Is Under The Banner of Heaven based on a true story and what does the title mean?

Fans want to know if the murder of Brenda Lafferty is based on true events

Andrew Garfield as Detective Jeb Pyre in Under The Banner of Heaven
(Image credit: Landmark Media/Alamy/Future)

We've shared the inspiration behind this gripping who-dunnit series, and the real meaning of that title. 

True crime dramatisation continues to pique public interest and dominate the streaming services of late. Be it details on where is Candy Montgomery now - the real life character behind the true story of Candy now streaming on Disney+ to the whereabouts of Warren Jeffs the 'prophet' in Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey. This is in addition to Starzplay's latest hit The Girl From Plainville offering a fictionalised retelling about the suicide that shocked America - involving then-teenager Michelle Carter (portrayed by Elle Fanning on screen). 

The latest offering starring Andrew Garfield, Daisy Edgar-Jones and Sam Worthington, holds just as much intrigue. In Under The Banner of Heaven, detective Jeb Pyre investigates the murder of a Mormon woman and her young baby, uncovering unsettling truths involving the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. His sleuthing also reveals the potential violence unleashed by unwavering faith. Here, we delve into the inspiration behind the series, and address the whereabouts of the men behind the crime - Ron and Dan Lafferty.

Is Under The Banner of Heaven based on a true story? 

Yes, Under the Banner of Heaven is based on a true story that is documented in the 2003 book of the same name. Under The Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith written by author Jon Krakuaer, documents the real-life murder of Brenda Lafferty in the 1980s.

Raised among Mormons, Krakauer was fascinated by what he deemed to be their religious fundamentalism that consistently went unchallenged. Hearing of the events involving those in his book, he was inspired to document them and bring the fanaticism behind the crime to a wider audience. The book covers the origin of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) - The Mormon Church - and a murder committed by members of the church in 1984.

Under The Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer - £8.39 | Amazon

Under The Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer - £8.39 | Amazon

Now a major new true crime series starring Andrew Garfield, Daisy Edgar-Jones and Sam Worthington.

According to Cosmopolitan, Lafferty brothers Ron and Dan were members of a group called the School of Prophets. They had been excommunicated from the LDS because of their extremist religious views. Around the same time, Ron’s wife left him - Ron and Dan blamed their youngest brother Allen’s wife Brenda, for criticising their religious views and encouraging Ron’s wife to leave. 

When members of the School of Prophets, Ron claimed he was receiving  messages from God about removing certain people from society. He went on to specifically claim the messages were about Brenda - he suggested God was commanding him to perform ritual murders of Brenda and her baby, and two others named Chloe Low and Richard Stowe. Low and Stowe evaded being murdered as the brothers were caught prior to being able to carry them out. On sharing the revelations with the other Church members, they renounced the idea of murder and the brothers quit the church. 

The brothers brually murdered Brenda Lafferty and baby Erica, who was 15-months-old. On July 24, 1984, Brenda Lafferty was found on the floor at her home with her throat slit - she had been strangled with a vacuum cord beforehand. Erica was found in her cot having suffered an identical fate. Lafferty and Lafferty were suspected of the murders following their reveal about receiving messages from God. Solid evidence then came in the form of a note detailing their plan, and a trial ensued.

Where are Ron and Dan Lafferty now? 

Dan Lafferty is still alive, serving a double life sentence in Utah’s state prison. Ron Lafferty died in prison of natural causes in 2019.  

Dan Lafferty’s trial took place in January 1985, and he initially took responsibility for both murders. Representing himself in court, he was found guilty of a double first-degree murder charge among other crimes, and given 2 life sentences. 

Prior to Ron Lafferty’s 1985 hearing, he attempted to take his own life in prison. When released from hospital after the failed attempt, he stood trial and was sentenced to death. He chose to be executed by firing squad, but this was eventually overturned and he spent 20 years on death row before dying from natural causes. 

Ron Lafferty being escorted from prison during his trial for the murder of Brenda and Erica Lafferty

(Image credit: Getty)

What happened to Dianna Lafferty?

Ron’s former wife Dianna Lafferty left him and moved to Florida with their six children. She became increasingly frightened by his religious extremism, and fled to safety.

A Florida native, Dianna met when Ron when he was on a mission in Florida. They married when his mission was complete, and moved to Ron’s home of Utah. They raised their 6 children in an area called Highland, near Ron’s younger brother Allen and his wife Brenda. 

Encouraged by Dan to take a more fundamentalist view of their faith, Ron wanted a polygamous marriage, and became abusive - he believed rules imposed by the government did not apply to Mormon men. He believed pious Mormon’s only lived by God’s law which was made clear to them in other ways.

Scared, Dianna asked Brenda, along with Richard Stowe and Chloe Low, for guidance - the latter two were leaders in the Mormon church. They advised her to seek divorce from Ron, financially supporting her until the divorce was finalised.  

Her current whereabouts remain unknown, although it is widely speculated she remains in Florida.

Is Robin Lafferty still alive?

Robin is actually based on Lafferty brother Mark, and Mark Lafferty is alive and living with his wife Lanna, in Utah

In the TV show, Robin Lafferty is depicted as a Lafferty brother, and is one of the first to be interrogated when Brenda and Erica are found dead. However, as none of the Lafferty brothers are named Robin, it is thought he is based on another brother close to Ron and Dan - Mark Lafferty. Besides Mark, the remaining brothers are called Watson Jr., and Tim.

All of the brothers, apart from Allen, joined the School of the Prophets. However, Mark was said to be increasingly worried about his brothers’ behaviour, and warned authorities they were planning attacks on innocent people. Although Robin is arrested in the show, Mark was not arrested or connected to the murders in real life.

Seth Numrich as Robin Lafferty in Under The Banner of Heaven

(Image credit: Landmark Media/Alamy)

What does ‘Under The Banner of Heaven’ mean? 

According to The Cinemaholic, “Under the Banner of Heaven”’ is drawn from an address given by John Taylor, the third president of the LDS. Taylor stated “God is greater than the United States, and when the Government conflicts with heaven, we will be ranged under the banner of heaven against the Government”.

He was angry that US laws outlawed polygamy, asserting that God says differently. Proclaiming to fight against this, and other man made laws clashing with his Mormon views, Taylor suggested he was protecting heaven from the government. In protecting those so-called rights and interests, Mormons are working under the banner of heaven.

Jon Krakauer had no role in the TV show adaption, but did spend a lot of time interviewing Dan Lafferty, who gave his time willingly. The thorough interviews provided a solid basis to build the book around accurately. His website states he wrote the book to “cast some light on Lafferty and his ilk”, for what it tells readers “about the roots of brutality, perhaps, but even more for what might be learned about the nature of faith”.

Will there be a season 2 of Under The Banner of Heaven?

Under The Banner of Heaven hasn’t been renewed for a second season, and it appears unlikely that it would be. Events of the book were adapted for the screen, and there is no second book.

With one Lafferty brother dead and one remaining in prison, the murders of Brenda and Erica were solved, and punishments delivered accordingly. With the ending wrapped up neatly, and no further story relating to the Lafferty family to follow up on, there is no story to form the basis of a further season.

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Lucy Wigley
Parenting writer - contributing

Lucy is a mum-of-two, multi-award nominated writer and blogger with six years’ of experience writing about parenting, family life, and TV. Lucy has contributed content to PopSugar and In the last three years, she has transformed her passion for streaming countless hours of television into specialising in entertainment writing. There is now nothing she loves more than watching the best shows on television and sharing why you - and your kids - should watch them.