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WAS `ACCIDENTAL DEATH' IN 1985 A MURDER? STATE RE-EXAMINES BODY

Two months after Thelma Lillian Blodgett died and was buried in July of 1985, investigators began to wonder if she had been murdered.

Nearly five years later, detectives say they have finally received more information to confirm their suspicions, and they obtained a court order allowing them to exhume the South Salt Lake woman's body.The body of the 69-year-old mother of three was removed Monday and taken to the state medical examiner's office, where it is being examined microscopically for additional clues. Jim Bell, chief investigator for the medical examiner, said a final determination will be made in about two weeks.

Bell, a former homicide detective for the Salt Lake Police Department, said he is convinced Blodgett died at the hands of Daniel R. Troyer, 30, a convicted rapist who has been charged with killing another elderly woman in 1988.

"We have been talking to a lot of people for the past five years," Bell said. "We didn't give up, so we obviously must feel there's something about this case."

Blodgett was found dead July 11, 1985. When detectives arrived at her home, paramedics were trying to revive her. Her daughter had discovered her lying in the bathtub. The daughter drained the water, and the woman wasn't in the same position she had died in, said South Salt Lake Detective Sgt. Jim Foster.

Neighbors and friends were also walking in and out of the house. The death did not appear to be suspicious, and little evidence was obtained. The medical examiner was asked to respond, but they were tied up and could not come to the scene.

"They sent some old man down in a pickup truck to pick up the body," said Foster, who sent a letter complaining about the incident to the examiner's office.

"At that time, I didn't think there was anything suspicious about the death," Foster said. The examination determined the woman died of natural causes related to hardening of the arteries.

But later that day, the woman's daughter told police she thought maybe her mother had been murdered because she discovered several things missing from her mother's house. Investigators, however, had little evidence until recently.

Bell said witnesses who would not talk to investigators in 1985 have since come forward with information that the county attorney's office felt was sufficient to warrant a court order to exhume the body.

"We have reason to believe he (Troyer) was in the area (of Blodgett's house) that day," Foster said. He believes Blodgett may have been choked to death in the same manner as Ethel Luckau, 88, whom Troyer has been charged with killing.

Troyer's attorney, James Valdez, said his client has nothing to do with either death. "The problem is, any time an elderly woman dies of suspicious circumstances, they're all the time automatically considering Danny as a suspect," he said.

Bell said that when Troyer was arrested, cases with similar circumstances were studied and he was eliminated as a suspect in many of those. "But there are a lot of them that he has never been eliminated from," he said.