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SPANISH FORK — For months, the family of Kristi Price Maxwell has remained quiet while authorities investigated her death.
That investigation is now closed and her death has been labeled "inconclusive." But hints from the autopsy are enough to convince family members that she was murdered.
And now they want to clear her name.
"I think that mostly we want people to not be under the assumption that she took her own life or died of a drug overdose. She didn't die of natural causes. She was young, she was healthy, she was vibrant. She was a person who should be alive with us today and she was taken viciously," said Colleen Davis, Maxwell's sister.
"Kristi lost her life and her voice on July 17 and we, her family, have been the only ones to be her voice of what happened to her and it is important for people to know."
Maxwell, 47, was found dead in her Orangeville home. Tension between her and her husband, Richard Maxwell, 55, had been growing and family members say she was preparing to leave him. On July 17, when family members hadn't heard from her all day, they called Emery County sheriff's deputies to conduct a welfare check.
When they arrived, they found toothpicks jammed into the keyholes of the doors, Davis said. After they were able to get inside, they found Richard Maxwell holding a gun under his chin, according to a search warrant. As a deputy yelled to the family to get out, a gunshot was heard. Backup was called and Richard Maxwell was taken to a hospital to be treated for a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his chest.
Kristi Maxwell's body was discovered in a bedroom. Investigators told the family she had been dead for 12 to 18 hours.
But the initial autopsy report from the Utah State Medical Examiner's Office was inconclusive pending the outcome of toxicology tests. Because of that, deputies did not arrest Richard Maxwell.
A couple of days after being released from the hospital, Maxwell shot and killed himself on Aug. 8.
The family says the final medical examiner's report was completed last month. And it too was inconclusive about Kristi Maxwell's death.
"Manner of death: could not be determined. Immediate cause of death: Undetermined causes," the autopsy states.
But, the report also stops just short of officially declaring Maxwell's death a homicide.
"The positioning of the body and events during the welfare check are strongly suggestive that a homicidal act had taken place," the report states.
None of the injuries found on Maxwell's body would have been life threatening, according to the report. But the autopsy also noted: "An asphyxial event, such as smothering, cannot be totally excluded as causing this death."
Maxwell's family believes she was smothered to death.
Furthermore, the toxicology test came back as negative, meaning there were no traceable amounts of drugs in her system.
For the family of Kristi Maxwell, they hope the autopsy report will now put an end to months of speculation by Emery County residents about what happened, and that the family can finally start the process of healing.
"In honesty, there will never be a complete closure. But I think with what we have … will come as close to getting a closure as we'd hope to expect," Don Price, Kristi Maxwell's father, said of the medical examiner's report. "We can stop picking at this scab now and let it heal."
In the small town of Orangeville, located outside of Price, rumors began to spread almost immediately after the woman's death, according to family members.
"And that happened in this case very quickly. And it went everywhere from she was shot, to suicide, to murder, to drugs, to whatever. And it was never really cleared up by the authorities," said James Davis, Colleen Davis' husband. "In that small of a community, things never end, it continues to simmer."
Both the Emery County attorney and sheriff's offices initially declined to release information about Maxwell's death. By not releasing a statement, the family believes the rumors were allowed to continue.
"The community down there is divided in their opinions. There's those that believe that Kristi was murdered. Then there are those who believe that she had to have died of natural causes or suicide or overdose or something like that because Max couldn't have done anything like that," said Colleen Davis.
Karen Ward, another sister of Kristi Maxwell, said she still has people on a regular basis come up to her and say things like, "Oh, I guess we'll never know."
"We basically do know," Davis said. "We've known all along. The family has known all along."
"And the medical examiner has pretty much proven it," Ward added.
The medical examiner's report states that Maxwell's pants and underwear had been cut and her shirt pulled up when her body was found. She had small scrapes on her upper lip and nose and several on her right arm, including a "puncture injury" on her right forearm. There was also bruising on the top of her head.
The family says they were also told that hair was found in her hand. They believe the wounds show that she "fought for her life."
"She fought tremendously to live, and he killed her anyway," said Janice Price, Kristi Maxwell's mother. "Things that we had no idea happened to her, we read in the medical examiner's report. We want her name cleared."
Maxwell also had a history of aneurysms, but the report indicates that none were found during the autopsy.
'The most giving, loving person'
The family hopes their months of frustration can now be put to rest and they can concentrate on remembering their loved one.
At Davis' house in Spanish Fork, nearly 20 stockings were hung near a Christmas tree with the names of all the siblings, children and grandchildren. Davis recalled her sister's extremely giving nature.
"Kristi was like the most giving, loving person," she said.
Maxwell used to own a bridal boutique in Casper, Wyoming. When it closed, she brought all her dresses and materials to her house in Orangeville. Davis said she would often help women and girls who needed a wedding or prom dress but couldn't afford one, handing out $1,500 dresses whether they were rich or poor and treating them like "princesses."
"She would take them into her house and let them try them on with her three-way mirrors," Davis recalled. "She said every woman deserved to have their day and pick their dress."
"She was always cheerful and upbeat — always. And always had a smile, even though it was forced, she always smiled," Don Price said.