As the investigation of the Moab murders continues, locals are criticizing the Grand County Sheriff’s Office for what they see as a lack of progress in the search for a suspect. Meanwhile, city police are coming under fire for their handling of the Aug. 12 domestic dispute involving Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie — and some strongly believe there’s a connection between the cases.
In an article for the Deseret News, several Moab residents said anonymously that they believe the Grand County Sheriff’s Office is downplaying the August killings of Kylen Schulte and Crystal Turner at a nearby campground in order to keep business booming in the southern Utah tourist town.
Critics said that the sheriff’s office, which is handling the investigation, has been tight-lipped about its findings — and with the killer still at large, the lack of transparency is only making life more fraught for residents.
“We don’t know if [investigators] think it’s someone in town or someone [from] out of town,” one local said. “That sucks, walking by every house and being like, ‘You could be a murderer, maybe you could be a murderer.'”
“It’s this small town that I could run around in, raise havoc, without having to worry,” said another. “But now that this stuff is happening, I can’t go camping, I can’t walk around at night.”
The critics who shared their thoughts with Deseret said they felt they needed to remain anonymous in order to avoid police reprisals.
“If I talk to you for your article, the next time I need to call the police they might not show,” one hotel employee told the newspaper.
Others fear the investigation into the shooting deaths of Kylen Schulte and Crystal Turner is being mishandled, and that crucial evidence and clues are being ignored. Sean-Paul Schulte, the father of Kylen, told Deseret that he had been gathering tips from Moab residents related to his daughter’s murder and handing them along to the sheriff’s office. But he feels there’s no indication that the police are taking steps to follow-up clues and, what seems like, evidence.
The Campsite ‘Weirdo’
Public speculation on the Moab murders is often centered on a conversation the couple had at Woody’s Tavern the day before their disappearance.
Kayla Borza, a friend of the couple, told reporters the pair mentioned a “creep” staying next to them on the campgrounds where they were staying. Kylen Schulte reportedly told her father that she and Turner relocated their campsite to get away from the unidentified man.
Many, including Borza and Schulte’s father, believe the “creep” at the campsite was involved in the couple’s murder. The silence from investigators makes it impossible to know if this lead is being pursued.
The Petito Connection
Much has been made of the fact that Schulte and Turner were last seen on Aug. 13, while Gabby Petito and boyfriend Brian Laundrie were still in Moab.
Some people believe that Laundrie — who is wanted in connection with Petito’s death in September — was responsible for the murders of the Utah couple. The Grand County Sheriff’s Office originally said it “wasn’t ruling anything out,” but later rejected the idea.
The lack of progress in the Moab murder investigation has damaged the police department’s credibility with some observers, who continue to link the two cases.
On Aug. 12, the day that Schulte and Turner told their friend about the campsite “creep,” police responded to a 911 call reporting a domestic dispute near the Moonflower Community Cooperative, a grocery store where Kylen Schulte was reportedly employed. Moab police pulled Petito and Laundrie over near Arches National Park, a few miles north of the Moonflower.
“There was this big deal about Brian and Gabby getting in a tussle in front of the Moonflower,” Schulte’s father told Deseret. “And Kylen is the kind of person that would step out and say, ‘Hey, stop, you guys be nice.’”
Officers reportedly did not believe the domestic dispute was serious. Petito and Laundrie gave matching accounts while questioned separately, and both were “compliant and apologetic” with responding officers.
In a key moment, which forever changed the course of events, the police decided not to arrest Brian Laundrie. Many critics believe that if Laundrie had been arrested that night that Petito would be alive today.
Instead, police recommended the pair spend the evening apart, and Brian Laundrie reportedly stayed in the Bowen Motel — which is a short seven-minute walk from Woody’s Tavern, where the Moab murder victims were drinking with friends that night.
However, Moab is geographically small — it occupies less than five square miles — and its nightlife and tourist amenities are concentrated on a single road, Route 191. Most hotels and bars in the town are just a short walk from one another, making this connection questionable.
Schulte and Turner were last seen alive in Woody’s Tavern at 8:30 p.m. on Aug. 13. While Petito and Laundrie are known to have woken up in Moab that day, it’s unclear whether they were still in the area by the time Schulte and Turner were last spotted.
The bodies of the Moab murder victims were found on Aug. 18, but it is not known exactly when they were killed, nor is it clear when Petito and Laundrie reunited after spending the night of Aug. 12 apart.
By Aug. 17, Laundrie was on a plane back to his Florida home.
Moab Police Department is Under Fire
The Moab Police Department — which is not running the investigation of Kylen Schulte and Crystal Turner’s deaths — has been criticized for its handling of the domestic dispute between Petito and Laundrie near the Moonflower.
The 911 call reported that Laundrie was seen hitting Petito, but the police report of the incident lists Laundrie as the victim, and Petito as the aggressor. Responding officers at the scene described the event as a “mental health crisis” rather than an incidence of domestic violence. In bodycam footage, one Moab officer can be heard telling Laundrie that arguments like this are normal in a committed relationship.
In response to critics, Moab police said they would seek an outside party to review their officers’ handling of the incident. “At a bare minimum, the investigation on the side of the road developed, I believe, probable cause that would have been sufficient to charge one or both of them with some type of domestic violence,” attorney Phillip Holloway told Fox News.
Moab Police Chief Bret Edge took a leave of absence in late September, officially for reasons unrelated to the review. But many feel the timing of the leave is not coincidental.
Both Cases Remain Open
Whether or not a connection exists between the Moab murders and the death of Gabby Petito is an open question, as both cases are actively under investigation.
But the killer of Kylen Schulte and Crystal Turner seems to be at large — whether or not that person is Brian Laundrie.
As Deseret News said, a dark cloud hangs over Moab. There is a mix of anger, fear and frustration that has set in among residents, friends and family members of the deceased.
There’s a mess in Moab. And that may not change anytime soon.