On July 24, 1984, Brenda Lafferty and her 15-month-old daughter Erica were killed by her brothers-in-law, Ron and Dan Lafferty, after they allegedly received divine instructions to murder them.
Brenda Lafferty was beautiful, intelligent, and assertive. And those were some of the reasons why her brothers-in-law, Ron and Dan Lafferty, decided to murder her and her 15-month-old daughter Erica in 1984.
Mormon fundamentalists claiming to be guided by God, Ron and Dan insisted that they were driven to murder by a divine message they called the “removal revelation.” But the truth behind their motives was far more earthbound. Ron, who had “received” the message, was furious with Brenda for helping his wife to leave him after he embraced polyamory.
This is the story of Brenda Lafferty, whose murder by Ron and Dan Lafferty inspired the book and TV show, Under the Banner of Heaven.
From Beauty Queen To Brigham Young University
Brenda Lafferty (née Wright) was born on July 19, 1960, into a Mormon family living in Logan, Utah. She spent most of her childhood in Ithaca, New York, and Kimberly, Idaho, and enjoyed an especially close relationship with two of her sisters, Betty and Bonnie, who were around her same age.
Beautiful, intelligent, and popular among her peers, Brenda used her good looks to secure a college scholarship from the Miss Twin Falls, Idaho, beauty pageant. Deseret News reports that she spent a year at the University of Idaho and the College of Southern Idaho before she transferred to Brigham Young University back in Utah. Brenda’s mother had gone to BYU, and Brenda hoped to study broadcast journalism.
There, Brenda also met her husband, Allen Lafferty. They quickly fell in love and married, and Brenda gave birth to their daughter, Erica Lane Lafferty, on April 28, 1983, after her college graduation.
But Brenda’s marriage with Allen was complex. Though the Wright family liked Allen, he could be controlling and didn’t want Brenda to work. What’s more, two of his brothers, Ron and Dan Lafferty, had begun to embrace an extreme form of Mormonism. They had joined a breakaway polygamist sect called the School of Prophets and started to preach it to their brothers.
Ron’s extremism upset his wife, Dianna, who found that her husband suddenly expected a servant instead of a spouse. She confided in Brenda about the deepening cracks in her marriage, and Brenda encouraged her to take her children and leave Ron.
“Dianna really loved Brenda,” Brenda’s sister, Sharon Wright Weeks, explained to A&E True Crime. “Because all of the other [Lafferty] brothers had wives that they treated like second-class citizens, Brenda ended up giving Dianna the courage she needed to leave.”
Dianna took Brenda’s advice. And Ron Lafferty would not soon forget it.
Ron And Dan Lafferty’s ‘Removal Revelation’
In early 1984, shortly after the end of his marriage, Ron Lafferty claimed to have received divine instructions from God. Curiously, this “revelation” demanded that he murder people he blamed for his problems: Brenda, a woman named Chloe Low who’d supported his wife, and a man named Richard Stowe who who had overseen Ron’s ex-communication from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
“Thus saith the Lord unto my servants the prophets,” Ron’s “revelation” read. “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. First thy brother’s wife Brenda and her baby, then Chloe Low and then Richard Stowe. And it is my will that they be removed in rapid succession.”
Ron shared the message with his brother Dan — and his brother Allen, Brenda’s husband. Allen later testified that he responded to the message, which Dan and Ron called their “removal revelation,” with disbelief. “I told him that God had made no such revelation to me, and I would protect [Brenda and Erica] with my life,” he said in court.
But Allen did not tell Brenda about it.
“If he had told Brenda about Ron’s revelation, she would have been out of there in a minute and she’d still be alive today,” Brenda’s sister Betty told E! Online. “But Brenda didn’t know anything about it.”
Indeed, Brenda Lafferty had no idea that she was in danger. And on July 24, 1984, Ron and Dan Lafferty put their murderous plan into action.
The Murder Of Brenda Lafferty
Accompanied by two drifters named Charles Carnes and Richard Knapp, Ron and Dan Lafferty made their way to Brenda’s apartment. While Carnes and Knapp waited in the car, they forced their way inside and began their attack.
As Erica, 15 months, wailed from her crib, Carnes could hear Ron calling Brenda a “bitch” and a “liar” and the sound of the brothers physically beating her, according to testimony he gave at Ron’s trial.
The brothers strangled Brenda with a vacuum chord and slit her throat. Then, Dan walked into baby Erica’s room and slit her throat as well.
“I walked in Erica’s room. I talked to her for a minute, I said, ‘I’m not sure why I’m supposed to do this, but I guess God wants you home,'” Dan Lafferty said, according to Deseret News.
Dan claimed that he killed Brenda as well, describing her killing like something out of the “the scriptures,” but Carnes testified that Ron took credit for Brenda’s death when he returned to the car. “I killed her. I killed her. I killed the bitch. I can’t believe I killed her,” Ron allegedly said.
The four men went to fulfill the rest of Ron’s removal revelation, but their other victims escaped unscathed. Low wasn’t home, and they missed the turn to Stowe’s house. Instead, they kept driving toward Nevada.
Meanwhile, Allen Lafferty came home and discovered the gruesome scene.
“I went over to Brenda, and I prayed,” Allen testified in court.
He called the police. Allen knew exactly who had killed his wife and daughter.
The Aftermath Of Brenda Lafferty’s Murder
Ron and Dan Lafferty were arrested in Reno, Nevada, on August 7, 1984. They were soon charged with two counts of criminal homicide, two counts of aggravated burglary, and two counts of conspiracy to commit homicide. Dan was sentenced to two life terms in prison; Ron was sentenced to death (but died in 2019 before his execution).
Though Ron never spoke to the press, Dan did. He expressed no regrets for killing Brenda and Erica.
“Allen once asked my mom why I wouldn’t repent,” he told Deseret News. “There’s some things you can’t repent for. I’m sure Allen thought I was talking about an unpardonable sin. What I meant is, you don’t repent for things that aren’t wrong.”
The stunning story of Ron and Dan Lafferty’s extremism, and Brenda Lafferty’s murder, was told in Jon Krakauer’s 2003 book, Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, and adapted into a TV series by Hulu and Dustin Lance Black in 2022.
In the television adaption, Black wanted Brenda’s story to especially shine.
“The hero of this story is Brenda Lafferty and her family,” he said according to ABC 4 News. “[She was someone] who challenged the status quo in a time when that was deadly.”
After reading about the life and death of Brenda Lafferty, go inside the story of the Menendez brothers, who murdered both their parents. Or, look through these photos of life in Warren Jeffs’ fundamentalist Mormon cult.