The new FX/Hulu limited series "Under the Banner of Heaven" is based on the 2003 true-crime bestselling book of the same name by Jon Krakauer. It follows the investigation into the 1984 murders of Brenda Wright Lafferty and her daughter, Erica Lafferty, and its relation to the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that shocked the Mormon community. The book, and now the show, dive into how religion played a role in the murders.
How Was Brenda Lafferty Murdered?
On July 24, 1984, Brenda Lafferty was found dead by her husband on the floor of their home, her throat slashed, according to court documents (via Justia Law). Her infant daughter, Erica, was also murdered in her crib. Notably, the murder took place on Pioneer Day, an official holiday in Utah that commemorates the first group of Mormon pioneers settling in Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847.
Who Killed Brenda Lafferty?
Brenda Lafferty was killed by Ron and Dan Lafferty, the older brothers of her husband, Allen Lafferty. According to court documents, the brothers were part of the School of the Prophets, which is a small, extremist sect of Mormonism they joined after they were excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1983 for their increasingly extreme fundamentalist views — including polygamy.
Why Did Ron and Dan Lafferty Kill Brenda Lafferty?
Dan and Ron Lafferty claimed they killed Brenda because God told them to, according to KSLTV.
Brenda was resistant to her husband, Allen, joining the School of the Prophets, which Ron and Dan saw as her trying to split up the family. Later, Ron's wife, Diana, unwilling to practice polygamy, divorced him and moved their six kids to Florida. For this, Ron also blamed Brenda. In March 1984, Ron wrote down what he claimed was a divine revelation that is now called "the removal revelation," which said Brenda and her daughter, who he believed would grow up to be just as "despicable" as her mother, according to court documents (via The New York Times), were "obstacles in his path" and needed to be killed. When he shared the note with the School of the Prophets, however, they also excommunicated the brothers.
Four months later, on Pioneer Day, Dan and Ron Lafferty carried out the murder of Brenda and Erica. According to court documents, Ron and Dan planned to murder two other members of the LDS church Ron blamed for the disillusion of his marriage, but their plans fell through because one person wasn't home, and they got lost while trying to find the fourth person's house.
Where Are Dan and Ron Lafferty Now?
According to Time, after the murder of Brenda and Erica, Ron and Dan fled from Utah to Nevada, where Ron and Dan were caught in a casino buffet line in Reno and arrested.
The brothers were convicted in 1985 in two different trials. According to KSLTV, Dan was given a life sentence, while Ron was given a death sentence.
In 1991, Ron's verdict was overturned and a new trial was ordered because the United States Court of Appeals ruled the legal standard the court used to assess his mental competence was wrong. While in 1992, he was deemed mentally unfit to stand trial, he was later deemed competent to stand trial in 1994. By 1996, Ron was tried again, at which point his original conviction of the death penalty was upheld, according to The New York Times.
Ron Lafferty spent 34 years on death row and died in 2019 at the age of 78 of natural causes. Dan Lafferty is currently serving a life sentence at Utah State Prison.