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- Chloe Allen

The disappearance of Susan Cox Powell

Strap yourselves in for this one - it’s going to be a frustrating and wild read.

Susan and Josh Powell were loves young dream when they first met during an Institute of Religion Course at the LDS church in Tacoma, Washington. Josh had held a gathering at his apartment for his classmates and it was there that the pair had initially got talking, with them quickly becoming a couple. They were married in 2001 and following a big family orientated wedding, the newly weds moved in with Josh’s father, Steven Powell in South Hill.

Unwanted Attention and a new start.

It was during this time that Steven began to develop an intense infatuation with his daughter in law. He would regularly follow her around with a video camera, filming her going about her day to day activities and would also use a small mirror in order to watch her whilst she used the bathroom. It also later transpired that Steven was taking items of her clothing including her underwear and keeping them in a box (more on that later). The obsession became so intense that Steven would even drive to Susan’s work and wait in his car for her to appear outside the building, all whilst filming and commentating on her appearance and mannerisms in a lewd and unsettling manner. (I will link the documentary detailing this at the end of this post) He had convinced himself that Susan felt the same way about him and regularly mentioned this in his videos, believing that the way she dressed and conducted herself was all for him.

In 2003, Steven Powell finally confessed to Susan during a car drive. During this drive the camera microphone was turned on and captured his confession and in turn, Susan’s rejection of Steven’s advances.

Shortly after this encounter, Susan and Josh moved out of Steven Powell’s home and out of state so that some distance could be put between Susan and her then unbeknown to her, stalker father in law.

In 2005 the couple welcomed their first son Charlie who was then joined in 2007 by a younger brother, Braden. Susan doted on her boys and being a mother suited her no end. Her boys were her world and would always come first.

The Powell Family.  Credit - Wikipedia

The Powell Family. Credit - Wikipedia

Cracks begin to show.

Shortly after the birth of Braden, Susan began to keep a diary where she would often speak of her frustration where her marriage was concerned. The couple were having financial problems due to Josh’s extravagant spending which resulted in him declaring bankruptcy. Along with this, Susan was also uncomfortable with the fact that Josh still held regular contact with his father despite his inappropriate advances towards her. Josh also stopped joining her and the children at church and was becoming increasingly distant towards her, all whilst maintaining an element of control. Their marriage was no longer a happy one and Susan felt trapped and increasingly controlled by her husband who had little to no regards over her unease at the way his father treated her, had spent all of their money and who had even sold her car leaving her with only a bike to get to and from work on in all weathers. Susan’s concerns became so grave in fact, that in 2008 she put together a handwritten will addressed to only her family which outlined how much she no longer trusted her husband and of her fears for her children should anything happen to her.

Susan disappears.

On December 6th 2009, Susan and her sons attended a church service at their local LDS ward. After this the family were joined by a neighbour for dinner. It was later that evening that the neighbour recalled Susan expressing the fact that she felt unwell and that she was heading to bed. The neighbour then left the families home along with Josh Powell who told her he was going to take the children sledding whilst Susan got some sleep.

The following morning, the children’s daycare provider became concerned when she couldn’t get hold of the family. This was unusual because she was due to take care of Josh and Braden whilst their parents were at work and the children had not been dropped off at their usual arranged time. After failing to get hold of Josh or Susan via their phones, she called Josh’s mother and informed her of her concern for the family. Josh’s mother and sister also became concerned when they couldn’t reach the family, especially after visiting the home and having no response either. They made the decision to call the police and report the entire family as missing due to the fact that the situation was extremely out of character.

Later that day, the police arrive at the Powell’s home and gain access. Upon entry they found that the house was empty. There appeared to be no signs of a struggle or break in, however the couch in the living room looked as if it had been recently cleaned, showing a large wet patch on it. It had large industrial sized fans blowing towards it in an attempt to dry it. This of course, sparked concern for the well being of the family and a search was commenced.

It wasn’t until around 5pm that same afternoon that Josh returned home with his sons but without Susan. He informed the police that he had left the family home the previous evening at around midnight to take his children on a camping trip, leaving Susan behind at home because she’d felt unwell. This instantly and quite understandably set off alarm bells with the police. It was December, below freezing and snow covered in their town and the fact that Josh had decided to take his two toddlers on a camping trip did not sit well with them whatsoever. Not only that, his wife was now missing and there was a freshly cleaned spot on a couch in the living room with industrial fans blowing on it - something definitely didn’t seem right. Josh is taken in for questioning the same day.

Josh came across as nonplussed and evasive during his interview, maintaining that he’d been away with the children all night leaving Susan behind as she was unwell. When prompted by detectives and their clever questioning he revealed that Susan had been depressed in the past and had suicidal thoughts - no doubt in hopes of leading the police down a different path of investigation.

In the days after Susan was reported missing, a search of the Powell home was carried out and items such as bags, boxes and a computer were taken away to be looked at. Another red flag became apparent when it was discovered that Susan’s purse, car keys and phone all remained at the home. As well as the home, the campsite where Josh said he had taken the boys for the night was also searched but nothing was found to indicate that Susan had been there.

In the days to follow, Josh and members of Susan’s family and congregation held vigils and said prayers for her safe return, as well as handing out flyers to the general public detailing Susan’s case.

Family and friends attend a vigil for Susan Powell.  Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Family and friends attend a vigil for Susan Powell. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

On the 14th of December, Josh declined a 3rd interview with police and hired a defence attorney. He did however provide a DNA sample. He had also been freely giving interviews to various media outlets and news channels regarding his wife’s disappearance. The police soon issued a subpoena to the Salt Lake media for all interview footage of Josh Powell, who continued to appear too laid back and calm for a man who’s wife had gone missing without a trace. This would also benefit investigations due to a lack of evidence elsewhere at this stage of the investigation.

2010 - The investigation continues.

As the new year began, the search for Susan continued. Her devoted family took to various social media platforms in order to spread the word of her disappearance nationwide.

It was during a news conference held by the Cox family that they revealed their belief that Susan had gotten into an altercation with Josh on the night she vanished. They also shared with the conference that the marriage had become volatile and controlling and that Susan had confided in them that she was making plans to apply for a divorce from Josh.

As well as the police having suspicions of Josh it was beginning to become clear that Susan’s family also didn’t favour him and harboured doubts that Josh was an innocent party in this case. The lack of evidence that was being gathered against Powell was frustrating for her family to say the least.

Further searches were carried out on the mini van that the Powell family used and the campsite but again, they turned up nothing, meaning that Josh Powell was still a free man, who had by now lost his job and moved away from the home he shared with his wife and was now back living with his father Steve and his brother Michael Powell.

As the year anniversary of Susan’s disappearance grew closer, Josh and Steve Powell revealed that they believed that she had run away with another man. They claimed that Susan had been having an affair with a fellow church member and together, they had left the country and travelled to Brazil where they had gotten married and were doing aid work. Steve Powell was also adamant that during their time living together, Susan had been a flirt and that they had had a “sexual connection”. He claimed that the diaries he had in his possession from Susan’s teenage years backed up his claims and told the story of a promiscuous girl who was far from the woman that her family claimed she was. He appeared on a national news program and revealed his plans to publish pages of this diary in an online journal.

During this time, relations between Josh Powell and Susan’s family were becoming more and more strained. In August 2011 Josh filed a restraining order against Susan’s father Chuck Cox which would forbid him from contacting Josh or the children. A judge granted this and the men were ordered to stay at least 500 feet from each other at all times.

Steven Powell was still on his media high horse, and once again appeared on television claiming that Susan and himself had a connection and would flirt openly and that they also had a sexual relationship. He again told of his plans to publish her diaries online.

A search of Steven Powell’s home turns up some alarming evidence.

At the end of August and with little to no evidence or leads in the case, police gained a warrant to search the home of Steven Powell, where Josh was of course now living.

This search would end up bringing a huge and rather unsettling turn in the case.

As well as the diaries that Steve had been constantly bragging about being in possession of, police also found a huge catalogue of videos, notes, underwear, sanitary products and other used beauty items that he had been collecting and storing without Susan knowing. The unsettling obsession that this voyeuristic man had over his daughter in law was finally revealed and the police obviously now had a new avenue of investigation to go down.

Steven Powell in his police mugshot.

Steven Powell in his police mugshot.

Steven Powell was forbidden to post any of the diary entries online and was arrested for voyeurism and for possession of child pornography (the search also revealed he had been filming a young neighbour in her early teens without her knowing) He claims he is innocent but is quite rightly so remanded in custody until a trial can take place.

Braden and Charlie Powell were immediately taken into protective custody away from their father and grandfather. Chuck Cox began proceedings to gain custody of his grandchildren. This was granted and the children were returned into the care of Susan’s parents. Josh Powell was told he had to undergo parenting classes and physiological testing. He is granted weekly visits with his boys, however Chuck Cox claims that when the boys return from spending time with their father they’re obstinate and not well behaved. He also reveals that they’re seeing therapists and suffering from nightmares. Josh Powell is still fighting for custody of his children, and his brother Michael Powell is making claims that the boys are being mistreated whilst in the care of Susan’s parents.

Josh is ordered to undergo further tests in order to ascertain to state of his mental health. He is still having supervised visits with his boys on a weekly basis. His father Steve remains in custody after his trial was postponed.

Whilst all of this is going on, the investigation into Susan’s disappearance is still ongoing. Josh Powell still remains a person of high interest and there are now suspicions that Michael and Steven Powell may have also played a part in what happened to her. There is still not enough solid evidence to bring either Josh or Michael into custody, leaving Susan’s family at their wits end.

A traumatic and heart breaking turn of events.

It was first thing in the morning on February the 5th 2012.

Josh Powell was at his home where he was due to have a supervised visit with his children Braden and Charlie. Upon her arrival to the home, Josh’s social worker was unable to gain access. She had arrived with the boys who had been ushered into the home by Josh who had then closed the door on her before she could gain access to the home. She immediately felt uneasy and dialled 911 to air her concerns. Josh Powell was unstable and required supervision when visiting with his children. She informed the operator that she could smell petrol or gas and that she could hear the children in distress. The call handler informed her that they would have an officer out to her when “more important” calls had been dealt with first. Despite her protests and panic, officers failed to arrive at the home before it was too late.

Shortly after noon, the home in which Josh had locked himself and his two sons in exploded and burst into flames. Charlie and Braden Cox were killed instantly and their father died alongside them. Controlling until the very end, Josh Powell had ended his life and taken his two children with him, preventing them from ever having a life outside of the trauma and stress that they’d been accustomed to in the year and a half since their loving mother had too, vanished. When autopsies were carried out, it was evident that the two children had also suffered wounds to their heads and necks consistent with an axe, but had died of smoke inhalation along with the sorry excuse of the man who was their father.

Even more drama unfolds.

In the days following their murder of their grandsons, Susan’s parents revealed that the children had slowly began to open up with professionals with regards to what happened on the evening that Susan went missing. Charlie, the oldest of the two boys had allegedly said that he recalled Susan being with them during the camping trip but hadn’t returned with them. It was also believed that he had told people at school that his mother was dead. Susan’s mother, Judy, also revealed that the boys hadn’t wanted to visit with Josh on the morning they died but in order to avoid any more drama or feuding she persuaded them to go - something that she said she will now regret forever.

With their prime suspect now dead and another in custody, police now focused their attention on Michael Powell. They interviewed him several times in the duration of 2012 and became interested in him further when during one interview he revealed that shortly after Susan had gone missing he had taken his car to a junk yard. When pushed further as to why he did this, he became evasive and uncomfortable when being questioned over it. This raised suspicions even more that Josh Powell may well have been involved in the case. Perhaps he had helped Josh move Susan or her belongings once she had been disposed of?

At this time, as well as being a growing suspect in what police were now certain to be a murder case, Michael Powell was embroiled in bitter and tense legal battle with Susan’s parents over the insurance polices that belonged to Josh and the two boys amounting up to 1.5 million dollars.

It is now February 2013. Susan has been missing for 4 years. Her children and her husband have been dead for a year and there are still no new leads in the investigation aside from those that transpired when police interviewed Michael Powell. Searches carried out on the back of these again turned up nothing and despite her families continuous campaigning, hope was ever fading of Susan ever being recovered.

It was then on the 11th of February 2013, that Micheal Powell walked to the top floor of the apartment complex where he now lived and stepped off the edge, killing himself instantly. Despite 4 people witnessing this act, his mother was convinced that fowl play was involved. It was declared by authorities as suicide.

Michael Powell.  Credit - The Salt Lake Tribune

Michael Powell. Credit - The Salt Lake Tribune

In May of this year, police held a press conference and revealed that they were ending the search for Susan Cox Powell. A year later on December 6th 2014, five years after she vanished from her home and her families lives forever, Susan was declared legally deceased.

Her family were still embroiled in legal battles with regards to pinning down a date of death. Depending on whether she was declared dead before or after May 10th 2013.

Depending on which side of this date the death was declared would decide on which side of the family would be entitled to millions of dollars.

After a lengthy legal battle a judge declared the date of May the 10th as being that of Susan’s death. Because this was also the date that Chuck Cox had made changes to legal trust documents belonging to his daughter and her husband, it meant that the Cox family would receive the money. It is probably safe to say that the favour was placed on the Cox family considering the events that had taken place over the last 5 years and the fact that Josh Powell had not only murdered his sons but was also a prime suspect in Susan’s disappearance.

A final twist.

There was of course one person who had still remained of interest to the authorities in this case. Steven Powell. After his arrest and sentence, he served just under two years for the charges voyeurism and of possessing child porn, before being released in 2017.

It was still widely believed, by Susan’s family in particular that he knew what had happened. Perhaps he hadn’t been directly involved but they were certain that Josh had confided in him with regards to what he had done to Susan on that December night.

Sadly, Susan’s family won’t get their answers from Steven Powell.

On July the 23rd 2018, he passed away of natural causes in Tacoma, Washington, leaving Susan’s family again with unanswered questions as to what happened to their beloved daughter.

Recommended watching.

This case has been wonderfully covered by the Oxygen Network in a two part documentary The Disappearance of Susan Cox Powell . This is a fantastic and thorough look at the case from start to finish. You will hear from both families and if you can stomach it, see the disturbing and quite frankly creepy and skin crawling video diaries kept by Steven Powell during his years living alongside his daughter in law.

Be sure to head over to my Instagram page and discuss what you think on this case, as it is most definitely one of the craziest ones I have come across in recent years!

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