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Ex-husband charged with murder of woman found dead in bathtub

By Pat Reavy | Posted - Apr 25th, 2013 @ 6:47pm


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SALT LAKE CITY — John Brickman Wall, who for two years has been a person of interest in the death of his ex-wife, Uta von Schwedler, was arrested and charged Thursday with murder.

"The arrest of John Wall for the murder of Uta von Schwedler is a long-awaited moment for those who loved Uta in their quest for justice," the family wrote in a prepared statement.

"The von Schwedler family and friends of Uta are grateful for the unflagging determination and efforts of the Salt Lake City Police Department and the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office. We are confident that because of these dedicated professionals, justice will ultimately be served," the letter stated.

Wall, 49, was charged in 3rd District Court with criminal homicide and aggravated burglary, both first-degree felonies. He was arrested early Thursday as he drove to work.

"Our office has never given up on this case. And I know in a conversation with (Salt Lake City Police) Chief (Chris) Burbank nearly a year ago, he had not given up on it neither," said Salt Lake District Attorney Sim Gill.

Salt Lake City police detective Mike Hamideh said a traffic stop was initiated at 875 E. 900 South about 8:20 a.m. Law enforcement officers with an arrest warrant in hand, took Wall into custody without incident. Hamideh said investigators working with the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office had planned on arresting Wall away from his home so his children were not present.

Wall's three children who were living with him at the time, and who have been at the center of custody battles, were taken into protective custody by their guardian ad litem. After Wall's arrest, Salt Lake police executed a search warrant on his residence, 676 S. 1200 East. Wall was being held in the Salt Lake County Jail Thursday on $1.5 million bail.

Ever since her body was found in an overflowing bathtub in her house, 1433 East Harrison Ave. (1625 South) on Sept. 27, 2011, von Schwedler's family has been vocal about their belief that Wall was responsible for her death. Pelle Wall, 18, the oldest son of Wall and von Schwedler, said he believed his father killed his mother.

Gill said Thursday that the charges were based on the evidence and not public pressure.

"It is the evidence that drives this. This has been a very difficult investigation," he said.

For the past several months, the DA's homicide team and homicide detectives from the Salt Lake City Police Department ve worked together to investigate the case.

"This is something that people have worked, just like difficult cases are supposed to be done. They require a diligent commitment, persistence and critical examination of everything, and that sometimes is hard work," Gill said. "This is how police work is supposed to be done. This is how you take on complex matters."

Timeline:
  • 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.

The case

Initially, investigators questioned whether von Schwedler's death was a suicide or homicide. The Utah State Medical Examiner's Office determined the cause of death was drowning, but also that she had a "fatal or near fatal amount of Xanax in her body," according to charging documents. The medical examiner said at the time, the manner of death "could not be determined." They also noted there were no signs of forced entry into the house.

Family members, however, insisted that von Schwedler did not commit suicide and said that the 49-year-old University of Utah researcher did not take prescription medication.

Investigators found evidence of a struggle in von Schwedler's bedroom, according to court records. They found blood in several areas on the bed. A blood pattern expert determined, "Uta struggled with another person in the bedroom and on her bed prior to her death," charging documents stated.

According to charging documents, DNA found under von Schwedler's fingernails could not rule Wall out as a suspect. And a mixture of Wall's DNA was found on the pillow in von Schwedler's bedroom.

"The things that are important are the DNA evidence, the blood evidence, and there's some other evidence that we have that we have not made part of our probable cause (statement)," Gill said.

In earlier reports from court documents, search warrants and the medical examiner, incomplete footprints in blood were found on the floor leading away from the bedroom. Blood was also found on the edge of a sink and windowsill in the bathroom.

Fresh scratches were found on von Schwedler's eyes and face.

Wall, a doctor, wrote a prescription for 30 Xanax tablets for his mother in May of 2011 and filled the prescription himself, according to court documents, but he did not document any patient-client relationship prior to writing the prescription.

Some of the biggest red flags for von Schwedler's family, however, were raised by Wall himself in his words and actions.


It is the evidence that drives this. This has been a very difficult investigation.

–Sim Gill


In an interview with police following his ex-wife's death, Wall said, "Only a monster would do what was done to Uta. If it was me, I don't remember," charging documents state.

Wall went to work the day with a bad eye injury on the day von Schwedler's body was found, according to a search warrant. He was told to leave work to get his eye checked, but instead went to a car wash business. Employees told detectives that Wall seemed "agitated and acted strangely," the warrant states. He told them to clean a 3-inch by 6-inch pink colored stain on the carpet behind the driver's seat.

Pelle Wall said in court documents that when he and his siblings awoke early on the morning of Sept. 27, their father and his car were not at home. Later that afternoon, Wall "observed a scratch across Dr. Wall's eye and blood in the conjunctiva," court records state.

When Pelle Wall filed a petition in court to have his siblings removed from his father's house, he revealed that he was so fearful of his father after his mother's death that he slept with a knife under his pillow.

More questioning

After John Wall was questioned the first time by police, he returned home that night and "his demeanor was frightening," his son said in the petition. "He rocked back and forth, cried, and was emotionally out of control, crying, 'I want my mom.'"

According to the petition, he further 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?"

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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.

While visiting his father at 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.

Prior to her death, Wall and von Schwedler had been involved in a bitter divorce in 2006. Wall told several people prior to her death that she was ruining his life and that "she was to blame for his problems," according to court records. On another occasion, Wall said he would be OK "if Uta wasn't around anymore," according to to the charges.

After von Schwedler's death, the court battles continued between the embattled Wall and members of von Schwedler's family, including his own children. When Pelle Wall turned 18, he moved out of his father's house and filed a petition to have his three siblings removed from the house until the investigation into his father was completed.

Hamideh emphasized Thursday that his office never gave up on the investigation.

"A case like this is a big case. We do it methodically," he said.

And even though there was a period where there seemed to be no police action happening publicly, "This is a perfect example of no homicide is ever closed," Hamideh said. "It was never not active."

Contributing: Andrew Adams

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