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Police believe Utah sex offender faked his own death
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Norman Deem disappeared sometime in May, leaving behind only a car, a shotgun and two clothing items stained with a reddish brown substance that initially looked to be blood. Police found those items on the banks of the Jordan River in Midvale near 7800 South, with his unlocked car parked only a few yards away.

Initially, it looked like a suicide. But investigators are now starting to wonder if Deem, a convicted sex offender who was staring down a lengthy prison sentence on child pornography convictions, may have instead staged an elaborate fake demise to avoid his fate.

Deem's family, though, believes he is dead.

"I do not believe he is alive," said Deem's father, Douglas Deem on Tuesday. "In either case, we do not know where he is."

Disappearance • According to search warrants filed by the Unified Police Department, Deem hasn't surfaced since his car and sparse belongings were found in Midvale in the morning of May 12.

Officers first responded to a walkway in Midvale where a caller reported seeing a shotgun lying near the river. As they inspected the scene, they found a blue Brigham Young University baseball cap and a single right shoe lying nearby. The shotgun had a spent shell casing inside the chamber. In a parking lot nearby, investigators found a car that they were able to trace back to the family of Norman Deem.

After delving into a national crime database, they found that Deem had been listed with the Kaysville Police Department as a "suicidal person awaiting sentencing," and that he had made prior contact with a suicide hotline. The sentencing was set for June 3 in Davis County for a conviction of two counts of exploitation of a minor after police found evidence that he had been viewing child pornography.

Just a few days before his disappearance, Kaysville Police had arrested Deem for failure to register as a sex offender. He had been splitting his time between living with his wife in Kaysville and his parent's house in West Jordan, according to the warrant.

At first, police began investigating Deem's disappearance as a suicide, thinking he shot himself by the river and that the water carried his body away. But, according to the warrant, police are now suspicious that Deem might still be alive and on the run somewhere.

UPD Lt. Justin Hoyal said they don't have enough to rule out that theory. At the scene where the shotgun was discovered, there was no blood, tissue or bone fragments that would usually be present in a suicide-by-shotgun scenario.

Also, after securing a warrant to search the car Deem had been driving, police found several receipts from purchases at grocery and hardware stores going back as far as 90 days. Detectives also found a map book in the car, with dog-eared pages for the states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. Deem also left behind his wallet with a temporary driver license and credit cards still inside, according to the warrant.

Hoyal said that investigators also found evidence on Deems's phone that he had been to the same spot by the Jordan River three days before he disappeared. Hoyal also noted that Kaysville Police are the ones actively investigating the missing person report on Deem. The only thing UPD is concerned about is what happened by the river on May 12.

"There's not enough evidence that somebody did take their life, and he's missing," Hoyal said.

Hoyal acknowledged the possibility that Deem could be dead, but investigators still haven't found a body to rule out any other scenario. In mid-July, investigators did find a man's body that washed up at the Jordan River near Draper, but forensic testing confirmed that it was another man.

Last contact • According to Deem's father, his son would have had to plan for a long time to succeed in faking his death, but the circumstances suggested Deem only would have had a motive to leave his life behind in the days before he disappeared.

The last time Douglas Deem spoke to his son was the day before his arrest in Kaysville for not registering as a sex offender. At that time, his son seemed optimistic about the future just a little more than a week before he disappeared. In a plea deal Deem struck in the child pornography case, prosecutors dropped eight of the 10 exploitation charges that after his son's arrest in May, the prospect of another possible prison sentence hanging over him became too much. That's when Douglas Deem thinks his son decided to end his life, something Deem had attempted twice before.

Deem's father said it's hard to know exactly why police would think his son might still be alive, mostly because he and his wife aren't kept in the loop.

"The only thing we've been told is that it's suspicious," Douglas Deem said.

It seems the courts still believe that Deem is alive. After failing to appear for his June 3 sentencing, a district judge in Davis County reset the hearing to July 8. When Deem didn't show up a second time, the judge issued a no-bail warrant for his arrest. Deem is also wanted on a separate no-bail warrant for not making his court date on his charge of failing to register as a sex offender.

kbennion@sltrib.com

Twitter: @KimballBennion

For officers, scene on bank of Jordan River doesn't add up, but his family thinks he's dead.
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