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.
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.