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Search warrant reveals new details in SLC woman's suspicious death

Published May 31, 2012 9:52 am

Police • Carpet, seat cushion seized from car of the victim's ex-husband, affidavit says.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Salt Lake City police are looking for evidence of murder in the case of a University of Utah biologist who died under suspicious circumstances at her Sugar House area home last September, according to a newly unsealed search warrant.

Uta von Schwedler, 49, was found dead at her home in an overflowing bathtub on Sept. 27, 2011. She and her ex-husband had been involved in a bitter custody battle since divorcing in 2006.

The search warrant affidavit indicates police have searched and re-searched the property of von Schwedler's ex-husband, 48-year-old John Brickman Wall.

Police on May 9 impounded Wall's 2010 Subaru Impreza to search it for von Schwedler's blood and possible DNA evidence for a second time in seven months. Police took carpet from the rear left side of the car and also seized a rear seat cushion, according to the affidavit.

The affidavit says that a day after von Schwedler was found dead, officers did a visual search of Wall's car but found no trace evidence. Police also searched Wall's home for any bloody clothes or evidence of a homicide but found none, the affidavit says.

Wall — who had picked up the couple's four children at von Schwedler's home on Sept. 26 — told police he did not recall if he returned to her home later that night, which was the night she died.

When detectives asked him where he was that night, Wall yelled, "I don't know where the f—- I was," according to the affidavit.

During the interview, detectives noticed Wall's eye was bleeding internally and that he had scratches on his forearms. Wall explained that "the dog stepped on him" the previous night, according to the affidavit.

Wall also told police he had his car cleaned at about 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 27 before going to work. A car wash employee later told police that Wall's car was already clean and didn't need a full detailing. He also said he remembered Wall because the man was "agitated and acted strangely," the affidavit says.

Wall had pointed out a 3-by-6-inch pink-colored stain on the carpet behind the driver's seat and asked the employee to give the stain special attention, according to the affidavit. The employee told police he also noticed a stain on the seat cushion just above the carpet stain.

Wall — a pediatrician — then went to work, where co-workers advised him to obtain medical attention for his injured eye. Wall visited an eye doctor in the medical tower, then went home for the rest of the day, the affidavit says.

Witnesses told police that when Wall returned home following his police interview, he was "upset, mentally unstable and threatening suicide," the affidavit says.

Before he was taken to a mental health facility, Wall told a witness that whoever had killed von Schwedler was a "monster," and he added, "If it was me, I don't remember," the affidavit says.

The medical examiner's office has not determined if von Schwedler's death was a homicide or suicide but found the cause of death was drowning.

A knife was in the tub beneath her body, and Xanax was in her system, although she did not have a prescription for the medicine, according to the medical examiner's report.

The report also said there were sharp force injuries to the woman's left wrist and left leg and states that the wounds "are not typical of self-inflicted wounds seen in the setting of a suicide." The wounds could be viewed as defensive injuries if the woman had been struggling with an assailant, according to the report.

Detectives found a "substantial amount" of the woman's blood on the comforter, according to the search warrant affidavit.

Earlier this year, von Schwedler's oldest son, 18-year-old Pelle von Schwedler Wall, told The Salt Lake Tribune that he believes his father killed his mother. The son also filed a petition in 3rd District Juvenile Court seeking to remove his siblings — ages 16, 13 and 11 — from his father's custody.

The son accused his father in court documents of failing to properly care for the three children, as well as inflicting "non-accidental harm, threatened harm and emotional damage."

Von Schwedler Wall told The Tribune that "the most immediate threat is a physical threat ... I thought maybe he would harm them, just like he harmed my mom and killed her."

The children began living exclusively with their father after their mother's death; von Schwedler Wall moved out in January.

The teen said that the last time he saw his mother alive, Wall had picked up him and his siblings from her house on Sept. 26. When von Schwedler tried to talk to Wall about their ongoing custody dispute, he rolled up the window and drove away. Von Schwedler Wall said that a year prior to his mother's death, his dad had told the children that his life would be "better if he never saw Uta again," documents state.

The woman's body was discovered the following day by her boyfriend.

Wall's criminal attorney, G. Fred Metos, has previously noted that despite the son's allegations, no charges have been filed against Wall.

"You would think that if they had some evidence, it would have surfaced by now," Metos said in May.

Metos did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday.

cimaron@sltrib.com

Twitter: @CimCity