Police: Paul Swenson discussed death with friends, family before his disappearance; traded his BMW for a bike

AMERICAN FORK, Utah -- For two and a half weeks this past summer, tens of thousands of people helped look for a missing man named Paul Swenson.

The 30-year-old from American Fork was a husband and new father with many friends.

After 17 days of exhaustive searching by police and volunteers, Paul’s body was found in South Salt Lake on August 13.

Questions have lingered about exactly how and when Paul died, and if there were any missed opportunities to have saved him. In a search for answers, Fox 13 News obtained 50 pages of police reports from the American Fork Police Department.

Paul’s wife Ashlee spoke with police many times. On the night he went missing, an officer summarized a conversation with Ashlee noting: "Paul’s behavior had changed since December."

Paul’s brother Sam also expressed concerns that Paul, "is mentally unstable for one reason or another" according to the police report.

Friends said Paul used marijuana occasionally and had also used mushrooms.

In a recent interview, Ashlee Swenson told Fox 13 News, “He wasn't really diagnosed with anything, but I know that day that he went missing something was definitely off.”

Paul went missing on July 27. According to the police report, he told friends multiple times that at 2:22 pm on July 27th, he would die.

On that day, Paul expressed concerns about his health. But 2:22 p.m. came and went. He had an appointment to meet with a therapist later that afternoon.

“I thought, you know, it was a great thing he was going to go talk to him and hopefully, you know, whatever he was going through he would talk about it,” Ashlee Swenson told Fox 13 News.

Paul never showed up to the appointment.

The missing person’s report shows Paul’s phone was last used at 6:45 p.m. in the area of 4700 South and 900 East in Murray.

At 10:45 p.m., BMW locator services indicated Paul’s car was in the area of 4300 South and 4600 West in West Valley City.

At 11:30 p.m., the Salt Lake City Police Department, with assistance from BMW, located the car abandoned near 1500 South and 1000 West.

“It wasn't until the family arrived that they noticed that some of the personal belongings in the vehicle weren't Paul's, so that's at what point it becomes suspicious,” says Sgt. Josh Christensen of the American Fork Police Department.

In the days that followed, the search for Paul Swenson became a national news story. Hundreds volunteered to pass out flyers, and tens of thousands followed the search online. Many theories as to why Paul might be missing were posted on social media.

“You have to deal with people being mean when you've lost your husband or he's missing," Swenson said.

Tips poured in to police.

“We have to take everyone completely serious,” Sgt. Christensen said, adding “But that's what made this case so difficult, we didn't ever, at any given time, have any solid yes, this was him or yes, this is where he's at."

What police did have, however, was a backpack found in Paul’s BMW that did not belong to Paul. Evidence inside the backpack included a cell phone that eventually led police to several juveniles.

“The story we had received from two separate juveniles was that Paul had pulled up into a gas station where they were at and told them he wanted to trade his car for their bike,” Sgt. Christensen said.

Police believe Paul was likely alive for up to a week after he was reported missing. Among the sightings which seem credible are some from people who claim to have seen Paul riding a bike.

Ten days after the last tip police believe was true, Paul was found dead, face down in the waters of Mill Creek near 235 West and 2950 South in South Salt Lake City.

Ashlee Swenson said she and her family now believe Paul died the same day he went missing. She called the 17 days waiting for answers the most traumatic time of her life, describing her life during the search as an emotional roller coaster, filled with hope followed by despair.

Though the search did not end as she had hoped, Ashlee said the good she saw in people during the search was part of what kept her going. She and her family continue to express gratitude to the thousands of people who were helping in the search.

“I feel very blessed we found Paul because there's a lot of people that don't find their people,” she said, adding, “It is a blessing that we found him and that there was some sort of peace around that and we're not still looking."