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Poulson knew risks of dealing with ex-convict, relatives say

James William Tolbert
James William Tolbert

Ann Poulson knew the risks of befriending a convicted murderer, her family said.

"She wasn't coddling a kitten here," her son-in-law, Alan Collier, said Friday. "She knew what she was doing. She understood that there was a risk."

But Tuesday, Poulson was found slain, and the man she befriended is a "person of interest" in the case.

Poulson's family said she believed she was providing support for James William Tolbert, who was out on parole for the 1987 murder of his wife. Tolbert, 41, has not been formally declared a suspect in Poulson's death, but authorities want to question him.

"We're still trying to find him so that we can speak with him. Hopefully we can track him down," Murray police detective Jeff Maglish said Friday.

A parole violation warrant has been issued for Tolbert, and he has been placed at the top of the Utah Department of Corrections' "Most Wanted" list. Authorities said he absconded from parole on Tuesday, the same day Poulson's body was found.

On Friday, some of Poulson's children came to the Deseret Morning News building to pick up some of her personal things from her desk on the eighth floor. Colleagues of the 68-year-old accountant offered their condolences and memories of a smiling, caring woman who loved to share knock-knock jokes and loved Pepsi and chocolate.

Poulson met Tolbert through volunteer work that often took her and her husband to the Utah State Prison. When Tolbert was released after serving 18 years in prison, she maintained contact with him.

"She knew there were some risks being involved with a person like that," Poulson's son, Jon Carling, said Friday. "But he had no support system. He was not going to succeed on parole without that support."

By all accounts, Poulson was a strong support for Tolbert. She wrote letters to the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole on his behalf and had lent him money.

Neighbors said that Tolbert had asked to move into Poulson's home, but she refused.

Last Saturday, family members said, she went to the care center to visit her husband, Bill, who is suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Saturday afternoon, Poulson had lunch with a close friend at an Olive Garden restaurant south of her home, Collier said. That friend was believed to be the last person to see Poulson alive.

As of Friday evening, investigators had not released information as to when they believe Poulson died or even how she died.

The Deseret Morning News has learned Salt Lake City police had an encounter with Tolbert on Sunday in Sugarhouse Park. Details of that incident have not been disclosed by either Salt Lake City or Murray police.

Police have confirmed that Tolbert was taken to a local hospital for treatment of an undisclosed medical problem. He walked out of the hospital and hasn't been seen since.

At that time, there was no arrest warrant for Tolbert for parole violation and Poulson's body had not been found. Her family said Friday that police have been doing a great job and don't think too much attention should be given to Sunday's encounter.

"We're not upset about that," Collier said. "(Police) can't predict what would happen. It's easy to second-guess people. It's easy to be an armchair quarterback after the fact."

Poulson's body was found Tuesday. Her car was found in Sugarhouse Park on Wednesday morning.

Murray police said they were not necessarily concerned with any missed opportunities to question Tolbert.

"What happened is in the past," Maglish said. "We're aggressively looking for him."

Police are unsure if Tolbert has left the state but are still actively searching for him because he may still be in the area. Carling said they could not say much about the homicide itself because it was still under investigation.

"We feel comforted after the police indicated she went quickly and didn't suffer," he said.

Poulson's funeral is set for Monday.