Utah man charged with murder nearly 30 years after he told police wife died by suicide

In 1995, Keith Klingenberg told a 911 dispatcher that his wife had died by suicide. The case was reopened in 2016.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Lance Street in West Valley City, the street on which Keith Klingenberg and his wife lived in 1995, shown on Wednesday, May 24, 2023. Nearly 30 years after Klingenberg called police to report that his wife had died by suicide in their home, Klingenberg was charged with first-degree murder in connection with her death Wednesday.

A Utah man has been charged with first-degree murder in the 1995 death of his wife, the Salt Lake County district attorney’s office announced Wednesday, nearly 30 years after her death.

When Bernadean Klingenberg died on June 11, 1995, Keith Klingenberg told a 911 dispatcher that she had died by suicide by slashing her own throat, prosecutors said.

At the time, a medical examiner ruled her manner of death as “undetermined.” But in 2016, West Valley City police and the district attorney’s office jointly reopened the case as a homicide investigation.

The case was reopened based on statements Keith Klingenberg made when he called 911, witness information, and further analysis of the scene by experts, prosecutors said in a news release announcing the murder charge.

Klingenberg was taken into custody Wednesday after charging documents were filed, a spokesperson for the district attorney’s office said. He was booked into Salt Lake County jail Wednesday afternoon, records show.

The 911 call

Keith Klingenberg was 40 years old when he called 911 at about 1:30 p.m. on June 11, 1995, to report that his wife, Bernadean, had died by suicide in their West Valley City home, according to charging documents filed Wednesday.

During the call, Klingenberg told dispatchers that his wife wasn’t conscious, but also said she was fighting with him and trying to get up — an inconsistency noted in the charging documents.

When paramedics arrived seven minutes later, they noticed several more inconsistencies, charging documents state. First, they saw that Bernadean was dead and had likely been dead for some time, even though Klingenberg had told dispatchers that she had died while paramedics were on their way.

Klingenberg also walked out of the room where his wife was as paramedics entered without asking any questions about her condition, they noticed. The medical examiner later determined Bernadean died between 11:15 a.m. and 12:15 p.m., at least an hour before Klingenberg called 911, charging documents state.

The day of her death, Klingenberg told detectives that he had been out of the house playing softball. He said he came home and found Bernandean in their bedroom on their bed with two knives lying next to her. He called 911 right away, he said, and performed CPR on her, charging documents state.

Other than breathing into his wife’s mouth, he did not disturb the scene, he said.

Forensic investigators who processed Keith documented that he had blood marks on his chest, hands, legs, ankles, and the shorts he was wearing, charging documents state.

West Valley City Police closed the case as a suicide, but Bernadean Klingenberg’s daughter gave a statement in 1995 and again in 2018 saying her mother was not suicidal, charging documents state.

The night before she died, Bernadean had also told her daughter that she was planning on leaving her husband, the daughter told investigators.

Reopening the case

As of Wednesday, Bernadean Klingenberg’s case was still listed in the state’s cold case database as an “unsolved homicide.” The database says she was 44 when she died, and had brown hair and brown eyes. No photo of her is included with the entry.

When investigators reopened the case in 2016, all evidence related to Bernadean Klingenberg’s death was re-examined by new West Valley City detectives, as well as a blood spatter analyst from the Utah State Crime Lab.

The analyst found blood evidence in an upstairs bathroom, even though there was no evidence that Bernadean Klingenberg had gone into the bathroom after she was injured. Instead, the analyst believed that the blood evidence there was consistent with someone attempting to clean up.

Klingenberg told investigators that he never went into the bathroom and never did anything to clean himself off in there, charging documents state.

The blood spatter analyst also determined that the two knives found near Bernadean Klingenberg’s body had been laid on the bathroom counter at some point, based on the blood pattern left behind, which contradicted her husband’s statements.

The analyst ultimately concluded that Keith Klingenberg had straddled his wife around the time of her death, based on the blood pattern in the bedroom and blood found on the husband’s body, charging documents state. The re-examined evidence was consistent with a homicide, not suicide.

The medical examiner who performed Bernadean’s autopsy documented 10 stabbing and incising injuries on her neck and torso. He also determined that the “degree of physical control” with which the wounds were made would have been unlikely to maintain during a suicidal act, the document states.

“It would be pretty damn hard to do to yourself,” then-West Valley police Capt. Steve Schreeve said in 1995, according to an archived issue of The Salt Lake Tribune. He called it a “suspicious death,” and said there were no signs of forced entry to the home.

The medical examiner also documented defensive wounds on Bernadean’s palm and fingers. But at the time, he classified her manner of death as “undetermined,” with further investigation pending.

“The defendant stabbed his wife multiple times, cut her throat and modified the crime scene to make it appear as if his wife had committed suicide,” prosecutors said in charging documents.

In a statement Wednesday, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill acknowledged that 28 years “is a long time to wait for justice.” But he said his office “will always seek justice for victims.”

“We hope this helps Bernadean’s loved ones begin to find a sense of closure in her death,” Gill added.

On Wednesday afternoon, West Valley City police also released a statement on the case, noting Keith Klingenberg’s arrest was “nearly 30 years in the making.”

“A job well done to the team of investigators who have spent years putting together the pieces of this complicated puzzle in an effort to bring justice for Bernadean,” the statement concluded.

Correction • May 26, 9:27 a.m.: This story has been updated to correct Bernadean Klingenberg’s eye color.