a parks worker and later as the cemetery sexton," Oldroyd said.
His former supervisors described him as a self-starter, helpful, courteous and even exceptional.
"I was working here when he was the cemetery sexton. I was here when we tried to get him not to go and we tried to get him to stay. So, we did our best… [He] should have stayed here," Oldroyd said.
City of Springville employment records
- Worked for Springville City as a billing secretary and receptionist from June 1988 to 1992 & 1996 to unknown (the city could not locate the final date).
- 1985-1987 Parks Department Worker and Supervisor
- 1989-1992 Cemetery Worker
- Hired 12/4/1995 as a Full-Time Cemetery Worker; Became a Cemetery Supervisor in July 1996, Resigned 1999
- Hired 8/2008 as a Part-Time Cemetery Maintenance Worker, Resigned 2009
- Hired 05/2013 as the Cemetery Sexton, Resigned 10/2014
The Daybell family moved to Idaho in 2015.
Gravedigging: A Daybell family tradition
A 1992 Deseret News article told the story of the Daybell brothers digging graves at Springville graves to pay for their Brigham Young University educations.
In 2001, Chad Daybell's work got more attention. In another story published in the Deseret News, he told the newspaper reporter his experiences working as a gravedigger "left him with many memorable moments — from both the living and the dead."
The article also stated, "Daybell said one of the most unsettling events occurred as he dug a fresh grave next to a plot notorious for being haunted."
He explained this experience in his own words: "As I hit the vault of the haunted grave, I just felt a real jolt go through me like electricity and I felt a presence there," he said. "I just took off running and I didn't even look back, but I could feel 'it' on my tail. I ran all the way to my office in record time."
Daybell said his experiences at the cemeteries, combined with his previous experience working at a daily newspaper, "prompted him to record his tales of the bizarre and unexplained for a book." That book is entitled "One Foot in the Grave."
Utah medical examiner: Every state has a different death investigation system
According to her obituary, Tammy Daybell, 49, passed away "peacefully in her sleep." Her death was originally believed to be due to natural causes. But, because Idaho is a coroner state — meaning, its state law does not require an autopsy in a situation like this — the option to have an autopsy performed was up to the discretion of Daybell's next of kin.
Tammy's family declined an autopsy.
That likely wouldn't have been the case — or even an option — if Tammy had died in Utah. Utah state law says certain types of deaths must be reported to the Utah Office of the Medical Examiner under the Utah Department of Health.
"Deaths that occur suddenly, unexpectedly by violence, child deaths, deaths in custody — there's a whole long list of the kind of deaths that are required to be reported to us and then we do the investigation to the extent that we need to determine the cause and manner of death," said Dr. Erik Christensen, Utah's chief medical examiner.
"If someone doesn't have a history of anything — has no medical history except, you know, asthma or you know, a little arthritis in their foot, or they had surgery for this, that or the other thing – but no reason to be expected to be dead, then those will be reported to us."
Most of the time, law enforcement contacts the medical examiner's office under these circumstances.
Christensen's office conducted an autopsy on Daybell's body because she is buried in Utah.
When KSL Investigator Brittany Glas asked Christensen whether his office would be able to arrive at the answers necessary surrounding the cause and manner of death of someone whose body had been underground, he said, "A lot of that depends on you know, how long have they been in the ground? How were they buried? Were they buried in a sealed casket, without a sealed casket? Did water leak into the casket?"
However, Christensen said even embalmed bodies can provide necessary answers in an autopsy.
"The biggest issue we have with those kinds of cases is toxicology because the blood is gone. But, we can test other organs and tissues," Christensen said.
It's also important to remember that with any autopsy, toxicology testing takes time.
"The more things they find, then the more follow up testing has to be done," he said. "Depending on what you're looking at, you know, the process can take a couple of weeks. If everything's negative, [it] can take months, depending on you know, what it is you're trying to find."
Daybell's cause and manner of death have yet to be officially determined. A final autopsy report hasn't been publicly released.
Exhuming a body for an autopsy involved in a possible criminal investigation isn't common.
Christensen said in the 20 years he's been practicing in the industry, he's been involved in maybe four exhumations.
Lori Vallow arrested, judge reduces bail to $1 million
Vallow, 46, was arrested in Hawaii on Feb. 20, where she has been living with Chad Daybell since Dec. 1, 2019.
County prosecutors have charged Vallow with two felony counts of desertion and nonsupport of a child. Each charge carries a possible sentence of up to 14 years.
On Friday, a Madison County, Idaho, judge reduced Vallow's bail from $5 million to $1 million and set various conditions for her release.
If bail is posted, Vallow must sign a waiver of extradition and she cannot leave Bonneville, Jefferson, Madison and Fremont counties. Vallow must also wear an ankle monitor, appear for all court appearances, obey all laws and stay in contact with her counsel.
Vallow's next court appearance is scheduled for March 18-19, beginning at 9 a.m.
Both Tammy and Chad Daybell's parents still live in Springville, making the situation surrounding Tammy Daybell's death and Vallow's charges all the more difficult for such a small community.
Daybell was also a teacher and worked at a number of different schools in both states.
As speculation mounts against Chad Daybell and his new wife, the community couldn't help but think about how things are so different now.
"Obviously, you hope it's not true," Oldroyd said. "It's hard to think of everything that's going on, you know, because we knew them when everything was fine."
City representatives said they are thinking about both families at this difficult time.