Arizona Police Pursuing Criminal Case Against Lori Vallow in Death of Ex-Husband
Any findings would be sent to a local prosecutor, who still must decide whether charges would be filed, says a police spokesman
The case against Lori in the July 2019 shooting of Charles Vallow could be sent to the prosecutor in as soon as four to six months, but may take longer, and could include a recommendation that she be charged with conspiracy to commit murder, Chandler police spokesman Sgt. Jason McClimans tells PEOPLE.
Lori always has been a person of interest in this investigation, McClimans said, even though it was determined that her brother, Alex Cox, admitted to pulling the trigger.
Cox initially was not charged in Charles' shooting after claiming self-defense in what Cox told police was an altercation with Lori's estranged husband at Lori's suburban Phoenix home. But Cox was never formally cleared of charges before he died in December, said McClimans.
Months after Cox was discovered unresponsive in the Gilbert home he shared with his wife of 12 days, a medical examiner ruled that Cox died of natural causes.
Yet Cox remains a central figure in the investigation into what happened to Lori's two children, 7-year-old Joshua "J.J." Vallow and 17-year-old Tylee Ryan. After the two kids were last seen in September, and reported missing in November, their bodies were recovered June 9 on Idaho property owned by Lori's current husband, Chad Daybell.
Authorities using Cox's cell phone records allegedly placed him on Chad's property on two dates that align with the last time the children were seen, and used that as a basis to search for the bodies there.
No one has been charged in the children's deaths. But Lori and Chad have both been charged in Fremont County, Idaho, with two counts each of conspiracy to commit destruction, alteration or concealment of evidence in connection with those deaths, and have pleaded not guilty.
Last week, following a preliminary hearing, Charles was bound over for trial on those and related charges. Lori waived a preliminary hearing that was scheduled for Monday, and now will also go to trial separately on the charges against her.
She faces unrelated charges in Madison County, Idaho, of desertion and nonsupport of dependent children, as well as resisting or obstructing officers, criminal solicitation to commit a crime, contempt of court and willful disobedience of court process or order for failing to produce the two kids after defying a court order to do so in January. She has pleaded not guilty to those charges, and remains jailed on a $1 million bond.
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In a divorce filing before his death, Charles raised concern about what he portrayed as Lori's growing embrace of extreme religious beliefs, alleging that Lori believed she was “a God assigned to carry out the work of the 144,000 at Christ’s second coming in July 2020, and that if [Charles] got in her way of her mission she would murder him.”
Six months before Cox shot him dead, Charles told police that Lori had "lost her reality" and threatened to kill him, according to body cam footage recorded by officers who responded to an incident at the couple's home.
By then Lori had aligned herself with Chad, an author who has written about religious doomsday scenarios. As early as December 2018, Lori and Chad appeared together on a podcast promoted by a small media company under the banner “Preparing a People,” designed to help its audience plan for the end of the world.
After Charles died, Lori relocated herself and her two children to Rexburg, Idaho, near Chad's home and publishing base. She and Chad married on Nov. 5, 2019, two weeks after the death of Chad's then-wife Tammy. The investigation into the children’s disappearance yielded a second look at Tammy’s death, which officials have subsequently termed “suspicious.”
Whether Lori ultimately faces any charges in Charles' death will be up to the local prosecutor in Maricopa County, Arizona, said McClimans. Police for now are combing through what McClimans said were 100,000 pieces of "digital data" to build their case, including phone records, texts, emails -- many of which have been subpoenaed, with more subpoenas likely. "We know that she's not going to talk to us," he says of Lori.
"We are in no rush to send it over to our prosecutor here in Maricopa County," he said. "Our investigation is not complete."
He adds that Lori has been a subject of the investigation from the moment that Charles was killed, but that she soon thereafter moved away to Idaho -- as did Cox for a time -- and then the investigation swiftly transitioned to a search for the missing kids.
Lori allegedly told her close friend Melanie Gibb that her children had become "zombies," and that she was on a religious mission with Chad "to rid the world of 'zombies'" months before kids' bodies were discovered, according to a probable cause affidavit previously obtained by PEOPLE.
"[T]he term 'zombie' refers to an individual whose mortal spirit has left their body and that their body is now the host of another spirit," Rexburg police Lt. Ron Ball wrote in the document. "The new spirit in a 'zombie' is always considered a 'dark spirit.'"
"While the 'dark spirit' inhabits the host body, the person's true spirit goes into 'limbo' and is stuck there until the host body is physically killed," wrote Ball, summarizing the couple's alleged religious beliefs as described to police by Gibb. "As such, death of the physical body is seen as the mechanism by which the body's original spirit can be released from limbo."
Lori and Chad allegedly further told Gibb "their mission was to rid the world of 'zombies'" as part of the couple's religious belief that they were a part of the "Church of the Firstborn" whose role in that church was to lead the "144,000" mentioned in the Book of Revelation, according to the affidavit.
Lori's attorney, Mark Means, did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment on her alleged possible role in Charles' death.
Lori's son J.J. was last seen Sept. 23, at his school in Rexburg before his mother disenrolled him and told the principal she was considering home-schooling. The last known image of Tylee was taken Sept. 8 while Tylee was on a day trip to Yellowstone National Park with her mother, brother and Cox, according to a court filing.