LOGAN, Utah — After Friday’s announcement that police recovered the body of murdered University of Utah student MacKenzie Lueck in Logan Canyon, nearly 75 miles from where she was last seen, it brings up questions as to what led law enforcement to that area.
Until Friday, the public has only known about the investigation and search at suspect Ayoola Ajayi’s home in Salt Lake City.
It was in the home’s backyard that police said they found human tissue matching MacKenzie’s DNA, in a burn pile in the backyard.
In a press conference Friday morning, Salt Lake City Police and Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill couldn’t give information on what tipped investigators off to where they found her remains in Logan Canyon.
However, a law enforcement expert is giving a few possibilities, based on his experience with investigations.
Chris Bertram, a retired deputy chief from the Unified Police Department, said there are two probabilities.
“One is that he is cooperating, and we as the public just don't know that,” he said in an interview Friday afternoon.
Bertram, now a private investigator and assistant professor at Salt Lake Community College, indicated that if Ajayi is now cooperating with police, it could be because a plea deal is in the works.
Another way the investigation may have taken police to Logan Canyon could have been from digging into Ajayi’s background and technology data.
“It's important to remember that he lived in Logan,” Bertram said. “He may have been comfortable with that area. As investigators have done the backgrounds on him, they may have found areas that he was very familiar with or that he liked to go to.”
In addition to that background information, he said police could have used technology to trace and track Ajayi’s whereabouts during key moments in the days after MacKenzie went missing.
“In that case — traveling or following cell phone sites, or tracking on his phone, or maybe a tracking on the GPS in his vehicle — they may have absolutely downloaded that and then able to determine where he was,” Bertram explained.
If they were able to find a specific location, he said investigators could have gone and searched from there.
“They could have used other tools, like cadaver dogs or other type[s] of technology, cameras in the area to determine where he was, and that could have led them to the body,” Bertram said.
With the remains now recovered, he talked about how that could help answer some huge questions in the investigation into her death.
“Can they determine how she died, and what were circumstances of that? What surrounded that?” Bertram asked. “That will, again, strengthen for the district attorney the case that they have, whether this is a capital case or a homicide case.”
If this turns into a capital case, that could mean the state would seek the death penalty or life in prison.
For now, with the discovery of Lueck's remains, Bertram said District Attorney Sim Gill has enough to file formal charges and go to trial.
“Unless the subject is cooperating and they're making a deal arrangement, I think at this point Sim has everything he needs to formally charge him,” Bertram said. “Especially with the charges that he was booked into jail on.”
Ajayi is in the Salt Lake County Jail on suspicion of aggravated murder, aggravated kidnapping, obstruction of justice and desecration of a body.
Gill said in the press conference Friday morning that they expected to file charges early next week.