The Night in Question
Many neighbors who remember the ambulance and police lights waking them up early on the morning Uta was found dead later felt confused that the case wasn’t being treated as more than an unattended death. Neighbors had overheard the police yelling on their scanners as if something more serious had happened.
The medical examiner stated that the cause of Uta’s death was drowning; the manner, undetermined. She had two knife cuts, one on her left arm and the other on her lower left leg that were described by the medical examiner as possibly being defensive wounds. She also had bruising around her neck and mouth and had ingested a lethal dose of Xanax, an anti-anxiety medication for which she did not have a prescription.
Parks said there were only antihistamine pills scattered around the bathroom floor, and that the blood-spatter expert determined that there was likely a struggle that went from the bedroom to the bathroom. The medical examiner’s report stated that there was a “substantial amount of blood on the comforter” of Uta’s bed.
Wall had scratches on his arms and bleeding in his eye the morning after Uta’s death. He told Pelle that the blood in his eye and the scratches on his arms were from Molly, the family’s 4-year-old Labrador, who had “became excited and accidentally scratched his eye” while Wall was sleeping on the porch of his home the night before Uta’s body was found, according to court records.
When a detective first asked him where he was the night his ex-wife died, Wall yelled back at the detective, “I don’t know where the fuck I was!” according to a search warrant.
Later, he told police that the dog had been startled by a possible intruder and scratched him while he slept on the porch.
Still, police continued to view the case as an unattended death—possibly a suicide, but not a murder.
At one point, the case was closed, according to an e-mail from the police department to Uta’s sister Almut Von Schwedler in January 2012.
“Your sister’s case has been closed by the Salt Lake City Police Department. If you have [sic] desire any more information, please feel free to file a GRAMMA [sic] request for a copy of the case file,” the e-mail said. An initial contact report obtained around the same time through an open-records request said the case had been “exceptionally cleared.”
The Salt Lake City Police Department declined to comment on the case and referred City Weekly to the Salt Lake District Attorney’s Office.
In May 2012, a search warrant was served to collect possible forensic evidence from John Wall’s car. Still, no suspects were named and no charges were filed.
Stand on Your Own
Meanwhile, arguments between Pelle and his father escalated in person and through e-mail after Pelle decided not to take his father’s side. Pelle wrote his father an e-mail saying what a difficult situation he was in. “It’s not fair to me to feel caught in a crossfire between two groups of people I care deeply about.”
On Pelle’s 18th birthday in January 2012, with the hope of finding a more “neutral territory,” he moved out of the house to live with the family of his high school friend Jessica Oglesby.
Pelle told his dad he wasn’t abandoning his family or showing ill will but was just removing himself from a difficult environment.
“I’m really sorry if you’re upset with me, I’m not trying to create more trouble,” the teen wrote to his father.
That same day, Pelle received two e-mails. The e-mails, given to City Weekly by Uta’s family, appear to be from John Wall and detail how he had given his son so much, including the best schooling, and paid for all of his activities even when it was financially difficult.
“These are the things a parent does when they love their children,” Wall wrote.
He also told Pelle how he loved Uta “despite her and my many difficulties,” and he had tried to see the good in her. “I reached my limit when she began to hurt not just me, but her children.”
Less than two hours later, Pelle received a more agitated-sounding e-mail that said Pelle was no longer welcome at the home and was now on his own because he wasn’t standing up for his father.
“As you step away from your responsibility to your family, so you should understand that you loose [sic] the privileges that go with that. Please return the house key, this is no longer your home,” the e-mail reads.
John Wall also took Pelle off his auto and health-insurance policies, according to the family, and told Pelle to “figure out how” to fill out college financial-aid applications because Wall wouldn’t be supporting him.
“So stand on your own and act like a man,” he wrote. “You will have to earn the privilege of being part of this family again.”
Later that year, in August 2012, Pelle and the Oglesby family met his younger sister, who was returning from an educational trip in Ecuador, at the Salt Lake City International Airport. Wall was also there to see his daughter.
Amy Oglesby, Jessica’s mother, later told the court that Wall came toward her in a “harassing way.”
She says he told her to “Stay the fuck away from me! Stay the fuck away from me and my family!”
After a few minutes, he walked back over to her and said, “You are damaging me, you don’t know what you’re doing,” she told the court.
When they left the airport, the Oglesby family and Pelle did not tell Wall where they were going. Pelle’s sister rode with him and the Oglesby family while Wall drove alone. They decided to go to Jamba Juice, and Wall, Amy Oglesby says, followed them there and started yelling comments similar to those he’d said at the airport. She says he told her she would be sorry one day and that she didn’t know who she was dealing with. She took it as a death threat.
Wall told Oglesby he should get a restraining order against her. She says she didn’t respond, but that Pelle spoke up and asked his father, “You should get a restraining order against her? I can’t even get a restraining order against you and you’re a murderer!”
Pressing the Issue
After a year had passed without police bringing criminal charges to prosecutors, the family began assembling its own case.
“It’s constant, all the time, every minute you are awake, even when you are asleep you are thinking about it,” Pelle says. “It takes the obsessiveness you have to have all the time. It would not have been solved without that.”
Pelle has now spent the majority of his inheritance to pursue justice for his mother in a wrongful-death lawsuit as well as fight for the custody of his three younger siblings.
After Uta’s death, Uta’s friends and family from the United States, Europe and Australia combined their knowledge and educational backgrounds to become an international think-tank examining Uta’s death and how to protect the Wall children.
Uta’s sister Almut, who lives in Australia, has been to the United States six times—a total of 18 weeks—since her sister’s death and, she says, has spent tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees pursuing the custody issue.
Sometimes, the insights came at 3 a.m., when Amy Oglesby or others basically were in “a complete immersion” of the case and would text the attorney a clue or tip to further the case, or an idea of where to get more information.
Pelle’s attorney, Margaret Olson, says progress in the case would not have happened without friends pushing for answers.
“I believe the police would not have come this far if it weren’t for Amy Oglesby,” she says, adding that Oglesby was a “driving force” and had “energy and commitment” to continue to give the case another perspective.
Several pieces of the puzzle came together through the multitude of Uta’s friends and family who started asking what they could do to help. Family and friends of Uta’s collected information through tips generated on JusticeForUta.com, which they advertised via billboards. Some biologist and doctor friends shared their expertise with police while searching for a DNA match.
“But how many people have that?” Almut asks.
“I feel like there was a lot of times where we were doing the investigation for [the police],” Uta’s boyfriend, Nils Abramson, says.
Finally, in April 2013, Wall was arrested and charged with murder.
News reports at the time quoted Salt Lake District Attorney Sim Gill as saying that enough factors had “stacked up” to allow prosecutors to charge Wall, and that the charges were based on evidence, not public pressure.
Gill would not comment on the case to City Weekly except to say that “many murders are not solved for many years. ... We provided guidance where appropriate and worked with the detectives with developing the case to a stage where we believe we both have the probable cause for the filing as well as the likelihood of success at trial.”
But Almut says she doesn’t understand why police didn’t move the case along more quickly.
“I am absolutely certain that if we didn’t have the intelligence, the education and the money, none of it would have happened,” Almut says.