The latest gripping true crime text from prolific crime writer John Glatt, The Doomsday Mother: Lori Vallow, Chad Daybell, and the End of an American Family (St. Martin’s Press, 2022), is the absolutely gripping account of the Vallow/Daybell murder case. The first book published on the very recent crimes, Glatt brings his research expertise and precise writing to the twists and turns of this case, aspects of which defy expectation and belief.
Many people interested in true crime—and, indeed, others who were simply shocked and saddened by the events—followed the extensive news coverage of this case. Throughout 2019 and 2020, the media covered the bizarre circumstances surrounding the life of Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell, two radicalised religious fanatics who were convinced that the end of the world was imminent. Such a belief is not that interesting or that notable, but what concerned the media—and police—was that Lori’s two children, her teenage daughter Tylee and her young autistic son J.J., hadn’t been seen in months, with Lori telling various stories about where they were located. Furthermore, police discovered that Lori’s husband Charles, and Chad’s wife Tammy, had both recently died under deeply mysterious circumstances.
Glatt recounts the haunting circumstances of Lori’s move from devoted mother and wife, deeply connected to her Mormon faith, to a radical doomsday prepper convinced that her children had become zombies controlled by dark spirits. Her obsession and eventual relationship with Chad Daybell seem to have pushed Lori over the edge, and the two attempted to evade police and the media for months while law enforcement searched for her children. Lori refused to cooperate or to produce Tylee and J.J. It wasn’t until June 2020, when the mutilated remains of both of her children were discovered buried in Chad Daybell’s backyard, that family members and the public learned what truly happened to the two helpless siblings at the hands of their mother, her brother, and Daybell.
I am a huge fan of John Glatt’s writing, and I was more than eager to read his take on the Vallow/Daybell case. Following this case as it developed, the story of Vallow and Daybell and what may have happened to Lori’s children seemed to reveal itself maddeningly slowly. Glatt does an excellent job of underscoring just how confusing and frustrating this case was. He is also able to carve a clear path through the chronology of events and reveal new facets of the case that were not available at the time. His extensive interviews with family members and others close to the case add a vivid dimension to the text and I found myself unable to put it down. This is an extremely definitive account of the case, and it is worth reading for those who would like a clearer picture of the Vallow/Daybell atrocities, as well as true crime readers in general.
Because the case is so recent, Glatt has a wealth of media and archival material to work from, including primary sources in the form of Chad Daybell’s numerous books. I’d like to particularly acknowledge the metal fortitude Glatt must have had to access to wade through those texts. The abundance of material seems to be a blessing and a curse in this case, as Glatt must carefully select what to include in his own book. The resulting narrative is expertly conveyed and well-paced. I truly could not believe how shocking this case is. From the early years of Vallow’s life to its conclusion, the intensity never stops.
The Doomsday Mother is undoubtedly one of the best true crime books published this year, and it is certainly one of my favourites. Glatt never disappoints. I highly recommend this one finds its way to the reading lists of true crime readers.
About the Writer:
Rachel M. Friars (she/her) is a Doctoral Candidate in the Department of English Language and Literature at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. She holds a BA and an MA in English Literature with a focus on neo-Victorianism and adaptations of Jane Eyre. Her current work centers on neo-Victorianism and nineteenth-century lesbian literature and history, with secondary research interests in life writing, historical fiction, true crime, popular culture, and the Gothic. Her academic writing has been published with Palgrave Macmillan and in The Journal of Neo-Victorian Studies. She is a reviewer for The Lesbrary, the co-creator of True Crime Index, and an Associate Editor and Social Media Coordinator for PopMeC Research Collective. Rachel is co-editor-in-chief of the international literary journal, The Lamp, and regularly publishes her own short fiction and poetry. Find her on Twitter and Goodreads.