Drawn from Jon Krakauer’s 2003 true crime book Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, the FX miniseries of the same name takes a closer look at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) and the Lafferty family.
The show begins with Detective Jeb Pyre (Andrew Garfield), a character created for the series alone, trying to put the pieces together after Brenda Lafferty (Daisy Edgar-Jones) is found dead in her home alongside her infant daughter, Erica. The attention immediately falls on her husband, Allen Lafferty (Billy Howle), who denies any wrongdoing. A fellow Mormon, he opens up to Jeb about how the LDS community impacted his family and why he thinks Brenda was targeted.
Is Under the Banner of Heaven based on a true story?
Yes, the show is based on real-life events involving the Lafferty family.
According to Deseret News, Brenda was found dead on July 24, 1984. The 24-year-old was discovered in their Utah home in the small town of American Fork with her throat slashed. Brenda and Allen’s 15-month-old daughter, Erica, was also killed with a knife. After an investigation, it was discovered that Allen’s older brothers Ron and Dan committed the murders after feeling like Brenda was separating them from their sibling.
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Per reports, Brenda called out Ron and Dan going against Mormon teachings with their fundamentalist views. It was because of this reason that they were excommunicated from the Latter-day Saints Church in 1982. The brothers then joined the School of the Prophets movement, which practiced polygamy. But when Ron’s wife didn’t want to participate in it, she left him. Though Ron and Dan tried to convince Allen to join the group, Brenda stopped him and they believed it was her attempt to split up the family.
In March 1984, Ron claimed that he had received “the removal revelation,” which called him to kill Brenda and Erica. He also claimed the revelation mentioned two other members from the LDS Church: one who supported Ron’s wife during the divorce and another who presided over his excommunication. Both Ron and Dan believed they were prophets and were following orders from God.
After killing Brenda and Erica, Ron and Dan couldn’t get ahold of the two other people. The brothers decided to leave Utah for Nevada, where they were later arrested in a casino buffet line. In 1985, Ron was sentenced to death for the capital murders. Although it was later overturned in 1992, he was convicted again, and he chose to be executed by a firing squad. After sitting on death row for 34 years, he died in prison from natural causes at the age of 78 in 2019. Today, Dan is still serving his two life sentences.
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FX’s Under the Banner of Heaven tells three different storylines: Jeb investigating Brenda’s death, Brenda’s life within the Lafferty family and some of the origins of the LDS faith. Unlike the book, the series added in Jeb and his detective partner Bill Taba (Gil Birmingham). But series creator Dustin Lance Black, who was once a Mormon himself, drew from the 2003 book for Brenda’s life onscreen. According to Newsweek, he consulted Brenda’s family in order to portray her in the most accurate way.
“To tell these three stories that all take place in one man’s mind that I hope recreates that very active experience for the viewer in the way that the reader experienced the book,” he explained to the outlet.
The book’s author, who wasn’t involved in the miniseries, noted that Dustin painted a real picture of what it was like to be part of the LDS community. Dustin left it decades ago. “That stuff is such a powerful part of the show, and it clearly comes from your personal experience,” Jon told Dustin in a New York Times interview. “I mean, it really informs it.”
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