Former grave digger-turned-‘cult leader’ Chad Daybell has spent the past several years preaching that the end of the world would take place today – July 22, 2020.
It’s likely he didn’t predict that he’d be spending his Doomsday like this: locked up in an Idaho jail on charges for helping conceal the remains of his wife Lori Vallow’s children, Joshua ‘JJ’ Vallow and Tylee Ryan.
The twisted mystery surrounding the disappearance of Lori’s kids reads like an over-the-top Hollywood movie script: two children vanished, at least three other suspicious deaths of family members, bizarre religious beliefs about the Second Coming of Christ and countless questions that may never be answered.
One of the most elusive characters at the heart of the case is Chad, whom Lori married nearly two months after seven-year-old JJ and 16-year-old Tylee vanished in September 2019.
Chad has been described as many things: a cult leader, a prolific Doomsday author and public speaker, a former cemetery sexton, a loving father to five children with his first wife Tammy Daybell – who died two weeks before he and Lori tied the knot – and now, a suspected criminal.
The 51-year-old was arrested on June 9 after authorities discovered the bodies of JJ and Tylee buried in the backyard of his property in Salem, Idaho.
He is now facing four felony charges – two counts for conspiracy to commit destruction, alteration or concealment of evidence and two counts for destruction, alteration or concealment of evidence.
As Chad prepares to face trial, DailyMail.com took a deep dive into what we know about him, based on accounts from court documents, family members, and friends from his past.
Those who know Chad have often described him as a private but deeply charismatic man who preached his beliefs in one-on-one chats with his ‘followers’ and in his many books about the end of the world and near-death experiences.
At the core of those beliefs was the idea that he and Lori were prophets sent to earth by God to lead the ‘chosen 144,000’ into the New Millennium on July 22, 2020, according to court documents and accounts from friends and family.
Part of their preparations included eradicating the world of ‘zombies’ before Doomsday arrived, according to Lori’s former best friend Melanie Gibb, who was part of a small group with which Chad shared his personal gospel.
‘It was their commission to get rid of all the zombies before tribulations came upon us,’ Gibb told the East Idaho News back in May.
Chillingly, Lori had accused three of her loved ones of turning into zombies prior to their deaths.
The first death was that of Lori’s fourth husband Charles Vallow, who was shot dead by her brother Alex Cox, another one of Chad’s followers, last July.
Charles had filed for divorce from Lori five months before he died, and in court documents and conversations with law enforcement he revealed that Lori had threatened to kill him because she believed his body had been possessed by evil spirits.
After Charles died, Lori moved her children to Idaho in August 2019. Gibb recounted a phone call around that time when Lori remarked that her daughter Tylee had also turned into a zombie.
Tylee disappeared on September 8, days before her 17th birthday. Authorities believe she was killed and buried on Chad’s property the following day, according to a probable cause statement filed in support of his arrest.
Days later Gibb visited Lori in Idaho, and the mother began ranting about how her son JJ, who was autistic, was ‘acting like a zombie’ and crawling on the kitchen cabinets.
Gibb was the last known person to see JJ, on the morning of September 23. Authorities believe he was killed and buried the same day, just a few yards away from his older sister.
Neither Lori nor Chad have been charged in connection with Tylee and JJ’s murders but they remain key suspects in the ongoing investigation.
The investigation first began more than two months after the children vanished, when a concerned relative contacted police in late November and said they hadn’t heard from them since August.
Chad quickly became a leading person of interest in the case after he and Lori fled Idaho for Hawaii the day after investigators began asking questions about the kids whereabouts.
More than six months later authorities learned that the children had been under their noses the entire time – right in Chad’s backyard.
Born in Provo, Utah, in August 1968, Chad was raised as a devote member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and went on to study at Brigham Young University.
Whilst pursuing a degree in communications at the the university, which is owned by the LDS Church, Chad met the woman he would go on to marry and have five children with – Tammy.
The pair tied the knot in 1990 and were together for nearly three decades before Tammy died under suspicious circumstances at their home in Salem, Idaho.
This past April, police announced that Chad and his second wife Lori were under investigation for murder, attempted murder and conspiracy in his first wife’s death.
The revelation that Chad was a suspect in Tammy’s murder and in the disappearance of Lori’s kids shocked people who knew him 30 years ago when he worked as a missionary.
Trent Price, who served with Chad in the 1990s, spoke to KSL earlier this year about who he was back then.
‘He was one of the best of us. We were a pretty solid group, but he was amazing,’ Price said.
‘We called him the gentle giant. He was tall and very soft-spoken but he seemed to have this real deep spirituality and people would gravitate to him.’
Chad grew in his faith and developed an unusual relationship with death by working as a grave digger at a cemetery in Utah while attending BYU.
He went on to become a sexton at a cemetery in Springville – a job he called ‘rewarding’ and said helped launch his career as an author.
He released his first book, One Foot in the Grave: Secrets of a Cemetery Sexton, in 2001.
Chad described his fondness for the grave-digging job in an interview with Deseret News the same year.
‘Taking care of the graves is rewarding, as well as helping widows and grieving family members deal with the trauma,’ he said at the time.
‘Sad times are always when you have to bury babies. That’s always a poignant moment.’
He said he found cemeteries to be ‘fertile ground’ for story ideas – foreshadowing his prolific career as a self-published author and book editor.
According to his website, Chad has penned more than 25 books and worked as an editor and publisher on countless others.
In his books, Chad often described how he formed his religious views as a young man when he had two near-death experiences.
The first was when he was cliff jumping as a 17-year-old and he ‘crossed into another dimension and realized there was a world beyond this one’.
The second was in his early-20s when he was smashed around in heavy surf. ‘He was hit with a monstrous wave at La Jolla Cove in California, the biography for his book Living on the Edge of Heaven states.
‘While his body was being tossed by the wave, his spirit was visiting with his grandfather, who showed him future events involving his still-unborn children.
‘This accident caused his ‘veil’ that separates mortal life from the Spirit World to stay partially open, so he often feels as if he has a foot in both worlds.’
He has written about apocalyptic times in a series of ‘Times of Turmoil’ books. One of the books, Days of Fury, tells of church members coping with the imposition of martial law and the aftermath of an earthquake in Salt Lake City, Utah.
‘Many Saints have found refuge and safety at mountain camps, but many others are coping with other natural disasters and civil disturbances that continue to plague the nation’s city,’ a promotional blurb for the book reads.
‘Meanwhile, a convoy of United Nations peacekeepers is making its way to Utah to assist in the full invasion of the United States by the Coalition forces, which will spark World War III.’
Many people who’ve known him over the years have described him as a ‘prepper’ – someone is getting ready for the end of times.
He began heavily involved in an organization called Preparing a People, which says its mission is to ‘help prepare the people of this earth for the second coming of Jesus Christ’.
On its website, the organization says it doesn’t represent any church or official church doctrines, policies or positions.
However, many people associated with Preparing A People, and those who speak at their workshops and conferences, are members of the LDS Church.
Friends say that Lori and Chad met through the organization at a conference where Chad was a guest speaker in October 2018.
The organization aimed to distance themselves from Chad and Lori as the missing children’s case made headlines, allegedly fearing that misconceptions about Preparing a People could cause members to be excommunicated from the LDS Church.
Chad’s media portrayal as a ‘cult leader’ led the leaders of Preparing a People to clarify that his alleged beliefs were not representative of the organization.
Michael James, who operates the Preparing a People website, told the East Idaho News in December that while Chad was a popular speaker at some of their events, he was no longer affiliated with the group.
‘He was one of our best speakers, and people really trusted him, (but) Chad evidently had some strange ideas about things we didn’t know about,’ James said.
‘Occasionally, that happens, and when it does, you need to break with them.’
He added: ‘I have no idea what Chad and Lori did in their spare time, but Preparing A People is not a cult. It’s just LDS people that go to conferences.’
James’ remarks were echoed in a statement put out on the Preparing a People website.
‘We also do not share any of Chad Daybell’s or Lori Vallow’s beliefs if they are contrary to Christian principles of honesty, integrity, and truth, or if they do not align with the doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,’ it read.
Around the same time late last year, DailyMail.com spoke to a religious leader who claimed Chad had been excommunicated from the LDS Church after he declared himself a prophet.
Chad fostered his own intimate religious group on the sidelines of his involvement in Preparing a People.
One of the group’s members was Gibb, Lori’s best friend. Gibb detailed her complex relationship with Lori and Chad – and their beliefs – in an interview with East Idaho News last month.
Gibb first met Chad a few years ago at a religious conference in northern Utah, where he was a guest speaker.
She was already familiar with the books Chad had self-published, many of them about his dreams, near-death experiences and the end of times.
‘I wanted to meet him because I thought his dreams were interesting, and when I met him, I thought he was a really nice guy,’ Gibb said.
She met Lori later, in October 2018, while teaching a class at her Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Gilbert, Arizona.
The pair became friends instantly, bonding over everything from religion to motherhood.
A few weeks later, they traveled together to St George, Utah, for a conference where Chad was speaking and selling his books.
Gibb described watching Lori approach Chad and struck up a conversation.
She said Chad told Lori that they had met in a previous life and had been married multiple times in prior existences.
‘They started talking about these different beliefs that are not something you learn in church,’ Gibb said, adding that many of the things they discussed were deeply personal and private.
Lori and Chad then exchanged phone numbers and began talking on a daily basis.
Gibb went on to spend a lot of time with the couple during intimate meetings where Chad would pull people to the side for deep one-on-one conversations.
‘He was teaching us about some of his understandings about multiple lives and things of that nature,’ Gibb said.
‘It was definitely different. The idea was definitely a new concept. Did I 100 percent believe any of it, ever? No, not 100 percent, no.
‘When you get introduced to something, you kind of let it marinate. I just listened to them talk about it.’
Gibb said Chad’s teachings did not represent the doctrine of the LDS Church – but did not definitively say if she felt the group was a cult.
In hindsight, Gibb admitted that she found Lori and Chad’s beliefs about the Second Coming to be ‘little unusual’, but said they made her feel special by telling her she was one of the chosen and insisting that they’d known each other in previous lives.
And one day, Lori told Gibb she was sealed to Chad.
Latter-day Saints believe that relationships continue after death if a husband and wife are sealed in the temple by an officiant. People cannot be sealed to a second spouse if they are already legally married to a living person.
‘[Lori said] they felt they were sealed by those on the other side of the veil that had the authority to do that,’ Gibb said.
‘She said it was okay they did this because they had been married so many times before, that their [current] spouses would understand someday.’
Gibb mentioned several other portions of Chad’s teachings that alarmed her, including when he created a spiritual ‘portal’ in Lori’s closet.
‘A portal is a spot where he said a prayer or something to create the portal. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know. [But] it was a way for them to interact spiritually,’ Gibb explained.
‘I thought it was different. I thought: ‘How do you do that?’ It was pretty extreme, but to me, everything was new.’
Gibb also described an extensive chart Chad made that ranked people based on their spiritual level.
It was four pages and included Biblical apostles, the current Latter-day Saint 12 apostles, family members, friends and celebrities.
The chart detailed how many lives each person had lives, whether they were ‘dark’ or ‘light’ spirits, their previous names and other unusual information.
It stated that Lori was on her 21st life, Chad was on his 31st, and both had lived five lives on this earth. Chad was identified as a Holy Ghost.
Gibb said that Lori and Chad only seemed to share their extreme beliefs with the people close to them.
In hindsight, she thinks they kept them private to protect their membership in the church.
‘When you go in the temple, there are certain questions they ask you to see if your belief systems are consistent with the doctrine,’ Gibb said.
‘They were inconsistent, so that’s the reason they’re going to be secretive about it.’
Many friends and relatives have said they think that Lori and Chad’s extreme religious views are involved with the disappearance of her children and the string of mysterious deaths that have occurred in their orbit.
In the East Idaho News interview, Gibb stated that she did not believe the children were still alive.
‘They’re not on this planet anymore,’ she said. ‘I don’t think they are. That’s my personal opinion.’
She speculated that Lori’s brother Alex Cox may have done something to the children for Lori or for a ‘higher reason’ related to the family’s extreme religious belief that the end of the world is approaching.
‘If he really truly believed these things, maybe he felt he was doing something good for not only them, but God,’ she said.
About two weeks after that interview, the missing children’s case came to a head on June 9 as authorities discovered human remains on Chad’s property in Salem.
While police executed their search warrant at the home, Chad was arrested and charged with two felony counts of destruction, alteration or concealment of evidence.
He pleaded not guilty to those charges and was later hit with two more for conspiracy to conspiracy to commit destruction, alteration or concealment of evidence.
Chad is currently being held at Fremont County Jail on $1million bond and is set to appear in court for a preliminary hearing on August 3.
Meanwhile, Lori has spent the past five months behind bars at the nearby Madison County Jail.
She was arrested back in February on two felony counts for desertion and nonsupport of dependent children, and one misdemeanor count each for resisting and obstructing an officer, solicitation of a crime, and contempt of court.
Prosecutors dismissed the initial felony accounts earlier this month in light of the bodies being found and introduced two new charges for conspiracy to destruction, alteration or concealment of evidence.
She is set to appear in court for a preliminary hearing on August 10.
The prosecutor in the case last week filed a motion asking the judge not to allow any video coverage of Lori and Chad’s upcoming preliminary hearings.
‘Allowing broadcasting/live—streaming of the preliminary hearing will make it more difficult to pick an un-biased jury in Fremont County,’ Rob Wood wrote in a memo to support his motion. ‘Picking a jury in this case will be difficult and time consuming due to the already existing media coverage.’