What would you do if you were 17 years old and became convinced that your father had committed murder? And not just any murder, but the murder of your mother? That situation faced a kid named Pelle Wall in Salt Lake City a few years ago.
His parents were long divorced, but were in a bitter, ongoing dispute over custody of the four kids. It was so out of hand that they even were fighting over who got to keep family photo albums. In the middle of this, Pelle's mother Uta von Schwedler was found dead in her bathtub, along with a knife and one of those prized albums.
The medical examiner concluded that she'd drowned. Period. How she managed to drown - in her own tub - was left unanswered. Her son didn't know how either, but he was convinced he knew WHO - his own father, Johnny Wall, a respected pediatrician. Pelle had no proof, but a series of bizarre circumstances left him believing that, despite his father's adamant denials, he and his siblings were living with a murderer.
He says he was terrified. The day before he turned 18, he secretly packed his bags and fled to a sympathetic neighbor 's house. Then he and members of his mother's family began a relentless campaign, first to get his siblings out of that house and second to put his own father on trial. They used the local media, social media and even at one point put up a billboard near Johnny Wall's house, demanding justice.
His father's sister, Wendy, called that "embarrassing and horrible." She says her brother's family all still love Pelle, but that he is flat out wrong: Johnny Wall had nothing at all to do with his ex-wife's tragic death, that this was in all probability a suicide. She says Pelle's a teenager, who got swept up in a mistaken crusade started by others. His father's lawyer is more blunt, suggesting that Pelle is a misguided teenager, trying to "get back" at his father and enjoying all the publicity. None of this deters Pelle, whose efforts have pushed the case forward. He describes himself today as "optimistic." Asked if he's really comfortable knowing his father might go to prison in large part because of him, he says yes, that he feels nothing toward his father these days. He is thinking, he says, only about his mother now - and if justice for one parent means prison for the other, so be it.
Susan Spencer is a "48 Hours" correspondent. Her investigation into the death of Uta von Schwedler airs Saturday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.