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Ayoola Ajayi, suspected in killing of Mackenzie Lueck, lived a life of contradictions

Salt Lake City police take Ayoola A. Ajayi into custody in connection with missing University of Uta
Salt Lake City police take Ayoola Ajayi into custody Friday. Ajayi was arrested on suspicion of aggravated murder, kidnapping and desecration of a body in the death of 23-year-old Mackenzie Lueck.
(Kristin Murphy / The Deseret News via AP)

Ayoola Ajayi, the man police say killed Mackenzie Lueck and then burned her body in his backyard, appeared to live a life of contradictions and unfinished business.

He was kind to visitors and those who stayed in his home, which he rented as an Airbnb, according to his roommate. But other times, his temper would flare over small things, like the positioning of furniture.

He joined the Army National Guard but never attended training, a military spokesman said.

He had begun studying computer science at Utah State University, but never graduated, college records show.

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Then in 2014, Ajayi’s life took a turn for the worse. He became the suspect in a rape investigation, the North Park Police Department said Friday. The investigation was dropped, however, after the woman decided not to press charges.

Five years later, he again finds himself the subject of a police investigation.

Although charges haven’t been filed against Ajayi, 31, he was booked Friday on suspicion of aggravated murder, kidnapping, obstruction of justice and desecration of a body in connection with Lueck’s disappearance, according to the Salt Lake City Police Department.

Lueck, a pre-nursing student studying kinesiology at the University of Utah, was last seen June 17. The El Segundo resident had visited Los Angeles for her grandmother’s funeral and, after arriving at the Salt Lake City airport, she took a Lyft to a park in North Salt Lake. There, she met with Ajayi, authorities said.

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Mackenzie Lueck was last seen June 17. Neighbors of Ayoola Ajayi’s say they saw the man burning something with gasoline in his backyard around the time of Lueck’s disappearance.
(University of Utah)

After a week of searching for Lueck, investigators said that her body had likely been burned. When authorities searched Ajayi’s home, they found a freshly dug area, human tissue belonging to a woman and some of Lueck’s personal items that had been charred, police said. Neighbors told authorities they saw him burning something using gasoline in his backyard on June 17 and 18.

Records show that the last person Lueck communicated with using her cellphone was Ajayi, authorities said, although in an interview with detectives the man denied having any contact with her. He also told authorities he didn’t know what Lueck looked like and hadn’t seen photos of her online, despite having at least one photo of her in his possession, Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown said.

Recently, a Utah construction contractor came forward with a chilling story regarding Ajayi. Brian Wolf said that in April, Ajayi wanted him to build a secret, soundproof room underneath his porch, with hooks mounted high on a concrete wall and a “fingerprint thumb lock.” The man said Ajayi told him he wanted to hide alcohol from his Mormon girlfriend.

“As soon as he said he wanted the hooks above head height, I was like, ‘Why do you need big hooks up there?’ ” Wolf told the Deseret News. “And he said it was to hang a wine rack. I said, ‘Well, I can hang a wine rack and make it look a lot nicer than these big, gaudy hooks.’ ”

Wolf said he declined the job and, when he saw news reports of Ajayi’s arrest, he called police to report the encounter.

The bizarre request doesn’t line up with how one man knew him, though.

Shakari Moore, who said he lived with Ajayi for a few months, told the Salt Lake Tribune that Ajayi was an Airbnb host who was intelligent and had a good relationship with his clients.

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“A.J. would be the kind of guy that’s, ‘Hey, let’s go to the Asian supermarket and buy a couple of crabs and go back to my house and eat,’ ” Moore said.

He invited women over but did not seem to have long-term relationships, Moore said, noting that he wasn’t aware Ajayi had married in Texas in 2011 and separated in 2017. The divorce was finalized in January, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

It was Ajayi’s anger issues that drove Moore to move away, he said.

Ajayi would suddenly become “irate and disruptive” over small things, like disagreements over how furniture was arranged. “He doesn’t like to be told anything other than his way,” Moore said. “He snaps or loses his temper, [then] he comes back to his sweet self.”

Still, Moore said he never saw his roommate act violently.

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Ayoola Ajayi is the author of a crime novel, “Forge Identity,” according to Goodreads.
(Goodreads)

According to inmate records, Ajayi is a naturalized U.S. citizen, born in Nigeria. He joined the Utah National Guard and was discharged in June 2015 after six months of service, said Maj. David Gibb. He had been a member of the 214th Forward Support Company in Tooele, Utah, but did not attend training.

“As a result, he did not receive any certificates or awards from the Army National Guard,” Gibb said in a statement. “He was therefore ineligible to deploy or conduct any tours of duty with the Utah Army National Guard.”

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Officials at Utah State University said Ajayi attended the school three separate times for short periods between 2009 and 2016. He never earned a degree, though, said Tim Vitale, a spokesman with the university.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Ajayi’s LinkedIn profile indicated he had worked in IT for companies like Dell and Microsoft. His account has since been deactivated.

He also is an author, publishing the crime novel “Forge Identity” last year. According to Goodreads, the novel is about a man drawn to crime after witnessing gruesome murders at age 15.

On Tuesday morning, a motion by the Salt Lake County district attorney’s office to extend Ajayi’s jail hold was granted, giving the office an additional week to file charges. He is being held without bail.

In a statement, Lueck’s family said they would not give interviews.

“The Lueck family would like to express their gratitude for the effort put forth by the Salt Lake City Police Department and partnering agencies who assisted, as well as all of the people that provided tips on this case,” the statement said, “They are also grateful to her community, her friends, and people around the nation who have supported this investigation.”

A GoFundMe account created by friends and family has raised more than $19,000 for Lueck’s funeral expenses.

The young woman’s death sparked grief from her sorority sisters, who recalled her as “a ball of light.”

The University of Utah’s student government hosted a vigil at the university’s Union lawn Monday night that drew hundreds.

At the vigil, friends and sorority sisters held up signs and celebrated her life.

Times staff writer Hannah Fry contributed to this report.

alejandra.reyesvelarde@latimes.com

Twitter: @r_valejandra


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