DNA evidence helps solve Utah cold-case murder of ‘Maidenwater victim’

Lina Reyes Geddes’ remains were found on the side of a road north of Lake Powell in 1998.

(Utah State Bureau of Investigation) Pictured is Lina Reyes-Geddes, killed in southern Utah in 1998. More than 20 years after her then-unidentified body was discovered, investigators finally believe they know who shot and killed her, then cut off her fingertips.

More than 20 years after the body of 37-year-old Lina Reyes Geddes was found on the side of State Route 276 in southern Utah, wrapped in a sleeping bag, investigators finally believe they know who shot and killed her, then cut off her fingertips:

Her husband, Edward Geddes, who died by suicide in 2001, police announced Wednesday.

Before 2018, Lina Reyes Geddes was known only as the “Maidenwater victim,” the name of a spring near where her body was discovered north of Lake Powell in 1998. All that time, police kept hitting dead ends in the effort to find out who she was, who killed her and why.

But thanks to advances in DNA testing, the Utah Department of Public Safety now considers the cold case murder of Reyes Geddes to be solved.

“To have this answered finally after 24 years is incredible,” agent Brian Davis with the Utah State Bureau of Investigation said during a news conference Wednesday.

Lina’s disappearance

Lina Reyes Geddes was born in Mexico, according to a video titled “Please help — Who am I?” released by the public safety department. She was an accomplished ballerina who had a degree in international business.

In 1996, she met Edward Geddes in New Mexico, and they got married and relocated to Ohio six months later.

(Utah Department of Public Safety) Edward Geddes, left, and his wife, Lina Reyes Geddes, shown in an undated photo. Police said Wednesday that DNA evidence suggests Geddes killed his wife.

On April 8, 1998, Reyes Geddes was about to fly from her home in Youngstown, Ohio, to Mexico by way of Texas to visit her family. She had packed a blue sleeping bag as a gift for her young cousin, her husband said in an interview with police. But she never arrived.

Reyes Geddes’ then-unidentified body was discovered on April 20, 1998, wrapped in a blue sleeping bag, a few garbage bags and a play mat for kids patterned with roads and houses.

She was bound with duct tape as well as several pieces of rope in intricate knots, according to the original investigation report, obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune through a public records request. (Note: The video states that her body was found in June 1998, but the Department of Public Safety said Wednesday that her remains were found in April of that year.)

“The ends of the thumbs and all the fingers had been cut off at a right angle,” the report stated, complicating any efforts to identify her.

The Garfield County Sheriff’s Office said she died after being shot in the head.

A break in the case

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Agent Brian Davis, from the Department of Public Safety, asks for the public’s help identifying a murder victim in a cold case homicide from April 1998, during a news conference, Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018.

The 37-year-old “Maidenwater victim” was finally identified as Lina Reyes Geddes two decades later thanks to one of her tiniest features: a small mole inside the upper arch of her right ear.

It happened after the Utah State Bureau of Investigation reopened the case on Oct. 2, 2018, asking the public for leads.

Twelve days later, a cold-case hobbyist in California called with a tip, suggesting a connection to Reyes Geddes. The woman had seen the post mortem photo that Utah police had posted, and said she’d known about the case in Ohio, where police had recently updated their case.

The mole in the woman’s ear is what caught her eye, the tipster said.

Police put out new posts for information in Texas, trying to find people related to Reyes Geddes. They got a phone call from her sister in Mexico. After a DNA test, detectives confirmed the ID.

Later, the sister traveled to Utah to retrieve Reyes Geddes’ remains and take them back to Mexico. “The biggest thing I longed for was to find her,” she said that day, in the DPS video.

Finding clues in the DNA

With her body identified, police needed a suspect.

When the Utah Department of Public Safety announced the new push in the case in 2018, officers said the only person of interest was convicted serial killer Scott Kimball. He is currently serving a 70-year sentence in a Colorado prison after confessing to four murders committed between 2003 and 2004.

But during the news conference Wednesday, Davis said Kimball had been ruled out as a suspect, and that they’d instead turned their attention to Reyes Geddes’ husband, after people in Ohio started coming forward with information about him that Davis identified as circumstantial “red flags.”

The 37-year-old woman’s family in Mexico had suspected Geddes in her death all along, Davis added. They were convinced he’d done something to her, they just couldn’t prove it.

With improvements in DNA forensics technology, however, authorities could. In 2019, a crime scene investigator for the West Jordan Police Department was able to use a piece of equipment that essentially vacuums up trace DNA to get a sample from one of the ropes that had bound Reyes Geddes’ body.

Private lab Intermountain Forensics analyzed the sample, and found that it was clearly male, Davis said.

However, trying to compare the DNA from the rope to Geddes was impossible because he’d been cremated after he died by suicide in Nevada, Davis said. So, law enforcement obtained DNA samples from three different living relatives of Edward Geddes, and the private lab in Murray along with another private lab, Pure Gold Forensics, confirmed the samples were all a familial match.

There was a problem, though: The sample pulled from the rope was actually two samples, from two separate men, Davis said. When Pure Gold Forensics isolated the two samples, the lab found that one of the samples was from a knot expert that Utah police had consulted in the case. He had inadvertently contaminated the rope with his own DNA, Davis said.

The second sample was apparently from Edward Geddes.

As for why Reyes Geddes was found in Utah — when she was supposed to travel to Texas and then Mexico — police can only speculate, Davis said. One theory is that Geddes left his wife’s body in Utah because he didn’t have any known ties to the area, the agent said, which could make the crime difficult to connect to him.

‘Worth all of the bad stuff’

Being in law enforcement has its challenges, Davis said Wednesday. “These cases are very difficult. ... They’re tough and they can be very disappointing, because you hit a lot more dead ends than you have success.”

But working to solve this cold case, Davis said, along with Detective Sgt. David Sweeney with the Youngstown Police Department in Ohio, has been the most rewarding of his career.

The investigation became personal for the two men, and oftentimes they’d wake each other up as they called from Utah or Ohio to discuss the case.

“When you do get something like this, it’s worth all of the bad stuff, all the hard stuff,” Davis said.