Murder or suicide? Investigation continues in death of scientist

Published: Friday, Feb. 17 2012 7:00 p.m. MST

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."

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