THE grandmother of one of Lori Vallow’s slain children had for years been an avid watcher of all things true crime – but never for one second did she envision her life becoming the story.
But that’s precisely what happened to Kay Woodcock in the summer of 2019 when her brother was shot dead and then her grandson Joshua “JJ” Vallow disappeared without a trace weeks later along with his older half-sister, Tylee Ryan.
“I’m a true crime fan, I’ve always loved watching Investigation Discovery, 20/20, and Dateline,” Kay told The U.S. Sun in an exclusive interview.
“And then all of a sudden it was like, ‘here I am. I’m living it.’
“I’m one of those people that talks to Dateline and 2020 – and it’s about the craziest situation in the world that you could ever imagine.”
The twisted saga took yet another turn earlier this week when a judge ruled to indefinitely suspend Lori’s trial, which was due to commence in January, over concerns regarding her mental competency.
The decision left Kay “angry and disappointed beyond belief”, prolonging her heartbreak in her three-year quest to secure justice for JJ.
BECOMING THE STORY
Kay’s transformation from true crime consumer to subject began in July 2019 when her brother Charles Vallow was fatally shot during a custody exchange at Lori’s home in Chandler, Arizona.
Lori had not been home when the fatal shot was fired. The trigger was pulled by her older brother – and alleged hitman – Alex Cox, who claimed to police that he’d shot Charles in self-defense in the midst of an altercation.
Never for a second did Kay buy Cox’s claims.
In the months prior, Charles had repeatedly raised concerns about Lori’s apparently increasingly disturbing behavior, so much so that he secretly transferred his $1 million life insurance policy into Kay’s name just weeks before he was killed.
In the aftermath of the death of Charles, who adopted JJ from Kay’s son, Kay continued to play nice with Lori, fearful one wrong move could set her off and prevent her from ever seeing her grandson again.
“I had the whole, you know, ‘keep your enemies close’ thing in my mind,” she explained.
“I was keeping her close because, at that point, I knew she was an enemy.”
But despite her efforts, Kay would tragically hear from JJ for the final time just over a month later on August 30, 2019, in a brief Facetime call.
Appearing to be distracted by something – or someone – off-screen, the seven-year-old, who had autism, hastily hung up after just 35 seconds telling Kay and her husband Larry, “Oh I gotta go. Bye!”
The next day, Lori and the kids were due to leave their home in Arizona in search of pastures new, but Kay had no idea where they were heading.
Those were the last words JJ ever said to her.
In the days that followed Kay’s final call with JJ, Tylee Ryan would be seen alive for the last time during a trip to Yellowstone National Park with JJ, Lori, and Alex Cox on September 8, 2019.
JJ would also suddenly disappear within two weeks of his older sister. He was last seen in Rexburg, Idaho, on September 22 being carried up to bed by his uncle Alex.
Lori contacted JJ’s elementary school the following day, informing administrators that the young boy would not be returning and that she’d be homeschooling him instead.
All traces of JJ vanished therein.
Meanwhile, back home in Lake Charles, Louisiana, Kay grew increasingly concerned that she hadn’t heard from JJ, who would often call her throughout the day just to tell her that he loved her.
When she couldn’t answer he’d always leave a voicemail, showcasing his immaculate phone etiquette and always signing off the same way: “Okay, got to go. Bye!”
But the phone never rang and a voicemail never arrived.
Kay said she refused to let her mind wander to the darker corners of worry, or consider the possibility that JJ may have been harmed, or worse, though she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was off.
September passed without any response from Lori, and Kay’s anxieties would be heightened further by October 2 when another member of the Vallow family was shot at by Alex Cox.
The target this time was Brandon Boudreaux, the ex-husband of Lori Vallow’s niece Melani Pawlowski, who had sitting in his car in his driveway when Cox – driving the late Charles Vallow’s Jeep – opened fire at his driver-side window.
Unlike Charles, Boudreaux survived the alleged assassination attempt.
Fearful she may be next on Cox’s hit list, Kay started carrying a pistol with her at all times.
She also hired a private detective to track down Lori and find out where she may be hiding JJ.
“All these things started happening that just showed me they were getting more dangerous and dangerous,” Kay said.
“But when they tried to kill Brandon that October, then that really heightened my fears.
“We hired a private detective and we were also talking with detectives in Arizona because they knew about our concerns about JJ and how dangerous Lori and Alex were.
“But I never in my wildest dreams imagined they would hurt him,” she added.
“Never in my wildest dreams.”
By the time November rolled around, Kay was tired of waiting around for answers.
Inspired by the hours and hours of true crime TV shows and documentaries she’d watched in the past, the fretting grandmother tried her own hand at playing detective, donning her amateur sleuth hat in search of clues as to where Lori might be.
The PI Kay hired had narrowed Lori’s location down to Rexburg, Idaho, where unbeknown to her at the time, the cult mom had moved to be closer to her newest love interest, Doomsday fanatic Chad Daybell.
“It was November 8th when I started poking around on my computer and I dug through Charles’ old Gmail account because I had worked for him for a while when Lori and he split up, so I still had all his passwords,” explained Kay.
“So I got into his account, and I didn’t know what I was looking for, but I was just kind of poking around and that’s when I saw Amazon delivery emails.
“Lori had been using Charles’ Amazon account and that’s when I found their complete address along with their apartment number.”
Kay immediately contacted the police and requested they pay a visit to the home to check that JJ was okay.
That welfare check wasn’t conducted for a few more weeks, Kay claims, and by the time investigators went over to the home Lori was gone.
“I mean that was just a moment where the level of fear just kept going higher and higher, and higher and higher,” Kay reflected.
“The fear just kept increasing, and the worry and anguish of her [Lori] not ever answering my emails just made things worse.”
AN UNMOVABLE PIT
Kay and Larry reported their grandson missing in late November, with three months having then passed since they had seen his face or heard his voice.
In the meantime, Lori had fled to Hawaii with Chad Daybell to get married. There was no sign of either of her children at the wedding ceremony.
The wedding had also taken place just weeks after Daybell’s wife of 30 years Tammy had died suddenly in her sleep – a death police now believe to be suspicious.
The newlyweds were officially designated persons of interest in the disappearance of both JJ and Tylee that December, with police believing the two children’s lives were in danger due to Lori’s lack of compliance with their ongoing investigation to find them.
Law enforcement’s probe gathered pace in January 2020, with police believing Lori and Chad to be acting more suspiciously.
In the first week of the new year, Kay and Larry held a press conference, announcing a $20,000 reward for the children’s discovery.
Then, on January 25, Lori was issued an ultimatum by police: she had five days to produce JJ and Tylee to authorities, otherwise, she’d be arrested.
By the time the deadline came around on Jan. 30, Lori had failed to comply with the order. She was arrested in Hawaii on February 20 and held on a $5 million bond.
Months, however, would pass without a word on where JJ and Tylee were.
The wait, Kay says, was beyond agony.
“It was like being in the pits of hell and you couldn’t escape,” she said.
“Because I woke up thinking about him, I went to sleep thinking about him, I thought about him all day long and I could hardly focus on anything else.
“It was just nine months of pure hell, of not knowing, of just that pit in your stomach that just would never go away.”
Despite police having found no trace of her grandson in the months that had then passed, still Kay refused to allow herself to believe that JJ may have been harmed.
“I thought maybe they can shoot adults but she’s not going to kill her kids,” said Kay.
“She wasn’t going to hurt them, I was sure.
“I was so convinced she had them in a commune in Utah somewhere, with one of those extreme fringe groups that she and Chad were a part of.
“There’s no way I could accept the fact he was dead just because we couldn’t find him.”
A TRAGIC DISCOVERY
Over time, Kay admits that her faith that JJ was still alive began to wane in the aftermath of Lori’s arrest as still she refused to disclose where the children were.
Her worst fears would be realized on June 9, 2020, when investigators made a horrific discovery after serving a search warrant at Daybell’s Salem, Idaho home.
In the backyard of the property, police found two sets of human remains buried in shallow graves that were soon confirmed to be Tylee and JJ.
Tylee’s remains had been dismembered and burned, while JJ was found buried in his red pajamas and wrapped in plastic bags with tape covering his mouth, arms, and wrists.
Kay and her husband were alerted to the news of the grim discovery via an early morning telephone call that awoke them from their bed at 6.45am.
The couple was called by an FBI agent who told them a swath of law enforcement personnel were at Chad Daybell’s home conducting an extensive search of the property and its grounds.
Asking the agent to keep them in the loop, Kay and Larry sat idly by the phone for the next several hours, barely exchanging a word as they waited for it to ring again.
The call would eventually come through at around 1pm.
And on the other end of the receiver was a prosecutor with the District Attorney’s Office with some gut-wrenching news.
“We’ve found two bodies and we believe they’re JJ and Tylee,” Kay remembers the prosecutor telling her.
“We still have to do a DNA test but we’re pretty sure it’s them.”
After receiving the worst possible news, Kay said she felt herself slip through the veil of reality and disassociate from her surroundings, insisting nothing felt real any longer.
She and Larry flew out from Louisiana to Idaho the next day to see where their grandson’s life came to a tragic end.
“We flew out the next day because we just needed to be there,” tearfully recounted Kay.
“We just needed to be there, I don’t know, just to be close to him I guess.
“And I just… It still blows my mind to this day, how could she be so cruel to a seven-year-old?” she added, tears flowing more freely than before.
Chad Daybell was taken into custody the same day Tylee and JJ’s bodies were found.
Both he and Lori were later indicted by a grand jury on a number of charges related to the kids’ deaths, including first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder.
Lori’s brother Alex Cox was also believed to be involved in their murders but escaped charges after his sudden death in December 2019, which was reported to be the result of “natural causes” spurred by high blood pressure and blood clots wedged in his lungs.
In an earlier interview, Kay told The U.S. Sun that she had been nervously awaiting Lori and Chad’s joint trial, which had been slated to begin in January 2023, but desperate to get it behind her.
Lori and Chad have both pleaded not guilty to the first-degree murder of JJ and Tylee, and the myriad of other charges they’re facing. Both could face the death penalty if convicted.
However, precisely when the pair will be put on trial is now unclear.
The development comes after an Idaho judge decided to delay Lori’s trial indefinitely on Thursday citing concerns about her mental competency.
This is the second time Lori Vallow’s competency has been called into question since she was charged with the murder of her children just over two years ago.
She was previously ruled to be incompetent in May 2021 after a psychological evaluation deemed her “unfit” to stand trial.
Her competency was restored in April of this year after Vallow spent nine months in an Idaho mental health facility before concerns over her capacity were raised again during Thursday’s court hearing.
In his ruling, the judge stated that not enough information has been provided thus far to determine Vallow’s competency. Therefore the “Court sees no other alternative at this time than to vacate the January 9, 2023 trial.”
A new competency evaluation has been requested, though it’s unclear when that examination will take place.
It’s also unclear whether or not Chad Daybell’s trial will proceed as scheduled without Lori.
Kay said the ruling has left her devastated and angry.
She told The U.S. Sun: “It seems the only ones getting their way are Chad and Lori. JJ, Tylee and Tammy [Chad Daybell’s wife] didn’t have a choice. Everyone who loved them didn’t have a choice.
“Where’s the justice? It’s surely not here.
“The court is wasting time even considering her competency,” continued Kay.
“She’s doing what she does best, playing games and manipulating this situation to suit her. Her wants. Her needs.
“It is a stall tactic,” she further alleged. “She doesn’t want to face the consequences.
“I’m angry and disappointed beyond belief.”