BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The sister of a woman killed in what prosecutors say was a doomsday-focused plot told jurors Friday that her sister’s funeral was held so quickly that some family members couldn’t attend and that she was devastated when she learned her former brother-in-law remarried just a few weeks later.
“You don’t get married four weeks after you just buried your wife of almost 30 years — you just don’t do that,” Samantha Gwilliam said, explaining that she later learned that Lori Vallow Daybell married Gwilliam’s former brother-in-law, Chad Daybell, just two weeks after Gwilliam’s sister Tammy Daybell died.
The testimony came in the triple murder trial of Vallow Daybell, who is accused along with Chad Daybell in Tammy Daybell’s death and the deaths of her own two youngest children, Joshua “JJ” Vallow and Tylee Ryan. Idaho prosecutors say the couple espoused strange doomsday-focused beliefs involving demonic possession and “zombies” to further their plan to kill the kids and Chad Daybell’s previous wife and to collect life insurance and survivor benefits.
Both have pleaded not guilty to murder, conspiracy and grand theft charges, and they are being tried separately. Daybell’s trial is still months away.
Vallow Daybell has also been charged in Arizona in connection with the the death of her fourth husband, Charles Vallow.
He was shot and killed by Vallow Daybell’s brother, Alex Cox, outside of his Phoenix-area home in July 2019. Cox told police the shooting was in self-defense and was never charged in the case. He died of natural causes later that year. Vallow Daybell has not yet had the opportunity to enter a plea in the Arizona case.
Tammy Daybell died Oct. 19, 2019, of what was originally reported as natural causes. Emergency dispatchers and first responders described how Chad Daybell appeared distraught when he reported Tammy Daybell’s death, telling authorities that he’d woken to find his wife’s body hanging halfway off of their bed after she’d spent part of the night coughing and vomiting.
Cammy Willmore, an EMT who was a deputy coroner for Fremont County at the time, responded to the scene. She said she was concerned because Tammy Daybell was just 49 and also had quite a bit of foamy pink sputum coming from her mouth. Willmore said that seemed odd but she didn’t see any unusual bruises.
Fremont County Coroner Brenda Dye also went to the home and discussed the possibility of doing an autopsy with Willmore, the deputy coroner said. Chad Daybell declined the procedure.
He told the coroner that the 49-year-old school librarian had recently had fainting episodes and low blood pressure and that she sometimes had leg convulsions or seizures, Dye said. Based in part on that information, she determined Tammy Daybell had died of natural causes.
Authorities later grew suspicious and had the body exhumed for an autopsy, which determined Tammy Daybell died of asphyxiation.
Gwilliam told jurors that her sister was fit — she took a clogging class and was training for a running race — and that she’d never heard her complain of any seizures or fainting episodes. Chad Daybell scheduled the funeral for just three days after her sister’s death, so soon that some family members couldn’t attend, Gwilliam said.
She said she was devastated when she learned Chad Daybell remarried just a couple of weeks after Tammy died. She said he told her that he and his new wife connected because they were both grieving over deceased spouses.
Chad Daybell said his new wife’s name was Lori Ryan and that her previous husband had died of a heart attack. He also said they were both “empty nesters” with no young kids at home, Gwilliam told the jury.
Gwilliam said she later found out the new wife was also associated with the last name “Vallow” and did an internet search. That’s when she realized Charles Vallow had been shot to death. An online comment under Vallow’s obituary also mentioned two kids — and that was the first time Gwilliam heard anything about Vallow Daybell’s son and daughter, she told the jury.
“Eventually, the last conversation I had with Chad was in December,” Gwilliam told the jury. “It was just to ask him to stop lying about what was going on.”
The two children were last seen alive that September. At the time, JJ was just 7 and Tylee was a few days short of her 17th birthday. Their bodies were found the following June, buried in Chad Daybell’s yard.
Earlier in the trial, former friends of Vallow Daybell told jurors about the couple’s purported spiritual beliefs, which included the idea that evil spirits could take over a person’s body, forcing the person’s soul out and turning them into a “zombie.” The only way to get rid of the evil spirit was to kill the body, former friend Melanie Gibb told jurors.
Vallow Daybell called JJ and Tylee “zombies” several times before they died, Gibb told investigators.