Few answers in former BYU professor's violent death
Homicide » Knives were involved, say police but disclose little else.
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By many accounts, Kay Sherman Mortensen was an intelligent man who lived a rich life and had a strong sense of right and wrong.

So there are many questions surrounding the 70-year-old retired Brigham Young University professor's violent death Monday night during a robbery at his home. But police have disclosed few details and refused to confirm or deny others.

The Utah County Sheriff's Office has said there was a home invasion robbery at Mortensen's hillside home southeast of Payson.

Two other people say they were tied up by men who broke into the home, said sheriff's Sgt. Spencer Cannon. At least one of the intruders was carrying a gun, Cannon said.

"Knives were involved," Cannon said, but he could not confirm dispatchers' early reports that the victim's throat had been cut. Authorities would not identify the other people in the home or say why they were there.

Deputies are seeking two men in T-shirts and jeans, Cannon said. At least one of the men was described as having short hair dyed black. Witnesses also reported one of the men had a goatee.

Investigators are looking for a blue 1991 Ford Escort station wagon, Cannon said. Earlier reports giving a license plate number were incorrect, he said.

About 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, several members of the county SWAT team and the county fire service arrived at the home. Cannon said they were there to conduct a larger search of the property.

Mortensen was a mechanical engineering professor at BYU who retired about five years ago, said Tim McLain, chairman of BYU's mechanical engineering department.

"Kay was unique," McLain said. "He was full of stories and had a some rich life experiences he liked to share with students."

Last month, Mortensen and his wife finished an 18-month LDS mission at Cove Fort, 24 miles north of Beaver in Millard County. He wrote in the fort's yearbook that he was born in Ephraim, was the oldest of five children and worked on his parents' sheep farm. He went on to become a sergeant in the U.S. Army Reserves and earn a doctorate degree in engineering from the University of Utah. He worked at BYU for 37 years.

Parley Baldwin, a missionary at Cove Fort, said Mortensen's tasks at the fort included helping with the computer system and organizing other missionaries during the annual Cove Fort Days.

"He will be remembered as being very intelligent," Baldwin said. "He was just an encyclopedia of information."

In 2004, Mortensen and his sister went to court to take guardianship of their brother after he became incapacitated. M. James Brady, the attorney who represented Mortensen, said Mortensen was worried a previous caretaker was misusing his brother's assets.

"When he has a sense of right and wrong, he follows through to do what's right," Brady said.

ncarlisle@sltrib.com