SALT LAKE CITY — Was it murder or suicide? Or something else?
That's the question Salt Lake City police investigators have been trying to answer for the past five months since the body of 49-year-old Uta von Schwedler was found in her bathtub.
Friends and family members said they have never believed it was a suicide.
"No. Never, ever, ever," her sister, Almut von Schwedler, said. "No chance."
Those closest to her said the scientist and Huntsman Cancer Institute researcher worked only part time because she wanted to make time for her children.
"She wanted to be at the bus stop to pick her kids up after school," her boyfriend, Nils Abramson, said.
In September, she was preparing to go on a trip to California with her two youngest children to celebrate Octoberfest. She had already purchased plane tickets and talked to her friend in California on the phone about 11:30 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 26.
But the next evening, von Schwedler was found dead in her bathtub.
The cause of death listed on a report by the Office of the Utah State Medical Examiner was drowning. But the manner of death was left as, "could not be determined."
The autopsy left open the possibility that von Schwedler's death could have been a homicide or suicide.
Family members and friends are convinced von Schwedler did not take her own life.
"She didn't commit suicide. People that are happy with their lives and have plans for the future and have no mental health issues and changes in emotional work habits, don't generally kill themselves," Abramson said. "Normally, people don't make plans for the future and then spur of the moment kill themselves. ... It just wasn't in Uta's makeup. That's not something that would ever ever cross her mind. It would be completely against her beliefs as far as what you should do with your life."
Abramson believes his girlfriend of two years was murdered.
The autopsy report concludes that von Schwedler's death had consistencies of "a suicide caused by drowning." But because of questionable injuries also found on her body, "leave some question as to the exact scenario under which her death occurred."
After von Schwedler's body was removed from the tub, a knife was found under her body, according to the autopsy report. Blood was found in her bedroom, on the edge of a sink and window sill in the bathroom.
"There were also incomplete footprints in blood on the floor of the residence leading away from the bedroom," the medical examiner's report states.
"Sharp force injuries" were found on von Schwedler's left wrist and left leg "not typical of self-inflicted wounds seen in the setting of suicide."
While the Medical Examiner's Office noted the injuries could have been self-inflicted, "They would also be consistent with defensive injuries sustained in the setting of a struggle with an assailant."
Another injury was discovered on her neck that could have been caused by a fall, "but could also be the result of applied force in the course of an assault," according to the medical examiner's report.
A toxicology report also found elevated levels of Xanax in von Schwedler's system. But the report noted that she did not have a prescription for the drug and the source of the medication was unknown.
Abramson said von Schwedler was not a person who took Xanax.
"She had no mental health issues, she did not take anti-depressants or anti-anxiety drugs. She was an overly healthy, fit, 49-year-old woman," he said. "It's not something she would have taken."
Almut von Schwedler also knew her sister did not take any prescription medication. The idea that some believe that Uta von Schwedler may have committed suicide "makes the back of my hair stand on end," she said
Because she was a scientist, Almut von Schwedler said if her sister was going to commit suicide, "she would have done it some other way that was quick and efficient."
She also would never have taken her youngest child's photo album in the bathtub with her, which was found floating in the water next to her body, Almut von Schwedler said.
Each of Uta's children had a photo album with both pictures and memorabilia from their early years. Possession of the albums was reportedly a "bone of contention" between her and her ex-husband, Almut von Schwedler said.
Salt Lake City police are continuing to investigate the case, but are revealing very little about what they've found. Police are calling von Schwedler's death "suspicious" but have not gone so far as to label it a homicide, suicide or perhaps accidental death.
"If we can't satisfy the questions we have, the case doesn't get cleared out," Salt Lake police detective John Ashdown said.
In 2006, John Brickman Wall filed for divorce from Uta van Schwedler, according to Utah State court documents.
In 2008, Wall filed a protective order against von Schwedler and tried to have it applied to the children. However, the petition for a child protective order was denied and dismissed and a judge ordered Wall and von Schwedler to attend "high conflict divorce class," according to court records.
Prior to her death, Abramson said von Schwedler was in the process of trying to rework their custody arrangement. She and Wall, a pediatrician, had shared visitation after their divorce.
After her death, Almut von Schwedler, who lives in Australia, was appointed to be in charge of her sister's estate.
In October, Almut von Schwedler filed a motion in Third District Court for a guardian ad litem to be appointed for the children. The request was made on behalf of von Schwedler's oldest son, who recently turned 18 and moved out of his father's house.
She said the children were not allowed to have contact with her or their mother's side of the family. The only emails Almut von Schwedler said she could get to the children were ones that she sent to friends of the children.
Wall filed a motion opposing the request.
In the courtroom Wednesday, Wall and his attorney sat at one table while his oldest son sat behind an attorney at another table. The courtroom was packed with friends and neighbors of Uta von Schwedler who were there to support the children. Initially, every audience member wanted to sit on the son's side of the room until attorneys told them it was OK to use the pews on both sides of the aisle.
Third District Judge Ryan Harris said requesting a guardian ad litem in a probate case was highly unusual and continuously questioned attorney Deacon Haymond as to why a third attorney needed to be brought into the mix.
"I'm not seeing what's not happening that needs to happen. What are the roadblocks?" he asked.
It was a sentiment shared by Wall's attorney.
"Dr. Wall has no conflict of interest with his children," he said.
Haymond said having an appointed guardian ad litem would provide a "measure of comfort" for children.
When Wall's attorney argued there had been no problem with the children communicating with Almut, there were audible groans from audience members that prompted the bailiff to tell them they would be removed from the room if they continued.Comment on this story
"I think these children need to have a referee," said Rebecca Skordas who was seeking appointment as guardian.
Harris denied the motion, choosing instead to issue a court order that the children be allowed reasonable contact with Almut von Schwedler, and if they weren't, then Wall would be held in contempt of court.
"At the end of the day, I just don't see that a guardian ad litem is needed," Harris said.