Most true crime documentaries tell a story that has completed it’s final act – the perpetrators are caught, tried, and convicted. Sometimes there is an epilogue where an appeal is being sought, but often even that part of the book is closed. In the case of Netflix’ Sins of Our Mother, the story of Lori Vallow and the suspicious deaths of her two children, the trial and conviction have yet to occur, leaving the story, and thus the documentary, unfinished.
Sins of Our Mother is the latest in successful string of true crime documentaries directed by Skye Borgman for Netflix. Skye Borgman is quickly making a name for herself as the go-to true crime documentary filmmaker of our time having such films and series like I Just Killed My Dad, Girl in the Picture, and Abducted in Plan Sight (for which NBC/Peacock is producing a dramatized limited series starring Anna Paquin and Colin Hanks) on her resume.
Sins of Our Mother is the story of Lori Vallow, a five-times married mother of three, and the mysterious circumstances surrounding the deaths of her ex-husband and two children, that asks how someone once known as a devoted wife, mother, and woman of god fell so far, so fast. The story is told mostly through interviews with her oldest son Colby, who was married with a child of his own when his siblings disappeared. There are also interviews with family, former friends, and investigators, as well as recorded phone calls and text messages relevant to the case – the latter of which is new to anyone who didn’t follow the case as it unfolded in the news in 2020.
Lori’s first husband, her high-school sweetheart, barely warrants a mention, and her second marriage to Cody’s father didn’t last long. Lori’s third husband and father of her daughter Tylee was abusive to all three. Lori’s third husband, Charles Vallow, brought two sons from a previous marriage to the relationship, and together they adopted an autistic son, JJ. The years they spent together in Hawaii were the happiest times they had as a family according to Cody. About a year after returning to Arizona, Charles filed for divorce from Lori, claiming she started to have religious delusions – being LDS, she claimed the angel Moroni spoke to her, in fact, many angels spoke to her, keeping her awake at night. Lori married her fifth husband Chad Daybell, who is charged alongside her for these heinous crimes – including the death of his own wife, Tammy.
Lori and Chad believed they were tasked with ushering in the end times to bring the second coming of Christ in Sins of Our Mother
In the documentary, the religious beliefs of Lori and Chad are described as disturbing and cult-like. Chad Daybell wrote books about the end of the world, claiming them to be autobiographical, which Lori purportedly read before they met. Chad and Lori met sometime in 2018 when they were both married to other people and began a religious podcast together. The two started calling people zombies and dark spirits (for whom she appeared to assign a darkness level rating), and Lori claimed that Charles had been replaced by a demon – a claim that Chad later made about his wife Tammy. There is police body cam footage of Charles Vallow telling an officer that Lori believed she was a god-like figure and he was concerned for her welfare and the welfare of his children. Soon after, he was shot and killed by Lori’s brother Alex who claimed self-defense after Charles attacked him with Tylee’s bat. Alex himself died of a pulmonary embolism later that year. After Charles’ death, Lori moved Tylee, 17 and JJ, 7 to Idaho, and they both went missing shortly after. Around the same time, Chad’s wife Tammy died of natural causes after an extended illness. Soon after Tammy’s death, Lori and Chard married in Hawaii where they were ultimately found by police after Lori claimed for months that her children were safe, but failed to produce them.
It is a twisted tale of religion gone wrong, and it isn’t over. After Lori was charged with the deaths of Tally and JJ (whose bodies were found on Chad’s Idaho property) but refused to enter a plea, she was found unfit to stand trial and remanded to a psychiatric facility for 90 days. Just this April, a judge ruled she is mentally competent and entered a not guilty plea for her (as she still refused), and she and Chad will stand trial together in 2023 where prosecutors will seek the death penalty. Causes of death for Tally and JJ still haven’t been released, and Charles’ sons told the media they were informed their mother (originally ruled to have died from natural causes, but later exhumed) died of asphyxiation.
It is frustrating to watch this story unfold over three hour-long episodes and still not have a conclusion. I’ve never before seen a documentary that ends on such a cliffhanger – without even an official cause of death for three of the four victims! I hope and expect there will be new episodes once the trial has concluded, but the trial itself isn’t even set for next year – and since it’s already been delayed for reasons of mental incompetency and location determination hearings, who knows if the attorneys will find ways to further delay. After watching the documentary, I will certainly follow the trial – but wouldn’t just seeing this be cause for juror dismissal? While the documentary is riveting because the story is just so insane, I would rather see a complete story than have to wait for the final chapter to play out.
Sins of Our Mother is currently streaming on Netflix.
Is pre-trial too early to produce a true crime documentary? Let me know in the comments!