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Court documents reveal how police found missing children’s remains on Chad Daybell’s property

(John Wilson, KSL TV)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Newly unsealed court documents reveal new details about how Idaho police were able to locate the bodies Lori Vallow Daybell's children on her husband's property.

Tylee Ryan, 17, and her brother Joshua “JJ” Vallow, 7, went missing out of Rexburg, Idaho, in September 2019. Their remains were found June 9 on a property in Fremont County, Idaho, belonging to their mother’s husband, Chad Daybell; he was arrested that day in connection to the discovery.

The probable cause affidavit for Chad Daybell's arrest was unsealed Friday, revealing that investigators used interviews, cellphone records and cellphone location data to locate Tylee and JJ’s remains.

The children’s mother, Lori Vallow Daybell — referred to as Lori Vallow in court documents — was arrested in February in connection to their disappearance.

The search for the missing children began on Nov. 26, two months after Lori Daybell moved to Rexburg in with her two children. Chad and Lori Daybell moved to Hawaii sometime in mid-December.

Children described as ‘zombies’

In the affidavit, police say Lori Daybell told a friend the children had become “zombies,” a religious belief that came from the Church of the Firstborn.

The friend told police Lori explained to her the term “refers to an individual whose mortal spirit has left their body and their body is now the host of another spirit … considered a ‘dark spirit,” the affidavit states. It’s also believed the person’s “true spirit goes into ‘limbo’ and is stuck there until the host body is physically killed,” police wrote in the affidavit.

Court documents say Lori Daybell learned the term “zombie” from Chad Daybell.

Lori Daybell had called Tylee a zombie in the spring of 2019, her friend told police. The friend said she was on the phone with Lori and heard her call Tylee a zombie, to which Tylee responded “not me, mom,” the affidavit states.

Lori Daybell called her daughter a zombie because Tylee did not want to babysit JJ, the affidavit says.

The friend also told police Lori had said Tylee became a zombie when she was 12 or 13, around the time Tylee became “difficult to deal with,” court documents state.

Lori Vallow Daybell was arrested on Thursday Feb. 20, 2020 in Hawaii on investigation of child desertion. (Photo: Kaua‘i Police Department)
Lori Vallow Daybell was arrested on Thursday Feb. 20, 2020 in Hawaii on investigation of child desertion. (Photo: Kaua‘i Police Department)

Tylee Ryan’s disappearance

Tylee was last seen alive at Yellowstone National Park with her mother, JJ, and her uncle: Lori Daybell’s brother Alex Cox.

Cox was on law enforcement's radar because a few months before the children’s disappearance, Cox admitted to shooting and killing Lori’s estranged husband, Charles Vallow, in July of 2019.

Cox then joined his sister in Rexburg and moved into the same apartment complex where she lived with JJ and Tylee. Surveillance footage also showed Cox visiting a Rexburg storage facility in October several times with Chad and Lori Daybell.

Police used data from Cox’s cellphone to pinpoint his location during and after the Yellowstone trip. The records showed Cox went to his sister’s apartment at 3:37 a.m. on Sept. 9 — the day after Tylee Ryan was last seen alive.

Police note this is significant because it is the only time in the month he appeared to go to her home between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m. By 4:37 a.m., Cox had returned to his apartment; a few hours later, at 9:21 a.m., his phone pinged on Chad Daybell’s property.

Additionally, FBI agents found text conversations between Chad Daybell and his wife at the time, Tammy Daybell, on Sept. 9.

The text conversation reads:

  • Chad (11:53 a.m.) - “Well, I've had an interesting morning! felt should burn all of the limb debris by the fire pit before it got too soaked by the coming storms. While did so, spotted big racoon (sic) along the fence. hurried and got my gun, and he was still walking along. got close enough that one shot did the trick. He is now in our pet cemetery. Fun times!”
  • Chad (11:56 a.m.) - “Gonna shower now and then go write for while at BYU. Love you!”
  • Tammy (2:47 p.m.) - “Good for you!”
  • Chad (2:48 p.m.) - “I’m back home now”

Tammy Daybell died in her sleep on Oct. 19; her body was later exhumed by police to investigate her cause of death. Chad Daybell married Lori Vallow a few weeks after his late wife’s death.

Chad Daybell’s “pet cemetery,” referenced in the texts, is in the same location where Cox’s cellphone pinged the night of Sept. 9, police said in the affidavit.

JJ Vallow’s disappearance

JJ was last seen alive in the evening of Sept. 22, police said. When friends inquired where JJ was the next morning, Lori Daybell said he was with Cox.

The affidavit says JJ was registered at Kennedy Elementary School in Rexburg the first week of September, and just weeks later he was withdrawn from the school. JJ had an unexcused absence on Sept. 23, and the next day his mother told the school district JJ would be going to Louisiana with his grandparents and wouldn’t be home until at least the end of October.

On Oct 29, police say Lori Daybell told school officials JJ would be homeschooled — however, no evidence of homeschooling materials were found when police searched her Kauai, Hawaii home.

It appears JJ was never enrolled in another school following this as no other school district ever requested his school records from the district, the affidavit states.

Cellphone records show Cox was again on Daybell’s property on Sept. 23.

Lori Daybell told friends she knew her son was a zombie because he would sit still watching TV, she claimed he loved Satan and he had an increased vocabulary. On the night of Sept. 23, friends said they were preparing to record a podcast and JJ was “acting up,” so Cox took him to his apartment.

When Cox returned later, he was carrying JJ “who appeared to be asleep with his head on Alex’s shoulder,” the affidavit states. The friend who told police this detail said he remembered it specifically because he “saw it as a tender moment.”

The next morning, the friend asked Lori where JJ was and she told him JJ “has been acting like a zombie and had been crawling on the kitchen cabinetry” and gotten on top of it between the cabinet and the ceiling. When JJ was climbing on the cabinets, he knocked a photo of Jesus off the fridge, Daybell told the friend. She then said Cox had come to get JJ again.

Cell data from Cox’s phone on Sept. 23 shows he went to Chad Daybell’s home at 9:55 a.m. and stayed until 10:12 a.m., near the pond at the northern edge of the property.

Cox only went to Daybell’s property four times in September, cell records show:

Sept. 6

  • Cox stays at Chad Daybell’s home for about 10 minutes
  • All pings were in and around the house — no pings anywhere in the backyard near the fire-pit or pond
  • This is two days before Tylee was last seen alive

Sept. 9

  • Cox arrives at 9:21 a.m. behind Chad Daybell’s house near the east end of the barn the day after Tylee was last seen alive
  • Cox is still at the home at 10:39 a.m.
  • Cox’s phone pings at 10:47 a.m. in St. Anthony, however police say in the affidavit they were “unable to tell if he was actually inside the city limits of St. Anthony” at that time. St. Anthony is about 5-minute drive from Chad Daybell’s residence
  • Cox is at Chad Daybell’s property from 10:57 a.m. to 11:39 a.m.
  • Cox is at the Del Taco in Rexburg from 11:52 a.m. to 12:02 p.m. His entire visit at Chad Daybell's home lasted about 2.5 hours
  • Chad Daybell texts his wife about burning limb debris at 11:53 a.m.

Sept. 23

  • Cox stayed on Chad Daybell’s property for about 17 minutes
  • This is the day JJ had an unexcused absence from school

Sept. 25

  • Cox stays on Chad Daybell’s property for about 15 minutes
  • All pings were in and around the house — no pings anywhere in the backyard near the fire pit or pond.
  • This is three days after JJ was last seen alive

In December, Cox had blood clots in his lungs and died of natural causes, according to a report from the Maricopa County Medical Examiner.

Surveillance footage showed Cox visiting a Rexburg storage facility in October several times with Chad and Lori Daybell.

Remains found

Police searched Chad Daybell’s home on June 9 after identifying multiple sites of interest — the pet cemetery and the locations of Cox’s cellphone from Sept. 10 and Sept. 23.

Authorities searched the location Cox was at on Sept. 23 and found a patch of ground about 4 feet by 2.5 feet that “appeared to be disturbed,” the affidavit states. Underneath the top layer of sod, police found several large flat rocks and flat paneling under the rocks.

Under the paneling was a large round object wrapped in black plastic. Authorities cut into the black plastic, discovered another layer of white plastic, and underneath that were human remains.

Chad Daybell booking photo, Tuesday, June 9, 2020. (Photo: Fremont County Jail)
Chad Daybell booking photo, Tuesday, June 9, 2020. (Photo: Fremont County Jail)

Authorities searched the second site, near the pet cemetery where Cox had been on Sept. 9, and found animal remains. As they dug further down, they found bricks about one foot below the ground.

Two charred bones were found, but officials weren’t immediately able to determine if they were human due to the condition of the bones. As investigators kept searching this area, they found charred tissue and more bones, which were positively identified as human remains.

A few days after the remains were discovered, family — and later authorities — confirmed the remains belonged to JJ and Tylee.

As of Friday, the children’s causes of death had not been released. Chad Daybell has been charged with two counts of concealment of evidence, both felonies, and later pleaded not guilty.

Correction: A previous version incorrectly identified Joshua "JJ" Vallow as James.

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