The Chilling Message That Led To The Murder Of Brenda Lafferty

Brenda Lafferty's 1984 murder at the hands of two brothers-in-law shocked the residents of American Fork, Utah. The case has since gained attention as it served as the basis for Jon Krakauer's 2003 book "Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith" and its 2022 television adaptation of the same name, streaming on Hulu and starring Andrew Garfield in the lead role, per All That's Interesting.

The brutal double murder of 24-year-old Lafferty and her 15-month-old daughter, Erica, was the culmination of what was eventually revealed to be a strange tale of alleged messages from God, religious fanaticism, and a personal quest for revenge. Ron and Dan Lafferty were eventually convicted of the heinous murders. Dan was handed a pair of consecutive life sentences, while Ron (above) — the one who claimed God had told him to kill — was given a death sentence. That punishment was never carried out; he died in prison of natural causes in 2019 while awaiting execution, according to A&E.

Ron and Dan Lafferty's excommunication

The Laffertys were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, according to All That's Interesting. They had a large family with four sons and two daughters. The family's patriarch, Warren, held some fairly extreme views. He was fiercely opposed to both the government and modern medicine. He was also a strict adherent to his religion, going so far as to not allow one of his sons to get medical attention for an accidental arrow wound to the stomach because it was the sabbath.

As the years went by, two of the Lafferty sons became increasingly radical in their beliefs. They both believed in polygamy, something their church had long since abandoned. Dan married a second woman, while Ron's wife divorced him when he outlined his plans to force his teenage daughters into plural marriages, per A&E. Both of the men wound up being excommunicated from the church. The excommunication didn't curb their radicalization; it exacerbated it.

Ron Lafferty claimed he had a message from God

Ron and Dan joined a breakaway group of Mormon fundamentalists called the School of Prophets and worked to bring their siblings into the fold. Ron started claiming to have received as many as 20 messages directly from God, according to A&E. Meanwhile, their brother Allen had married a woman named Brenda. Brenda was college-educated and held progressive views, something that angered both Ron and Dan Lafferty, as it was completely out of step with their fundamentalist views. Furthermore, when Ron's wife left him and moved to Florida with their children, he blamed Brenda for encouraging her.

In March 1984, Ron Lafferty received what he claimed to be another message from God, and this time he wrote it down: "Thus saith the Lord unto my servants the prophets. It is my will and commandment that ye remove the following individuals in order that my work might go forward. For they have truly become obstacles in my path and I will not allow my work to be stopped," the message read, per All That's Interesting. "First thy brother's wife Brenda and her baby ... And it is my will that they be removed in rapid succession."

The murders

Later that summer — several months after Ron Lafferty had scribbled his divine message onto a yellow legal pad — he and his brother Dan crept toward Brenda and their brother Allan's apartment. As the brothers worked to break into their sister-in-law's apartment, two men waited in a nearby car ready to help them flee the crime scene. The brothers gained entrance, and then attacked Brenda before strangling her with a vacuum cleaner cord. They then cut her throat, per A&E. After killing Brenda, they turned their attention toward their young niece and murdered her as well.

One of the getaway drivers would later testify at the brothers' trial that Ron Lafferty admitted to killing Brenda Lafferty as they sped away from the apartment, celebrating his heinous act while banging a bloody knife on his knee. Allen Lafferty discovered the bodies of his wife and daughter and knew exactly who committed the crime. According to All That's Interesting, both Laffertys were arrested in Reno, Nevada after spending about one month on the run after the murder. They had planned to kill others, including a woman named Chloe Low, who Ron also thought had helped his wife leave, and a man named Richard Stowe, who was responsible for their excommunications from the church. Fortunately, neither one were harmed by the Rafferty's before their arrests, per Newsweek.