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Utah authorities used the suspect's cellphone records to find the body of a missing college student in a remote canyon 80 miles north of Salt Lake City

INSIDER logoINSIDER 7/11/2019 Michelle Mark
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Authorities finally found the body of missing University of Utah student Mackenzie Lueck after cellphone records from her suspected murderer placed his phone at a canyon 80 miles north of Salt Lake City, prosecutors announced Wednesday.

Investigators uncovered Lueck's body on July 3, some 16 days after she took a Lyft from the local airport to a city park and vanished.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill told reporters at a press conference that an extensive search of Lueck and her suspected murderer's cellphone records helped them piece the puzzle together.

Prosecutors formally charged 31-year-old Ayoola Ajayi on Wednesday with aggravated murder, aggravated kidnapping, desecration of a human body, and obstruction of justice.

Gill said the records show that both Lueck and Ajayi's cellphones were at Hatch Park at 2:59 a.m. on June 17, and Lueck's phone was immediately powered off. It was never turned back on.

© Associated Press/Rick Bowmer Read more: The suspect in the case of missing student Mackenzie Lueck wanted to build a secret, soundproof room under his front porch, a contractor says

Investigators uncovered disturbing pieces of evidence that led them to charge Ajayi

By 3:07 a.m., Ajayi's cellphone was back at his home, the same location where neighbors would detect a "horrible smell" from a fire in Ajayi's backyard later that same day.

When authorities searched Ajayi's home on June 26, they said they found a fire pit containing human bone, charred muscular tissue, part of a scalp with hair, a cellphone, and other "charred personal items" that belonged to Lueck.

Gill said investigators also found charred black fabric, buckles, and other items in an alleyway adjacent to Ajayi's home.

But the final piece of evidence that led investigators said let them to the rest of Lueck's body were the records that showed Ajayi's cellphone near Logan Canyon, some 80 miles north of Salt Lake City, on June 25, between 2:30 and 4:30 p.m.

When detectives trekked to Logan Canyon to investigate, they eventually found a "disturbed area of soil" under a remote grove of trees.

"Under the soil, detectives located a charred human body," Gill said.

a yellow school bus parked in front of a house © Associated Press/Rick Bowmer

Read more: The man suspected of killing Utah college student Mackenzie Lueck once self-published a novel detailing murders and crime

Gill went on to describe authorities' gruesome discovery. Lueck's arms had been bound behind her back by a zip tie and rope, he said. There was also a 5 cm hole bored into the left side of her skull, and part of the left side of her scalp was completely missing.

The medical examiner who performed the autopsy found that Lueck died after suffering blunt-force trauma to the left side of her head, Gill said.

Gill added that the investigation is still ongoing. The Deseret News reported that police were back at Ajayi's house Wednesday with a new search warrant, though it's unclear what they were looking for.

The capital murder charge against Ajayi could possibly yield the death penalty if he is convicted, but Gill said at the press conference that it's too early to tell whether his office will seek such a sentence.

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