On the day that the Rexburg Police Department served a search warrant on the property of Chad Daybell, Lori Vallow’s fifth husband, Detective Ron Hermosillo smelled a decomposing body.
The search for Vallow’s two children – missing Idaho siblings JJ Vallow and Tylee Ryan – was about to meet a gruesome end, with their bodies found buried in Daybell’s backyard in Fremont County, Idaho.
It was June 20, and Hermosillo was watching the FBI Evidence Recovery Team dig through a plot of sod that measured four feet by two feet.
Hermosillo, a 19-year veteran of the Rexburg Police Department, had been searching for JJ and Tylee since late November, when JJ’s grandmother requested a welfare check on the then-7-year-old boy, who had last been seen in September, the detective testified in court Monday during Daybell’s preliminary hearing.
The remains of two people, identified days later as Tylee and JJ, were found buried on his property.
Daybell was arrested on June 9 and charged with two felony counts of conspiracy to commit destruction, alteration or concealment of evidence, and two felony counts of destruction, alteration or concealment of evidence.
No charges have been filed for the actual deaths of Tylee and JJ.
Vallow was arrested in Hawaii on Feb. 20 and charged with two felony counts of desertion and nonsupport of dependent children and misdemeanor charges of resisting and obstructing an officer, solicitation of a crime and contempt.
She has since been extradited back to Idaho.
Hermosillo, the first witness called by the prosecution in the trial that has made national headlines for months, described the scene on June 20 as officials dug through Daybell’s backyard.
By a tree near a pond, he said, the ERT and cadaver dogs found a “small body tightly wrapped in black plastic, covered in duct tape.” A medical examiner would later open the bag to find the body of JJ, wearing red pajamas and black Sketchers, with a plastic bag tied around his head and duct tape wrapped around his head, arms and feet.
In the same area, Hermosillo said, officials had excavated “what appeared to be a mass of burnt flesh and charred bone” beneath the newly laid sod.
A day later, ERT returned and dug up a melted green bucket, under which was a partial human skull, Hermosillo said.
But Daybell’s lawyer, John Prior, hinted during his cross-examination that neighbors should have been able to smell the burning flesh if the body had, in fact, been torched in the backyard.
With JJ’s grandparents, Kay and Larry Woodcock, in the courtroom, Hermosillo laid out the months-long investigation into the disappearance of JJ and Tylee, who were last seen on Sept. 22 and 8, respectively.
After Kay Woodcock requested a welfare check, the Rexburg Police Department launched an investigation that led them to an apartment complex where Vallow, Daybell and Vallow’s niece, Melani Boudreaux, all lived, to a storage unit with winter clothing and children’s bikes, and to Hawaii, where Vallow and Daybell wed on Nov. 25, just weeks after his wife, Tammy, was found dead.
In body cam footage of an interview with Detective David Stubbs shown in court Monday, Vallow said that JJ was with her friend, Melanie Gibb, in Arizona; Gibb later denied that JJ was ever at her home and that Vallow had asked her to lie about the boy’s whereabouts.
Vallow also claimed that “another” brother, not Alex Cox, who was living there at the time, was trying to kill her over her $2 million life insurance policy. Cox, who shot and killed Vallow’s fourth husband, Charles, died in December.
She told police that she was planning on moving back to Arizona to move in with Gibb to get JJ back in a special needs school and to get away from that brother.
Laughing, Vallow spun a story about family drama even as one of the detectives said another officer got a “bad vibe” about the situation.
The mysterious disappearance and then deaths of JJ and Tylee include rumors of doomsday cults and talk of the second coming of Christ.
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