BOISE, Idaho – The mom of two children missing since September failed to meet a court-ordered deadline to bring the kids to authorities in Idaho on Thursday.
That clears the way for a judge to potentially hold Lori Vallow in contempt of court, a legal move that could allow prosecutors to seek to have her extradited from Hawaii to Idaho to face charges.
Seven-year-old Joshua “JJ” Vallow and 17-year-old Tylee Ryan haven't been seen since late September, and police in Rexburg, Idaho, have said they “strongly believe that Joshua and Tylee's lives are in danger.”
“The only word coming to mind right now is ‘monster,’” Kay Woodcock, JJ's grandmother, said during a press conference Thursday evening. “All this has just been very disheartening ... I'm a lot less optimistic at the moment.”
Police have said Lori Vallow and her new husband Chad Daybell have lied about the children's whereabouts and even their very existence, with Chad Daybell allegedly telling one person that Lori Vallow had no kids, and Lori Vallow allegedly telling another person that her daughter had died more than a year earlier.
The tangled case spans multiple states and includes investigations into three separate deaths: Lori Vallow's estranged husband, Charles Vallow, was shot and killed in Phoenix in July by Lori's brother, Alex Cox. Cox, who claimed the shooting was in self-defense, died of unknown causes in December.
In August, Lori Vallow moved her family to Idaho. In October, Chad Daybell's wife Tammy Daybell died of what her obituary said was natural causes. But when Chad Daybell married Lori Vallow just two weeks after Tammy's death, law enforcement became suspicious and ultimately had Tammy Daybell's remains exhumed.
The test results on Tammy Daybell's remains and on Alex Cox have not yet been released.
The case also involves rumors of a cult — Lori Vallow reportedly believes she is “a god assigned to carry out the work of the 144,000 at Christ's second coming in July 2020,” according to divorce documents Charles Vallow filed before his death. Chad Daybell has written several apocalyptic novels based loosely on Mormon religious theology. Both were involved in a group that promotes preparedness for the biblical end-times.
Police questioned Daybell and Vallow about the missing kids in late November, and the couple left town before police returned the next day. On Saturday, they were stopped by investigators in Hawaii, served with the order to produce the kids, and then searched.
Phone numbers could not be found for Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow.
Vallow and Daybell are still in Hawaii, Woodcock said.
“I was informed that they're still probably sunning on the beach somewhere while we're sitting here wondering where the kids are,” she said.
A contempt of court charge is generally a misdemeanor under Idaho law, with a penalty of just five days in jail and a $5,000 fine. But Kay Woodcock said authorities told her it could be used to seek Lori Vallow's extradition.
“We now know that there's some recourse that can happen after this,” she said. “They're going to make her accountable to law enforcement.”
Thomas “Tad” DiBiase, a former homicide prosecutor in Washington, D.C., said the order to produce the children is good strategy if prosecutors are looking to build a criminal case. DiBiase consults with law enforcement agencies on “no body” murder cases.
“It's actually very clever, because it forces the parent's hand,” DiBiase said Thursday. “Parents who have not done something to their kids are not going to violate a court order, so in that sense it's powerful.”
Bringing missing persons cases to court can be difficult because, without a body, prosecutors are missing their best piece of evidence, DiBiase said.
“If you have a body, you know generally when the murder happened: Did it happen an hour ago, did it happen two days ago, did it happen a year ago, did it happen five years ago? You also don't know how the murder happened, you also don't know where the murder happened,” he said. “It's an enormous challenge, because in addition to that, you don't know whether the person is truly dead or not.”
When the potential victims are kids, however, it's easier to bring a case without a body, he said.
“A 7-year-old is not likely to walk away on their own, never to be found again," he said.
It could be some time, however, before the public knows exactly what is going to happen next in the case. Child protection cases in Idaho are sealed, and the Madison County prosecutor had to get special permission from a judge just to reveal that Vallow had been legally ordered to produce her children.
“We are grateful for the concern and attention being shown regarding the location, health and safety of Tylee Ryan and J.J. Vallow,” Madison County Prosecutor Rob Wood said in a prepared statement released Wednesday evening. “In the event that information comes forward that would be important for the public to know, we will inquire of the court as to whether that information can be shared.”
Wood also asked anyone with information about the kids to come forward.
“We hope and pray that the children will be produced or found and that they are safe and healthy,” he said.
Kay and Larry Woodcock have offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to the children's discovery.
“I can't say for sure what's going to happen next other than to say I hope it's something that will get her attention, because I would love to know where those kids are,” Kay Woodcock said. “I think all America wants to know where they are.”