The third episode of FX on Hulu’s crime series ‘Under the Banner of Heaven’ follows detectives Jeb Pyre and Bill Taba’s efforts to arrest Sam Lafferty. After encountering Allen’s brother in a cabin in the woods, the detectives take him into custody and begin interrogating him. When asked about the murders of Brenda Lafferty and her daughter Erica Lafferty, Sam tells the investigators that their blood was spilled for the Heavenly Father.
Sam also informs Pyre and Bill that Brenda and Erica’s names were included in “a holy list,” made by God for his angels to execute the people named in it. As Pyre and Bill dive deep into the significance of the list, the viewers must be intrigued to know whether it has real-life origins. Let’s find out! SPOILERS AHEAD.
What is the Holy List? Is it Based on a Real List of Names?
In the show, Sam explains to Pyre and Bill that God had made a list of names of people he wants dead, which includes Brenda and Erica. Sam believes that Brenda had turned against God by disobeying her husband Allen and sees Erica as the fruit of a wedding that didn’t align with the Heavenly Father’s rules. Pyre, realizing that there can be more names on the list, tries to make Sam talk more but fails. Allen’s brother also adds to the investigators that he did hear God’s voice, which assured him about the list.
The list Sam mentions in the show did exist in real life, however, with changes from the show. In reality, it was Ron Lafferty who believed that he was contacted by God to put an end to several people’s lives. According to Ron, God instructed him to kill Brenda Lafferty, her and Allen’s daughter Erica, Chloe Low, and Richard Stowe. As per Jon Krakauer’s eponymous true-crime book, the source text of the show, Brenda, Chloe, and Richard helped Ron’s wife Dianna while she was trying to get divorced from him, which infuriated Ron.
“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 in a note. “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, later known as “the removal revelation,” read.
Ron, with his brother Dan, went to Brenda and Allen’s house in American Fork to “strike out” the names of their sister-in-law and niece Erica from the former’s list. Ron strangled Brenda with a vacuum cord and slit her throat to kill her. Dan killed Erica by slitting the 15-month-old’s throat as well. Even though they wanted to kill Chloe and Richard after murdering the first two, they failed to do it. They couldn’t find Chloe in her home and eventually dropped the plan to kill Richard.
Dan, like Ron, did believe that they are carrying out God’s command. “I talked to her [Erica] for a minute, I said, ‘I’m not sure why I’m supposed to do this, but I guess God wants you home,'” he told Deseret News about killing his niece. When reality became the show, creator Dustin Lance Black did take some creative liberties to conceive his creation. Sam Lafferty, Allen’s brother in the show, is seemingly a partially-fictional character since Allen doesn’t have a brother named Sam AKA Samuel. Still, “the holy list” and its significance are commendably placed in the narrative of the show.