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Crime News Cults

What's True And What's Not In 'Under The Banner of Heaven?'

The FX series is based upon the real murders of Brenda Lafferty and her infant daughter Erica, killed by Ron and Dan Lafferty.

By Gina Tron
Gil Birmingham as Bill Taba and Andrew Garfield as Jeb Pyre

With its depiction of murder, Mormonism and extreme beliefs, “Under the Banner of Heaven” is certainly a wild show.

The FX mini-series, also streaming on Hulu, is based on Jon Krakauer’s 2003 true crime bestseller “Under the Banner of Heaven,” which details an infamous Utah case. In fact, the case is still considered one of the most notorious and gruesome in the state’s history. And while the case is it’s based on is real, the show does have some fictionalized elements.

Detectives Jeb Pyre and Bill Taba are characters that were created purely for the show, Newsweek reports.

Actor Andrew Garfield, who plays Pyre, told Newsweek that while the characters aren’t based on any real persons involved in the case, he did speak to a Mormon detective to prepare for the role.

Gil Birmingham, who plays Taba, said that while their characters aren't based on real people, they hope they brought "authenticity" and "honesty" to their roles

"[We wanted a] truthfulness in telling the story to honor the people that were murdered and to maybe bring some humanity to a very dark material and how people can relate to just, this could be any of us," he said.

In the series, the two characters investigate the murders of Brenda Lafferty and her infant daughter Erica. Both were real people who were murdered in their Utah home on July 24, 1984. An investigation into their murders pointed to Lafferty’s brothers-in-laws Ron and Dan Lafferty. In part, the siblings were angry that Brenda had discouraged their brother from joining their polygamous cult, called School of the Prophets.

As the show accurately depicts, Ron’s extreme religious views and paranoid delusions had led to his ex-communication from the LDS Church, the Salt Lake Tribune reported last year. They also led to his divorce in 1984, but Ron put the blame for his divorce on Brenda, as well as two of Brenda’s friends. He believed that God wanted him to “remove” the two friends as well, according to court records.

Ron Lafferty is escorted out of the Utah County Court House

In order to provide some of the complicated back story, series creator Dustin Lance Black told Newsweek he worked closely with Brenda's family. They also gave insight into the kind of person Brenda was.

Black, who grew up in the LDS church, and was a screenwriter on “Big Love” has detailed the extensive research he put into the series in regards to how it depicts the church. However, some, like senior columnist for Religion News Service and author of “The Next Mormons: How Millennials are Changing the LDS Church” Jana Riess, feel the show mischaracterizes Mormonism, according to WBUR.

“The most troubling aspect to me is the basic idea that if you simply scratch under the surface of a seemingly respectable religion, all sorts of violent acts and thoughts are going to come pouring out,” Riess told the outlet. “I just don't think that that's true of my people.”

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