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Why did the Lafferty Brothers murder a Mormon mother and her toddler?

Convicted murderer and death row inmate Ron Lafferty is handcuffed after his court hearing in a courtroom in Provo, Utah, USA on the 6th October 2005
Image Credit: Associated Press / Alamy Stock Photo | Above: Convicted murderer and death row inmate Ron Lafferty is handcuffed after his court hearing in a courtroom in Provo, Utah, USA on the 6th October 2005

In 2022, the case of Brenda and Erica Lafferty's murders gained renewed attention from the media with the release of the miniseries Under the Banner of Heaven. The screenplay is directly inspired by Jon Krakauer’s 2003 book Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, which is partly based on interviews the author conducted with Dan Lafferty.

In the series, Daisy Edgar-Jones portrays Brenda Lafferty, the young Mormon mother. Andrew Garfield plays the role of the lead detective, who is grappling with his own faith as he unravels the chilling truth behind Brenda's murder.

As the award-winning series is coming to the United Kingdom for the first time, it is time to explore the true story behind this TV series and what inspired it.

Brenda Wright Lafferty’s murder

Timing was always of the essence when it came to this Utah-based story. Indeed, the series premiered in the US only a few years after the death in prison of Ron Lafferty, the last of the two perpetrators arrested and charged for the murder of the Mormon mother and her toddler in 1984. Ron Lafferty had exhausted all his appeals between 1984 and 2019, when he died of natural causes at 78. He claimed until the end that he was protecting his family and serving divine justice.

In a 2014 interview with the Salt Lake City Weekly, Ron Lafferty further restated his point: 'True fairness was served by the act, immaterial of who carried it out. I don't care if Santa Claus committed the act—justice was served.'

The tragic murder of Brenda and her 15-month-old daughter Erica sent shockwaves through the quiet community of American Fork, Utah, in July 1984. The perpetrators were Brenda’s own brothers-in-law, Ron and Dan Lafferty. The brutality of their actions and the twisted motives behind them continue to haunt those who remember this dark chapter in Utah's history.

Brenda was only 24 years old when she and her daughter were murdered in their home on 24th July 1984. It soon became evident that a combination of religious fanaticism and personal vendetta drove the perpetrators, Ron and Dan Lafferty.

In the heads of the Lafferty brothers

The underlying motive behind the crime came from extreme religious beliefs and their fractured relationship with Brenda and her husband, Allen. Ron, in particular, held Brenda responsible for his own marital problems and viewed her as an obstacle to his religious convictions. He claimed to have received revelations from God instructing him to 'remove' Brenda and Erica, whom he saw as impediments to his divine mission.

Ron's descent into religious extremism and paranoia had estranged him from the mainstream Mormon community, leading to his excommunication from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). His divorce further fuelled his resentment towards Brenda and her family, whom he blamed for his troubles. Ron's delusions and distorted sense of divine guidance led him to believe that eliminating Brenda and Erica was necessary to fulfil God's will.

The Lafferty Brothers described their actions in court as one of them being the hand of God, Dan , and Ron being the voice of God. Their lack of remorse was found deeply unsettling throughout the trial and appeals. But this also speaks to the depths of their fanaticism. They remained steadfast in their belief that they were carrying out God's will.

The court case explained their lack of remorse through religious delusions and the righteous belief that they were serving a higher purpose. Yet, it also remains difficult to understand how the Lafferty family, including Brenda’s mother-in-law, chose not to act after witnessing her own sons’ descent into extremism and paranoia. Eventually, nothing stood in Ron and Dan Laffertty’s path when they decided to plan and commit the attack against their sister-in-law and niece.

The lesson behind 'Under the Banner of Heaven'

A hardback copy of 'Under the Banner of Heaven' by Jon Krakauer
Image Credit: Dylanhatfield / | Above: A hardback copy of 'Under the Banner of Heaven' by Jon Krakauer

Despite the passage of time, the memory of Brenda and Erica Lafferty lives on as a tragic reminder of the devastating impact of religious fanaticism and the need for vigilance against those who would exploit faith for their own sinister ends. The LDS Church never commented on the miniseries. However, they accused Krakauer of condemning religion in his book.

The miniseries Under the Banner of Heaven brings renewed attention to this tragic case, shedding light on the complex motives behind the crime.