Created by Dustin Lance Black, FX on Hulu’s ‘Under the Banner of Heaven’ is a crime series that centers around the gruesome murders of Brenda Lafferty and her 15-month-old daughter Erica Lafferty. Detective Jeb Pyre, a devout Mormon, investigates the case and encounters several developments that lead him to question his faith.
The series also depicts the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to explore the Church’s influence on the murders. Since it employs a highly realistic narrative style entwined with historical references, the viewers must be intrigued to know whether it has real-life origins. Here’s everything you need to know about the same!
Is Under the Banner of Heaven Based on a True Story?
Yes, ‘Under the Banner of Heaven’ is based on a true story. The show is an adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s eponymous nonfiction book that details the double murder of Brenda Lafferty and her daughter Erica Lafferty, along with an account of the origin and growth of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. On July 24, 1984, brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty killed their brother Allen Lafferty’s wife Brenda, and her and Allen’s 15-month-old daughter Erica. According to reports, Ron strangled Brenda with a vacuum cord and slit her throat while Dan slit Erica’s throat.
Ron and Dan believed that God asked them to kill Brenda and Erica, which motivated them to murder the two. “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,” Ron wrote regarding the supposed instruction he received from God.
“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’s note, infamous as “the removal revelation,” read. Unlike the religious Lafferty brothers, Brenda was a free spirit who questioned Ron and Dan’s faith and beliefs. Ron even believed that Brenda encouraged his ex-wife to obtain a divorce from him. Chloe, a former LDS Relief Society president, also supported Ron’s wife during their separation.
Richard Stowe, the Highland LDS Stake president at the time, excommunicated Ron from the LDS Church. After killing Brenda and Erica, the brothers went to Chloe’s house, only to encounter her absence. They eventually dropped the plan to kill Richard. Ron and Dan were subsequently arrested and tried separately. Dan was sentenced to two life sentences, to be served concurrently.
Ron, on the other hand, was sentenced to death. However, he reportedly died of natural causes in 2019 while in prison on death row. Although Dustin Lance Black’s show primarily focuses on the murders and the investigation, it also depicts the intricate influence of religion on the two brothers and numerous crimes that happened in the name of faith. “Raised in the LDS faith, my hope is that this true-crime thriller might shed light on the horrific brutalities perpetrated in the name of God in our own backyards,” said Black in a statement.
To provide a detailed history and context of the LDS faith, Black’s show follows the life of Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormonism and the Latter Day Saint movement, in a parallel storyline. As the series depicts, Smith published the Book of Mormon and propagated the beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, considering it a restoration of the early Christian church. The Laffertys, in the show and reality, followed the LDS Church’s norms and beliefs strictly. Dan even reportedly discarded “the laws of man” to disobey traffic laws and not pay taxes.
Even though the show is based on a heart-rending true story, Black did incorporate fictional elements into the narrative, starting with the fictional protagonist Detective Jeb Pyre. The character, a pious Mormon like the Laffertys, questions his faith and confronts the dangers present in the LDS beliefs. Black conceived the character to display the impact of the crime on a typical Mormon, like Black himself. ‘Under the Banner of Heaven’ is a distressing account of one of the most harrowing crimes in the name of religion while offering a relevant examination of the modern-day faith.
Read More: Where Was Under the Banner of Heaven Filmed?