How did Tylee and JJ die? Their gruesome deaths detailed

Tylee and JJ

Tylee Ryan understood her autistic brother JJ Vallow better than anyone else. He likely loved her more than he loved anyone else. For a long while, Lori Vallow, the kid’s mother, seemed to care for her children.

April Raymond, Lori Vallow’s friend, told 48 Hours: “She did everything for JJ, everything for Tylee. They were… the center of her world. And so, I’m not sure what hijacked that priority.”

Chad Daybell and his teachings turned Lori against her kids and anyone she considered to have a dark spirit. Lori believed Chad’s assertion that death was the only salvation for dark souls. That mentality likely led to the murders of Tylee Ryan and JJ Vallow. 

Authorities found Tylee’s body dismembered, burned, and buried

The first person to raise the alarm about Lori’s behavior was her fourth husband, Charles Vallow. “She’s unhinged,” Charles told a police officer. “It scared the crap out of me. She’s psychologically, she’s gone. Something’s happened to her.”

Several months later, Charles Vallow was dead, allegedly shot in self-defense by Alex Cox, Lori’s protector and hitman. “Lori sort of viewed Alex as the destroyer of bad things in her eyes… he was there to take care of the problems,” investigative reporter Morgan Loew said on 48 Hours

Police believe Tylee Ryan passed away on the morning of 9th September 2019 because Alex Cox’s phone pinged in Lori’s apartment at 2.45 a.m. It was unusual for Cox to visit Lori’s residence at this hour. 

“This is significant, not only because he is there in the middle of the night, but also because it’s the only time in September he appears to go over to Lori’s between midnight and 6 a.m.,” the affidavit of probable cause reads

Alex returned to his apartment before driving to Chad Daybell’s residence, where he stayed for over two hours. Investigators believe Alex and Chad dismembered Tylee’s body, burned it, and buried it in the backyard. Chad sent the following message to his wife Tammy, explaining why there was a fresh grave in the yard:

“Well, I’ve had an interesting morning … I spotted a big raccoon along the fence. I hurried and got my gun … One shot did the trick. He is now in our pet cemetery. Fun times.”

It’s pretty chilling that Chad described the killing, dismemberment, burning, and burying of a blameless teenage girl as ‘fun times.’ Due to the state of Tylee’s body, authorities couldn’t figure out how she died. 

Tylee and JJ
JJ and Tylee Ryan | Family Handout

JJ’s decomposing body was wrapped in duct tape and stuffed in plastic bags

Roughly two weeks after Tylee’s disappearance, Alex Cox appeared in Lori’s household carrying JJ. Melanie Gibb and her boyfriend David Warwick were staying with Lori at the time. The pair testified that Alex placed the sleeping JJ in Lori’s room. However, JJ was absent the next day. 

According to David, Lori offered the following explanation for JJ’s absence:

“She said that he was being a zombie and climbed up on the cabinets, climbed up on top of the fridge, smashed her picture of Christ down, and then climbed up onto the upper cabinets and got between the top of the cabinet and the ceiling. So she had Alex come and get him.”

Cell phone data showed that on 23rd September 2019, Alex Cox spent 17 minutes at Chad Drybell’s residence. Authorities found JJ’s body after digging up a disturbed spot in Chad’s backyard. The affidavit of probable cause reads:

“An FBI member used a small sharp instrument and made a small incision in the plastic and a layer of white plastic was observed. An incision was made into the white layer of plastic exposing what appeared to be human remains, the crown of a head covered in light brown hair.”

Detective Ray Hermosillo testified that JJ’s body was wrapped in duct tape from head to toe. Morgan Loew speculated that JJ’s murderers bound him in tape while he was still alive. “The way they found that body leads you to believe that JJ was still alive,” Morgan said. “Because you don’t go through all that trouble to somebody who’s already dead.”

The decomposition of JJ’s body hindered attempts to determine his cause of death. Alex Cox, who authorities believed participated heavily in the murders, could have provided valuable information were he still alive. Alex died of natural causes on 12th December 2019.

“With Alex Cox went a whole incredible amount of potential information that investigators could’ve used on this case,” Morgan Loew said.  

Prosecutors have charged Lori and Chad with the murders of Tylee and JJ

A month after JJ’s death, Tammy Daybell, Chad’s wife, died in her sleep. Roughly three weeks later, Chad and Lori married in Hawaii. “Two weeks after she died, he gets remarried? That was such a huge red flag for me,” Benjamin Hyde, Chad’s friend, said on 48 Hours

After the couple’s return to Rexburg, JJ’s grandmother, Kay Woodcock, alerted authorities to the missing children. For weeks, Lori dodged requests by police to produce the kids. Lori called Melanie Gibb and asked her to tell authorities that JJ was spending time with her in Arizona. 

Melanie said in court: “I felt in shock. I was not OK with it because she told something to the police that was not true … So, I was — I had a really bad feeling in my stomach, and I felt very shooken [sic] up by it.”

Lori and Chad soon returned to Hawaii for another holiday. In late January 2020, Lori received an order to produce JJ and Tylee in five days. The police arrested her for failing to comply with the order and charged her with child abandonment. 

In June 2020, the police arrested Chad after finding JJ and Tylee’s remains in his backyard. Lori and Chad Daybell pleaded not guilty to murdering JJ and Tylee. Vallow’s case had stalled as a judge had declared her mentally unfit to aid her defense. She underwent treatment at a mental health facility before the judge declared her competent to stand trial. 

April Raymond speculated that Lori likely participated in her children’s murders: “I feel like it’s difficult to conceive of a scenario where she didn’t. It just seems very unlikely. I can’t conceive of a scenario where she wasn’t involved.”