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Tylee Ryan, 16, had been dismembered and burned so severely that nearly all that remained of her was a partial skull and “mass of burnt flesh and bone,” Rexburg Police Det. Ray Hermosillo testified this week.
Joshua “JJ” Vallow, 7, was found still clad in his red pajamas, bound with duct tape and covered in plastic.
The discoveries ended a months-long search to find the two siblings, who authorities believe disappeared weeks apart in September. Lori Vallow refused to cooperate with police, fleeing to Hawaii with Daybell—her new husband—as the search for the missing children began to intensify.
Her vacation in paradise came to an abrupt end in February, however, when she was arrested and brought back to Idaho after failing to produce her missing children by a deadline given by authorities.
Vallow is now facing two felony counts of conspiracy to commit destruction, alteration or concealment of evidence.
Her husband has also been charged with two counts of concealment of evidence and two counts of conspiracy to conceal evidence after the bodies of her children were discovered on his rural, Freemont County property in June.
Judge Faren Eddins ruled at a preliminary hearing this week that there was enough evidence to proceed with the criminal case against Daybell, a religious author who often preached about Jesus Christ’s second coming, according to local station KTVB.
But, to date, no murder charges have been filed in the case against Vallow, Daybell or anyone else who may be connected to the crime.
Jennifer Shen, the former head of the San Diego Police Department Crime Lab and an expert in police forensic investigations and DNA evidence, told Oxygen.com the reason for that is likely because investigators want to make sure they can hold the right person accountable.
“It takes a long time to do crime scenes properly and there’s always a push, always a push,” Shen said. “I mean I’ve been at dozens and dozens of crime scenes where they are just pushing you to get the work done, but it’s your one crack, it’s your one chance of getting all the evidence, so you have to do it right.”
Shen said that’s particularly important in a high-profile case like this.
“You have to do everything absolutely correctly and so you just have to take the time to do it right the very first time,” she said.
Investigators discovered the children’s remains after executing a search warrant on Daybell’s home and property on June 9, according to a probable cause statement outlining the charges against Daybell obtained by Oxygen.com.
They were led to the area after analyzing cell phone data from Vallow’s brother Alex Cox. The data placed Cox on Daybell’s property shortly after authorities said each child was last seen alive.
The last verifiable sighting of Ryan was during a family outing to Yellowstone National Park on Sept. 8, 2019, according to the probable cause statement.
The next morning, investigators say Cox spent several hours on Daybell’s property in an area behind the home.
That same day, Daybell texted his wife Tammy Daybell—who died in October under what authorities believe were suspicious circumstances—detailing activity he said had happened on the property.
“Well, I've had an interesting morning! felt should bum all of the limb debris by the fire pit before it got too soaked by the coming storms. While did so, spotted big racoon [sic] along the fence. hurried and got my gun, and he was still walking along. got close enough that one shot did the trick. He is now in our pet cemetery. Fun times!,” the message said, according to the probable cause statement.
Ryan’s younger brother, JJ, was last seen a few weeks later on Sept. 22, 2019. Once again, investigators were able to link Cox to the “northern edge” of Daybell’s property the next day.
Both bodies were recovered from the area in June.
With the use of cadaver dogs, the FBI’s evidence response recovery team found JJ’s body under an approximately 4 foot by 2 foot area of sod, Hermosillo testified in court earlier this week.
Under the soil, investigators found three large flat white rocks in row and a thin piece of wood paneling. Under that, they discovered the “odor of a decomposing body” and found the boy’s body wrapped in two layers of plastic and bound tightly with duct tape.
Tylee’s dismembered and badly charred body was found nearby, close to an area believed to have been a pet cemetery. Hermosillo described her remains in court as a “mass of burnt flesh and bone.” Investigators also found a “melted green bucket” that the flesh had been placed in and a partial human skull and jaw bone.
Shen believes it's possible some of the evidence found at the crime scene—including the plastic, duct tape and green bucket—could hold clues to help investigators determine the killer’s identity.
“You are going to be looking at that evidence and seeing if you can connect those back to Chad Daybell or to Lori Vallow,” she said. “Do they have the same kind of plastic bags?... (Are) there rolls of duct tape you can match ends to? Is it the same kind of duct tape? If you’ve got duct tape and two kinds of plastic bags in his garage that all match with what you found with the body, that’s interesting information that might help.”
Shen—who is not personally involved in the case—said investigators may also be able to pull fingerprints or DNA from some of the items to help build their case.
The key, Shen said, will be specifically linking someone to the crime—whether through electronic records, forensics or information gleaned from interviews.
“There has been some frustration that he hasn’t been charged and she hasn’t been charged with murder, but just because the bodies were on his property does not mean that he murdered them; it does not mean that he buried them; it certainly doesn’t mean that he destroyed their bodies,” Shen said. “They have to prove that and the way to prove that is to connect him somehow to those bodies.”
Shen said it may be more difficult to determine a cause of death for Ryan because of the condition of her remains.
“Because her body in particular was so destroyed, via I think a combination of burning and dismembering, it will be exceptionally difficult to tell what the cause of death was,” she said. “The way you would be able to tell was if enough of her body is left that – let’s just say for instance that she was shot, if there’s damage to the bones and the bones are still intact you may be able to see a sort of crushing blow or like a bullet hole, you know, damage to the actual bone structure that would indicate how someone might die.”
Shen said investigators may also be able to determine if she had been poisoned. There may still be evidence of any chemicals she had ingested in her bone marrow, bodily fluids, tissues, hair or eye fluid.
“You put drugs in your body, it is dispersed throughout it and you can find it in lots of different mediums but it depends on the condition of her body,” she said.
Shen said because the bodies were found in such vastly different conditions it makes her wonder “why you would go to all the effort to do that with her body but you wouldn’t do it to his [JJ's].” That might suggest two different causes of death, she said.
Investigators have not released the cause of death for either child and have remained tight-lipped about who they believe may have killed them.
As the investigation continues, Shen said those involved with the case will likely make sure the case is solid before charges are filed.
“I’ve worked on so many cases in my career that everyone wants everything so quickly,” she said. “You get one shot at it and you have to be very meticulous.”
Both Daybell and Vallow have pleaded not guilty to the charges against them, local station KOMO reports.
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