Disappearance of Susan Powell

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Susan Powell
Born Susan Cox
(1981-10-16)October 16, 1981
Disappeared December 6, 2009 (aged 28)
West Valley City, Utah, U.S.
Residence West Valley City, Utah, U.S.
Nationality American
Known for Missing person; believed murdered by spouse
Spouse(s) Josh Powell
Children Charles Powell (2005 - 2012)
Braden Powell (2007 - 2012)

Susan Cox Powell (October 16, 1981 - c. December 6, 2009) was an American missing person from West Valley City, Utah. Her disappearance and the subsequent investigation and events garnered significant media attention.

On December 14, 2009, Susan's husband, Joshua "Josh" Powell, was named a person of interest in the investigation into her disappearance. However, Joshua was never charged; on February 5, 2012, Joshua killed himself and the couple's two young sons, Charles Joshua Powell (b. January 19, 2005) and Braden Timothy Powell (b. January 2, 2007) in a murder–suicide after custody of the boys had been awarded to Susan's parents, Charles and Judy Cox.

On May 21, 2013, West Valley City police closed their active investigation into Susan's disappearance, stating that they believed Joshua murdered her and that his brother Michael had assisted him in concealing her body.[1] Since then, there are ongoing calls to have Susan legally declared dead.[2]


Joshua and Susan Powell and sons Charles and Braden Powell

Susan Cox married Joshua Powell (b. January 20, 1976) at the Portland Oregon Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) in April 2001. They relocated to West Valley City, Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City, in 2004. Joshua had a bachelor's degree in business and worked for a number of different companies over the years,[3] while Susan, a trained cosmetologist, worked in banking after the family's relocation.

Susan's emails to her friends indicated the presence of marital discord.[4] Friends attributed these problems both to financial stress brought upon by Joshua's extravagant spending habits and to his "very, very controlling" behavior towards Susan. Joshua filed for bankruptcy in 2007, declaring over $200,000 in debts.[5] By 2008, Susan was expressing fears and frustrations about her marriage to friends. She recorded a video in July 2009 surveying property damage she attributed to Joshua and wrote a secret will that included the statements, "I want it documented that there is extreme turmoil in our marriage" and, "If I die, it may not be an accident, even if it looks like one."[6]


The morning of December 6, 2009, Susan and her two sons, Charles (4) and Braden (2), attended church services at the Hunter 36th Ward. A neighbor visited them at home in the afternoon, leaving around 5:00 p.m.

At first, the entire Powell family were reported missing on December 7 by relatives.[7] Joshua's mother Terrica and sister Jennifer Graves went looking for the family at their house shortly after being informed that the children had not been dropped off at daycare that morning. They called the police when they failed to make contact with Joshua and Susan. The police broke into the house, fearing that they might be victims of carbon monoxide poisoning. They found no one inside, but noticed two fans blowing on a wet spot on a carpet in the house.[8] Susan did not show up at her job at Wells Fargo Financial on December 7; her purse, cell phone, and car were all found at the house.[9]

Later that day, at about 5:00 p.m., Joshua returned home with the two boys and was taken to the police station for questioning. He claimed he had left Susan sleeping at home shortly after midnight on December 7, and had taken his boys on a camping trip to Simpson Springs in western Utah.[8] Police visited Simpson Springs on December 10, but found no evidence of the campsite that Joshua had described.[10]


Upon searching the Powell residence on December 9,[10] investigators found traces of Susan's blood on the floor, life insurance policies on Susan for US$1.5 million, and a handwritten letter from Susan expressing fear for her life.[11] Documents were released in 2013 regarding DNA testing of the blood indicated that one sample matched Susan, while another sample was determined to have come from an "unknown male contributor".[12]

In August 2012, West Valley City police released documents showing how shortly after Susan's disappearance, Joshua took actions that were regarded as highly suspicious following her disappearance. He "did not appear to be concerned about [Susan's] welfare" when first questioned by police; liquidated her retirement accounts; cancelled her regularly scheduled chiropractic sessions; withdrew his children from daycare; and spoke to coworkers about how to hide a body in an abandoned mineshaft in the western Utah desert.[13]

Police interviewed the family's eldest son, Charlie,[14] who confirmed that the camping trip Joshua described took place;[15] however, unlike his father, he stated that Susan had gone with them and she did not return.[11] Weeks after her disappearance, a teacher reported that Charlie said his mother was dead.[11] Furthermore, Susan's parents claimed that while at daycare several months after the disappearance, Braden drew a picture of a van with three people in it, and told carers that "Mommy was in the trunk".[16]

Investigators informed the media that they planned to question Joshua again,[17] and subpoenaed all footage and interviews (aired and unaired) of Joshua from local television stations.[18] On December 14, Joshua retained an attorney in connection with the investigation,[10] and police said that he grew increasingly uncooperative.[15][19] A few days later, he took his sons to his hometown of Puyallup, Washington, to stay with his father Steven for the holidays. By December 24, Joshua was considered a person of interest in the investigation.[20] On January 6, he returned with his brother Michael to pack the family's belongings, indicating he was moving permanently to Washington.[21]

Developments in 2010–2012[edit]

The Powells lived in West Valley City, Utah when Susan disappeared in 2009. Joshua Powell killed himself and their children Charles and Braden Powell in Graham, Washington in 2012.

In January 2010, Joshua moved to Puyallup, where he occupied a home with his two sons, his father Steven,[10][22] his brother Michael and Jonathan, and his sister, Alina. Joshua indicated that he would rent out his house in Utah.[23] It was reported that he returned to Puyallup after he had lost his job.[24]

Soon afterwards, the website SusanPowell.org was established. Described as "the official website of Susan Powell," the site's anonymous entries lionized Joshua as the victim of a smear campaign by Susan's family, his sister Jennifer, and the LDS Church.[25] Additional posts also speculated that Susan's disappearance was connected to the disappearance of Steven Koecher, a Salt Lake Tribune journalist who vanished the same week as Susan, and that Susan and Koecher had run off to Brazil together.[26] Joshua and Steven were widely believed to have written these posts.[27] In late 2010, both men claimed that Susan had abandoned her family due to mental illness and that she had left with another man. Susan's family rejected these claims as being "unsupported" by any evidence.[22]

On September 14, 2011, Utah authorities discovered a possible gravesite while searching Topaz Mountain, a desert area near Nephi that Joshua had frequented as a campsite.[15] There were signs of recent soil disturbance and shoveling, but after digging a few feet down, police were unable to find any remains, in spite of careful sifting of the soil. Federal anthropologists also ruled out the possibility of the site being an ancient burial ground. Police continued to examine the site for a time, but offered no explanation as to why they previously announced the finding of remains when none had actually been confirmed. Authorities said they were following a scent detected by their sniffer dogs.[28]

Relationships between and within the Powell and Cox families had become increasingly hostile. After a police raid in their home in 2011, both Joshua and Steven spoke to major news outlets regarding journals that Susan had allegedly written about the relationship between Steven and herself. Steven claimed that he and Susan had been falling in love prior to her disappearance, and he cited the content of the journals (written when Susan was a teenager) as evidence to support his theory that she was mentally unstable and could have run away with another man. A judge issued a permanent injunction forbidding Joshua and Steven from publishing any material from Susan's journals, ordering the pair to either return or destroy any journals already published.[29]

On September 22, Steven was arrested on charges of voyeurism and child pornography after police found evidence that he had secretly videotaped numerous women and young girls, including Susan. John Long, assistant Attorney General for Washington State, said that Joshua was a "subject" in the child porn investigation.[30] A friend of Steven claimed that he was preoccupied with pornography and "was hung up on [Susan] sexually".[31] After Susan's disappearance, the friend reported Steven's apparent obsession with Susan to the police.[31]

Charles "Chuck" Cox, Susan's father, filed for custody of her children the day after Steven was arrested. A Washington court eventually granted Cox temporary custody of the boys.[32] The court said that Joshua would have to move out of his father's home if he wanted to regain custody, so he rented a house in Graham, Washington. However, authorities later alleged that he had never actually moved into that house, merely making it appear as if he had satisfied the court's instructions while continuing to reside at his father's home.[33]

In late September 2011, Joshua's sister Jennifer stated that she believed Joshua was "responsible for his wife Susan Powell's disappearance".[34] His other sister Alina had also been suspicious of him as well; however, she later withdrew her suspicions and felt that Joshua had been unduly harassed by the investigation.[35] By this time, West Valley City had spent more than half a million dollars on the case. On September 28, Mayor Mike Winder indicated that he felt that the case was worth the expense, stating, "We feel that we are getting to that tipping point where we have more hot evidence than we have had in the past two years", and that the case was moving forward.[36]

In late 2011, Joshua underwent a series of court-ordered evaluations in Washington. While the evaluations by James Manley determined that Joshua had adequate parenting skills, a steady employment history and no criminal record or history of domestic violence, they also raised issues concerning the ongoing criminal investigations, Joshua's failure to admit normal personal shortcomings, his overbearing behavior with his sons, and his persistent defensiveness and paranoia (attributed to the police and media attention in conjunction with underlying narcissistic traits). The initial recommendation was for Joshua to have visitation with his sons several times a week, supervised by a social worker.[3]

In the last week of January 2012, Utah police discovered about 400 images of simulated child pornography, bestiality and incest on Joshua's computer. The images, while not illegal due to their being in a hand-drawn, or cartoonish 3-D format, were cause for "great concern" to Manley, particularly given Joshua's earlier denial of possessing any such pornography. Joshua was recommended to receive a more thorough psychosexual evaluation and polygraph test, but Manley suggested no change in the visitation schedule with the Powell boys.[3] Meanwhile, Michael established a Google Sites page which claimed that Susan's parents were abusing and neglecting Charlie and Braden in collusion with child welfare authorities, and that West Valley Utah police had both mishandled the investigation into Susan's disappearance and were harassing Joshua. Lawyers for the Cox family disputed the allegations, and Google removed the site after a few days due to terms of use violations.[37]

Death of Josh Powell and sons[edit]

Josh Powell
Born Joshua Powell
(1976-01-20)January 20, 1976
Died February 5, 2012(2012-02-05) (aged 36)
South Hill, Washington, U.S.
Residence South Hill, Washington, U.S.
Nationality American
Known for Murder of sons and possibly wife
Spouse(s) Susan Cox (1981 - c. 2009)
Children Charles Powell (2005 - 2012)
Braden Powell (2007 - 2012)
Victims 2 (possibly 3)
Span of crimes
Country United States
State(s) Utah, Washington
Killed Sons
Date apprehended
Commited suicide
Charles Joshua Powell
Born Charles Joshua Powell
(2005-01-19)January 19, 2005
Died February 5, 2012(2012-02-05) (aged 7)
South Hill, Washington, U.S.
Residence South Hill, Washington, U.S.
Nationality American
Known for Victim of homicide
Braden Timothy Powell
Born Braden Timothy Powell
(2007-01-02)January 2, 2007
Died February 5, 2012(2012-02-05) (aged 5)
South Hill, Washington, U.S.
Residence South Hill, Washington, U.S.
Nationality American
Known for Victim of homicide

On February 5, 2012, a social worker called 9-1-1 after bringing Charlie and Braden to a supervised visit at their father's house in South Hill, Washington. The woman, who was supposed to monitor the visit between Joshua and the boys, said he grabbed them and would not let her in the door.[38] Soon thereafter, the house exploded, killing Joshua and the two children. Local authorities treated the case as a double murder-suicide,[39] saying that the act appeared to have been deliberate.[40]

When authorities notified Steven, who was in jail, he "didn't seem very upset by the news, but was angry towards authorities who notified him".[41] Two weeks later, Steven invoked his Fifth Amendment right to not answer questions about the Susan Powell case. Cox and others have stated they believe that Steven knows what actually happened to Susan.[42] Steven Powell was convicted of voyeurism charges in May 2012 in a trial which largely skirted the issue of Susan's case.[43]

After a relatively brief investigation, officials confirmed that the explosion had been deliberately planned. The official cause of death for Josh and the two boys was determined to be carbon monoxide poisoning, though the coroner also noted that both children had significant chopping injuries on the head and neck. A hatchet was recovered near Joshua's body, indicating that he had attacked the boys with it before being overwhelmed by smoke and fumes.[44] The fire investigation also found two five-gallon cans of gasoline on the premises, as well as evidence that gasoline had been spread throughout the house.

Friends and relatives of Joshua told authorities that he had contacted them by email minutes before the incident to say goodbye. Some of them, including his pastor, received instructions about finding his money and shutting off his utilities.[45] Records also showed that he had withdrawn $7,000 from his bank account and had donated his children's toys and books to local charities the day before the incident.[46] Joshua named Michael as the main beneficiary of his life-insurance policy.[1]

Charles and Braden are buried at Woodbine Cemetery, which also contains a memorial for their mother. Joshua's remains were cremated.


On February 11, 2013, approximately one year after the death of Joshua and his sons, Michael took his own life in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he had moved for graduate school. He jumped from the roof of a car parking structure.[47] Police had questioned Michael several times in 2012 after discovering – two years after the fact – that he had abandoned his car in a junkyard in Oregon several weeks after Susan disappearance; Michael was "evasive" about the incident.[1] Utah authorities have since said they believe that Joshua and Michael were accomplices in the murder of Susan.[1]

In a February 2013 interview, Manley, who had conducted the 2011-2012 evaluations of Joshua for Washington authorities, expressed suspicion that Powell was possibly involved in his wife's disappearance. However, he did not mention these suspicions in his report because they were beyond the scope of his duties and because Joshua had not been charged with any wrongdoing.[48]

On May 21, 2013, West Valley City police announced that they had closed the active investigation into Susan's disappearance.[49] Shortly after, a hand-written will assumed to have been written by Susan was found in a safety deposit box. It contained the line: "If I die, it may not be an accident, even if it looks like one," and instructed the reader not to show her husband the will. A video also surfaced of Susan surveying her home and documenting property damage she attributed to Joshua.[50]

Joshua's sister Jennifer and co-author Emily Clawson wrote a memoir about the Powell family's tumultuous history. The memoir was published in June 2013 as A Light In Dark Places.[51] Jennifer was inspired to write the book, she says, "to help other people to recognize abuse in either their own relationships or relationships around them, because it's not always completely apparent."

In March 2015, Cox won a protracted court battle over the control of Susan's estate. Josh's mother, Terrica, and his sister, Alina, had sought to have Susan declared legally dead to collect life insurance, but Cox ultimately gained full control of the estate.[52] Steven was released from prison on July 11, 2017, after serving a total of seven years following his voyeurism and child pornography convictions.[53]

Susan remains a missing person, but given the fates of her sons, it is widely believed that she was murdered by her husband. There are calls as of March 2018 to have her declared dead, with the cause being homicide.[2]


  1. ^ a b c d "Susan Powell's husband and his brother likely killed Utah mom: police". New York Daily News. Associated Press. Retrieved 5 January 2014. 
  2. ^ a b Nate Carlisle (December 5, 2014). "Newest Susan Powell legal fight: When to declare her dead". The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved 1 March 2018. 
  3. ^ a b c Mulick, Stacey (2012). Psychologist's report on Josh Powell released, Feb 2012, accessed 22 Aug 2015
  4. ^ Rogers, Melinda (28 April 2012). "In her own words: Susan Cox Powell wrote of fear in emails". The Salt Lake Tribune. Archived from the original on 16 January 2018. Retrieved 15 January 2014. 
  5. ^ Adams B. and McFarland S. "Susan Powell case: Police take DNA from missing West Valley City woman's husband." Salt Lake Tribune December 6, 2009. Accessed January 15, 2014.
  6. ^ Vedder, Tracy. "Chilling video Susan Powell made before disappearance released". KOMO News. komonews.com. Archived from the original on 22 May 2013. Retrieved 6 January 2014. 
  7. ^ Bergreen, Jason (December 8, 2011). "West Valley City police looking for missing woman". The Salt Lake Tribune. 
  8. ^ a b "Detailed timeline of events surrounding Josh Powell, Susan Cox Powell". Deseret News. February 5, 2011. 
  9. ^ "Desperate Search for Missing Mom in Utah". CBS News. December 12, 2009. 
  10. ^ a b c d "Timeline of Susan Powell's disappearance". Fox 13. Archived from the original on December 18, 2009. 
  11. ^ a b c "Court documents: Susan Powell's blood, hand-written note expressing fear were found in Utah home". MSNBC. Associated Press. March 30, 2012. 
  12. ^ "West Valley City photos, documents relating to the Susan Powell case" (PDF). KSL. May 23, 2013. 
  13. ^ Reavy, Pat (2012). Josh Powell's odd behavior on police radar from the beginning, documents show, KSL.com Aug 7, 2015; URL accessed 22 Aug 2015
  14. ^ "Utah Mom's Disappearance 'Suspicious,' Police Say". Fox News. December 11, 2009. 
  15. ^ a b c Dobner, Jennifer (September 14, 2011). "Police: Humans remains found in search for mom". Yahoo News. Associated Press. Retrieved September 14, 2011. 
  16. ^ "Josh Powell, sons died of carbon monoxide poisoning". MyNorthwest.com. February 7, 2012. 
  17. ^ "Police to Question Husband of Missing Utah Mom Again". Fox News. December 14, 2009. 
  18. ^ Carlisle, Nathan (December 19, 2009). "Missing mom case: Cops subpoena TV interviews with Susan Powell's husband". Salt Late Tribune. 
  19. ^ Fletcher, Lisa; Netter, Sarah (December 16, 2009). "Husband Named Person of Interest in Susan Powell Disappearance". ABC News. Retrieved February 7, 2012. 
  20. ^ Reavy, Pat (December 24, 2009). "Powell took his time getting home, neighbor says". Deseret News. Retrieved February 5, 2012. 
  21. ^ "The Susan Powell timeline". Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved 6 January 2014. 
  22. ^ a b Winch, Graham (February 7, 2012). "Timeline: The Powell family saga". HLNTV.com. Retrieved February 7, 2012. 
  23. ^ Carlson, Brian (March 1, 2010). "Josh Powell returns to Utah". KTVX. Retrieved February 5, 2012. 
  24. ^ Whitehurst, Lindsay (January 11, 2010). "Powell keeps mum, continues packing to leave Utah". Salt Lake City Tribune. Retrieved February 5, 2012. 
  25. ^ Anonymous (archived) "Mormons Mobilize Against The Powell Family"
  26. ^ Anonymous, "Utah's Parallel Disappearances: Susan Powell and Steven Koecher (archived)", dated December 8, 2010, URL retrieved February 7, 2012.
  27. ^ Hunsaker, Brent (June 2, 2010). "Josh Powell leaving Mormonism". ABC 4 News. 
  28. ^ "Police: '50–50' Chance Powell's Remains Could Be Found". KIRO-TV. September 16, 2011. 
  29. ^ Curry, Colleen (September 23, 2011). "Susan Powell's Dad-in-Law Took Naked Photos of Young Girls: Police". ABC News. Retrieved September 25, 2011. 
  30. ^ Silverman, Stephen M. (September 28, 2011). "Josh Powell Now Subject of Child-Porn Investigation". People.com. Retrieved October 5, 2011. 
  31. ^ a b Nudd, Tim (September 26, 2011). "Susan Powell's Father-in-Law Was Obsessed With Her, Says Friend". People.com. Retrieved October 5, 2011. 
  32. ^ Adams, Brooke (2011). "Photo of Powell 'noose'; More porn allegations emerge". Salt Lake Tribune, September 29, 2011; URL accessed October 5, 2011.
  33. ^ Merryman, Kathleen (February 14, 2012). "Investigators: Josh Powell used house in Graham area as ruse". The News Tribune. 
  34. ^ KOMO Staff (2011). "Sister: Children should be kept away from Josh Powell", September 28, 2011; URL retrieved October 5, 2011.
  35. ^ Boudreau, Abbie; Curry, Colleen (February 9, 2012). "Josh Powell Was Victim, His Sister Claims". ABC News. 
  36. ^ "Susan Powell case is at a "tipping point"". ABC News 4. September 28, 2011. Retrieved September 29, 2011. 
  37. ^ Rogers, Melinda (January 31, 2012). "Website supporting Josh Powell launches as custody case nears". www.sltrib.com. 
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  39. ^ "3 die in Powell home explosion, family says". KSL.com. February 5, 2012. Retrieved February 5, 2012. 
  40. ^ "US father Josh Powell blows himself up with two young children". The Guardian. London. Associated Press. February 6, 2012. Retrieved February 6, 2012. [...] police said he appeared to intentionally blow up a house with all three inside [...] Ed Troyer, the county sheriff's spokesman, said emails that Powell sent authorities seemed to confirm that Powell planned the deadly blast. Troyer didn't elaborate on the contents of the emails, but said they make police believe "this is intentional, this is planned". 
  41. ^ "Blast Kills Missing Woman's Husband, 2 Sons (PHOTOS)". Huffington Post. February 5, 2012. 
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  44. ^ KOMO Staff & news services (February 6, 2012). "Autopsies: Powell children suffered 'chop injuries'". Retrieved February 6, 2012. Seven-year-old Charles Powell and 5-year-old Braden Powell died of carbon monoxide poisoning, but an autopsy also showed that both boys were attacked by a hatchet, according to the Pierce County Medical Examiner. [...] While it wasn't the official cause of death, the medical examiner's report showed that both boys had significant "chopping injuries" to the head and neck. 
  45. ^ KOMO Staff & news services (February 6, 2012). "Autopsies: Powell children suffered 'chop injuries'". Retrieved February 6, 2012. [...] Troyer said that minutes before the fire, Powell sent emails to several people saying, "I'm sorry. Goodbye." To others, including his cousins and pastor, he sent longer emails, with instructions such as where to find his money and how to shut off his utilities. 
  46. ^ "Police piecing together timeline of Powell's movements before explosion". kirotv.com. February 10, 2012. 
  47. ^ Adams, Brooke. "Josh Powell's brother, Michael Powell, commits suicide in Minneapolis". Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved 5 January 2014. 
  48. ^ Honda, Kirk (2013). An Interview with Josh Powell's Psychologist, July 12, 2013; URL accessed 03 September 2015
  49. ^ Carlisle, Nate. "Susan Powell case closed, files open". Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved 5 January 2014. 
  50. ^ KARLINSKY, NEAL (May 23, 2013). "U.S. Susan Powell Case: Video of Missing Mom Surfaces as Case is Closed". ABC News. 
  51. ^ Boyle, Louise (2013). "Sister of killer dad Josh Powell publishes book about her suspicions over his role in wife Susan's disappearance and her father's 'porn addiction' while she was growing up." Daily Mail, 25 June 2013; URL accessed 03 September 2015
  52. ^ Winslow, Ben (2015). Susan Cox Powell estate battle is settled March 26, 2015; URL accessed 03 September 2015
  53. ^ "Josh Powell's father sentenced; says son was 'innocent man' up until day he died". fox13now.com. 22 August 2015. 

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