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A death won’t let mom rest

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Every night for 2 1/2 years, Carol Christiansen has awakened at precisely 3 o'clock. Pain pills, sleeping pills, it makes no difference. Her eyes fly open and turn to the clock. 3 a.m. — the same time she believes her son Jim was murdered.

For Carol, there is no peace of mind and there probably never will be.

The police say Jim Christiansen, the retail manager of SLOC merchandise stores, died of a drug overdose, but Carol doesn't believe it. When she saw her son's corpse, she vowed to clear his name.

Since then, she has been on a mother's quest to find answers. Her family wants her to leave it alone — they fear that poking into too many dark corners will bring the family more trouble — but she won't.

Her quest has led her to places no mother or grandmother should go. She has visited the coroner's office, FBI, Salt Lake police, Layton police, Park City police, South Salt Lake police, a West Valley detective, two private detectives, a drug dealer's house, a psychic, TV stations, newspaper offices, Salt Lake parking enforcement, the mayor's office.

She interviewed vendors and workers for several days at the Utah State Fairpark, where Jim was last seen. She interviewed dozens of people in the area where Jim's body was discovered lying on the floor of an official SLOC Suburban parked on a Salt Lake street.

"Do you want to see the pictures?" Carol asks a visitor. Carol has a stack of gruesome photographs that were taken by the coroner's office of the body in the Suburban. Where did she get them? "I bought them," she says. She has files stuffed with official documents and paperwork, including a copy of the medical examiner's report — "I'm not supposed to have it," she confides. But she has her ways. She has turned into a savvy investigator.

"I've committed the rest of my life to finding out how Jim died, for his children's sake," she says. "They have a right to know that their dad didn't care more about drugs than them."

Jim Christiansen disappeared on the night of Sept. 13, 1998, after closing the SLOC retail booth at the state fair. His body wasn't discovered for 11 days.

Jim, a graduate of Cottonwood High, had a history of drug problems, but there are plenty of questions that haven't been answered. No one argues that the Suburban was moved after Jim was dead. Why was it moved? Why didn't police dust the vehicle for fingerprints? Was it just a coincidence that this occurred just weeks before the SLOC scandal broke? Why was the Suburban allowed to remain in a two-hour parking zone for several days without receiving a ticket — despite having its tires marked by parking enforcement? Why was no drug paraphernalia found in the vehicle?

What happened to Jim's gym bag, which was found in the Suburban and then disappeared? Why were his ruby ring and wristwatch missing — as well as his shoes and socks — but his wallet and credit cards were left on the car seat? Why did police wait several days to begin their search after Jim was reported missing? Why did a drug dealer tell police that Jim shot drugs into both arms multiple times the day he disappeared, but the state medical examiner found just one needle mark on his arm? Why was the body missing for 11 days before it was found?

Carol wants those questions answered. It is her obsession. From the beginning, she wanted desperately to know exactly when her son died. "I prayed about it every night and then one night I sat up and started to cry and looked at the clock and it was 3 a.m. and I had this confirmation that he died at 3 in the morning," she says.

She's been waking up at that time ever since.

Doug Robinson's column appears on Tuesdays. E-mail drob@desnews.com .