Story Summary

Susan Cox Powell disappearance case

Susan Cox Powell disappeared from her West Valley City, Utah, home on Dec. 6, 2009. Her husband, Josh Powell, who had been considered a “person of interest” in her disappearance, later moved to Washington state with the couple’s two children. He killed himself and the couple’s two children in an explosion and house fire in Graham, Wash.,  in February 2012. Josh’s father, Steven Powell, of Puyallup, Wash., was convicted in 2012 of voyeurism and sentenced to two and a half years in prison. He has cited his Fifth Amendment rights on refusing to discuss Susan’s case.

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Local News
05/15/13

New search under way for Susan Cox Powell

Susan Cox Powell disappeared from her Utah home in December 2009. Now there are new developments in the search for her.

susan2West Valley City, Utah, police searched a wooded area on a Scotts Mills, Ore., farm near Salem on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“We are looking for anything that might lead us to find Susan,” West Valley City Deputy Police Chief Mike Powell said.

On day two, search teams with numerous cadaver dogs were brought in to comb the Oregon property in an effort to pick up the scent of human remains.

“Every tip we follow up on is a possibility of finding more evidence or even an additional tip to lead us to where Susan is,” Mike Powell said.

Shortly after Susan’s disappearance, Josh Powell rented a car and put more than 800 miles on it. But Salt Lake City to Scotts Mills, Ore., is nearly 800 miles one way. Where Josh Powell went is still a mystery.

Susan’s father, Chuck Cox, drove in for the search.

In late December 2012, more than three years after his daughter, Susan, vanished without a trace, Cox received a phone call from a woman who wanted to remain anonymous.

“She made me aware of some property here that would have been accessible to the family,” Cox said.

It’s a remote, rugged area of Marion County, Ore., where an aunt and uncle of Josh Powell once lived.

“And this person was concerned that this could be a place where they could have dumped Susan’s body,” Cox said.

But the day ended and nothing was found.

His hope for closure was dashed again, but some hope still remains in spite of time that continues to pass and leads that continue to dwindle.

“I’m worried it’s going to go cold and they’re going to stop searching for her and I’m hoping that doesn’t happen,” Susan’s sister, Denise Olsen, said.

The search is expected to resume Thursday morning.

susan2SALEM, Ore. (FOX13) — Police searched a heavily wooded farming area Wednesday near Salem for the possible remains of Susan Cox Powell, who vanished in 2009, and whose husband, Josh Powell, later moved to Washington state and killed their children and himself there.

Investigators gathered at a farm in Scotts Mills, Ore., focusing in a heavily wooded area.  Reporters from Salt Lake City’s FOX 13 observed numerous cadaver dogs searching the property in an effort to pick up the scent of human remains.

Investigators suspended the search late Wednesday, but said they would resume again on Thursday.

It was reported to be the former property of Steven Powell’s sister Patty Leach. Steven Powell is the father of Josh Powell, who was considered a person of interest in his wife’s disappearance.

Josh Powell killed his and Susan’s two young sons, Charlie and Braden, and himself in a house in Graham, Wash., in February 2012.

Steven Powell, who lived in Puyallup, Wash., was convicted of voyeurism and sentenced to two and a half years in prison in Pierce County Superior Court on June 15, 2012. Steven Powell has invoked the Fifth Amendment rights on Susan’s case.

Susan Cox Powell’s father, Chuck Cox, was also on the Oregon property to observe the dig effort. Cox said that he had received a tip about the area earlier this year that he had passed on to West Valley City, Utah, police. Josh and Susan Powell were living in West Valley City, Utah, at the time she disappeared.

“This could be a place where they could have dumped Susan’s body,” said Cox.

Deputy West Valley City Police Chief Mike Powell said they were “looking for anything that might lead us to Susan.”

“We have done everything we possibly can to follow up on those and conduct any additional investigation that may lead us to knowing and discovering where Susan is,” he said.

The site, nearly 800 miles away from Salt Lake City, does not seem to match up with a mysterious trip Josh Powell took in a rental car shortly after his wife vanished in 2009. At that time, police noted, Powell apparently took an 800-mile round trip.

Cox said detectives told him they were exhausting leads in the case.

“They were straightforward with me that if this doesn’t come through, they do not have any really good leads right now beyond this,” Cox said. “This is probably it as far as leads go.”

Mike Powell said they have chased many leads in the case.

“We have left no stone unturned. We have done everything that we can possibly think of. Every tip that has been sent in, every lead that has been given to us, every little bit of information has been looked at closely with great detail,” he said. “We have done everything we possibly can to follow up on those and conduct any additional investigation that may lead us to knowing and discovering where Susan is.”

Susan Cox Powell disappeared from her West Valley City home on December 6, 2009. Her husband, Josh Powell, has always been considered a “person of interest” in her disappearance.

In search warrants unsealed by a Utah court, police revealed that in interviews conducted shortly after Susan’s disappearance, they learned the couple had marital problems and that she feared Josh would “destroy her” if she divorced him. Inside a safe-deposit box, police wrote in search warrants that they had recovered a sealed, handwritten letter entitled “Last Will & Testament of Susan Powell.”

Susan had suggested that if she were to die, it may not be an accident, police said at the time.

In court documents filed in Washington state, police there characterized Josh Powell as the “prime suspect” in Susan’s kidnapping and murder. Those documents revealed police had questioned Josh Powell twice shortly after this wife’s disappearance.

While Josh Powell insisted he was innocent, police said there were “inconsistencies” with his statement. He had told police he had taken the couple’s two children, Charlie and Braden (ages 2 and 4, respectively), camping near Simpson Springs in Utah’s West Desert the night she disappeared.

Police claimed that when they looked at Josh Powell’s cell phone, the SIM cards had been removed. Police also found Susan’s cell phone in his possession, along with a generator, blankets, a gas can, tarps and a shovel.

A couple days after Susan was reported missing, police said that Josh Powell rented a car (police had seized the family’s minivan) and put more than 800 miles on the vehicle in two days. Where exactly he went has been unknown, but police claimed in search warrants that Josh activated a cell phone near Tremonton, Utah, at the time.

The Washington state search warrant claimed that family friends told police that Josh had made comments about how to “kill someone, dispose of the body and not get caught and that Utah’s West Desert is full of mine shafts, tunnels that are very unstable so that a person can be disposed of an no one would search for the body.”

Police also claimed in court documents that Susan’s children had spoken about their mother, referencing her disappearance. Charlie Powell reportedly told investigators his mommy went camping with them and she did not come back with them and he did not know why.

Police claimed that several weeks later, Charlie told a primary teacher “with no emotion and no hesitation, ‘my mom is dead.’ “

Police have conducted numerous searches for Susan Cox Powell over the years. They searched the area around Simpson Springs, as well as an area near Ely, Nevada.

In September 2011, police searched a site near Topaz Mountain in Millard County, where cadaver dogs hit on what might have been human remains. After days of searching that site in September 2011, police abruptly left.

An August 2011 search by West Valley City police of a home Powell was living at in Puyallup, Wash., for evidence related to Susan’s disappearance led to the arrest of Josh’s father, Steven Powell. He was accused of surreptitiously taking photographs of neighbor children.

Among the thousands of images police claim they found in the home were pictures of Susan Cox Powell that prosecutors alleged were taken without her knowledge. Police also seized Steven’s diaries, which detailed an infatuation he had with his son’s wife.

It was the arrest of Steven Powell that led to Josh losing custody of the couple’s children. He was then involved in a custody battle with Susan’s parents.

On February 5, 2012, Josh Powell killed himself and their children, Charlie and Braden, in an explosion and fire at a home he rented in Graham, Wash. A social worker had dropped off the children for court-ordered visitation. She told authorities Josh Powell grabbed the children and slammed the door in her face shortly before the home exploded and was consumed by fire.

Steven Powell was ultimately tried on voyeurism charges and convicted. He is scheduled to be released from prison as soon at the end of this month. The two neighbor girls Powell is accused of photographing have filed a civil lawsuit against him.

Susan’s family is also considering a series of lawsuits against Washington child welfare authorities over the deaths of Charlie and Braden.

Susan’s family has also been involved in a long-running legal dispute with Josh’s family over the payout of life insurance premiums. Josh Powell had named his brother, Michael, as the one to inherit the bulk of a multimillion-dollar policy for Josh, Charlie and Braden.

Michael Powell had been a defender of his brother and father, creating a website that accused the police of overlooking leads in the case and Susan’s family of mistreating Charlie and Braden.

Michael Powell, 30, committed suicide in February 2013 by jumping from a building in downtown Minneapolis, where he lived.

STEVEN POWELLMONROE, Wash. – Steven Powell, the father-in-law of missing Puyallup mom Susan Cox Powell, is set to be released next month from pirson time served.

The Department of Corrections confirmed Powell’s release date as May 23.

Powell has been held at the Monroe Correctional Complex since he was convicted of voyeurism last summer. Police say he took pictures of young girls in his neighborhood without their knowledge. He was sentenced to two and a half years in prison last June.

His daughter-in-law, Susan vanished from her Utah home in 2009. Her husband Josh was the focus of the investigation until he killed himself and the couple’s two children last year in a blaze that burned down his home.

Michael C. Powell, brother of Josh Powell. Courtesy imageMINNEAPOLIS — Michael Powell, the brother who staunchly defended his brother Josh Powell and father Steve Powell in their legal proceedings, apparently committed suicide by jumping from a building in downtown Minneapolis, it was reported Tuesday.

Powell, 30, a graduate student at the University of Minnesota, jumped from the multi-story Centre Village about 2:25 p.m. Monday, Minneapolis police Sgt. Steve McCarty told the Salt Lake City Tribune.  He plunged to a sidewalk next to the building and died immediately, McCarty said.

He was a major defender of his brother Josh, who killed himself and his two sons in a house explosion and fire in Graham, Wash., last February. Josh Powell was a person of interest in the disappearance of his wife, Susan Cox Powell, when they lived in Utah in 2009.

He also vocally defended their father Steven Powell of Puyallup, who was convicted of voyeurism last May and is serving a prison sentence in Washington.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, which has been closely following the Powell cases, Michael Powell, at the time of his death, was involved in a legal battle in federal court in Seattle  with Susan’s parents, Chuck and Judy Cox, over $1.5 million in insurance policies issued to Josh Powell and sons Charlie, 7, and Braden, 5.

Months before his death, Josh Powell changed his policy to list Michael as the primary beneficiary. In the event of Michael’s death the money was to be split between his father and Michael’s sister, Alina Powell.  The insurance company, New York Life, filed the court action. It wants a federal judge to decide if the changes Josh Powell made to the policies were valid.

powellboysPUYALLUP — Friends and family held a memorial Tuesday night for Braden and Charlie Powell, who were killed by their father Josh on Feb. 5, 2012.

A few dozen people gathered in the rain near the site of the home where the two boys died. The boys’ aunt, Denise Cox, said she was encouraged by the overwhelming support by  the community.

“You know they’re (the boys are) around you, but it just hurts you can’t see them. I expected tonight to be a lot worse, but with more people around, it’s nice to see the support you have for the cause of the boys, that they’re not missed, they’re not forgotten,” Cox said.

Hundreds of miles away in Utah, relatives and friends gathered at the same time to remember the boys.

On Feb. 5, 2012, Josh Powell set his Graham home on fire during a supervised visit with the boys. All three died in the fire.

Powell was a person of interest in the disappearance of his wife — Charles and Braden’s mother — in Utah in 2009. Susan Cox Powell has never been found.

powellPUYALLUP, Wash. — Crews at Woodbine Cemetery in Puyallup put the final touches on a memorial for Charlie and Braden Powell Monday.

Work on the 5,000-pound statue began in early November at the cemetery on 2323 9th Street SW in Puyallup. Volunteers helped design, construct and donate the materials for the statue, in hopes that it could be finished for a dedication on Thursday, Dec. 6.

Pierce County Sheriff’s Department Spokesman Ed Troyer and Pierce County Sheriff’s Department Sheriff Paul Pastor were the first to act in purchasing the grave sites adjacent to Charlie and Braden in order to prevent Josh Powell, their father, from being buried next to the victims.

Josh Powell, who was a suspect in the disappearance of his wife, Susan Cox Powell, in Utah in 2009, had lost custody of the children in 2011 and lost an appeal to get his children back just four days before he decided to kill them in fire at his home in Graham, Wash.

The monument at Woodbine Cemetery is a Christmas Box Angel made of bronze and sitting on a granite base next to the boys’ graves. The Christmas Box was donated as a symbol to others who have lost a child, Troyer said. Those who have lost children or need to grieve for a loved one come together at Christmas boxes across the country on Dec. 6.

The boys’ grandfather, Chuck Cox, said, “Realizing that many families that have to deal with the loss of a child, it’s evident to us that an angel statue would be a fitting memorial and that it would benefit the entire community.”

Charlie and Braden’s names will be etched on bricks and there will be benches with lighting and built-in flower holders. Other children who die young can be laid to rest there, officials said.

“Those who have lost children or need to grieve for a loved one, come and place a white flower at the base of the statue in honor of those who have returned to heaven,” Cox said.

PUYALLUP — Crews at Woodbine Cemetery in Puyallup will start construction Friday on a monument for Charlie and Braden Powell, the two young boys killed by their father, Josh Powell, in a house explosion in February.

The Puyallup City Council approved the construction plan at its meeting Tuesday night.

The monument at Woodbine Cemetery will be a Christmas Box Angel made of bronze and sitting on a white granite base.

The boys’ grandfather, Chuck Cox, said, “Realizing that many families that have to deal with the loss of a child, it’s evident to us that an angel statue would be a fitting memorial and that it would benefit the entire community.”

Charlie and Braden’s names will be etched on bricks and there will be benches with lighting and built-in flower holders. It’s being paid for by funds donated from people around the world.

Crime Stoppers of Tacoma/Pierce County and the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department purchased the graves to keep their father, who died in the same house explosion and fire, from being buried next to them.

Now, other children who die young can be laid to rest there. The Cox family plans to dedicate the monument on Dec. 6 if construction is completed by then.

“Those who have lost children or need to grieve for a loved one, come and place a white flower at the base of the statue in honor of those who have returned to heaven,” Cox said.

Questions have begun to arise as to why state officials ordered Charles and Braden Powell, ages 7 and 5, to regularly visit their father Josh’s home, where authorities said he caused an explosion that killed the boys and himself.

Now, the state is taking a hard look at the case to confirm authorities did enough to protect the boys from their father. The Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) will be performing a child fatality review of the case which should be completed within six months.

“It was a recipe for disaster and we were trying to prevent that very thing by taking custody and giving them a good life,” said Chuck Cox, Charles and Braden’s grandfather, and the father of their mother Susan Cox Powell, who went missing in 2009.

In September, a judge granted custody of Charles and Braden to Cox and his wife Judy.  Just last week, the court ordered the boys’ dad, Josh, to undergo a psycho-sexual evaluation.

Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist thinks that may have been what triggered Sunday’s fire.

“Those tests are highly intrusive, highly thorough,” Lindquist said. “They cover a person’s entire life history, sexual history and there’s a polygraph involved.  That was a good choice to get at information.  Clearly it was something Mr. Powell feared and wasn’t about to go through.”

Chuck Cox believes the system failed his grandsons and that their twice-weekly visits to Josh should have been more secure.

“I felt that he was a big enough threat and there were enough red flags that there should have been law enforcement there or somebody to make sure that he didn’t do something,” said Cox.

Sharon Gilbert with DSHS said there was no indication Josh was a threat and that extra precautions were not warranted.

“If there were ever any safety concerns about the parent, if they have an extensive history of assault or threatened anybody in the case then we will take extra precautions,” Gilbert said.

Lindquist thinks authorities should have taken into account that Powellwas a person of interest in Susan Cox Powell’s disappearance.

“You have the presumption of innocence here and we’ve seen other cases where defendants who have been charged but were out of custody and had access to visitations,” Lindquist said.  “Those aren’t homicide cases, though.”

In court documents filed last week, Josh painted himself as a stable and loving parent, but was also unhappy with the Coxes, claiming they were turning his sons against him, coaching them to call him “Josh” instead of daddy.

Judy Cox said the boys did not want to visit their father this weekend.

“I feel really frustrated and that it’s my fault because I made them go, but I had to because of the laws and that’s very frustrating,” said Cox.

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