Evidence thought to be connected to MacKenzie Lueck case found along Jordan River Parkway Trail

Ayoola Adis Ajayi. Photo: Salt Lake County

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, July 15, 2019 (Gephardt Daily) — Police are searching along the Jordan River Parkway Trail after additional evidence connected to the MacKenzie Lueck murder investigation was reportedly found Monday morning.

Salt Lake City Police Department Sgt. Brandon Shearer told Gephardt Daily the search is occurring in the area of 700 North and Jordan River Parkway Trail.

Shearer said officials were in that area doing outreach with the homeless Monday morning when they came across evidence allegedly connected to the Lueck case.

Shearer said officials cannot say at this time what evidence was found, or why it might have been in that location.

The location officials are searching is approximately one mile from the suspect’s home at 547 N. 1000 West.

The suspect, Ayoola Ajayi, 31, who has been charged with Lueck’s murder, also made his first court appearance Monday; he appeared from jail alongside a court-appointed attorney at 10 a.m.

The formal charges filed against him with the Attorney’s Office were read out loud. They are:

  • Aggravated murder, a first-degree felony
  • Aggravated kidnapping, a first-degree felony
  • Obstruction of justice, a second-degree felony
  • Desecration of a human body, a third-degree felony

Ajayi’s next court appearance is scheduled for two week’s time, July 29 at 2 p.m.

In a press conference at 11 a.m. Wednesday in downtown Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill shared the formal charges filed. He also revealed new details regarding what led officials on July 3 to the Logan Canyon location of Lueck’s body, and preliminary findings in her cause and manner of death.

Charges

Ajayi was taken into custody June 28, and booked on preliminary charges that were later formalized.

Gill noted that Ajayi is presumed innocent unless his eventual trial finds him guilty, and emphasized numerous times during the Wednesday news conference that the investigation is still ongoing. He said it is premature to talk about the death penalty at this time.

The timeline

Lueck, a 23-year-old nursing student at the University, was last seen on June 17 of this year on a surveillance recording when she returned from her Southern California home to Salt Lake International Airport. She was reported missing on June 20.

Gill said at the press conference:

“Cellphone records for MacKenzie showed that she exchanged several text messages with an individual later identified as Ajayi in the early morning hours of June 17. MacKenzie’s last text to Ajayi was at 2:58 a.m.”

Investigators determined she was picked up from the airport by a Lyft driver, and was dropped off at 2:59 a.m. at Hatch Park, in North Salt Lake, where she seemed to willingly get into another car before the Lyft driver left to continue with his assigned work.

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An intensive forensic investigation determined that Lueck’s phone was powered off at exactly 2:59 a.m. at Hatch Park, and was never powered back on. A forensic analysis of phone records shows Ajayi’s phone was at the park at the same time as Lueck’s, then shows his phone was back at his home, at 547 N. 1000 West, at 3:07 a.m. Friends of Lueck’s have said she and Ajayi were acquainted.

Search warrant

During a subsequent search warrant on June 26 carried out on Ajayi’s home, “detectives discovered what appeared to be a freshly dug site behind Ajayi’s garage. During the forensic excavation of the site, police located a human bone, charred muscular tissue, part of a scalp with hair, a cellphone and other charred personal items.”

Gill said Wednesday that in an alley adjacent to Ajayi’s home, investigators found charred black fabric, buckles and other items of evidentiary value. DNA testing of the muscular tissue returned a profile consistent with a DNA profile obtained from the personal items belonging to Lueck, Gill said.

A neighbor who was interviewed said that on June 17, that neighbor detected a “quote ‘horrible smell’ end quote” coming from a fire in Ajayi’s backyard,” said Gill. The neighbor stated the fire was behind Ajayi’s garage in a pit.

“The neighbor also observed Ajayi pouring gasoline on the fire,” Gill said.

A subsequent search of Ajayi’s vehicle as part of the search warrant revealed a strong smell of gasoline emitting from the trunk, Gill said Wednesday. Inside the trunk was a red gasoline can. Further investigation discovered Ajayi had purchased a red gas can at the Smith’s near his residence at approximately 9 a.m. on June 17.

Subsequent analysis of Ajayi’s cellphone on July 3 placed him near Logan Canyon on June 25, between 2:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. On July 3, law enforcement responded to the canyon and after a lengthy search located a disturbed area of soil under a grove of trees.

“Under the soil, detectives located a charred human body,” Gill said. DNA testing of the body returned a profile consistent with Lueck.

“MacKenzie’s arms were bound behind her back by a zip tie, and rope,” Gill revealed. ” A five-centimeter hole was located on the left side of her skull, with part of her left scalp missing.”

Five centimeters is nearly two inches.

It was determined by the Medical Examiner’s office that Lueck suffered blunt force trauma to the left side of her skull resulting in significant intracranial hemorrhaging, which would have been fatal. Preliminary determination shows the manner of death to be homicide.

Gephardt Daily will have more on this developing story as information is made available.

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