The Lafferty murders: the timeline of the ‘Under the Banner of Heaven’ true story
In light of Andrew Garfield’s Emmy nomination for ‘Under the Banner of Heaven,’ here’s a look back at the tragic events that inspired the hit Hulu show
“Under the Banner of Heaven,” the hit Hulu limited series, covered one of the most tragic criminal cases in Utah history. Now, Andrew Garfield has received an Emmy nomination for his portrayal of Detective Jeb Pyre in the series.
“Under the Banner of Heaven,” based on Jon Krakauer’s 2003 book of the same name, was released on Hulu on April 28. It tells the story of brothers Dan and Ron Lafferty, once members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who were excommunicated from the faith and started a breakaway sect called the School of the Prophets.
The brothers, who claimed to be prophets, killed their sister-in-law Brenda Lafferty and her 15-month-old daughter, Erica, on July 24, 1984. They claimed to be fulfilling a revelation they had received to keep the two from “obstructing God’s work,” the Deseret News reported.
In light of Garfield’s Emmy nomination for “Under the Banner of Heaven,” here’s a look back at the events that preceded and followed the tragic murders.
The Lafferty murders timeline: the true story behind ‘Under the Banner of Heaven’
1982: Dan Lafferty is excommunicated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for trying to take his 14-year-old stepdaughter as a second wife.
1983: Ron Lafferty is excommunicated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for his increasingly extreme religious views, including an embrace of polygamy.
1984: Ron Lafferty forms a breakaway polygamous sect called the School of the Prophets. The brothers say that they are receiving messages from God.
March 1984: Ron Lafferty records what would come to be known as “the removal revelation.” He believes God is telling him to kill Brenda Lafferty and her daughter, Erica, along with two others, Chloe Low and Richard Stowe. He shares the disturbing “revelation” with the School of the Prophets. According to the Deseret News, Ron Lafferty’s “anguish at his wife’s departure morphed into rage, and he channelled it at three people: Chloe Low, a former (Latter-day Saint) Relief Society president who had supported his wife during the divorce; Richard Stowe, the Highland (Latter-day Saint) Stake president who had presided over his excommunication; and Brenda Wright Lafferty, the strong-willed wife of his youngest brother Allen.”
July 24, 1984: Ron and Dan Lafferty force their way into sister-in-law Brenda Lafferty’s home, strangling her with a vacuum cord and slitting her throat. They also nearly decapitate Brenda’s 15-month-old daughter, Erica, before fleeing the scene. Driven by hitchhikers Charles Carnes and Richard Knapp, the Lafferty brothers visit the home of their next intended victim, Chloe Low, only to discover she’s not home. They plan to stop at the house of Richard Stowe but get lost. The Lafferty brothers head to Nevada, accompanied by Carnes and Knapp.
Aug. 17, 1984: Ron and Dan Lafferty are arrested by FBI agents in Reno, Nevada. The Laffertys, Carnes and Knapp are charged with two counts of criminal homicide, two counts of aggravated burglary and two counts of conspiracy to commit homicide.
Dec. 30, 1984: Ron Lafferty attempts suicide and is found unconscious in the Utah County Jail. His attorney says Lafferty’s suicide attempt damaged his brain, which affected his memory and his emotional control. Lafferty also attempts to kill his brother Dan Lafferty in prison. The judge grants a motion allowing the Laffertys to be tried separately.
1985: Ron Lafferty is tried for murder, convicted and sentenced to die. Dan Lafferty is sentenced to life in prison. A lone holdout juror spares Dan Lafferty a death sentence.
1991: A federal appeals court overturns Ron Lafferty’s conviction, ruling the wrong standard was used to determine his competency to stand trial.
1996: Ron Lafferty’s conviction is overturned on appeal and he goes back on trial. A jury again convicts him and sentences him to die. Ron Lafferty chooses to be executed by firing squad. Further appeals to the Supreme Court of Utah and the U.S. Supreme Court are denied.
2001: The Utah Supreme Court affirms Ron Lafferty’s conviction and sentence.
July 2003: Krakauer’s “Under the Banner of Heaven” is released. The nonfiction book offers new accounts of the murders and statements from the Lafferty brothers. Dan Lafferty says he considers the book to be a part of God’s plan for him to spread his “strange” revelation.
Aug. 12, 2019: The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals refuses to hear Ron Lafferty’s case by unanimous decision. Ron Lafferty elects to be executed by firing squad.
Nov. 11, 2019: Ron Lafferty dies of natural causes after spending 34 years on death row, one of the longest-serving condemned inmates in the country.
2022: Dan Lafferty remains in the Utah State Prison, serving a life sentence.
Gitanjali Poonia contributed to reporting in this piece.