The True Story Behind Daisy Edgar-Jones’ New Series, ‘Under The Banner Of Heaven’

The disturbing crime shook a small town to its core.

Alan Wright Lafferty had spent a day doing hard labour at a construction site before he returned to his home in American Fork, Utah on July 24, 1984. 

But as he walked in the door at around 8pm, his life changed forever.

His wife, Brenda Wright Lafferty was lying dead on their kitchen floor, having been reportedly strangled to death by the chord of their vacuum cleaner. Their 15-month-old daughter was also killed in the attack. 

The crime against the Mormon family sparked a widespread investigation, the result of which unfurled even more shocking twists to the events that had occurred in the lead up to Brenda and her daughter’s murder. 

In 2003, renowned writer and journalist Jon Krakauer wrote a nonfiction which focused on the horrific event, as well as doing a full deep dive into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its extreme sects, which played a part in the murders. 

Now, that book has been transformed into an entire series, currently airing on Disney+ in Australia. It stars Daisy Edgar-Jones as Brenda, while Andrew Garfield plays a detective assigned to the case. 

While the series is merely an adaptation of Krakauer’s book and the events that unfolded, it’s got us all wondering what actually happened in the real life case. 

Here, we look at the true story that inspired Under The Banner Of Heaven. 

If you haven’t already, you can sign up to Disney+ to watch Under The Banner Of Heaven here

(Credit: Hulu / Disney+)

Under The Banner Of Heaven: The true story

It was Pioneer Day, July 24, 1984—the commemoration of the arrival of Latter-day Saint pioneers in Salt Lake City, Utah.

At 8pm, 24-year-old Brenda Wright Lafferty (a former beauty queen who grew up in a reasonably liberal Mormon family) was found dead by her husband, Allen.

She had been choked by the chord of a vacuum cleaner. Her throat had also been slashed, and her daughter, aged just 15-months-old at the time was also killed in the attack. 

Allen was questioned by police immediately, but he already knew exactly who had done it—and he didn’t hesitate to tell the police as much. 

Indeed, Allen’s two brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty were engaged in an extreme sect of Mormonism called the School of Prophets after being excommunicated from the Latter Day Saints Church because of their fundamentalist views.

The brothers had tried to convince Allen to join them, telling him to let his hair and beard grow long so they would look like biblical prophets. They also told him that they were the true leaders of the Mormon Church because they could speak directly with God. Brenda reportedly stopped Allen from following his brother’s lead—an act that Dan and Ron deduced as an attempt to split the family up. 

Brenda & Allen Lafferty.

When Ron and Dan were charged with Brenda and her daughter’s murder, it came out that Ron had believed he received a divine revelation from God to kill her and the baby. He also claimed that Brenda was the reason his former wife had left him after he had suggested he take a second wife. 

It was later revealed that both Ron and Dan had actually planned to kill two other people the same night they killed Brenda—a church leader, Chloe Low, who had helped Ron’s ex-wife during their divorce, and Richard Stowe, a prominent man in the Latter Day Saints who had seen to Ron’s excommunication from the religion. 

The brothers were originally going to have a joint trial, but while they were in prison, Ron attempted to kill Dan and subsequently hang himself. The pair ended up being trialled separately, and Ron was sentenced to death. He appealed his case and the sentence was overturned, but in 1996, he was convicted again and sentenced to death. In 2019, after sitting on death row for more than three decades as he continuously appealed his case, he died of natural causes aged 78. 

Meanwhile Dan was sentenced to two life sentences for the double murder. He never showed any remorse for the murders, telling Desert News in 2004 that the murders “never haunted me, it’s never bothered me. I don’t blame anyone for not understanding it”. 

To this day, Dan continues to serve his sentence in a Utah prison. 

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