By Leah Sottile
Formats and Prices
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around June 21, 2022. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
When police in Rexburg, Idaho perform a wellness check on seven J.J. Vallow and his sister, sixteen-year-old Tylee Ryan, both children are nowhere to be found. Their mother, Lori Vallow, gives a phony explanation, and when officers return the following day with a search warrant, she, too, is gone. As the police begin to close in, a larger web of mystery, murder, fanaticism and deceit begins to unravel.
Vallow’s case is sinuously complex. As investigators prod further, they find the accused Black Widow has an unusual number of bodies piling up around her.
WHEN THE MOON TURNS TO BLOOD tells a gripping story of extreme beliefs, snake oil prophets, and explores the question: if it feels like the world is ending, how are people supposed to act?
Anyone who has followed the strange case of Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow Daybell knows that the case is currently awaiting trial. As of this publication, Chad Daybell has pleaded not guilty of the crimes of which he is accused, and remains in jail. Lori Vallow Daybell has not filed a plea, and was placed in the custody of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare after being declared mentally unfit to stand trial. There she is being treated to restore her competency so she can assist in her legal defense.
Neither of them has been proven guilty in a court of law of the crimes they are accused of.
These are the best facts of the case. The details of this book are pulled from thousands of pages of court documents, police reports and interviews, body camera footage, and media reports. In some places where there are direct quotes, they came from affidavits, pretrial testimony, or police reports.
Anything that is not public record comes from my own interviews, research, and reporting, conducted between March 2020 and January 2022.
—Leah Sottile, January 2022
Lori Vallow (also known as Lori Cox, Lori Ryan, Lori Vallow, Lori Daybell): mother of Colby Ryan, Tylee Ryan, and JJ Vallow
Tylee Ryan: daughter of Lori Vallow and Joseph Ryan, born September 24, 2002
Joshua “JJ” Vallow: adopted son of Lori Vallow and Charles Vallow, born May 25, 2012; grandson of Larry and Kay Woodcock
Colby Ryan: eldest child of Lori Vallow, born April 8, 1996
Nelson Yanes: first husband of Lori Vallow, married 1991
William LaGioia: second husband of Lori Vallow, married 1995–1996
Joseph “Joe” Ryan: third husband of Lori Vallow, married 2001–2004
Charles Vallow: fourth husband of Lori Vallow, married 2006–2019
Barry Lynn Cox: father of Lori Vallow
Janis Cox: mother of Lori Vallow
Alexander “Alex” Cox: oldest brother of Lori Vallow
Adam Cox: Lori Vallow’s older brother; father of Zac Cox
Stacey Cope: Lori Vallow’s oldest sibling; mother of Melani Boudreaux (Pawlowski)
Steve Cope: husband of Lori Vallow’s older sister, Stacey; father of Melani Boudreaux
Summer Shiflet: Lori Vallow’s younger sister
Melani Boudreaux (Pawlowski): Lori Vallow’s niece; daughter of Steve and Stacey Cope
Brandon Boudreaux: ex-husband of Melani Boudreaux
Ian Pawlowski: second husband of Melani Boudreaux
Chad Daybell: fifth husband of Lori Vallow
Tammy Daybell: first wife of Chad Daybell, married 1990
Emma Daybell Murray: daughter of Chad and Tammy Daybell
Garth Daybell: eldest son of Chad and Tammy Daybell
Seth Daybell: son of Chad and Tammy Daybell
Jack and Sheila Daybell: parents of Chad Daybell
Brad Daybell: brother of Chad Daybell
Matt Daybell: brother of Chad Daybell
Heather Daybell: sister-in-law of Chad Daybell
PREPARING A PEOPLE/ANOTHER VOICE OF WARNING
Mike and Nancy James: founders of Color My Media and Preparing a People
Melanie Gibb: friend of Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow; Arizona branch representative for Preparing a People
Julie Rowe: near-death experience author published by Spring Creek Books
Zulema Pastenes: friend of Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow; wife of Alex Cox, married 2019
Christopher Parrett: site administrator, Another Voice of Warning
Joseph Smith (1805–1844): founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
David O. McKay (1873–1970): ninth president and prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994): secretary of agriculture during the Eisenhower administration; thirteenth president and prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1985–1994
Elizabeth Clare Prophet (1939–2009): founder of the Church Universal and Triumphant
Jim Jones (1931–1978): leader of the Peoples Temple
Joseph Di Mambro (1924–1994): cofounder and leader of the Order of the Solar Temple
Marshall Applewhite (1931–1997): cofounder and leader of Heaven’s Gate
David Koresh (1959–1993): leader of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas
Warren Jeffs: president of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
James “Bo” Gritz (1939–): former US Army Special Forces officer; 1992 presidential candidate
W. Cleon Skousen (1913–2006): FBI employee, professor at Brigham Young University, chief of Salt Lake City Police Department, political author, and speaker
Robert Welch (1899–1985): founder of the John Birch Society
NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCE AUTHORS
Betty Eadie: author of Embraced by the Light, published 1992
Sarah Menet: author of There Is No Death, published 2002
Gayle Smith: prominent near-death experience visionary
Spencer: subject of John Pontius’s Visions of Glory, published 2012
Missing Children, 2005
I remember when they found the bodies.
It was May 16, 2005. Police walked through the back door of the green house with white trim on the outskirts of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and there were three corpses lying facedown in a welter of blood. Their hands had been zip-tied behind their backs. Forty-year-old Brenda Groene had been bludgeoned with a hammer, and lay near her boyfriend, Mark McKenzie, and her thirteen-year-old son, Slade. The smell of murder made the officers sick to their stomachs.
Groene’s two younger children—Shasta, eight, and Dylan, nine—were not among the dead. They were gone. If they weren’t there, then where were they? And who could have possibly done this?
I was a twenty-four-year-old newspaper reporter then, working at an alternative weekly paper nearby, in Spokane, Washington. I was a rookie journalist, and it was not my job to cover the disappearance of the two children from the blood-soaked scene of a triple murder, nor did I have the skills to do so. From my fabric-covered cubicle, tucked into a corner room with no windows, I overheard other reporters doing interviews about the Groene story, which happened in our newspaper’s coverage area. I listened to how they asked questions. I learned. I had a feeling that one day, when I was ready, I’d need to know how to unwind a complicated case like it and make sense of some kind of similar horror.
The person not yet known to authorities as the children’s captor was a skinny man in his early forties with shaggy brown curls, a thick mustache, and dark eyes like knives. His name was Joseph Duncan, a convicted sex offender who’d seen Shasta playing in the yard of a run-down home as he was driving by.
The house, outside the lakeside resort city, was at the place where vacation fades into the reality of North Idaho’s Silver Valley, where the work, the weather, the living, the poverty, the wilderness, are rough and unrelenting. The Groene home was one of those houses you can see off the freeway just outside anywhere, and you realize that for many people, peace and quiet is the passing purr of interstate traffic. There were junk cars in the yard and a leaning wooden shed.
After Duncan first laid eyes on the child, playing in her swimsuit around the frontage road house, he began to hunt: for days, he waited nearby, stalking, peering in the family’s windows at night through night vision goggles. He became their predator, crouching in the brush, waiting for nighttime, for the right moment to leap. When that time came, he entered the home in the darkness. He duct-taped and zip-tied the family’s hands behind their backs, slaughtering everyone who stood in the way of the children. Then he put the two kids into his stolen Jeep, and all three vanished into the wilderness.
For weeks, the faces of Shasta and Dylan looked out from every highway billboard, forever smiling awkwardly: the clumsiness of school picture day blown up, mega-sized, for all to see. Shasta’s toothy grin and big ears. Dylan’s thin smile and knowing eyes. Digital signs flashed at roadsides: MISSING CHILDREN. Everyone knew their names. Helicopters scoured the area, and search and rescue teams combed the ground. Amber Alerts were issued, rewards offered, and a segment ran on America’s Most Wanted, but nothing led to the children.
The more time went by without authorities finding them, the more certain it seemed they’d be gone forever. Abductions were the stuff of milk cartons, and it seems like a milk carton kid never comes home.
Lilac season came. Coeur d’Alene, the lake town, buzzed to life, as it does in warm weather: the bar patios along Sherman Avenue teemed with groups of people inhaling sugar-sweet “Derailers” out of white buckets through long, colored straws before stumbling, fully derailed, toward the lake. At night, party boats cruised its glassy waters. There were the annual celebrity sightings that come with every summer: John Travolta, John Elway, the guy from NYPD Blue. The guttural roll of motorcycles coursing down the main drag was ceaseless.
I remember that summer, the first I lived with my new boyfriend in an old brick building in downtown Spokane, forty-five minutes away. We’d ride in his zippy white Volkswagen out to Coeur d’Alene, to roll our pant legs up and dip our toes in the cool water. Summer in the Inland Northwest is hot and dry—the season of praying mantises clinging to fences with hooked arms, the season of wildfire smoke, and mountain huckleberries drooping and dark with juice.
It was the summer I fell in love, and it was the summer the kids went missing, and I’ll never forget that those two things happened at the same time.
It was around two a.m. on July 2—a balmy night—when a server at a Denny’s restaurant in Coeur d’Alene realized that the little girl in shorts and flip-flops, sitting in her section with a man in a red American-flag T-shirt, was the one everyone in town was looking for. The girl was Shasta Groene. She looked scared, unsure, like she’d never been out in the world before.
The server was quick on her feet and thought of a way to keep them sitting in the booth: a free milkshake. She asked what flavor the girl would like. Even a serial killer couldn’t resist sweets and a good deal. Shasta asked for vanilla.
In back, as the shake machine whirred, the manager of the restaurant phoned the police, telling them to come quick: the girl from the billboards was sitting in a booth in the restaurant. When cruisers arrived in the parking lot, Joseph Duncan whisked Shasta to the bathroom, stopping the server on his way and telling her he was ready for his check.
After the police took Duncan into custody, the little girl sat alone in the booth for a moment. She was small, gangly, with bony shoulders and long brown hair. The server saw her sitting there by herself, swallowed by her surroundings, so she approached the table and asked her what her name was. “Shasta,” she said, and started to cry. The young woman swept the girl up in her arms and rocked her.
Shasta was alive, and in the subsequent days a story of hell tumbled from the eight-year-old’s lips. She remembered everything. She knew the brand name of the hammer that had been used to kill her family. She led investigators deep into western Montana’s Lolo National Forest, a dense, labyrinthine wilderness where Duncan had held her and her brother captive, torturing them, raping them, bringing them within inches of their deaths, only to relent and keep them like human marionettes in his horrific puppet show. After he killed Dylan, Duncan made his sister feed the severed pieces of her brother into a fire.
Duncan tried to murder Shasta, too, but something the little girl had said as he looped a noose around her neck stopped him cold. It was like an epiphany. He believed they were going to be together forever, souls eternally intertwined. He decided to bring her back home.
Years later, Duncan would receive multiple life sentences and two death sentences, having confessed to an FBI agent during an eight-hour interview to murdering Brenda, Mark, Slade, and Dylan, as well as killing three other children in Washington and California. “God was the one driving,” he explained to a psychiatrist once. That same psychiatrist told a federal court that, among many things, the man “displayed a formal thought disorder” and thinking “characterized by delusional hyperreligiosity…”
As time passed, Shasta would emerge in the news now and again. When she was a teenager, she held a fund-raiser for a local animal shelter. By then, she had a lip ring and said she didn’t want to be defined by the horrors inflicted upon her as a little girl. It was a part of her, but not all of her.
In her twenties, she was in the headlines for leaving a bag of drugs where two young children could have easily reached it. It was so sad to see, and yet I wondered, why was her personal spiral news at all? By then she had FEAR GOD tattooed over one eye—maybe a reminder to herself of the only thing she fears, or maybe a warning to the rest of us of the terrible things God will allow to happen on his watch. Maybe she means God was never looking out for her, or any of us—or worse: that he was, and he allowed children to suffer. How fearsome that would be for so many, to realize that we are all alone.
For years, I wanted to understand her struggles, and I made several attempts to interview her, but all of my requests went unanswered. Eventually I stopped trying. I wondered if my interest in her was ghoulish. I finally realized there was nothing I could ask her that would be worth her time, or worth her reliving her trauma. She should be allowed to forget what happened in the woods.
Fifteen years went by. The Groene house was torn down. I began to specialize in telling stories about people living on the fringes of society—by choice, or because they felt they had been pushed there. I moved far away from the life I lived when the murders happened. My boyfriend from that summer became my husband. I began to think that people society views as bad generally are not, and that people society touts as good, more often than not, are the bad ones. Around 2016, my work on the fringes of American culture and extremist movements became more relevant. Still, most people continued to think of conspiracy theorists as oddities; I saw my work as cautionary.
On Christmas Eve 2019, the faces of two missing children stared out at me from my computer screen. School pictures. A little boy with gap teeth and brown hair combed to his left side, and his older sister, a teenage girl with golden curls and blue eyes. Their names were Joshua “JJ” Vallow and Tylee Ryan. People feared their parents’ “cultlike” beliefs might be key to understanding where the children were. Those parents were missing, too.
Nancy Grace—who once obsessed over the Duncan case—was now talking about Lori Vallow. So was Dr. Oz, and Dateline, and bloggers, and YouTubers, and podcasters. Facebook groups bloomed like weeds overnight. Everyone wanted to know where her children were, but no one seemed to have any clue where to look.
I was thinking of Shasta and Dylan Groene. Another boy and girl from Idaho. Again. Different, but gone just the same.
I soon learned that the story of these two missing children was not one of a monster, like Duncan, who stalked people like prey. The case of JJ and Tylee involved a different kind of beast: one who had been hiding in plain sight.
The case played out in a different world than the Duncan case had, fifteen years before. The search for the children and their parents got under way just as the COVID-19 pandemic threw the world into crisis. In the United States, people swarmed to stores to gather supplies, pushing carts towering with food—a desperate way to maintain control in a situation no one was prepared to handle. The world went into lockdown. Bodies were piling up everywhere: in hospitals and morgues, in refrigerated trucks humming in the streets.
The story of a missing family would dominate headlines in normal circumstances. But this time, it was hardly the thing on everyone’s minds; survival was.
It was the year the children went missing, and it was the year it felt like the world might end, like the white horse, the first in the Book of Revelation, whose rider carries a plague, was among us. I’ll never forget that those two things happened at the same time.
It turned out there was a connection: that the missing kids and the world feeling like it could end at any moment were much more closely related than anyone could have imagined.
Rexburg, Idaho. November 26, 2019
A boy was missing. He had been gone for days, or maybe weeks, or even months, but no one could say for certain. On an icy morning two days before Thanksgiving, a pair of police detectives were dispatched to the town house on Pioneer Road to get an answer. A boy could not be nowhere.
The tall town houses of the Rock Creek Hollow community are all painted in the same muted beige tone. They have the same faux brick facades and the same tightly clipped squares of green lawn. They are finished with beige carpeting and beige marble. In all their beige sameness, a child might get lost trying to find their way home if not for the occasional wreath, or a garden bed marking the way. In the fall, some residents set out bundles of dried cornstalks and pumpkins, and the lawns crunch with a confetti of fallen leaves. In good weather, the evidence of small children is everywhere: bicycles and metal scooters and toys dropped mid-play on the grass, as if their users had been called inside for dinner and trusted that no one would take their things. The missing boy and his family lived in Unit #175.
His name was Joshua, but everyone called him JJ. He was seven years old, with a wide, toothy grin and a laugh that shook his whole body. He carried an iPad tablet with him everywhere and loved video-chatting with his grandparents, far away in Louisiana. He called them Maw-Maw and Paw-Paw. Sometimes they spoke twice in a day.
When the local police department first heard his name, JJ had only lived in Rexburg, Idaho, with his mother, Lori Vallow, and his sister, Tylee Ryan, for a short time. They had come from out of state to the remote city of 28,000: a place that springs out of the vast flat landscape so abruptly, it feels like it is cowering. This is the Idaho where the wind is unrelenting, where the trees are thin and weary, where everything underneath the wide unyielding sky appears to be genuflecting—like it is the blue iris of God, whose gaze is fixed on this very place.
Just up the hill from the town house is the Idaho campus of Brigham Young University—the school operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more commonly known as the Mormon Church—and the gleaming white Rexburg Idaho Temple: it was the third of its kind to be constructed in the state of Idaho by the LDS Church. The temple, and this city, are among many that the church has birthed and raised around Interstate 15—the “Zion Curtain,” as some people like to call it. The corridor runs south through Salt Lake City, like a spine that holds up Utah’s middle. “Zion” is a word commonly used in the LDS lexicon to signify a geographical location where the most pure-of-heart LDS people will await the Second Coming of Christ.
Businesses in downtown Rexburg wink to one fact everyone knows: this may not be Utah, but it is most certainly Mormon country. After the Shoshone and Bannock Tribes clashed with white colonialist settlers and were removed from much of their ancestral homelands here, this part of Idaho became an outpost of the rapidly expanding LDS Church. And so there are the Eden Apartments. There is a pizza shop called Righteous Slice. There are few places to buy coffee, but fifteen different LDS churches. Rexburg and the small towns around it emanate outward from BYU and the temple like a stone dropped in still water, where everything is a ripple of the faith.
The bustling college district gives way to a downtown of brick facades characteristic of Old West towns established in the mid-1800s. There are apartment complexes and town houses, and in one neighborhood, houses sit on streets with names like Taurus, Gemini, and Aries. The ragged edge of Rexburg, like the ragged edge of most small western cities, is a place of loading docks and railroad tracks and metal-sided buildings with tall trucks parked in the lot. Just beyond the pristine temple grounds, tractors kick up clouds of dust in alfalfa and wheat fields. Some children get time off from school here to help with the potato harvest.
On that frigid morning, when the detectives knocked on the wooden door of #175, two men answered. One was Alex Cox—Lori Vallow’s eldest brother. The balding fifty-one-year-old had wide-set eyes, a pinched nose, and gray whiskers across his chin. He liked to prop his wraparound sunglasses up on top of his head, even when it wasn’t particularly sunny outside. He drove a truck for a living, and in his spare time he shot guns and occasionally told jokes as an amateur comedian on barroom stages. Lori thought of her older brother as her protector. Her guardian angel.
Standing at Alex’s side was Chad Daybell, a fifty-one-year-old LDS father of five who ran a small book publishing company. Daybell was a jowly, potbellied man with an awkward, quiet demeanor, who gave off the air of a person who was deeply unsure of himself. He wore too-large clothes and walked with a forward-leaning slant, and when he spoke, he mumbled sleepily, like his words were smooth river rocks dropping from his lips.
Detective Ray Hermosillo asked the two men if JJ Vallow was at home. The detective looked the part of a TV show cop: shiny head, goatee, linebacker build. He could have easily moonlighted as a bouncer if Rexburg was that kind of college town.
At the detective’s question, Alex looked to Chad, but neither man said a word. Hermosillo repeated himself. Alex told the officers the boy—his nephew—was out of town, actually. He was visiting his grandmother in Louisiana.
Hermosillo knew that wasn’t true. He told Alex they were asking about the boy because JJ’s Louisiana grandmother, Kay Woodcock, had called the police out of desperation to track down her grandson.
Woodcock had told the police that she and her husband had not spoken to JJ in three months and that the last video call they’d had with the boy had struck them as peculiar. In August, JJ had answered when they called, greeting his grandparents with his characteristic enthusiasm. But after a few seconds, they noticed the boy’s eyes flick away, off-screen, as if someone was trying to steal his attention.
“I gotta go!” the boy told them. “Bye!”
The call lasted about thirty-five seconds, and then there were months of nothing. Silence. Their calls went to voicemail. Their texts to his mother, Lori, went largely unanswered, and when she did write back it was in a terse, dismissive tone. It left them with a feeling that something was very, very wrong. The Rexburg police said they would conduct a welfare check at the mother’s town house and get eyes on the boy.
Hermosillo asked Alex for Lori Vallow’s phone number, but he said he didn’t know it. Instead, Alex directed the officers around the corner, to the next row of town houses over, to Unit #107, where he claimed his sister Lori might be.
Detective Dave Hope made his way to #107 and knocked on the door, but no one answered. Hermosillo stayed back, noticing Chad Daybell driving away in a black Chevrolet Equinox. Hermosillo waved him down and asked Chad the last time he recalled seeing JJ Vallow.
Chad told the detective that he had seen the boy in Unit #107 in October—one month prior. Hermosillo asked him for Lori’s phone number, but Chad claimed that he didn’t have it. He didn’t really know her, he told the officer—they’d only met a couple of times anyway.
- "WHEN THE MOON TURNS TO BLOOD is a harrowing and fascinating tale of apocalyptic obsession and murder. Leah Sottile leads us down every head-shaking twist and turn of the case, an expert guide to the dark tributaries of religious extremism that run closer to the American mainstream than we’d ever like to believe."—Jess Walter, American author of seven novels, including #1 New York Times bestseller Beautiful Ruins
- “Through scrupulous reporting and a powerful narrative, Leah Sottile takes us into a dark world of dysfunctional families, perverted faith, false prophets and true psychopaths to show us that the human mind is the scariest realm of all. An important contribution to the literature of true crime.”—Mark Olshaker, coauthor of Mindhunter, The Killer Across the Table, and When a Killer Calls
- “Leah Sottile’s brilliant, unnerving WHEN THE MOON TURNS TO BLOOD weaves the story of one family’s tragedy into an exploration of end-times radicalism that spans generations. It belongs on the short list of essential books about religious extremism and violence in the West.”—Shawn Vestal, Columnist at The Spokesman-Review and author of Godforsaken Idaho
- "Beyond a crime story, Sottile weaves a ripper of tale - chilling, haunting, cautionary too! - that unveils the dangerous desire for acceptance on the fringes, and amid uncertain times. Insanely researched in scope, uniquely intimate in feel, buckle-up for this brave voyage into a tangled storm of ambition, lust and extremism."—Geoff Gray, author of Skyjack
- "Leah Sottile is the writer every journalist dreams of being: A crackerjack investigator who has a nose for the telling details everyone else misses, and a gifted writer who can craft a moving literary narrative. Most of all, WHEN THE MOON TURNS TO BLOOD is an important book whose real subject is far more than a simple, horrifying murder case: It is a gut-wrenching fable about our upside-down, gaslit times, and what it tells us about ourselves and our susceptibility to the unreality of authoritarian conspiracism is profoundly disturbing. Everyone should read it."—David Neiwert, journalist and author of Red Pill, Blue Pill and Alt-America
- “From one of the finest chroniclers of the U.S. Northwest working today, this book hooked me from the first line. In propulsive prose, Leah Sottile unspools a harrowing story of faith, violence, and fear. WHEN THE MOON TURNS TO BLOOD is a timely and provocative page-turner, as resonant as it is engrossing. In Sottile’s hands, a true crime yarn becomes a lens for examining the most pernicious aspects of far-right extremism in America.”—Seyward Darby, author of Sisters in Hate
- "This book, wide in scope and remarkable for its timeliness, is a riveting account of the entire case (which is currently awaiting trial), including an exquisitely researched history of LDS and its fringe offshoots."—Booklist Starred Review
- "I think it’s a critical book for understanding 21st century Mormonism. If there’s a Mormon Studies class held anywhere in the United States or the world, this is one of the books that needs to be added to the reading list. That’s how critical I think this book is."—Dr. John Dehlin, host of The Mormon Stories podcast
- On Sale
- Jun 21, 2022
- Page Count
- 320 pages