Andrew Garfield as Detective Pyre.

Is ‘Under the Banner of Heaven’ Based on a True Story?

Murderinos and other true crime aficionados rejoice! The television mini-series adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s epic true crime book Under the Banner of Heaven is coming to FX and Hulu this spring. Krakauer is known for his book Into the Wild, and the feature film inspired by it that made Emile Hirsch a household name. 

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This series will follow Andrew Garfield as Detective Pyre, a Mormon police detective trying to solve the brutal murder of a woman and her infant child. Daisy Edgar Jones (Normal People) will play Brenda Lafferty, the murdered woman. Sam Worthington (Avatar) and Wyatt Russell (US Agent in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier) will play Ron and Dan Lafferty, the two brothers who conspired to kill her because of their connections to a zealous splinter sect of Mormonism known as the School of Prophets.

Is it based on a true story?

Short answer: yes. The show is a dramatization of the nonfiction true crime book Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by author and journalist Jon Krakauer. It was first published in 2003 and has received critical acclaim. In the book, Krakauer juxtaposes two histories: the 1984 double murder committed by the Lafferty brothers “in the name of God” and the violent origins and evolution of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The book looks for the parallels and intersections between the origins of the LDS church (and when it was forced to abandon its polygamy practices) and the decision by the Laffertys to murder not just Brenda, the wife of their youngest brother, but also her child.

They disapproved of Brenda and believed she was the reason that Ron’s wife left him (in reality his wife refused to allow him to marry a second wife.) They also claimed to receive “revelations” (direct messages from God) calling for the murder of Brenda and her baby. 

The title comes from an 1880 address by John Taylor (the third president of the LDS Church) defending polygamy: “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. The United States says we cannot marry more than one wife. God says different.”

Under the Banner of Heaven premieres on April 28 2022 on FX and Hulu.

(image: FX/Hulu)

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Brittany Knupper
Brittany is a lifelong Californian (it's a big state, she can't find her way out!) who currently resides in sunny Los Angeles with her gigantic, vaguely cat-shaped companion Gus. If you stumble upon her she might begin proselytizing about Survivor, but give her an iced coffee and she will calm down.