SALT LAKE CITY — The ongoing dispute between the estate of a Salt Lake scientist found dead in her bathtub, her ex-husband and the couple's children has become further entangled in court proceedings.
On Friday, the attorney for John Brickman Wall accused Almut von Schwedler, the sister of Wall's ex-wife who was mysteriously found dead in her bathtub, of "whipping up the (media) frenzy" surrounding his client.
The body of Uta von Schwedler, 49, was found in an overflowing bathtub in her house on Sept. 27, 2011. She and John Wall were divorced in 2006, but a bitter custody battle over their children continued until the day she was found dead.
The medical examiner listed von Schwedler's cause of death as drowning. But the manner of death "could not be determined," leaving open the possibilities of both murder and suicide. A knife was found under her body in the bathtub. She had stab wounds on her arm and torso and other bruising and marks that the medical examiner said could have been defensive injuries. A high level of Xanax was also found in her system, something she did not have a prescription for and her family insists she never took.
Since her death, strong allegations have been made by friends and family members of von Schwedler blaming Wall for her death. A search warrant indicates that police are investigating Wall in the death of his ex-wife. A custody motion by Wall's oldest son also casts suspicion on his father.
That son, Pelle Wall, moved out of his father's home the day he turned 18 because he said he was in fear for his life. He filed a motion in juvenile court to have his three siblings — ages 16, 13 and 11 — removed from the house until the criminal investigation by Salt Lake police into his mother's death is completed. A trial to determine whether the children should be removed was scheduled to begin June 20.
Until then, the judge in that case ordered the three siblings not have any contact with Almut von Schwedler, who is in charge of her sister's estate and wants to make sure the children get money when they need it.
But the no contact order is now causing problems in the separate probate court case.
In February, 3rd District Judge Ryan Harris, in probate court, denied a motion to have a guardian ad litem appointed for the three siblings. Almut von Schwedler, who lives in Australia, claimed the siblings were not allowed to have any contact with her or anyone from Uta's family. Harris told both sides to work out a communication plan and give him a status update on June 1.
Friday, the attorney representing von Schwedler, Deacon Haymond, said no plan had been worked out and both sides seemed to be very far apart. The news seemed to surprise Harris.
"It doesn't seem that difficult a thing to do," the judge said. "Why haven't you been able to work something out?"
John Wall's attorney, Howard Lundgren, said one of the problems now is the level of publicity the case has received. Because of news reports and statements from Almut von Schwedler, Lundgren believes it would not be proper for von Schwedler to have unsupervised communication with the children.
Lundgren claims von Schwedler is making accusations against Wall in the media and through Facebook messaging with the children and is overstepping her role as the estate facilitator.
"Von Schwedler is attempting to act as a guardian or parent. It's not her role," Lundgren told the court. "It is not in the children's best interest" to communicate with her.
But Harris said there has to be communication between von Schwedler and the children, "for the purpose of facilitating administration of the estate," and indirect communication through attorneys is "inefficient." However, he did not want to make a ruling that went against the other court's no contact order.
Lundgren argued that all communication from von Schwedler could be done in writing with his client receiving a copy of all letters so he could monitor what is being said.
The judge agreed that all contact between von Schwedler and the children should be conducted through attorneys for now. Once the trial in juvenile court is over, however, he ordered both sides to return to court to work out a more permanent solution.
The next court date in probate court was scheduled for June 23. Harris said it might be best to have the guardian ad litems from the juvenile court case become involved in the probate case and to have the von Schwedler children present for the next court date to hear first-hand what is or isn't happening with communication.