Leah Sottile’s 2022 text When the Moon Turns to Blood: Lori Vallow, Chad Daybell, and a Story of Murder, Wild Faith, and End Times tells the story of the murders of seven-year-old JJ Vallow and his sister, sixteen-year-old Tylee Ryan—Lori Vallow’s children. JJ and Tylee’s bodies were found in Chad Daybell’s backyard; Vallow and Daybell had been recently married after the murder of Vallow’s previous husband, a murder she was also involved with. The murders of these two children are at the center of Sottile’s text, but Sottile is also very concerned with the road that led Daybell and Vallow to be involved in the murder of Vallow’s children. Sottile traces Daybell and Vallow’s extremist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints beliefs throughout their complicated lives, showing the reader how Vallow and Daybell led each other to commit murder.
Sottile’s text is part true crime exposé, part religious history. Sottile spends a significant amount of time explaining the history of the LDS church, its extremists, and their often-easy slide towards violence. Sottile’s knowledge of the history of the LDS church and member’s many run-ins with the government is impressive and trustworthy. Sottile has also reported on and studied conspiracy theorists and theories, and she uses this knowledge to great effect in When the Moon Turns to Blood. This is the part of Sottile’s text that may be polarizing to some readers—while her contextual information about the LDS church is importantly connected to Daybell and Vallow (who were both devote LDS members), as well as the crimes they are accused of, I found these portions of the book slow because I am not particularly interested in the history of the LDS church. However, I’m sure other readers who are interested in the creation of this complex organization will appreciate these sections of the text.
While researching Daybell and Vallow, Sottile takes a deep dive into Daybell’s religious writings and Christian fiction, attempting to “find an answer for his ideations of murder.” These sections of Sottile’s text allow readers to see into Sottile’s investigation and reveal her depth of consideration regarding her subjects. Although it was impressive as a reader to get to watch a reporter work, I couldn’t help but think that Vallow and Daybell were infinitely more interesting to Sottile than they were to me: to me, Vallow and Daybell were simply garden-variety religious extremists who deluded themselves to horrific depths. Sottile’s detailed reporting refuses this thinking in that it does its best to forge a timeline of events that led to two children murdered; it elucidates a complex web of missteps, fanaticism, mental illness, and failed relationships that created the people Daybell and Vallow became. Sottile’s reporting forced me to consider the ways that the extremes of the LDS church were the perfect breeding ground for the fanaticism that Vallow and Daybell chose. In the end, it is not that Sottile’s text made me more interested in Vallow and Daybell, but rather, her reporting allowed me to make big-picture connections between Vallow, Daybell, and the LDS institution that helped me understand their slow slide into the extreme conclusions they arrived at. The deaths of JJ and Tylee are dealt with by Sottile with extreme sensitivity and reverence, and she performs a importany act of service by explaining the nature of the decent of the two people who are responsible for their deaths.
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A copy of When the Moon Turns to Blood was provided to True Crime Index by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
About the Writer:
Jesyka Traynor is an academic living in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. When she’s not writing or researching her dissertation, she’s consuming all the true crime and non-fiction she can find time for. Jesyka holds two degrees in English literature and is currently pursuing a doctorate in contemporary Californian literature. Her work on women in twenty-first century true crime has been published in Crime Fiction Studies.