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CASE REOPENED IN DEATH OF `FEISTY' MOM

Time has not stopped the tears or shaken Judy Bradley's belief that a murderer ended her mother's life in a few violent seconds.

Life itself had not shown any signs of slowing the tiny, graying spitfire known around the neighborhood as Aunt Tillie.If Thelma Lillian Blodgett feared the collection of ex-convicts, rowdies and noisy partyers living in and around her small apartment complex in South Salt Lake, she didn't let on.

Many times, the 4-foot-11 grandmother was in the thick of the action, upbraiding drug users, refereeing a brawl or lending money to neighbors pleading hard luck.

"Actually, it scared a lot of us, but my mother was feisty. Guys would fight in the parking lot, and she'd go out there and grab them by the ear and tell them to knock it off," says Bradley, who lived across the way.

"My mother could get scared, but she wouldn't let anyone else know it. She was feisty right up until the day she died."

That day, July 11, 1985, separated a mother and daughter, who were more like sisters, who argued, talked, went out together and took some comfort in their kinship as the family "black sheep."

Life might have gone on as before for Bradley were it not for her conviction that her mother did not leave life peacefully.

A South Salt Lake police report indicates Blodgett expired in her bathroom sometime that afternoon. Finding no marks on the body or any suspicious circumstances, officers told Bradley her 69-year-old mother had apparently suffered a heart attack.

The explanations fell on deaf ears.

"Things were just not right. It's hard to remember after five years, but just everything was not right. I was terribly upset, but I was clear about what happened," Bradley said.

"I said, `I'm telling you right now somebody killed her.' I argued with all of them, and believe me that house was full of police officers."

One of them, Detective Sgt. Jim Foster, said police followed up when Bradley phoned later that night to report that some of her mother's property was missing. But a medical examiner's conclusion that Blodgett died of natural causes eased some of their doubts.

Five years later, new information suggests Bradley was right after all.

On Monday, Blodgett's body was exhumed and an autopsy performed by medical examiner Dr. Todd Grey, who changed the cause of death to "undetermined" pending further study.

Investigators say the exhumation order was obtained after they talked with witnesses who had not previously come forward. And they now believe Blodgett's death may be related to the 1988 slaying of 88-year-old Ethel Luckau of Salt Lake City.

A Utah State Prison inmate is charged with capital homicide in that case and will stand trial later this year. He was questioned about the South Salt Lake case in 1988, but no charges were filed.

Early this year, police got their first break when they located and interviewed the new witnesses, said Jim Bell, a former Salt Lake City homicide detective and now chief investigator for the medical examiner.

"We dug Mrs. Blodgett up because I believe it's possibly connected to the Luckau case," Bell said.

"South Salt Lake has reactivated their case, and we're doing everything we can. Homicide cases are like that. You'll hit a brick wall, then somebody decides to talk about it," he said.

The renewed interest came as a surprise to Bradley. Pain and grief are far more familiar.

Tears still flow freely when she thinks of her mother, as she has every day since that morning she met her for coffee, left for a half hour and returned to find her body.

"You relive it every day. I know I want them to find her killer. It'll give me some relief, but it won't make it easier," she said.

Her days are spent at home, taking care of an old friend immobilized by a stroke. The two get by on Bradley's widow's pension and his Social Security and veteran's benefits.

The ordeal has drained her of energy and ambition at age 49. But it hasn't quite snuffed the spark of the renegade, who like Tillie grew up fast, ran wild as a teenager and married "too many" times.

"They better find that guy because sooner or later I will, if it takes the rest of my life," she said.