The Sordid Saga of Josh and Susan Powell

Image for postSource: Deseret News

I remember my wedding day like it was yesterday. I made a concerted effort to relax and enjoy myself because I didn?t want to forget a single moment. It was the happiest day of my life. I knew I was marrying a good man. I knew my soon-to-be in-laws loved me.

Not to make light of a very tragic situation, but if you think your in-laws are tough to deal with, then perhaps the story of Susan Cox Powell will make you see them in a better light. The narcissism of her husband and the perversion of her father-in-law ultimately led to the destruction of not only her marriage but of her entire family.

Young and in Love

Image for postSusan and Josh during their courtship days ? Source: MyNorthwest

The story of Susan Cox and Josh Powell began like many others. Both were devout members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, otherwise known as the Mormon Church, in 2000 at a dinner party at Josh?s apartment in November of that year. [1] They were already classmates in a religion course.

The couple?s relationship moved quickly and just six months later, the two married at the Portland Oregon Temple. Josh was in the midst of job-hopping at the time, while Susan left her job as a cosmetologist to be a broker at Wells Fargo.

Josh?s goal was to become a real estate agent, so Susan got her realtor?s license to answer the phones for him. She was dedicated to her new husband?s budding career and what she believed would be their lifetime of love, devotion, and happiness.

In 2005, the Powells welcomed son, Charlie. Two years later, Braden arrived. Susan hoped the addition of their children would be the glue that kept their family together because things had already started to sour between the husband and wife. But in 2008, Josh was struggling to hold down a job, which forced him to file for bankruptcy, which served to further erode his relationship with Susan.

Image for postSusan, Josh, and Charlie welcome Braden into the world ? Source: Daily Mail

The animosity between Susan and Josh went far beyond the normal marital spats, however. The situation was so dire that Susan began detailing the family?s struggles in journals and videotaping the family?s assets in case a divorce turned into World War III. She knew her family was in danger, though she never had a clue that her family?s demise would go down in history as one of the most chilling family annihilations in American history.

In June 2008, the mother of two wrote the following:

?For family and friends of Susan. All except Josh Powell. I don?t trust him.

I have been having extreme marital stress for 3?4 years now. For mine and my children?s safety, I feel the need to have a paper trail. He has threatened to skip the country and told me if we divorce there will be lawyers. If I die it may not be an accident. Even if it looks like one.?

Image for postImage for postSource: Deseret News

Josh Powell?s Disturbing Background

There is no such thing as the perfect family, but some people?s families are more idyllic than others. Josh Powell?s upbringing was anything but idyllic.

Josh?s parents, Steven and Terrica Powell, had a tumultuous relationship, too ? one that ended in divorce in 1992. [2]

Image for postSteven and Josh Powell ? Source: KSL News Radio

According to Terrica, Steven was a harsh disciplinarian who ?pointedly attacked? Josh. This had a profound and tragic impact on Josh, who tried to hang himself as a teen.

The divorce of Steven and Terrica Powell reads like a novel. They disagreed over everything from parenting to religion, and court documents reveal allegations of mental unfitness, pornography, polygamy, and witchcraft. [3]

Steven accused his then-wife of adopting a mixture of New Age mysticism combined with Mormonism so intense that she practiced ?witchcraft and devil worship.?

Terrica argued that Steve was addicted to pornography and would often show pornographic material to their sons. She also stated that Steven harangued and verbally abused Josh on a daily basis. She further alleged that Steven was at times physically abusive to his children.

David Reiss, a California psychiatrist and expert in character and personality dynamics, spoke a bit about what a child-like Josh often goes through while growing up in a family like the Powells?.[4]

?A child living within the family dynamics often tries to appease a parent who terrifies them by, usually subconsciously, adopting their beliefs and thought patterns. On some level, the child is going to align himself with the person he sees as a threat.?

Terrica?s mother, Carol Martin, painted a picture of Steven that portrayed him as a ?very anti-church, anti-country, anti-authority, anti-morality, very radical? individual who ?taught the boys to mock and insult their mother? as he often did.

Image for postSteven Powell ? Source: ABC4

Terrica?s sister noted that the older Powell boys had a ?very distorted image of their own questionable right to do anything they darn well please?combined with a very deep contempt towards women in general and any authority at all.? And she placed the blame for this behavior strictly on Steven Powell.

While most people who come from abusive and dysfunctional backgrounds never become violent towards others, the same could not be said of Josh Powell. He once threatened his mother with a butcher knife after she asked him to do the dishes. With his father?s influence, he adopted a disparaging view of women. He even killed his sister?s pet gerbil.

Josh, along with his three brothers, ended up in his father?s custody, while his sister went to live with his mother. But eventually, she, too, went to live with Steven.

At some point, Steven Powell?s parents got custody of all five children. They lived with their grandparents for a year before returning to their mother, whom they?d been told they would never see again. By the time they went to live with her, all of them were deeply traumatized.

Despite criticizing Terrica?s religious beliefs, Steven became disillusioned with the LDS Church and began adopting extremist views. According to Terrica, he once proclaimed that he had a ?right? to take another wife and had his sights set on another already-married woman. He wrote songs about her and journaled his sexual fantasies involving her.

In response to the chaos in the family, Josh became withdrawn and was ?unwilling to interact, even to make eye contact for a year or two,? Terrica said. She added that he seemed to ?have a soul-deep hurt? as a result of his father?s ?erratic and explosive behavior.?

At the age of 18, Josh?s sister, Jennifer Powell Graves, submitted a letter to the court recounting a conversation she had with her father after reading a newspaper article about men who stalk and kill their former lovers.

Image for postJennifer Powell Graves ? Source: The Salt Lake Tribune

Jennifer wrote:

?I asked him if he?d do that to mom if she left him. He said, ?I?d like to think I wouldn?t go that far.??

It would soon become clear how much of a negative influence Steve Powell had on his son, Josh.

Susan?s Disappearance and That Strange Camping Trip

As Christmas 2009 approached, things inside the Powell marriage were at their lowest point, but Susan wrongly believed her husband might have been turning over a new leaf.

On the morning of December 6, Susan attended church with Charlie and Braden at the Hunter 36th Ward, then walked home with a friend.

That afternoon, neighbor JoVanna Owings stopped by the Powell home to visit with Susan. [5] Susan had asked her to come over to help her untangle some yarn she was using to crochet a blanket for Charlie.

Image for postJoVanna Owings ? Source: KSL.com

Pancakes and eggs were on the menu for dinner that evening and Josh was the chef. [6] Josh said Owings could stay for dinner, but her kids couldn?t come because he didn?t have enough food. As the two women untangled the knotted web of yarn, the boys helped Josh in the kitchen.

An artificial half-decorated Christmas tree stood in the corner of the Powells? living room and Susan was waiting on Josh to get the rest of the ornaments down from a high shelf in the garage. There were already presents for the kids under the tree.

Image for postA half-decorated Christmas tree inside the Powell home ? Source: The Salt Lake Tribune

While Josh was backing further and further away from the church, Susan was spending more and more of her time there. She had put money aside for tithing, a requirement to enter the temple, against Josh?s wishes. Susan explained to Owings that she and Josh had started going to marriage counseling through the church, but Josh had stopped attending the sessions and wasn?t reading a marriage book that had been assigned to them as homework.

It was rare that Susan had the opportunity to vent to friends about her marriage, and Owings was nervous about having a conversation with Josh there. She told The Salt Lake Tribune:

?I didn?t want to go into it that night because I felt that this should be a private conversation where I could talk with her and not have him butt in. He had a tendency to butt in.?

At some point during Owings? visit, Susan remarked that she was cold. Josh stopped what he was doing and brought her a blanket. Owings was impressed by the sweet gesture. Perhaps he wasn?t as bad as she?d heard ? especially since he was making dinner and actively involving Charlie and Braden in the process.

When the meal was ready, Josh brought a plate to Owings and his wife on the loveseat, then sat down at the kitchen table with the boys to eat.

Owings said:

?It was nice because the last time I had been there, he had to dominate the conversation. He had to be at the center of everything. When he came into a room it was all about Josh, what Josh had to say. This time it wasn?t like that, and I thought, ?That?s really nice.??

Around 5 p.m., Susan decided to lie down for a nap. Owings assumed Susan was just worn out from a recent miscarriage and an ear infection she?d been battling. Owings stayed until about 5:30, untangling the yarn. When josh told Charlie and Braden to get ready to go sledding, Owings saw herself out.

Another neighbor spotted Josh return with the boys around 8:30 p.m. Three hours later, Marco Bastidas, another neighbor who lived one house away from the Powells, was locking up his car when he heard an alarm sounding inside the closed garage at the Powell home. Oddly, the house was dark, and when the alarm continued to sound, Marco?s sister suggested he alert the neighbors. But it was getting late and Marco didn?t want to bother anyone. Eventually, the alarm shut off.

Image for postMarco Bastidas

Meanwhile, yet another neighbor may have been tipped off that something was amiss in the Powell home. She heard a man and a woman arguing and would later tell police she regretted not getting up and looking out the window to see where the angry voices were coming from.

When the Powells? garage door opened and the family?s blue minivan emerged later that night, no one saw or heard a thing.

It was approximately 12:30 a.m. when Josh Powell said he loaded his boys into the minivan and took them camping at the Simpson Springs Campground, some 25 miles west of Vernon in the remote west desert of Tooele County. Susan, he said, remained at home, asleep. [7]

The weather was snowy and frigid. The area experienced sub-zero temperatures that night. [8] A co-worker of Steven Powell?s would later reveal that Steven had told her he accompanied the Powell boys on the trip, where they sat around a campfire, roasted marshmallows, and threw snowballs. The conversation between Steven Powell and his colleague would shed more light on what happened to Susan as time went by.

Between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. on December 10, the Powells? daycare provider grew concerned that something was wrong with the family when the couple failed to drop off Charlie and Braden on schedule. Stranger yet, the daycare provider could reach neither Josh nor Susan at home or on their cellphones.

Image for postCharlie and Braden with Debbie Caldwell, their daycare provider ? Source: Deseret News

The daycare provider contacted Josh?s mother and sister, who immediately became alarmed, and they contacted the police. Police arrived at the Powell home and broke in but nobody was home. Ominously, however, they discovered two large fans blowing on a wet spot on the carpet.

Image for postImage for postTwo large fans found blowing on a wet section of carpet in Josh and Susan Powell?s home ? Source: The Salt Lake Tribune

That evening, when Josh finally answered his cellphone, he was informed by concerned friends and neighbors that the police were waiting for him at his house. [9]

When Josh arrived home, he was immediately taken to the West Valley police station for questioning. He gave them his nonsensical story about the spontaneous camping trip in dangerous winter weather. He seemed nervous. Suspicious, even. Susan was still missing, Josh claimed not to know where she was, and he became a person of interest in his wife?s disappearance.

Little Charlie also told police about the camping trip, but when the police went to the recreation area, they could find no evidence that the Powells had been there, due to fresh snow cover.

Image for postPolice interrogate a nervous Josh Powell ? Source: Fox 13 News

Where was Susan? If she?d gotten out of bed and decided to leave, she left the house woefully unprepared. The West Valley Police found Susan?s purse, cellphone, and other items in the house that she most likely would have taken with her.

On December 10, Josh, Charlie, and Braden, along with 100 neighbors and friends, gathered at West View Park for a candlelight vigil. They handed out fliers and prayed for Susan?s safe return, and Josh shed a few disingenuous tears for the cameras.

Steven Powell: The Father-In-Law From Hell

Image for postSteven Powell ? Source: KSL.com

Steven Powell was a man who viewed women as sex objects, not people. He was a porn addict who put his own needs and desires ahead of everyone else?s. The rules didn?t apply to him and if he saw something he wanted, he simply took it. His daughter-in-law, Susan, was no exception.

Steven saw his son?s wife as the ultimate prize. He had long been obsessed with her, believing that she deliberately flirted with him, despite her telling him she just wanted to be his daughter-in-law, and Steven made no effort to hide his infatuation from Josh.

In 2012, thousands of pages of police reports ? as well as video, audio, and written diary entries, many pertaining to Steve?s perverse obsession with Susan ? were released by the police. [10]

Image for postImage for postOne of Steve Powell?s written journal entries (L) and one of his audio journals ? Sources: (written journal) The Cold Podcast and (audio) KTAR

Earlier that year, Steven had been found guilty of voyeurism after taking photographs and videos of young girls changing and bathing in their bathroom. He was serving his sentence in a Washington state prison when the documents were released.

Image for postSteven Powell in court for child pornography and voyeurism charges ? Source: The News Tribune

In one diary entry, Steven wrote about Susan:

?What has driven me in the past year is primarily lust. I have never lusted for a woman as I have for Susan. I take chances sometimes to take video clips of her, which I watch regularly.?

He added:

?How I would love to kiss those lips.?

Powell detailed how he went through Susan?s laundry and masturbated with her underwear and to photos of her, twice in her presence. He admitted to slipping a mirror under the bathroom door to spy on Susan while she went to the bathroom.

He wrote:

?The fact is, I can hardly control myself when it comes to her.?

Dr. Chitra Raghavan, a professor of psychology and expert in abuse at John Jay College, explained:

?He truly appears to believe that he is in love with her. [He thinks] his love is wholesome and pure, that he has a right to express his love, and that the erotic interest that he is having ? is normal and healthy and beautiful. [S]o, [it is] very delusional. He is a predator. He ? invades her, he exploits her. And he has no difficulty with this.?

But Steven seemed to understand that what he was doing was sick, writing that his actions ?might be considered sociopathic. I mean, who looks under the bathroom door with a mirror?? But what Steven Powell wanted, Steven Powell got.

In August 2011, Steven shocked the country when, during an ABC News interview, he stated that he and Susan ?interacted in a lot of sexual ways because Susan enjoys doing that. I enjoy doing that.?

Throughout his journals, Steven questioned if the 31-year age difference between him and Susan would pose a problem, and he cut out numerous newspaper articles about age gap relationships. [11]

A delusional Steven Powell seemed to genuinely believe he had a shot at a romantic relationship with his daughter-in-law. He decided to sell his house after Susan said she thought it was too dark. He planned on buying another home if Susan one day agreed to marry him.

The investigation into Susan Powell?s disappearance revealed that Steven had a stash of disgusting and exploitative items belonging to his daughter-in-law, including cotton balls that Susan had used to remove nail polish, pairs of her panties in Ziplock bags, toenail clippings, hair clippings, used sanitary napkins, and other horrific souvenirs, all dated with Susan?s name on them.

Image for postUnderwear and other items of Susan?s collected by her father-in-law Steven Powell ? Source: The Cold Podcast

Susan was understandably disgusted by Steven?s advances, but Josh always defended his dad, saying that?s just how he was. However, soon after Steven confessed to Susan his love for her, Josh and Susan moved from Washington state to Utah, though this didn?t stop Steven from journaling about his lust for Susan.

In one of his last journal entries, Steven wrote that he would be ?devastated? if he found out that Susan was dead, and that he was ?so in love with her? that he could ?barely function.?

The Investigation Into Susan?s Disappearance

As the investigation into Susan?s disappearance unfolded, Susan?s family held press conferences and an anonymous donor offered a $10,000 reward. [9]

Josh?s rental car was searched by police and they found that he had driven the vehicle several hundred miles. The family?s minivan, along with the home, was searched multiple times. In late December, Josh lawyered up and stopped cooperating with the police, leading those involved to infer that he wasn?t interested in his wife being found.

Image for postJosh Powell?s rental car ? Source: Twitter/The Cold Podcast

Police obtained a subpoena for all of Josh?s media interviews due to his odd behavior. They wanted to see what clues they could glean from his demeanor and tone of voice, which were undoubtedly apathetic and suspicious.

Anyone who thought Josh might be a beleaguered, grieving husband changed their mind when, in January 2010, Josh packed up his and the boys? belongings in preparation to move back to Washington state. On January 11, just a month after his wife disappeared, Josh recruited friends and neighbors to help him load a moving van and trailer.

Josh further eroded his own credibility on February 26, 2010, when he, along with his father, launched the website susanpowell.org. The creation of the site led to a feud between the Cox and Powell families. The site may have been launched as a ruse for trying to find Susan, but it was mostly a platform for the Powell family to disparage Susan and defend themselves against attacks from Susan?s family.

Image for postSource: Deseret News

Earlier that year, in December, a year after Susan vanished, Josh accused his wife of leading a double life and plotting to divorce him. He linked Susan to Steven Koecher, another Utah man who went missing in December 2009. Josh used the website to further accuse Susan of having an affair.

Image for postSteven Koecher ? Source: LifeDaily

Just when it seemed Susan?s case had gone cold, a judge issued a warrant allowing investigators to search Josh?s Puyallup, Washington, home, where Josh was living with Charlie, Braden, and Steven. The warrant came a day after Steven Powell?s disgusting ABC News interview in which he claimed he?d had a sexual relationship with Susan prior to her disappearance.

Steven told Good Morning America:

?There was really a disconnect between the Susan who was a faithful, loving wife, and the Susan who was a very flirtatious, sexual being. Father-in-law-daughter-in-law flirting with each other, maybe some sexual touching or whatever. And ? I enjoyed it, frankly. Susan was a joy to be around in so many ways, not just those ways.?

Charlie and Braden

The biggest threat to Josh Powell?s freedom was his own sons.

Josh had hoped they would either keep their mouths shut or that they would be too young to remember or understand what happened to their mom.

Image for postCharlie and Braden with Chuck and Judy Cox -Source: Daily Herald

Josh Powell had told the police that Susan stayed home in bed that night and did not go on the camping trip, but Charlie did not back up his dad?s story, and ultimately, he would pay for it with his life.

When interviewed, Charlie told investigators that he went camping at ?Dinosaur National Park? and that his mom, dad, and little brother were with him. He said the family took flowers and crystals with them, but when it was time to come home, Charlie explained:

?My mom stayed where the crystals are ?cause it has so much pretty where the crystals grow.?

When confronted with his son?s testimony, Josh told the police:

?She was not with us. They know that?s not true.?

Charlie and Braden were removed from Josh?s custody in 2011 and placed in the care of Susan?s parents. [12] Josh was only allowed supervised visits. A judge ordered that the boys remain with Chuck and Judy Cox until Josh went underwent a psychosexual evaluation and took a polygraph test.

While in the care of Chuck and Judy, the boys became increasingly vocal about what happened on the night of that bizarre camping trip.

Susan?s parents? lawyer Steve Downing said:

?They were beginning to verbalize more. The oldest boy talked about that they went camping and that Mommy was in the trunk. Mom and Dad got out of the car, and Mom disappeared.?

Charlie made a drawing showing him and his brother in the family minivan with Josh at the wheel. When asked where Mommy was, Charlie replied, ?In the trunk.? He added that Mommy and Daddy got out of the minivan and Mommy didn?t come back.

Anne Bremner, an attorney for the Coxes, explained that the boys only began to feel safe enough to share what happened during the camping trip after they went to live with the Coxes. Though the boys were too young to fully explain what happened that night, each time one of them spoke, a clearer picture emerged.

Image for postAnne Bremner, the Cox family?s attorney ? Source: The Salt Lake Tribune

She said in 2012:

?I know that to be true in this case because as recently as Christmas, the boys told their grandparents, ?Mommy?s in the mine. If we go to the mine, we?ll find Mommy.??

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Josh Powell realized he had a serious problem on his hands.

Josh was known as an eccentric, controlling, know-it-all, but most friends and family, unfamiliar with the inner workings of the family, agreed that he was a good father.

Maybe he did love his boys, but he loved himself first and foremost, and he wasn?t about to let his own flesh and blood rat him out for murdering his wife.

The Last Sighting of Susan Powell?

An employee at a local Flying J gas station claims to have seen the Powell family on the night Susan disappeared. [13]

A minivan pulled up in the parking lot of the gas station in the midst of a fierce winter storm and out walked who the employee would later recognize as Josh, Susan, Charlie, and Braden.

The clerk, known only as Denise, remembers how out of place the family looked at that time of night in such bad weather.

A man walked in holding a toddler and he was chasing after another young boy, calling out, ?Hey, Charlie!?

He was wearing a leather jacket. He had dark hair and a goatee. It would be weeks before she recognized the man: It was Josh Powell.

Image for postJosh Powell ? Source: KSL News Radio

The woman, whom she eventually recognized as Susan, looked well put-together for someone who was about to go camping. Denise recalls she had red rings around her eyes like she?d been crying.

The couple brought rescue tape, crackers, and licorice to the register and the man called out, ?Hang on a minute. Let me buy this and then we?ll go camping,? to a little boy waiting by the door.

Denise found the exchange incredibly odd. Who goes camping in the middle of the night? Who goes camping in a snowstorm? Who goes camping in the middle of the night in a snowstorm in a minivan? Shouldn?t the family have been in an RV, or at least an SUV?

The man paid in cash and used the change to top off the gas tank. Then, the family was out of sight and out of mind until weeks later, when Denise recognized their faces on the TV news.

Sadly, Denise?s account of her interaction with the Powell family could not be confirmed, as they paid in cash and left no paper trail, and the Flying J had already taped over surveillance footage from that night.

Image for postCharlie and Susan Powell ? Source: KSL News Radio

An Explosive Development

The date was February 5, 2012, and Charlie and Braden Powell were scheduled for a supervised visit with their father, Josh Powell. [16]

When caseworker Elizabeth Griffin-Hall pulled into Josh Powell?s driveway, the boys emerged from the car first, followed by Griffin-Hall. Though some reports state that Charlie and Braden didn?t want to see their father that day, Griffin-Hall reports that the boys expressed a desire to live with Josh again and that the boys would ?light up? whenever they visited with him. [17]

Image for postCharlie and Braden?s caseworker, Elizabeth Griffin-Hall ? Source: SocialWorkersSpeak.org

The boys jumped out of Griffin-Hall?s car and ran to the house, with Griffin-Hall just a few steps behind ? just far enough to allow Josh to slam the door before the caseworker could enter the home.

Internal alarm bells went off in Griffin-Hall?s head. You have to assume the worst of a man when he is the primary person of interest in a missing persons case.

She said: [17]

?He caught my eye, his shoulders were slumped. He had a sheepish look. He just shrugged his shoulders and slammed the door.?

Griffin-Hall pounded on the door and pleaded with Josh to let her in, but he ignored her pleas. From inside the home, she heard Josh say, ?Charlie, I?ve got a big surprise for you!? followed by the sounds of Braden crying.

It was not uncommon for Josh to have surprises for his young sons, Griffin-Hall said, but this time, something was very wrong.

The bewildered caseworker was already frantic when the odor of gasoline began to waft from the house.

Griffin-Hall said:

?I?m saying, ?Let me in, Josh, let me in.? I realized I didn?t have my phone in my hand and I could smell gas. Too much time had passed and I could smell gas.?

Fearful that her car could blow up, she ran to the vehicle and moved it and dialed 911. The call was answered by dispatcher Dave Lovrak. [18] He didn?t grasp the seriousness of the situation, even though Griffin-Hall told him it could be a life-threatening emergency. He told The Salt Lake Tribune that even though he was familiar with Josh Powell?s name, he didn?t immediately connect the dots when Griffin-Hall told him whose house the police needed to respond to.

?I was aware of Josh Powell?s story. But I didn?t associate his name with the story??

Image for postDave Lovrak ? Source: CafeMom

During the exchange, Lovrak asked Griffin-Hall for mundane details, such as the description of her car, but missed important details such as the gasoline smell. At the end of the call, Lovrak told Griffin-Hall that the next available deputy would respond, but that deputies ?have to respond to emergencies, life-threatening situations first,? still unable to understand how dire things were at that moment.

Griffin-Hall then called her supervisor and told her that ?something terrible is happening here.? [17] Before she could get the words out of her mouth, there was an explosion and the Powell home went up in flames.

Image for postJosh Powell?s house in flames -Source: CNN

It would take approximately 22 minutes for help to arrive. By then, Josh, Charlie, and Braden Powell were long dead.

Plotting Evil

Image for postSource: ABC News

Josh?s decision to take his own life and the lives of his children was no spontaneous crime of passion. The family?s macabre ending had been in the works for days, if not weeks.

In the days leading up to February 5, Josh gave away the toys and books he kept at his home for his young sons. [19] At some point, he stopped somewhere to fill two, five-gallon jugs of gasoline.

Minutes before Charlie and Braden?s arrival, Josh sat at his computer and composed farewell messages to friends, relatives, and his pastor. He informed them of where he kept his money and how to shut off his utilities. He claimed in one e-mail that he had decided to commit suicide because he couldn?t live without his boys.

He said: [35]

?I am not able to live without my sons, and I?m not able to go on anymore. I?m sorry to everyone I?ve hurt. Goodbye.?

But there had to have been rage and bitterness behind his plot to kill Charlie and Braden. Josh made no attempt to make sure his children were unconscious and not suffering when he set the house ablaze. The little ones? deaths were absolutely horrific.

According to the boys? autopsies, both children died from carbon monoxide poisoning with ?chopping injuries? as a secondary cause. [20]

Josh attacked his boys with a hatchet ? enough to knock them down but not kill them. Then, as his children bled out, he poured gasoline on them and exploded the house.

Image for postA melted gas can found in the charred remains of Josh Powell?s house ? Source: New York Post

Charlie and Braden Powell experienced unimaginable pain, terror, and heartbreaking betrayal as they took their last breaths.

The Aftermath

Family Perversion

Steven Powell may have been the poster child for perversion, but his son, Josh, had serious problems of his own.

When Josh was ordered to take a polygraph test and undergo a psychosexual evaluation, the details of why were not released. [21] After the fire, however, it was revealed that investigators had obtained his computer hard drives, where they found images of ?incestuous? sexual drawings.

Image for postA young Josh Powell sits at the computer ? Source: Deseret News

The images were not made known to all parties in the case, including the Cox family?s lawyer. Had their lawyer known, the Coxes could have used the information to bar Josh from seeing Charlie and Braden.

Furthermore, it came to light that Josh sexually abused Charlie and Braden before he murdered them. [22]

Gregg Olsen and Rebecca Morris, the authors of the book If I Can?t Have You: Susan Powell, Her Mysterious Disappearance, and the Murder of Her Children, uncovered evidence that both boys were molested while living with Josh and Steven. The book is based on interviews with Josh and Susan?s family and friends.

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According to Olsen and Morris, one night, while Charlie and Braden were living with Susan?s parents, the boys refused to put on their pajamas while getting ready for bed. When Chuck Cox asked them who told them it was OK to sleep naked, they replied, ?Our daddy!?

Charlie later explained to Chuck that he and his brother slept naked in bed with Josh, who was also nude.

Eventually, one of the brothers drew a picture depicting a child next to an adult, accompanied by the words, ?Don?t play with me!?

When the boys were removed from Josh?s custody, Braden was diagnosed with a fungal skin infection; this type of infection can be contracted through sexual contact.

A Purported Poisoning

Image for postSource: Fox 13

Friends say they suspected Josh of poisoning his wife in October 2009, just two months before she went missing.

Susan had been feeling nauseous and wondered if she was pregnant. She was indeed pregnant and later miscarried.

Friend Amber Hardman said:

?He made a lot of organic products for her to drink, a lot of thick yogurt stuff and fermented drinks with kefir.?

Susan was hoping to conceive a third child, but Josh did not share that same desire. In an interview with police, Steve Powell confirmed that Susan wanted another baby, but that Josh had been practicing ?safe sex.? [23]

Though there was no way of proving it, Dave Cawley, host of the ?Cold? podcast, which solely focuses on the Powells, believes Josh may have poisoned Susan on the day before her disappearance.[24] Josh rarely cooked, and Susan got tired and needed to lie down after she ate. (Jovanna Owings remembers Josh being very deliberate about dividing up the food.)

Image for postDave Cawley ? Source: KSL News Radio

Cawley theorizes that Josh crushed up pills and mixed them in with the pancake batter, then used a power tool to kill Susan, before wrapping her body and loading her into the trunk of the minivan.

This would explain the fans found blowing on a wet section of carpet, but his theory clashes with Charlie?s statements about Susan being with the family when they went camping, as well as the Flying J employee?s statements about seeing the Powell family on the night they went camping.

Pure Narcissism

Josh had a reputation for being a self-centered know-it-all who always had to dominate every conversation. The primary focus of Josh Powell?s life was Josh Powell.

Former neighbor John Hallewell explained: [25]

?We all love Susan and we tolerate Josh because he comes along. It?s part of the package ? that?s how most people felt. She was always worrying about other people, where Josh was always the opposite. He was only ever concerned about himself, which made things, sometimes, a little difficult.?

As the Powell saga unfolded, more friends, family, and former neighbors came forward to share their experiences with the man believed to have taken his wife?s life and who put his own sons through a nightmarish death.

When Susan went into labor with her first son, Charlie, Josh refused to take her to the hospital and instead made Chuck and Terri Cox drive her because he insisted on backing up his hard drive before going to the hospital.

It took him two hours to come to the side of his wife?s hospital bed. When he arrived, he sat down in a chair and started working on a laptop. Chuck had to tell him to put the computer away and be with his wife.

Josh also ruled the household with an iron fist, requiring Susan to ask his permission to drive the car. And when it came to money, Josh kept the purse strings tightly knotted.

Michelle Oreno, a friend of Susan?s, shared:

?He would give Susan an amount of money ? and on grocery shopping, he also had a spreadsheet that she was to look at through ads and find the cheapest price of things. When she went shopping, she came home and she had to enter every single item into that spreadsheet. And if she spent more than a couple of cents more on a can of beans, Josh would really yell at her and get angry.?

Josh was so controlling of the family?s money that he forced Susan to knit socks instead of buying new ones.

He even controlled how much his children ate. Susan had to resort to calling friends to ask if she could sneak hotdogs from them because Charlie and Braden were so hungry. [26]

Image for postA still shot from a video Susan made documenting her and Josh?s assets in case they got divorced ? Source: InTouch Weekly

Susan?s friend Rachel Marini claims Susan told her that Josh once said of Charlie:

?He gets one meal a day at daycare. That?s all he needs. You?re not wasting my food on him because he?s just going to poop it out!?

(Insert joke about Josh thinking his own sh*t didn?t stink here.)

Charlie was just a year old at the time and a doctor had diagnosed him with malnutrition.

Image for postSusan with Charlie ? Source: ImperfectParent.com

The disturbed husband and father eventually stopped giving Susan money altogether.

Susan wasn?t allowed to have a cellphone and Josh made her ride a bicycle to her job. [23] She was instructed to only go for a run every other day so they could save money on showers, yet Josh was known to gamble at a local casino.

The Powell Family Dwindles

Michael Powell

Image for postMichael Powell ? Source: KSL News Radio

To many, it seemed like the Powell family was ?cursed.? If true, they cursed themselves with their own behavior.

In February 2013, Josh?s brother, Michael Powell, jumped to his death from a building in downtown Minneapolis. [27]

The 30-year-old jumped from the multi-story Centre Village, which includes a seven-story parking garage and additional floors that house a hotel and condominium. Michael lived on the block. Four people witnessed Michael leap and hit the sidewalk beside the building.

Michael was considered the ?good? member of the Powell family. He, along with his sister, Jennifer, seemed to be the least troubled. Michael had the fewest problems and was going places in life. At the time of his death, Michael was a doctoral degree candidate in cognitive science at the University of Minnesota. Before pursuing his education, he served five years in the U.S. Army as a signals analyst and human intelligence collector. [28]

After receiving an honorable discharge in November 2007, Michael graduated from the Defense Language Institute. He earned a bachelor?s degree in Asian studies with a Korean focus at the University of Washington and was fluent in Korean.

Image for postMichael Powell ? Source: Twin Cities Pioneer Press

However, Michael fiercely defended Josh and his father, once writing on SusanPowell.org that he didn?t believe law enforcement had enough evidence to support the voyeurism charges against his dad. He claimed those charges had been fabricated to ?inflict maximum damage to the Powell family?s reputation and long-term financial situation.?

Michael also accused the West Valley City Police of tunnel vision when it came to their focus on Josh as the person of interest in Susan?s disappearance, saying the department had overlooked other significant leads ? including a possible connection to Steven Koecher.

At the end of his life, Michael was battling Chuck and Judy Cox over $1.5 million in insurance policies issued to Josh, Charlie, and Braden.

Approximately four months before Josh murdered his sons and killed himself, he changed his policy to list Michael as the primary beneficiary rather than Susan. Some 93% of the money would go to Michael, four percent would go to sister Alina Powell, and three percent would go to brother John. Should Michael die, the money was to be divvied up between Alina and Steven Powell. Josh also made Michael Powell the second beneficiary to his sons? policies.

Josh was clearly a generous older brother, but why was he so generous? The ?Cold? podcast shared that Michael repeatedly lied under oath about communications he had with Josh regarding Susan?s disappearance.

Michael spewed these lies on October 20, 2012, during a deposition tied to Josh?s life insurance. When attorney Anne Bremner asked him about his use of Facebook, Michael told her that he ?almost never? used it. When asked if his account was still active, Michael said he ?wasn?t sure? and that he had created it while running for a seat in the Washington Legislature in 2008.

What Michael failed to tell Bremner was that he and Josh had created a separate Facebook account under a bogus name and used it to spy on a group dedicated to searching for Susan?s body.

It was not until August 2011 that West Valley police learned of the Facebook account.

Josh Powell scoured Facebook to find out where people were looking for his wife?s body, all the while unaware that the police had tapped his phones and were listening in on all of his conversations as part of an operation codenamed ?Tsunami.?

In an effort to draw out Josh, the police launched a public search of abandoned mines near Ely, Nevada, for Susan?s remains on August 19?20, 2011, in the hopes that the publicity would spark revealing conversations between Josh and Michael.

During one recorded call, the brothers discussed their desire to monitor and possibly insert information onto a private Facebook group titled ?Where is Susan Powell?? Their purpose in doing so, according to the call, was to ?distract attention from allegations related to Joshua Powell?s involvement in Susan?s disappearance.?

Outside of Facebook, Michael also made other questionable statements during his deposition.

Image for post(From left) Michael Powell, Steven Powell, Josh Powell, Susan Powell, and young Charlie Powell ? Source: Oxygen.com

Just days before the murder-suicide, an essay appeared online that was critical of the police and of the Powell family. Although the piece bore Michael Powell?s name, Michael denied making the allegations included in the essay.

Furthermore, Michael claimed that he had never spoken to Josh about his whereabouts on the night that Susan went missing.

In 2011, the police discovered that Michael had paid to have his broken-down car towed to a salvage yard two weeks after Susan disappeared. [29] Investigators recovered the 1997 Ford Taurus to conduct forensic testing and a cadaver dog indicated the presence of human decomposition in the trunk. DNA tests, however, were inconclusive.

Image for postA cadaver dog sniffs Michael Powell?s 1997 Ford Taurus ? Source: The Cold Podcast

When Utah investigators paid Michael a visit in Minneapolis that October to chat about the discovery, Michael was tight-lipped. So tight-lipped, in fact, that he refused to answer a single question.

Two months after investigators had their little pow-wow with Michael, Michael called Apollo Mapping, a satellite imagery provider, to obtain ?an aerial photo of Pendleton, Oregon, taken in October 2011 or later.? He specifically wanted a view of Lindell Auto salvage yard, where his car had been towed. Michael indicated to Apollo Mapping that he wanted to purchase a photograph despite the company informing him that they were only able to snap a partial shot of the salvage yard.

Image for postLindell Auto Salvage Yard ? Source: The Cold Podcast

Utah authorities had a strong hunch that Josh Powell killed his wife and that Michael helped him get rid of the body, but they didn?t have enough evidence to bring charges against the pair.

When Michael Powell jumped to his death, he?d already lost his brother and his nephews, and his father was in prison. Whether he was afraid of getting arrested for helping his brother get rid of Susan or he was wracked with guilt and grief, he went to his grave a coward.

Steven Powell

Image for postSteven Powell ? Source: Deseret News

Steven Powell was released from prison in 2017 but he wasn?t a free man for long. [30] In July of the following year, the 68-year-old died in a Tacoma, Washington, hospital of heart problems after serving his 30-month sentence.

Chuck Cox said in 2018:

?Michael killed himself, Josh killed himself and the kids ? you just look at that broken family and you wonder about Steven Powell. I?ve never seen a more tragic case.?

Pursuing a Small Measure of Justice for the Cox Family

Image for postThe Powell Boys ? Source: KOMO News

Would Charlie and Braden Powell still be alive today had Washington?s Department of Social and Health Services kept them away from their diabolical father, and should some of the blame rest on the agency? Most would agree that giving Josh Powell access to his children was an outrageously bad idea. And with Josh no longer alive, the Cox family?s only shot at justice for their grandsons was a civil lawsuit.

Image for postChuck and Judy Cox with their attorney, Anne Bremner ? Source: The Associated Press

In the lawsuit, Chuck and Judy Cox allege the state should have done more to protect Charlie and Braden. [31] They are seeking $5 million in damages for every minute their grandchildren suffered on the day their father killed them. Their suffering may have lasted up to 10 minutes, so total damages could reach $87 million. [33]

The Coxes further claim in the lawsuit that DSHS was negligent in allowing the boys to be in a situation where Josh had so much control. [31]

The Coxes? lawsuit was thrown out in 2015, but the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals revived the case in August 2019, and in January 2019, the court ruled that the lawsuit could proceed to trial. [32] [34] In early February 2020, that trial officially began. [33]

Image for postAttorney Ted Buck delivers opening statements to a jury ? Source: KSL News Radio

The trial was expected to last four weeks, but as of March 29, at the time of this blog?s publication, there was no conclusion to the case.

In unsealed documents presented in court, it was revealed that authorities found Susan?s blood on the floor next to the sofa that appeared to have been recently cleaned.

Image for postBlood splatter found in Josh and Susan Powell?s home belonging to Susan ? Source: KSL News Radio

Susan?s life insurance policies also came into focus during the trial. Investigators determined that Josh had filed paperwork to withdraw her retirement account money a mere 10 days after her disappearance.

The Coxes? attorney, Anne Bremner, stated that DSHS should have known Josh Powell was a danger to his sons, in part because they witnessed what happened during the fateful camping trip.

Lori Kooiman, representing the Department of Social and Health Services and Child Protective Services, said in court:

?There?s no question that the murders of these two boys was a horrific tragedy.?

However, Kooiman argued that prior to the murders, there wasn?t enough evidence to keep Josh from his children entirely per strict guidelines.

She explained:

?The department doesn?t get to go take kids out of people?s homes just because they want to, they don?t have the authority to do that.?

The Coxes are specifically going after DSHS as an agency. [34] In allowing the case to go to trial, the 9th Circuit judges gave immunity to individual social workers connected to the Powell case, including Elizabeth Griffin-Hall, the caseworker who was with the boys on the day their father murdered them.

The decision to allow the case to proceed to trial was based on two factors. First, allowing the boys to visit their father at his home instead of a neutral location gave him too much control and the opportunity to harm his young sons. This was not your average family court case. Josh Powell was the primary person of interest in his wife?s disappearance and presumed murder, and the agency should have known that he presented a unique danger to his children, as well.

Police detectives tried to warn the agency that they believed Josh was a danger and that they were concerned for Charlie and Braden?s safety, but that information was withheld from a lower court.

Judge Leslie Kobayashi explained:

?The district court?s reliance on DSHS?s ?continuing goal of reunification? and ?relative success of earlier family visits? to hold that DSHS?s decision was reasonable as a matter of law ignores the extraordinary safety concerns Joshua presented.?

Image for postJudge Leslie Kobayashi -Source: Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Second, though many people linked to Josh and the boys tried to warn DSHS that Charlie and Braden were in danger, their pleas for help fell on deaf ears.

Josh?s sister, Jennifer Graves, who realized how deeply unhealthy her family truly was, also expressed concerns about Josh?s ?unpredictable and volatile nature? and, like the police, feared for the boys? safety. This information, too, was withheld.

Image for postJennifer Powell Graves takes the stand ? Source: Q13 Fox News

Similarly, the boys? counselor was concerned for the boys? safety, and Josh made little effort to abide by the rules.

Judge Kobayashi wrote:

?DSHS also withheld the opinion of Joshua?s sister, Jennifer Graves, who stated Joshua was ?unpredictable and volatile? and expressed concerns for the boys? well-being while in Joshua?s care. Other information withheld included concerned opinions from the boys? counselor, and Joshua?s repeated violations of the Dependency Court?s orders.?

Susan Powell?s body is out there, somewhere. Maybe in a mine. Maybe in a shallow grave. Maybe covered with leaves and brush, just waiting for someone to finally stumble upon her remains. But if there?s any comfort to be found in the tragic tale of the Powell family, it?s that Susan is with her boys. They?re safe now, and no one can ever hurt them again.

Many viewed Josh as a good father, and while he may have done many fun activities with his boys, he was willing to rob them of their mother, starve them, and kill him to save his own behind.

Josh Powell died a fiery death. I don?t know what you believe, but I don?t believe he will ever stop burning. He ignited a fire he can never escape.

The diabolical family annihilator sentenced himself to a lifetime of imprisonment and suffering. He annihilated himself.

He lit a fire and turned the tables on himself, and I find that oddly comforting.

Image for postSource: Fox 13 NOW

Sources:

  1. Good Housekeeping
  2. Oxygen.com
  3. The Seattle Times
  4. The Salt Lake Tribune
  5. The Salt Lake Tribune
  6. Olsen, Gregg. If I Can?t Have You: Susan Powell, Her Mysterious Disappearance, and the Murder of Her Children. St. Martin?s True Crime, 2015.
  7. The Salt Lake Tribune
  8. Standard-Examiner
  9. Digital Journal
  10. ABC News
  11. Oxygen.com
  12. meaww.com
  13. KSL News Radio
  14. The Salt Lake Tribune
  15. Los Angeles Times
  16. Daily News
  17. ABC News
  18. The Salt Lake Tribune
  19. The News Tribune
  20. CNN
  21. Los Angeles Times
  22. Daily Mail
  23. The Mercury News
  24. MyNorthwest
  25. ABC News
  26. Daily Mail
  27. The Salt Lake Tribune
  28. MyNorthwest
  29. Oxygen.com
  30. The Seattle Times
  31. K5 News
  32. KUTV
  33. The Salt Lake Tribune
  34. Fox 13 News
  35. ABC News
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