Custody returned to man investigated in ex-wife's death

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SALT LAKE CITY — Two children of a Salt Lake man being investigated in the death of his ex-wife have been returned to him after they had been removed from the house for about seven months.

Late last week, 3rd District Juvenile Court Judge Charles Behrens granted a motion to return the two younger children of John Brickman Wall to the custody of their father under a transition plan. The children are 12 and 13 years old. Wall's 17-year-old daughter "will remain in temporary custody consistent with prior court orders," according to court spokeswoman Nancy Volmer.

Because child protection matters are confidential, and because a gag order has been placed on the primary parties, little information has been released about the ongoing child custody arrangements.

The children were part of a custody battle in a bitter 2006 divorce between Wall, 49, and his ex-wife, 48-year-old Uta von Schwedler. Since von Schwedler's mysterious death in 2011, the couple's four children have become entangled in a bitter legal battle.

Von Schwedler was found dead in her overflowing bathtub on Sept. 27, 2011. Because of the mysterious circumstances surrounding her death, the state medical examiner was not able to determine if the death was the result of a homicide or a suicide.

The couple's oldest son, Pelle Wall, 18, is convinced his mother was killed by his father. In court documents, he said he was "so fearful for his physical safety around his father (after his mother's death) he has, on occasion, armed himself with knives." He moved out of his father's house when he turned 18 and later filed a petition in court to have his siblings removed from the house, saying he was concerned about their safety and that they were "suffering physical, emotional or development injury or damage."

  • 2006: After a divorce, a custody battle ignites between Utah von Schwedler and her ex-husband, John Wall.
  • Sept. 2011: Von Schwedler files for a custody evaluator in court.
  • Sept. 27, 2011: Von Schwedler is found dead in her bathtub.
  • May 2012: Pelle Wall, von Schwedler's and Wall's son, files a petition in court asking that his siblings be removed from Wall's home.
  • June 21, 2012: A settlement in the case is reached in a closed hearing in juvenile court. The details were not released, but it involved the removal of the children from the home.
  • July 28, 2012: A communication agreement is reached between Wall and Aimut von Schwedler, who oversees the estate of Uta von Schwedler. Aimut von Schwedler had said her communication with the children had been cut off prior to this date.
  • Dec. 2012: Pelle Wall files a wrongful death suit against John Wall, who countersues for possession of family photo albums.
  • Feb. 2013: Custody of the children is returned to John Wall.

In June of 2011, on the day a hearing was to begin in juvenile court over whether the three remaining siblings should be removed from John Wall's house, the court announced that a settlement had been reached but could not comment on details. Friends of the family confirmed the children had been relocated to an undisclosed location.

In Pelle Wall's original petition, he had asked that his siblings be removed from his father's house while a criminal investigation into whether John Wall had any involvement in his ex-wife's death was completed. Salt Lake police said Thursday their investigation into Von Schwedler's death is still active. They declined to comment about whether John Wall or anybody else was still being investigated as a person of interest.

Police and the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office met in October to discuss the case. The meeting gave prosecutors and opportunity to learn where police were with their investigation. Both sides declined to talk about what was discussed.

Also in court last week, Behrens denied a motion to have Wall undergo a psychological evaluation, finding there was insufficient evidence to justify one.

Pelle Wall said in court documents that in the days following his mother's death, his father made statements to his children such as, "Am I monster?" "How am I supposed to know what I do when I'm asleep?" "What if I did it and I don't remember?" "I loved Uta; I couldn't have done that to her, right?"

Wall also asked his children to stay with him "so he wouldn't jump," court records state. His "extreme emotional distress" continued as his children found him "laying on the bed in a fetal position making strange statements." He was eventually admitted to the University Neuropsychiatric Institute.

Wall also asked his children to stay with him "so he wouldn't jump," court records state.

While visiting the institute, Pelle Wall said his father made several statements about police and their investigation, including, "If they find my phone there, how can I refute that?" court records state.

Also in last week's court ruling, the judge ruled that the guardian ad litem will take an active role to ensure the best interests of the children are being met. The guardian ad litem will monitor the children in their home placements.

Von Schwedler's sister, the administrator of her estate and other members of Von Schwedler's family have previously complained that Wall would not allow the children to communicate with them.

Another hearing is scheduled for May 8.

Meanwhile, the volley of lawsuits between Pelle and John Wall are still pending. John Wall is suing his estranged son for possession of family photo albums. Pelle Wall filed a wrongful death suit against his estranged father in December, claiming that the man had "the motive, opportunity, intent and the stated desire" to end his mother's life.

John Wall has never been arrested in connection with his wife's death.


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Pat Reavy


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