Sins of our Mother
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A three-part docuseries that investigates the shocking case of Lori Vallow, an Idaho woman known in her community as a doting mom and “woman of God,” who is currently awaiting trial for the murder of her two youngest children, and also has been accused of conspiracy to murder her fourth husband and her fifth husband’s wife.
In addition to the subject of the film, the woman who became widely known as the “doomsday cult Mom,” the director is Skye Borgman, who is behind the riveting true crime documentaries Abducted in Plain Sight and The Girl in the Picture.
Sins of our Mother was already making headlines before it premiered. There’s the story itself: a seemingly stable wife and mother turned into an alleged murderer after becoming involved with a doomsday author. Yet it’s also a story still in progress, as Vallow is set to stand trial in January 2023, which is partly why there is so much controversy surrounding the timing of the series release.
Director Borgman begins the documentary with a bit of background on Vallow’s childhood in a large Mormon family, which seemed normal enough. But as the series unfolds, cracks begin to appear in her image as a pious and devoted wife and mom. We learn that she was someone who craved the spotlight and married multiple times, including to an abusive husband.
She had one biological son, Colby Ryan, as well as a biological daughter, Tylee. Then she and her fourth husband, Charles Vallow, adopted Lori’s grandnephew, Joshua J.J. Vallow. At the time of his adoption, the family seemed relatively happy. But things took a turn after Lori met Chad Daybell, a self-published doomsday author, and the pair started having an affair. What became truly alarming was they both started planning for the apocalypse. Lori’s descent into a delusional state is terrifying, and what makes it even more haunting are the testimonies from her family.
Her son Colby is featured prominently throughout the series, and his disturbing revelations serve as the focal point. But his role becomes even more alarming as he was recently arrested for rape, charges levied by his estranged wife. While the charges were just dropped September 13th, the day before the series premiere date, the news throws into question just how much Colby’s point of view can be relied on (his story goes unchallenged in the series), and the extent to which Vallow might have impacted her son.
Vallow’s mother also grants an interview, and it becomes clear that she still hasn’t fully comprehended her daughter’s behavior and did not know how to handle it. There are moments when you question why her mother didn’t intervene sooner. In fact, the only members of Vallow’s family who did question her behavior were her brother and her late husband.
The documentary does hint that Vallow’s charisma convinced others that she was perfectly fine, an interesting note that helps explain why her actions led to tragedy. The director does not editorialize. As with her previous documentaries, the interviews, recordings and footage tell the story. But there’s one infuriating revelation where the filmmakers does appear to pass judgement.
Vallow’s husband Charles met his end in a suburb of Phoenix, and the local police immediately dismissed his murder as an act of self-defense on the part of his wife. They are instantly charmed by Lori and never bother to investigate her, even after her husband pleaded for them to. While there have been many takes on the horrors of police brutality, we haven’t seen many on the horrors of police incompetency. Had the cops actually completed a thorough probe into Vallow’s life, her behavior would have raised multiple red flags, and perhaps her children and husband would be alive today. It is a crucial sidebar that audiences cannot dismiss.
There has been debate about whether the series will impact the jury selected for Vallow — an ethical concern that is worth discussion. But I can’t help thinking that this is a must-watch, not just because it’s gripping and heartbreaking; it is a wake up call to local police and to all of us to pay attention to the people in our lives who may fall prey to the delusions of doomsdayers on the extremes.
A timely, truly shocking docuseries that will make you question assumptions about how people fall under the spell of charismatic “leaders” and charismatic “victims.” This one is bound to make your blood curl.
This is definitely not a watch for families. However, if you do have a friend who loves true crime docuseries or has been following the Lori Vallow story, watch it with them – they will have much to say.