MacKenzie Lueck’s killer claimed he was helping, but digital footprints told a different story
Reports describe how Ayoola Ajayi repeatedly told detectives he’d never met the Utah student he murdered
On the surface, Ayoola Adisa Ajayi gave the impression that he wanted to help police find MacKenzie Lueck and would do anything he could to assist them.
He voluntarily went to the Salt Lake City Police Department for questioning when detectives first contacted him, he handed over a text message from Lueck and allowed officers into his house.
But despite his apparent cooperation, police say Ajayi, a tech support worker, was being selective about the information he shared. And there were too many other pieces of forensic evidence left behind that he could not cover up.
“I told Ayoola that he was talking about ‘his’ information, that he can delete, he can hide as much as he thinks he can. I told him I think he is very skilled in IT and technology, but there was one thing he forgets, and that there is another person that didn’t delete their stuff, didn’t delete their conversations,” Salt Lake police detective Nathan Wiley wrote in his report regarding his interview with Ajayi.
In October, Ajayi, 32, admitted that he strangled Lueck at his Salt Lake home in the Fairpark neighborhood, burned her body in his backyard and buried the rest of her remains in Logan Canyon. He was sentenced to life in the Utah State Prison without the possibility of parole for what prosecutors say was a premeditated murder.
On Wednesday, the police department fulfilled a public records request from the Deseret News and released hundreds of pages of previously unreleased reports and numerous hours of interviews and body camera videos from their investigation.
When Ajayi was arrested on June 28, 2019, Salt Lake Police Chief Mike Brown called it a “cutting-edge investigation” that relied heavily on “digital footprints.”
Details of that technical investigation are outlined in the nearly 400 pages released this week that make up the department’s main MacKenzie Lueck case file.
The 23-year-old University of Utah student disappeared after flying into the Salt Lake City International Airport early on the morning of June 17, 2019, after attending a family funeral in her hometown of El Segundo, California. She then took a Lyft to Hatch Park in North Salt Lake about 3 a.m. where Ajayi was waiting for her.
After Lueck was reported missing by her family, police learned that Lueck participated in a website called “Seeking Arrangements,” which involved men seeking younger women.
On June 24, police made contact with Ajayi for the first time. He admitted to sending a text to a woman named MacKenzie on Seeking Arrangements and sent her a picture of himself, but claimed she never responded after that, so he assumed she was not interested.
That same evening, Ajayi voluntarily went to the police station to answer more questions. Detectives told him that they found “numerous texts” to Lueck’s number that went through his IP address, and not just the one short string of messages that he shared with them.
“AJ said it just doesn’t make sense. ‘I want to get to the root of it too, because you said my IP was showing, that means something is wrong,’” he told detectives, according to the report.
On June 26, the FBI confirmed that both Lueck’s and Ajayi’s cellphones placed them in the area of Hatch Park at the same time on June 17. It was at that point that police drafted warrants to search Ajayi’s property at 547 N. 1000 West, his car and his cellphone.
As the warrants were being drafted and signed by a judge, police went to Ajayi’s residence to secure the property. Body camera videos from the scene show Ajayi being calm and cooperative. He is seen lying on a small grassy area next to his driveway in the shade, apparently to get out of the heat. Officers explain to him the warrant process and tell him he is free to leave, but he is not allowed to take anything out of his home or his car or his cellphone.
“I can hold the house until the search warrant gets here,” an officer tells Ajayi.
Ajayi tells an officer he is going to walk to the library down the street. After he leaves, an officer is heard telling others to keep surveillance on him.
After officers arrive with the warrant, body camera video shows Ajayi becoming more agitated, and arguing with an officer, claiming the officer wrongly scrolled through the messages on his phone, which the officer replied that he did not.
Later in the evening, Ajayi is formally detained and brought to the police department for a formal interview.
The Ajayi interview
Ajayi entered the interview room at 10:12 p.m. on June 26, 2019. He was not released until 5:15 a.m. the next day — seven hours later.
“Am I in trouble? Why are you doing this to me?” he asked after being led into the interview room.
After first requesting his lawyer, Ajayi changed his mind and agreed to be questioned.
“You can ask me questions, I just want this to be over,” he said. “Go ahead and ask me then, I have nothing to hide. I give you permission to ask me questions. There is a camera right there recording and I give you permission to ask me questions.”
At one point, Ajayi, who claimed he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and glaucoma, said he was experiencing a shortness of breath. Medical staff evaluated him and determined he was hyperventilating, a report states.
During the extensive interview, detectives confronted Ajayi about the evidence they had collected, but he continued to deny meeting Lueck on the night she disappeared.
Ajayi said he sent a message to Lueck, but she did not respond so he ended up playing video games all night and did not leave his house.
But Wiley told Ajayi that detectives had evidence that there was more to the short conversation he claimed he’d had with Lueck than he was telling.
“I told him that we have obtained those records already and that the records that we have show a lot more than what he is telling us,” the report states. “I told Ayoola that the records were showing that the conversation continued after the screenshot that he sent to us and it showed that the conversation didn’t end after he sent his photo to MacKenzie.”
Ajayi said that was not possible.
“‘I told him that wasn’t true either,’” the detective replied, “‘because we have her (MacKenzie’s) records as well.’ Ayoola started to rock back in forth and take short breaths again,” according to the report.
Ajayi then told police he wanted to be transparent, but again claimed he stayed home that night.
“We’ve never met before so that would be weird to meet at that time of night. That’s not safe for her, that’s not safe for me,” he said.
As for the fire that neighbors reported in his backyard, Ajayi told police he sometimes kills goats in his backyard to put into soup.
At one point during the conversation, a detective noted to Ajayi that it was “obvious that he has kept up with the news” about Lueck because he was well aware of the timeline of her disappearance. Ajayi agreed.
When confronted about the phone records including location history, Ajayi insisted that the records were flawed.
“I’ll tell you that’s not true. They use a public IP, so it depends on the power of the network, so it depends on the tower that you are connected to ... and on my phone, I turn off the location. So what I’m trying to tell you, if you think I did it and that would bring a parent some closure, you can do whatever you want to me,” he said, according to the report. “I am just trying to tell you that it is not possible.”
“I told Ayoola that we didn’t just come and knock on his door randomly, that there is a reason why he is in speaking with us tonight,” the detective wrote.
Wiley again urged Ajayi to tell the truth, because he was not being honest, prompting Ajayi to lean back in his chair, wipe his face and rub the top of his head.
“I again reiterated with Ayoola that the location services on his T-Mobile account to his device are very good, they are very accurate, and that they put him in a not good spot,” the report states.
Ajayi tells police several times he is willing to take a lie detector test.
“OK, so, I understand why, now I understand why you are questioning me. But now look at it from my side. If I took my phone there, if I’m at the wrong location, would I call and give you my phone number, give you the screenshot, to help you catch myself? ... That would make no sense,” he told police.
Finally, after hours of questioning, detectives said they were tired of beating around the bush.
“I told Ayoola let’s get down to the truth and quit throwing this every direction and to just be honest and truthful. I asked Ayoola, ‘Did you meet with MacKenzie that night?’
“Ayoola replied, ‘I’ve never met with her before.’
“‘Was MacKenzie ever over at his house or residence?’
“Ayoola replied, ‘Never.’”
Salt Lake police detective Pat Mount then directly asked Ajayi if he had killed MacKenzie Lueck.
“I can’t even kill a fish. When fish die I cry all night,” he replied, according to the report.
When asked how then he is able to kill goats in his backyard, Ajayi said, “Because it is for food, because anything that is not food I cannot hurt.”
“I told Ayoola that he didn’t answer the question, and asked again if he killed MacKenzie? Ayoola replied ‘No. Definitely no,’” according to the report.
“I asked Ayoola if he has been 100% truthful and honest with detectives tonight. Ayoola replied ‘Yes, and if you find out anything that I say is a lie, I will prosecute myself, I know there is a camera right there (looks to the camera) and I will prosecute myself, and I have nothing to hide from you.’ I told Ayoola that it bothers me for him to say that, because I believe he has a lot to hide,” police wrote in the report.
Got a warrant?
On June 27, after it was confirmed that human remains were found in Ajayi’s backyard, Salt Lake police noted that he “was no longer a person of interest, but is now considered a suspect in this case,” the report states.
On June 28, as a SWAT team was moving into position around an apartment complex at 1028 S. West Temple where Ajayi was now staying with a friend, the detective in the case called Ajayi and asked him to come out and talk to him, saying he had two cups of coffee waiting in his patrol car. An audio clip of that conversation was released as part of the open records request.
During the conversation, Ajayi’s previously cooperative attitude had changed now that there had been extensive media coverage following the search at his house.
“I don’t have any friends anymore thanks to you,” Ajayi tells the detective. “I was trying to help. I was the one who called you and gave you the information.
“I don’t want to talk to you. ... I don’t trust you guys anymore,” he said. “Every decision I make you use it against me.”
After several minutes of negotiations, Ajayi tells the detective that unless he has an arrest warrant, he is not coming out.
“If you’re not trying to arrest me then I don’t want to talk to you,” he said.
“What if I was trying to arrest you, then would you come down and talk to me?” the detective asked.
“OK. I’m trying to arrest you. Come down and talk to me,” the detective replied.
“You have an arrest warrant with you?” Ajayi asked following a brief pause.
“OK, I will come down.”
Moments later, Ajayi walked out of the apartment where a SWAT team took him into custody.
Even though they arrested Ajayi, homicide detectives had still not recovered a body.
But according to police reports, four days later on July 2, 2019, detectives “developed an investigative lead to the last known area for the possible body of Mackenzie Lueck.”
Thursday, police confirmed that lead was another digital footprint, once again tracing Ajayi’s phone to that area.
On July 3, detectives arrived in the area near U.S. 89 and Forest Road just before 1 a.m. and secured the area until daylight, the report states.
While searching the heavily forested area, the captain of the investigations division “was walking through the trees looking for disturbed earth when I noticed an area on the ground that seemed suspicious. It was an oval shape in the soil that seemed to be raised or mounded slightly and about the size that might have accommodated a body,” a report states.
“I brought this area to the attention of (detectives) who excavated a small part of it and found what appeared to be human remains. The site was ultimately excavated by the crime lab team and revealed remains that were eventually identified as those of the victim,” the captain wrote.
The Utah State Medical Examiner’s Office responded to the site and took custody of the remains to conduct an autopsy.
On July 10, the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office formally charged Ajayi with aggravated murder.