Ex-husband of dead scientist sues for her photo albums

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 20 2012 5:45 p.m. MST

Billboard concerning Uta von Schwedler, who was found dead in the bathtub of her Salt Lake home in September of 2011, taken Sept. 11, 2012, in Salt Lake City.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — A civil lawsuit over photo albums is the latest round of a bitter battle between a father being investigated for his wife's death and his estranged son.

John Wall has filed a civil suit against his 18-year-old son, Pelle Wall, and Almut von Schwedler, the sister of his ex-wife and the curator of his deceased ex-wife's estate. In the lawsuit, Wall not only wants all of the photo albums his ex-wife possessed at the time of her death, but also any copies made of the albums.

Uta von Schwedler, a 49-year-old University of Utah scientist, was found dead in an overflowing bathtub in her home on Sept. 27, 2011. Her cause of death was determined by the medical examiner to be drowning.

Because of many suspicious circumstances found in the home and during her autopsy, the manner of her death — whether it was homicide or suicide — could not be determined.

Many of von Schwedler's friends and family members, including her sister and her oldest son Pelle, believe she was murdered by John Brickman Wall. He has not been charged or even arrested in connection with the death.

Wall and von Schwedler had four children together. They divorced in 2006 and had bitter court battles over custody of their children up until the time of her death.

The court battles continued even after von Schwedler's death. The legal issues included custody of the children, management of von Schwedler's estate, and complaints that the children — who were living with Wall after their mother's death — were not allowed to have contact with anyone from their mother's side of the family.

Pelle Wall moved out of his father's house when he turned 18. He then petitioned the courts to have his siblings also removed from the house until the police investigation into his mother's death was completed.

The children were removed from their father's house after an undisclosed custody agreement was reached.

In August, Pelle Wall filed for a protective order from his father following a confrontation with him at the Salt Lake City International Airport and at a Salt Lake restaurant the same day.

Also found in von Schwedler's overflowing bathtub on the day her body was discovered was a photo album of her youngest child. In July, Wall asked a 3rd District judge to force Almut von Schwedler to turn over all the photo albums, videos and negatives she had "reflecting the shared marital life" of himself and Uta von Schwedler, as well as all copies made after his wife's desk without his permission.

Almut von Schwedler said in July that her sister would never have taken that album in the water with her. She said each of Uta's children had albums with both pictures and memorabilia from their early years. Possession of the albums was reportedly a "bone of contention" between her and John Wall, she said.

That issue has now turned into a lawsuit.

Wall claims that all photo albums, negatives, videos and memorabilia showing his and von Schwedler's "shared marital life shall be the joint property of the parties." Once she died, Wall believes that meant he held the sole rights to those photo albums.

One of the albums is currently being held as evidence by the Salt Lake City Police Department, according to court documents.

In his lawsuit, Wall said Almut von Schwedler has "ignored and denied" his demands to turn those pictures over. He also said he did not give authorization for her to make digital copies of the photos.

"The value of the property is priceless because these are photo albums reflecting sentimental value and memories of (Wall) and his family," according to the suit.

Wall claims he will be "irreparably harmed" if the photo albums are not immediately returned. The albums are at risk of being "lost, damaged, or discarded" as long as they are not in his possession, he argues in the lawsuit.

The investigation into Uta von Schwedler's death is ongoing. Police and representatives from the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office met in October to discuss the case, but no charges were filed.

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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