New billboards, website mark 1-year death of U. researcher

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 11 2012 4:00 p.m. MDT

A billboard concerning Uta von Schwedler, who was found dead in the bathtub of her Salt Lake home in September, is displayed near 1300 East and 700 South Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012, in Salt Lake City.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — The billboard says: "Help solve the mystery of my death."

Next to the words is a photo of University of Utah scientist Uta von Schwedler and the dates April 13, 1962 — Sept. 27, 2011. Two of those billboards were recently posted in Salt Lake City. One is located on the corner of 1300 East and 700 South — less than two blocks away from the home of von Schwedler's ex-husband, John Brickman Wall.

The billboards and a new website, www.justiceforuta.com, have been established on the eve of the 1-year anniversary of von Schwedler's questionable death.

"It's hard to believe it's been a year since her death, and there's been no arrests and her case is still being investigated," family friend Amy Oglesby said Tuesday. "So many unanswered questions ... The ripple of chaos is enormous."

The billboards and website were set up by a group called the Friends of Uta Committee.

"It's been very difficult for her family and friends to still not know what happened that night. This is an attempt to mobilize anyone who might know anything about the case," said Robert Schlaberg, a co-worker and friend of von Schwedler.

Both Oglesby and Schlaberg said the past year has been difficult and frustrating.

"It's hard to believe that a case like this cannot be solved," he said.

Often times, a case goes cold because people who have information that could help police don't step forward, wrongly believing they'd just be interfering with the police investigation, Oglesby said.

"It's my personal belief that there are a lot of people out there who know things. ... People have been afraid to come forward," she said. "It looks like this is not going to be solved without people coming forward."

As for the placement of one of the billboards near Wall's house, Oglesby said the hope was that "the people who may have information about Uta's death would see that billboard."

On Sept. 27, 2011, von Schwedler, 49, was found dead in an overflowing bathtub in her house with the water still running. The medical examiner was unable to determine whether the death was the result of a homicide or a suicide.

A knife was found underneath von Schwedler's body and photo albums of her children were in the tub with her. A high level of Xanax was found in her system, which family members insist she never took. Defensive cuts were found on her arms and legs as well as bruising on her neck and lips, according to the website. Blood was found in her bedroom, on the edge of a sink and windowsill in the bathroom as well as bloody footprints leading away from the bedroom.

Questions were raised almost immediately about the reportedly odd behavior of Wall following his ex-wife's death. According to court documents, he allegedly 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.

Investigators and co-workers noticed scratches on Wall's eye and his forearms the day after von Schwedler's body was discovered. His eye injury was bad enough that co-workers told him to go home and get it checked. But instead of a doctor, police say Wall's first stop was to get the interior of his car cleaned.

Von Schwedler and Wall were divorced in 2006. But a bitter custody battle regarding their four children persisted up until the time she was found dead.

But while some friends and family members are convinced that von Schwedler was murdered — and they blame Wall — Salt Lake police have remained tight-lipped about the case, restating Tuesday that their investigation remains active with nothing new to report.

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