Authorities found the buried remains of two missing children by tracking their now-deceased uncle’s cellphone data to an Idaho property belonging to the children’s stepfather, according to newly released court documents.
The stepfather, Chad Daybell, is now behind bars on charges related to the children’s disappearance. The children’s mother, Lori Vallow, is also jailed on related charges.
The remains of Tylee Ryan, 17, and her brother, Joshua “JJ” Vallow, 7, were exhumed on June 9 after search warrants suggested that their uncle, Alex Cox, had mysteriously visited the rural property at least four times in September, which is when the children were last seen alive.
An FBI special agent who was tasked with analyzing the frequency of Cox’s visits to Chad Daybell’s property that month highlighted one of his visits on Sept. 9 ― the day after Tylee was last seen alive ― as being particularly “significant,” a probable cause affidavit made public Friday showed.
On that day, from 2:42 a.m. to 3:37 a.m, Cox appeared to visit the Rexburg, Idaho, apartment that the siblings shared with their mother, Lori Vallow. He then returned to his nearby apartment before traveling to Daybell’s property, where he remained for about an hour.
“This is significant, not only because he is there in the middle of the night, but also because this is the only time in September he appears to go over to Lori’s between midnight and 6 a.m.,” the affidavit said.
An eventual search of the locations that Cox visited, based on his cell phone data, would turn up the children’s bodies in two separate locations. JJ was described as having been bound with duct tape before being wrapped in a plastic bag. His sister’s remains had been dismembered and burned, authorities said.
Daybell married Vallow and traveled to Hawaii with her immediately after the two children were reported missing in November.
Authorities said Daybell later watched them search his property on the day the bodies were discovered.
“He was observed watching officers while sitting in his vehicle in his front driveway and while sitting in his vehicle across the street at his daughter’s residence,” the affidavit said. Daybell took off in his car just as human remains were found on the property. He was arrested during a traffic stop immediately afterward.
At the time of the children’s disappearance in September, Daybell lived at the rural property with his then wife, Tammy Daybell. She would be found dead in her bed on the morning of Oct. 19. The results of Tammy Daybell’s autopsy have not been publicly released.
Just minutes after Cox left Daybell’s property on Sept. 9, text messages recovered through a search warrant showed that Daybell texted Tammy to inform her that he burned some debris in their backyard fire pit that morning and also buried a raccoon in their pet cemetery after shooting it along a fence.
“Well, I’ve had an interesting morning!” Daybell’s text to her began, according to the affidavit.
The last verifiable sighting of JJ was nearly two weeks later, around the same time that Cox paid two more visits to Daybell’s property, authorities said. Cox died of natural causes in December, according to an autopsy.
Vallow’s friend Melani Gibb told police that she saw JJ on the night of Sept. 22 while visiting her at her apartment. Gibb said she never saw Tylee and was told by Vallow that Tylee was away taking classes at Brigham Young University, Idaho. Authorities said records show that Tylee never enrolled in the Rexburg-based school or any of its affiliates.
On Sept. 23, Cox’s phone placed him back at Daybell’s home. He then returned again on Sept. 25, records showed.
It wasn’t until early November that the children’s extended family reported them missing to police. Authorities said Vallow and Daybell, now widowed, fled to Hawaii and got married immediately after being questioned by police.
Authorities have not discussed a possible motive for the children’s deaths. In an interview with police, Gibb said that Vallow repeatedly shared a belief that her children had become “zombies.”
Being a zombie meant that one’s spirit had left one’s body and was trapped in limbo while one’s body was taken over by a dark spirit, Gibb said. She added that a person would have to be killed in order for the person’s spirit to escape, according to the affidavit.
Vallow is being held on charges of child abandonment and obstruction. Daybell is in custody on charges of destruction and concealment of evidence. Both have pleaded not guilty.