SALT LAKE CITY – In a Fox News exclusive, a Utah handyman said Friday that the man arrested in the disappearance and murder of University of Utah student Mackenzie Lueck recently asked him to build a secret, soundproof room in his basement, complete with strange hooks on the walls.
On April 4, nearly three months before Friday's arrest of suspect Ayoola Ajayi by Salt Lake City police, handyman Brian Wolf says he met with the man about some flood-damage repairs to his home.
Wolf, a self-employed construction contractor who does home remodels, said he was referred to Ajayi, whom he called "AJ," by a plumber who had worked at the house. Ultimately, Wolf decided the drywall repairs were unnecessary.
That's when the conversation took a turn.
According to Wolf, Ajayi started asking about “building this weird room” in a small space in the basement and making requests that set off alarms.
"He didn’t creep me out until he started asking for the requests that he wanted in that room," Wolf said.
Initially, Ajayi proposed "a secret door" in a space that was roughly four feet wide and seven to nine feet long. But then he "slowly started sidestepping into more stuff, like wanting a thumb lock on it with a fingerprint lock, and soundproofing it, and putting hooks in the concrete – it was just weird what he was asking me," Wolf said.
“I kinda joked around about it. Like, 'What do you need hooks that high for?' He was like, 'Oh, I'm going to hang these wine racks up there.' And I was like, 'Well, I can hang your wine racks for you and not have these big gaudy hooks that you want up here.' And then I was asking him why he wanted it soundproof, and he said if he wanted to sit down there and listen to his music real loud.
"And I was thinking like, 'Why would you sit in a tiny little -- like almost a little bigger than a walk-in closet -- room and listen to your music real loud and drink your wine or whiskey or whatever?'
“I got a bad gut feeling. And even my nephew, when we got out to the truck … we both looked at each other and [I] was like, 'That was weird, right?' And he was like: 'Yeah, that was hella weird. We’re not doing this job, right?
"And I was like, 'Hell no,'” Wolf said.
Ajayi was "adamant about telling me that money wasn't an object," Wolf recalled, saying the man emphasized that "he just needed to get it done now."
"He told me the reason he wanted it done so fast was his girlfriend was coming out. He didn’t tell me her name, what she looked like, anything like that — he just said that his girlfriend was coming into town and needed to get it done before she got there because she was a Mormon girl. He did say she was a white girl” and “she didn’t know he drank so he wanted to hide his alcohol from her.” (Lueck's family is Mormon.)
Wolf said he finally turned down the project, telling Ajayi that his residence was too far away and that he wouldn't be able to tackle the job quickly enough. In truth, Wolf said, the proposed project from the friendly and talkative Ajayi made him very uncomfortable.
Wolf, a father of two, said the interaction bothered him so much that he told his father, his wife and others. He didn't, however, tell the police about his concern that "the room he wanted built wasn’t appropriate for anything other than something inappropriate."
"Some people say I should have called the cops then," he said. "But how am I supposed to call the cops and be like, 'Hey, this guy wants me to build a weird room in his basement,'" Wolf said.
Mackenzie Lueck, 23, was last seen after she was dropped off by a Lyft driver at a park near Salt Lake City. She hailed the ride after flying in from Los Angeles, where she'd attended her grandmother's funeral.
Police said the Lyft driver, who has been cleared in the case, told them Lueck did not seem distressed on her way to the park.
Wolf, who has a 23-year old daughter and a 5-year-old son said the case hits close to home.
"I mean something like that could happen to her," Wolf said, referring to his own of his own daughter. "I can't imagine what that family is going through."
He added: "I'm shaking right now. My heart's pounding. I'm almost about to cry. It's scary. I feel sorry for that girl.”
As for Ayaji, a neighbor told Fox News on Thursday that "many women" frequented the suspect's home. "There were always so many women coming in and out at all hours of the night," the neighbor, who did not want to be identified, told Fox News.
Authorities said police searched the Salt Lake City home for about 19 hours for clues as to Lueck's whereabouts. They said they were also looking for a mattress and box spring removed from the home last week.
Offering a different perspective, another neighbor, Tom Camomile, defended Ajayi, calling him a “professional man” and a “nice guy.”
He said "we never really know who, what, when, where or why, but I would be really, really surprised if it turns out that he is actually involved in it.”.