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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stevenpowell1Steven Powell, the father-in-law of missing Susan Cox Powell of Utah, was sentenced in Pierce County Court Friday to 30 months in prison for voyeurism. With time already served, Powell will be free after serving about 21 more months in prison

Pierce County Superior Court Judge Ronald Culpepper also sentenced the 62-year-old Powell to 36 months of probation after he gets out of prison. He will also be required to register as a sex offender.

A jury found Powell guilty last month of 14 counts of voyeurism for photos found of his home computer of two young neighbor girls that were taken while they were undressing or using the toilet.

The photos were found last summer, when West Valley City, Utah, police executed a search warrant on Powell’s Washington home, because Powell’s son, Josh Powell, was living there and was a person of interest in the 2009 disappearance of Josh’s wife, Susan Cox Powell, in Utah.

Steven Powell was arrested last August for the photos, and in February Josh Powell killed himself and his and Susan’s two young sons.  Susan has never been found.

As Steven Powell entered the courtroom Friday, attorney Anne Bremner, who represents Chuck and Judy Cox — the parents of Susan — served Powell with a civil suit. Bremner told reporters she hopes to eventually gain information that could lead to the whereabouts of Susan.

Steven Powell’s attorney argued that the 14 counts of voyeurism constituted double jeopardy and he requested the court to reduce the counts to two.

After hearing the argument, the judge decided to reduce the 14 counts to 12, saying it couldn’t be proved that some of the pictures weren’t taken during the same viewing session.

Then the mother of the two young victims in this case took the stand, speaking directly to Powell about how his crimes have affected her family.

“Shame on you for not admitting what you did was wrong and not admitting that you did it at all,” she said. “I have no pity, they have to carry this forever with them.  And while I didn’t know you were watching my girls, I do know that someone was watching you and you better pray he forgives you, because I can’t.”

Prior to sentencing, Powell declined to speak when he was asked if he wanted to address the court.

The prosecution had asked the judge to impose an “exceptional” sentence of 10 years in prison, but the judge instead sentenced him 30 months in prison. He was also given credit for the nine months he has already spent in jail.

Afterward, Chuck Cox, the father of Susan, said, “In our justice system it seems like the rights of the criminals are higher than the rights of the victims,” Chuck Cox said. “This has happened many times before; the criminal is minimally sentenced and, as long as that happens, we’re going to see more of the same types of things throughout our lives.”

Alina Powell, Steven Powell’s daughter, told reporters she was relieved her father wasn’t sentenced to the 10-year sentence the prosecution had sought. She also said she saw nothing wrong with her father staying silent and not addressing the court.

“In this case there’s nothing to say because it’s so politicized and publicized,” she said. “If he didn’t do it, he could say that and no one would believe him. If he did do it, he could say he was sorry and no one would believe him and punish him, and severely, as if he weren’t to say anything.”

Pierce County prosecutor Mark Lindquist said in a statement that he was “pleased” with the sentence.

“While we recommended a longer sentence than was imposed, the important thing is that Mr. Powell has been held accountable for his crimes in Pierce County and this chapter is done,” Lindquist said.

Local News

Steven Powell guilty on all 14 voyeurism counts

stevenpowellSteven Powell, father-in-law of missing Susan Cox Powell of Utah, was convicted Wednesday of all 14 counts of voyeurism charges filed against him.

Sentencing has been set for June 15.  The normal maximum sentence would be about five years in prison, but prosecutors said they will ask for an ‘exceptional sentence’ to try to get a longer term.

Powell was found guilty of surreptitiously taking photos through windows of a next-door neighbor and her daughters, aged 8 and 10 at the time, while they were bathing and using the toilet.

The jury in the case began deliberating Tuesday and returned the verdict Wednesday.

“The hang-ups were if the photos met all the criteria for voyeurism,” jury foreman Dodd Tremaine said. “Everybody has different opinions of what they see and how they view photos, so we finally talked them out and we came to the conclusion he was guilty on all 14 charges.”

Photos and other items were seized from Steven Powell’s Puyallup home while police from West Valley City, Utah, were investigating the 2009 disappearance of Susan Cox Powell. Susan’s husband and Steven’s son, Josh Powell, was living with his father in Puyallup at the time of the house search.

Utah police considered Josh a person of interest in Susan’s disappearance. Susan has never been found. Josh killed himself and his two young sons in a rental home near Graham on Feb. 5.

Charges were later filed against Steven for the photos found in the home.

Steven Powell did not testify in the trial. His lawyer had argued that both of Steven’s adult sons were living in Steven’s home when the photos were taken and it was impossible to know who took the photos.

After the verdict was announced, Susan’s sister, Denise Cox, said outside the courtroom, “I can breathe easier and now focus my attention on finding my sister and get some searches started for her.”

Susan’s father, Chuck Cox, said he was satisfied with this verdict. “Steve should answer for what he’s done and he should be off the streets. He’s a danger to the public so I’m glad of that,” Cox said.

However, Steven Powell’s daughter, Alina Powell, was very emotional as she heard the guilty verdict.  She said she feels it was impossible for her father to have a fair trial because of the media attention since Susan’s disappearance.

“My family was automatically convicted 2 ½ years ago and ever since then I’ve lost a sister-in-law, a sister, brother, two darling nephews and a great father to an unimaginably complicated difficult situation,” Alina Powell said.

Detectives said they feel the only hope for finding Susan or bringing additional charges against Steven Powell is if new evidence is uncovered.

Susan’s family said they hope for a reduced-sentence deal with Steven Powell in exchange for information into Susan’s possible whereabouts, but Pierce County Deputy Prosecutor Grant Blinn said he has no plans to offer Powell a deal.

powellboysJosh Powell’s two sons, Charles, 7, and Braden, 5, were severely injured by “chops to the neck” but died from carbon monoxide poisoning preceding an explosion and fire, the Pierce County medical examiner said.

The blows were delivered with a hatchet or small ax, Pierce County Sheriff’s deputy Ed Troyer said.

The medical examiner listed the cause of death for Josh Powell as suicide.

The home where Powell had been staying exploded about 12:30 p.m. Sunday, moments after Powell’s children had arrived with a social worker for a supervised visit. The social worker was not injured.

Troyer said they uncovered two 5-gallon cans of gasoline in the home on Monday.

The discovery of the gas cans further cemented deputies’ theory that Powell acted with intent to kill his children and commit suicide. As an accelerant, Troyer said the gas was more than enough to “take care of the house.”

Troyer added that they did not find any guns in the home, even though witnesses said they heard gunshots moments before the explosion.

“It sounded like a sonic boom and felt like an earthquake,” said neighbor Dan Seelye of the explosion. Seelye said flames from the explosion were 30 or 40 feet high and that ash fell on neighbors’ roofs.

Powell’s attorney, Jeffrey Bassett, said Powell sent him an email moments before the explosion. It read simply, “I’m sorry, goodbye.”

Troyer also said that Powell had sent a handful of emails to family members and his pastor immediately before the explosion.

The emails detailed some items that Powell wanted addressed, such as shutting off the utilities and other items; he did not release the emails to the media.

Troyer told CNN on Sunday the sheriff’s department had copies of a short e-mail that had been sent to Powell’s family and friends that said “he couldn’t live with what was going on.”

It appears all the emails were sent just prior to the explosion.

“Nobody would have had enough notice” to do anything, Troyer said. He added that they don’t know how long Powell had planned the “double homicide intentionally inflicted on the boys.”

On Tuesday, ABC News released a voicemail message that Powell had left for his family members.

Powell has long been a person of interest in the case of his wife Susan Cox Powell, who went missing in December 2009. West Valley City, Utah, Police Chief Buzz Nielsen told KSTU in Salt Lake City that Josh was on the verge of being charged in Susan’s disappearance. On Tuesday, police announced they are now treating Susan’s case as a murder investigation.

An attorney for Susan’s family said the couples’ two sons had recently begun to remember the night their mother disappeared. Stephen Downing said the children, Charles, 7, and Braden, 5, had started talking to their grandparents about things they had remembered from the night their mother vanished.

Downing said Charles told family members about the night his father said they went camping. He reportedly said Susan was in the trunk before his parents got out of the car and afterward, his mother “got lost.”

West Valley City police said the investigation into Susan’s disappearance is ongoing and a team of investigators is coming to Washington to meet with area authorities.

On Sunday, the social worker who brought Powell’s sons for a custodial visit said Josh grabbed the kids and went into the house, locking her out. She tried pounding on the door to get in, but within a few seconds the house exploded. The house is located at 8119 189th St. Court East.

The social worker told authorities that she smelled gas.

Authorities have recovered the bodies of two young children and an adult sunday evening. Deputies believe that Josh had been living at the home since August 2011.

Josh was in court Feb. 1 in an attempt to regain custody of his sons who have been in the care of Susan’s parents, Chuck and Judy Cox. In an affadavit filed with the court, Josh wrote about his struggles surrounding the custody case and his missing wife. He also charged that the Coxes had inflicted his sons with “sustained severe injuries” and wrote that “for the sake of my sons, we can all do better.”

He also wrote to the court that he was not a “bad person” and that the “story is one of overcoming and rising above what many people think are insurmountable challenges.”

The judge denied Josh custody and ordered that he undergo a psycho-sexual evaluation and polygraph test due to the large volume of porn that had been found in the house where he and his sons were staying. The pornography was the property of Josh’s father, Steven, who was charged Sept. 23, with 14 counts of voyeurism and one count of child pornography.

Steven Powell was arrested and subsequently jailed. When Steven was informed of the incident involving his son and grandsons, he reportedly became uncooperative and displayed little emotion.

Deputies do not know if Josh visited his father recently in prison and Steven has remained uncooperative with investigators.

“This is a terrible act of murder involving two young children,” said Pierce County deputy Paul Pastor.

Pastor also said that it appeared to be an “act of evil.”

Troyer added that the home looked “staged” with photos of Susan on the walls and other items to make it appear as if Josh were a responsible and caring parent.

The house where Josh had been staying was about four blocks from his father’s home.

The tragedy of the situation and its brutal finality had an impact on responding deputies and rescue crews.

Troyer told CNN that many law enforcement agents in Washington worked with their counterparts in Utah on Susan’s case, in addition to spending time getting to know her sons.

“Our guys have spent a lot of time and effort and blood, sweat and tears on this case,” Troyer said. “We have detectives who are close with the kids and know them. The whole thing is just sad.”

josh1A judge ruled Wednesday that the husband of missing Utah mother Susan Powell could not take custody of the couple’s children at this time.

Josh Powell had been attempting to regain custody of his two boys. The boys have been living with Susan Powell’s parents, Chuck and Judy Cox, since last September – after Josh Powell’s father, Steven Powell, was arrested on child porn and voyeurism charges.

Pierce County Superior Court Judge Kathryn Nelson ruled that Josh Powell must undergo a psycho-sexual evaluation because of child pornography found in the Puyallup home where Josh was living with the two boys and his parents after Susan’s disappearance in December 2009.

Another hearing is set for July.

Police have said Josh is a “person of interest” in Susan’s disappearance.

josh1Chuck and Judy Cox appeared in a Pierce County courtroom Tuesday in an effort to gain temporary custody of their daughter’s two young sons.

Wednesday afternoon, the judge awarded custody of the two boys to Susan’s parents.

The Cox’s daughter, Susan Cox Powell, has been missing since December 2009. Steven Powell, Susan’s father-in-law, was recently charged with 14 counts of voyeurism and one count of child pornography and Susan’s two young sons were living in the same home as Steven. The two young boys were placed in foster care when he was arrested.

Susan’s husband, Josh Powell, was in court Tuesday. He said that he was unaware of his father’s alleged voyeurism. He also stated that he would keep his young sons away from his father.

Investigators told the judge that Josh Powell admitted to taking photos of womens’ legs without their knowledge.  Powell said that isn’t true.

Police have said Josh is a “person of interest” in Susan’s disappearance.

Powell’s estranged sister, Jennifer Graves, is among those who support giving custody to the Cox’s.  Graves said she’s happy with the decision. “I think the boys were in danger.  Their welfare was in question, obviously, with the stuff that came out about my dad we all know that that was a questionable place.”

Pierce County Detective Ed Troyer said that Josh, and everyone else that lives in Steve Powell’s house, is also a person of interest in their investigation into the inappropriate photographs found in the home.

Judge Kathryn Nelson requested more time to review materials provided by Chuck Cox and Josh Powell before she decided where the young boys should live.

Dan Styman with the Attorney General’s Office said that Assistant Attorney General John Long successfully argued in court that the boys stay with their maternal grandparents Tuesday evening.

coxThe father of Susan Cox Powell, the woman missing since 2009, filed for custody of her children Friday.

Susan’s father, Charles Cox, filed the petition arguing that the children’s father, Josh Powell, is not a suitable custodian. The petition said, “mother [Susan Cox Powell] has been missing since December 2009 and petitioners [Charles and Judith Cox] believe father [Josh Powell] is responsible for her disappearance.”

The custody petition comes just a day after Josh Powell’s father Steven Craig Powell, 61, was arrested on 14 counts of voyeurism involving two child victims and one count of possession of depictions of minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct.

Josh and Susan Powell’s two sons were removed from Steven Powell’s home and placed in protective custody following his arrest. “I’m relieved that the children are no longer in the household,” Charles Cox said after court Friday. He went on to say that he is doing everything he can to get custody of his grandchildren.

Though the investigation and arrest of Steven Powell is not related directly to the search for Susan Powell, detectives discovered the sexually explicit images while searching for evidence in the investigation of Susan Powell’s disappearance.

On August 25, detectives from the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department and the West Valley City Police Department searched Steven Powell’s residence seeking evidence in the investigation of Susan Powell. The search of the Powell residence resulted in the seizure of thousands of photographs and video recordings.

On September 13, West Valley City Utah Police detectives were reviewing the evidence in the Susan Cox Powell case and discovered “thousands of images of females being videotaped without their knowledge,” court documents said. “Some of the images were of Susan Powell, but many of the images were of other females. Most of these images were in public, but the photographer focused on the women’s buttocks, breasts, and intimate areas.”

According to court documents, several of the images were of young girls and some were shot using a zoom lens through a window.

On September 17, Pierce County Sheriff’s detectives obtained a search warrant to further investigate the Powell residence for the possible crimes of voyeurism or child pornography.  Pierce County Sheriff’s detectives identified and contacted several victims, including minors and adults.  None of the alleged victims said they had granted permission to, or were even aware of, being photographed or videotaped in their homes.

At 1:30 p.m. Friday, Steven Powell was scheduled to be arraigned on 14 counts of voyeurism and possession of video depicting minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct.

A Pierce County judge set Powell’s bail at $200,000. Powell is not allowed to have any contact with minors.

elyPolice launched a search in the desert surrounding Ely, Nev. August 19 after following up on what they deemed a credible lead regarding the case of missing West Valley City mother, Susan Cox Powell.

Police say the lead was generated from information in a sealed search warrant served in connection with the search for Susan Powell.

By the end of the day, the search had not provided investigators with any new information.

“The specifics, as you are very well aware, I am not able to discuss in any detail at all,” said West Valley City Police Sgt. Mike Powell. “We are here because the investigation has led us to this area and we are going to follow up on that information at this time.”

Susan’s parents, Chuck and Judy Cox, said they have no idea what connection Susan would have had to Nevada, but they are grateful the Department is willing to follow leads.

“I was hoping to hear something in that press conference. I was hoping to hear something that we could say, that this is what’s going on,” said Chuck Cox.

Earlier in the day, at the 10 a.m. news conference, police released few details, citing a secrecy order put in place by the courts. Sgt. Powell said a team of five investigators, including him, are conducting the search and they have invited the media to follow them.

Fox 13′s Ben Winslow is following investigators on their search. The first site of the search was at a gravel pit on a hillside above Highway 50 near Ely, which is about 230 miles from the Utah home where Susan disappeared. Investigators searched open mine shafts behind the gravel pit. Police told Fox 13 the lead they have is what directed them to the mine shafts.

“Obviously we’re here because this is where the lead had directed us to and we’re following up on that,” said Sgt. Powell.

Though police did not divulge anything specific as to what their lead may be, they were seen searching dozens of abandoned mine shafts, many of them within a short walk from the county road.

“And so we’re going back and clearing each one [mine shaft] as we come to them,” said one law enforcement officer.

Fox 13 contacted Susan’s father Chuck Cox on August 18. Chuck was surprised by the new search and called West Valley City police. He spoke to investigators and they said they were pursuing new information. Cox says this gives his family hope.

“I have talked with the West Valley City police and so they have now talked to me about it, but they did not share what the information was,” said Cox. “They didn’t tell me if they found a shoestring or a mass grave. They didn’t say anything.”

The Cox family said that they have been afraid to leave home and to get the phone call they’ve been dreading.

“It seems inappropriate to take a vacation,” said Cox. “It’s inappropriate to do anything except stay by the phone.”

Susan, a 28-year-old mother of two young sons, went missing from her West Valley City home on Dec. 7, 2009.

After Susan’s disappearance, her husband Josh and his two sons moved to Puyallup to live with his family. He believes the mother of their two sons ran off with another man. He also told Q13 FOX News that he is disappointed police have not found her yet.

Josh told reporters in Seattle he was overjoyed by the news of the search. Police are still calling him a person of interest in the case. He told police back in 2009 that he took the couple’s two young sons on a midnight camping trip in subfreezing temperatures on the night she disappeared.

“I want Susan to be found healthy and frankly – if possible – happy too,” said Josh. “I want my sons. I do want my sons to be able to get to know her and be around her.”

Susan’s disappearance has divided the two families. Josh has filed a restraining order against Susan’s father, Chuck.

The Powell family says their theory is that Susan ran away from her family and may have had an affair. Susan’s parents say their daughter would never leave her two children.

Chuck Cox says his family is hoping the new search will lead to closure in the case.

Both families agree they should not focus on their legal battles, and focus on the search for Susan.

“Right now our daughter is missing,” said Chuck. “And we want to get her face back out there so people are looking for her.”

“Everything gives me hope,” Chuck said. “Every morning we wake up with a hope that we are going to get a call and that she’s gonna be found. Every night, we hope that we’ll be woken up in the middle of the night with a call. It would be nice to have some closure.”

Friends of Susan Powell in West Valley City are continuing their efforts to find her by distributing flyers Saturday to people on the corner of 5600 West and 3500 South from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in West Valley City.

Stay with Fox 13 News and for the latest developments on this story.

joshFor the first time in months the husband of a missing Utah mother has broken his silence.  Josh Powell who now lives in Puyallup talked with a Utah newspaper, and the comments he made about Susan Cox Powell are drawing criticism from the woman’s family.

Josh Powell and his father Steve Powell spoke with the Salt Lake Tribune.  The men claim Susan is still alive and the mother of two ditched her family because she was having an affair.  But, those close to Susan like Shelby Gifford say that’s completely false.

“It’s a shame that instead of shouting from the mountain tops where did Susan go and where do we find her he’s out here spewing this garbage,” said Gifford.

Harsh words from loved ones of Susan Cox Powell, after her husband spoke for the first time to the Salt Lake Tribune Newspaper.  Powell said Susan wasn’t the victim of foul play, but instead went missing because of mental problems saying: “My wife is extremely unstable.”

Shelby Gifford calls that ridiculous.

“She absolutely did not have a mental illness, no history of mental illness even in the family.  In terms of her being unstable that’s just so inaccurate,” said Gifford.

Q13 Fox News went to the Powell’s Puyallup home Sunday afternoon to talk with Josh, but his father Steve shut the door on our crew.

Josh has avoided the media but told a Salt Lake City reporter Susan would sometimes yell at him while chasing him around the dining room table.  Another time, Susan ran down their street in her underwear to yell at him.

Gifford says she highly doubts either incident ever happened.

“I think that from our perspective Josh can say whatever he wants to say it doesn’t make it true it doesn’t make it accurate,” said Gifford.

Josh became a person of interest but not a suspect in Susan’s disappearance.  He told Police he took his two young sons camping in frigid conditions and when he came home Susan was gone.  Gifford says there’s no way she left on her own.

“I think that Josh’s claims that Susan voluntarily left her children are absolutely preposterous if you knew the first thing about her you knew she was a mom everything else was second in her world to her boys,” said Gifford.

Steve Powell believes his daughter in law skipped town with another man.  He also talked with the newspaper saying: “We don’t believe she was abducted.  We don’t believe she was murdered.  Susan’s very sexually motivated, and she’s very financially motivated.”

Josh Powell claims to be the real victim in his wife’s disappearance.  He says the Cox family is making him look like the bad guy on their Facebook page.  But, the family says they’re not anti-Josh, they just want to find Susan.