I just finished watching another docuseries in which a Mormon murder is examined, The Sins of Our Mother, about the Chad Daybell / Lori Vallow Daybell murder of two of her children, JJ (age 7) and Tylee (age 16). Since these murders took place so recently, many of us have heard about them in the news. In fact, the trial isn’t even set until next year.

Hanna Seariac did a pretty good review of this one in the Deseret News[1]. The Daybells were a part of the publishing and podcasting world of preppers. While several preppers have landed in hot water with the Church, eventually being excommunicated, this usually happens only when they amass enough followers that the Church sees them as a threat to the flock.

Unlike mainstream Mormons who keep a food storage supply, “preppers” go further, stockpiling weapons and food, anticipating an apocalyptic end that will occur any day now. In some cases, they believe their actions are hastening that end. In basically all cases, they are more invested in the world to come than they are in this one, including flouting laws. But this is a continuum. The first counselor in my ward around the time of Y2K was advocating stockpiling weapons to shoot neighbors who hadn’t prepared with their own food storage (a violent twist on the parable of the ten virgins?). Our then bishop told him to dial it down, and he did, but basically, that’s the same line of thought as these folks. When taken to extremes (or extremists might say “to their logical conclusion”), these ideas end up in a lot of self-justification at breaking the laws of a society they believe will no longer exist after said apocalypse. You can justify not paying taxes. You can justify violence. You can justify taking your kids out of school. You can justify cheating on your spouse. You can justify insurance fraud. You can justify murder.

Seariac’s most fleshed out criticism of the show is that it gives the “truth-tellers” a pass, not exposing their own conflicted and skewed perspectives. Lori’s parents are long-time tax evaders, likely also caught up in some prepper-lite thinking. Julie Rowe, a fellow prepper who was excommunicated looks downright reasonable as she criticizes the Daybells, but she espouses similar ideas, although has not been accused of any crimes. Lori’s son Colby has been accused of sexual assault, and while these charges seem unrelated, they also impugn his character. As they say on AITA Reddit [2], ESH.

What this series does better than most of the other Mormon crime series is in portraying the criminals as the guilty ones, not the Church. There are several Church members interviewed who knew Lori at various points in her life and who were not associated with the fringey prepper groups, and they pretty universally thought her beliefs were bizarre and that she was somewhat self-aggrandizing, believing herself to have visions and a self-centered spiritual superiority that they didn’t really agree was accurate. She became obsessed with religion in ways that they, as mainstream Church members, identified as going way way way too far. And these are Mormons. From Seariac’s review:

I watched the series with a friend who is not a Latter-day Saint and does not live in Utah. This friend remarked that it seems like Vallow Daybell just happened to be a Latter-day Saint and her extreme beliefs were connected to the extreme-prepper community.

https://www.deseret.com/2022/9/16/23354104/lori-vallow-netflix-documentary-review-2022

For this reason alone, Mormons should not find this documentary faith-shaking or threatening. It’s a sh!tshow, but one of the Daybells’ making, not the Church’s. There are a ton of “weird” Mormon shows out there right now, some true crime, some just prurient interest in fringe religious practices like polygamy. While the crime described in this one is among the most chilling, it also didn’t feel like it was trying to be something bigger than what it was.

So, what’s next? A show about Mountain Meadows Massacre? A show about Ted Bundy’s really brief (and probably insincere) stint as a Mormon (which seemed to be just one more disguise he used to find victims)? There’s clearly a real Mormon moment happening here, and I suspect it’s not the one the Church would have liked.

  • Why are there so many Mormon crime dramas right now?
  • What future Mormon crime (or other negative Mormon spin) shows do you expect to see?
  • Which of these shows have you watched, and what did you think?

Discuss.

[1] Yes, I just said “Deseret News” and “good” in the same sentence for the second time in a month. Maybe the end days really are upon us.

[2] The “Am I The A-hole” Reddit group in which people share a story in which they’ve been told they were out of line, then ask readers whether they really were in the wrong or not. The reponses are usually: YTA (You’re The A-Hole), NAH (Not the A-Hole), or ESH (Everyone Sucks Here).