Joshua Powell and Susan Cox Powell got married in 2001 and had two sons, Charles and Braden. Over the years, Susan began indicating that the marriage was quite troubled. The entire Powell family was reported missing on December 7th, 2009 by relatives when the children weren't dropped off at daycare. Joshua and the boys returned home from a camping trip and Susan was missing. During the investigation, police discovered that Joshua's father, Steven, was infatuated with Susan. Steven was arrested on charges of child pornography and voyeurism. This story gets even more twisted when Joshua had a supervised visitation with his children. He pulled the boys in the house and wouldn't allow the social worker in. Minutes later, the house blew up and killed everyone inside.
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This story is for the state of Utah and it's about the disappearance of Susan Cox Powell.
But, first, we must talk about Joshua Powell who was born January 20th, 1976. His parents had a dysfunctional marriage and this had a lot to do with the fact that his father was so against The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-Day Saints. According to the divorce filings in 1992, Josh's father, Steven had shared pornography with him and his two male siblings and refused to teach or enforce limits. As a teenager, Joshua allegedly killed his sister's gerbils and threatened his mother with a butcher knife. He also attempted suicide on at least one occasion.
In 1998, Joshua was living in Seattle and attended the University of Washington. He began a relationship with a woman named Catherine Terry Everett. They moved into an apartment together and Joshua became very possessive of Catherine. He set restrictions and limitations on her. She wasn't even allowed to hang out with her family by herself. Catherine went to visit a friend by herself one day in Utah and decided not to return to Seattle. She called Joshua and broke up with him over the phone.
In November 2000, Joshua met a woman named Susan Cox at his Institute of Religion course. They began dating and got married in April 2001. For a period of time after the wedding, Joshua and Susan lived at his father, Steven's home. Susan didn't know it, but her father-in-law had developed an obsessive infatuation with her and this was only heightened by living together. Steven followed Susan around the house with a camcorder, used a small mirror to spy on her while she was in the bathroom, stole her underwear from her laundry, read her journals, and even posted love songs online under a fictitious name. In 2003, Steven confessed his feelings to Susan, who ended up rejecting him. This was actually inadvertently caught on Steven's camcorder. Susan felt that she needed to move away and the couple went to West Valley City, Utah and had two sons: Charles, born in 2005 and Braden, born in 2007.
Over the years, Susan's journal entries and emails indicated that she was in a troubled marriage. Tension was rising as Joshua refused to attend church services with the family and he continued to have contact with his father despite his ongoing advances towards Susan. Joshua also had issues with spending large amounts of money and he had very controlling behavior. In 2007, Joshua filed for bankruptcy, declaring over $200k in debts. Things only got worse for the family and in July 2008, Susan recorded a video where she was surveying property damage that she said was from Joshua. She wrote a secret will that included statements, quote “I want it documented that there is extreme turmoil in our marriage, if I die, it may not be an accident, even if it looks like one.”
To outsiders, the family appeared to be a happy one. Susan was energetic and humorous and they all went on bike rides together and had picnics. People that were closest to her began learning the dark truth. Susan started telling people in her emails that the fun-loving, affectionate man she married had changed into a moody and controlling person. On July 11th, 2008, she wrote, “ I want him in counseling, on meds, I want my husband, friend, lover BACK no more crazy, outrageous, outlandish beliefs/opinions.
In another email dated July 28th, 2008, she wrote, “I know everyone else will support me in whatever decisions, even if that means I crash anyone's house in the middle of the night with my boys in tow. (Hope that never happens) or stay with him. But believe me, my bottom line is he WILL DO COUNSELING.” I'm sure if he fixes himself, everyone else will see a much closer version of the guy I married. And it will be easy enough to forget the hell and turmoil he's put me through.”
Susan sent several emails to her co-workers, friends and members of her church seeking advice on how to proceed with the relationship, according to the emails, which were sent between June 30th 2008 and October 31st, 2008. She wrote about a trip to Washington that she took for her sister's wedding. Susan described Joshua as “being his usually rude, yelling and barking commands at me-self” She wrote about being uncomfortable with a song that her father-in-law, Steven, wrote about her and Steven once tried to console her about her problems with Joshua.
In another email, Susan wrote about an argument between her and Joshua and she made a list of things he needed her to change. He accused her of having utter contempt for him because he wasn't working a regular job at the time. She also wrote that he criticized her for spending too much money on groceries. He said she didn't need to spend money on counseling, make-up, yarn, or other crap she buys. Susan was disappointed with her husband's lack of affection and she wrote about leaving a makeshift will in her desk at work because she was worried her husband might hurt her or kidnap her children if she left him.
On July 5th, 2008 she wrote, “Every moment I step back and take stock of what I'm dealing with, it feels like a never ending cycle, but I'm afraid of the consequences like losing my kids, him kidnapping, divorce or actions worse on his part, if I take a stand on one of his ultimatums like spending $20 on the counseling co-pay or cutting off access to my pay check.”
In Susan's writings, it was noted that her son, Charlie, was stomping around the house and showing a lot of anger at age 3. She was worried that he was picking up on all of the fighting that was going on in the marriage and she was trying to get help from the counselors at church. Things were so bad, she was crying herself to sleep and would hold Joshua's hand until he pulled it away.
On the morning of December 6th, 2009, Susan and her sons, Charles, and Braden, attended church services. A neighbor visited them at home in the afternoon and left about 5PM. This was the last time that Susan was seen by anyone. The entire Powell family was reported missing on December 7th by relatives. Joshua's mother, Terrica and sister, Jennifer Graves went looking for the family at their house shortly after being informed that the children hadn't been dropped off at daycare that morning. They called the police when they weren't able to reach Joshua and Susan. The police broke into the house and initially feared that they were victims of carbon monoxide poisoning. They didn't find anyone inside the home, but they found two box fans blowing at a wet spot on the couch. On December 7th, Susan didn't show up to work. Her purse, wallet, and ID were all found at the house. Her cell phone was later found in the family's only vehicle, the minivan that Joshua had been using.
Around 5PM on this day, 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 7th, and he took the boys on a camping trip to the Simpson Springs in Western Utah. Police went to Simpson Springs on December 10th, but were not able to find any evidence that Joshua and the boys had camped there. They also found it extremely suspicious that Joshua would take his young boys camping after midnight when he was scheduled to be at work just a few hours later. Joshua hadn't told his boss that he wasn't coming to work the next day and he explained that it was because he thought it was Sunday, not Monday. He was just confused by what day of the week it was.
On December 9th, the Powell residence was searched. Investigators found traces of Susan's blood on the floor, life insurance policies for Susan for $1.5M, and there was a handwritten letter from Susan expressing fear for her life.
In August 2012, West Valley City police released documents showing that Joshua took actions that were highly suspicious following Susan's disappearance. Joshua liquidated Susan's retirement accounts, cancelled her regularly scheduled chiropractic sessions, and withdrew the children from daycare. He also had conversations with coworkers about how to hide a body in an abandoned mineshaft in the western Utah desert.
Police interviewed the oldest son, Charlie and he was able to confirm that they had gone on a camping trip. Unlike his father's story, Charlie stated that Susan went on the trip too, but didn't come home with them. Weeks after Susan's disappearance, a teacher reported that Charlie claimed his mother was dead. Susan's parents, Chuck and Judy Cox, said that several months after the disappearance, Braden drew a picture at daycare of a van with three people in it, and told the employees, “Mommy was in the trunk.”
Joshua, his two sons, his father Steven, his brothers Michael and Jonathan, and his sister Alina moved in together. Joshua was going to rent out his Utah home after he ended up losing his job. A website was launched around this time, SusanPowell.org and it was the official Susan Powell site. There were some anonymous entries that popped up, defending Joshua as the victim of a smear campaign by Susan's family, his estranged sister Jennifer, and the LDS Church.
There were additional posts that suggested that Susan's disappearance was connected to another case where a former journalist, Steven Koecher, vanished the same week as Susan. There were statements on the site that Susan and the journalist had run off to Brazil together. It was believed that Joshua and his father, Steven were the ones that wrote the posts. In 2010, both men had claimed that Susan abandoned her family due to mental illness and had run off with another man. Susan's family does not support these claims and there isn't any evidence of this either. Investigators eventually zeroed in on Joshua's father, Steven Powell after hearing from a family friend that he was obsessed with Susan. Computer images were seized from his home in 2010 and 4,500 images of Susan were found and they were taken without her knowledge, including close-ups of body parts that he shouldn't have photos of. The police also discovered that the brother, Michael Powell, sold his broken-down Ford Taurus to a wrecking yard in Pendleton, Oregon shortly after Susan's disappearance. The police ordered satellite images of the lot and brought a cadaver dog to the location. The dog indicated that a decomposing human body had been found in the trunk, but DNA tests on the car were inconclusive.
On September 14th, 2011, Utah authorities discovered a possible grave site while searching Topaz Mountain which is a desert area near a campsite that Joshua frequented. There were signs of disturbance in the soil that looked like someone had been shoveling. The police dug a few feet down, but were unable to find any remains. Federal anthropologists also ruled out the possibility of the site being an ancient burial ground. They simply couldn't provide an explanation as to why they accidentally announced that they found remains when it hadn't been confirmed and turned out to be false.
As the search continued, things were really heating up with the Powell and Cox families. After a police raid of the Powell home in 2011, Joshua and his father, Steven spoke to major news outlets and made claims that Susan wrote in her journal about a relationship between herself and Steven. Steven claimed that Susan was falling in love with him before her disappearance, and he cited content from her journals that she wrote as a teenager and he said the evidence supported his theory that she was mentally unstable and ran away with another man. A judge ended up issuing a permanent injunction forbidding Joshua and Steven from publishing any material from Susan's journals and they were ordered to return or destroy and journals that were already published.
On September 22nd, Steven was arrested on charges of child pornography and voyeurism which is the practice of gaining sexual pleasure from watching others when they are naked or engaged in sexual activity. Police found evidence that he had secretly videotaped Susan and numerous women and young girls. The day after Steven was arrested, Susan's father, Chuck Cox filed for custody of the children and was granted temporary custody. Joshua was told he must move out of Steven's home to regain custody. Joshua rented a home in South Hill, Washington, but authorities discovered that he never moved into the house, he was only trying to make the court believe he had followed their instructions.
Joshua's sister, Jennifer believed that Joshua was responsible for Susan's disappearance. His other sister Alina was also suspicious, but later felt that he had been harassed by the investigators and no longer felt suspicious. By September 2011, West Valley City had spent more than half a million dollars on the case. They announced that they felt like they were close to getting things solved and they planned to move forward with the investigation.
In 2011, Joshua underwent a series of court ordered evaluations in Washington. It was determined that he had adequate parenting skills, a steady employment history and no criminal record or history of domestic violence. It was noted that Joshua failed to admit normal personal shortcomings, he had overbearing behavior with his children, and had a persistent defensiveness and paranoia, along with narcissistic traits. The initial recommendation was for Joshua to have visitations with his sons several times a week, but it must be supervised by a social worker.
Dad, you're gonna want earmuffs for this part. In January of 2012, Utah police discovered about 400 images of simulated child pornography, bestiality and incest on Joshua's computer. If you are not sure what this all means, I'll break it down for you. Simulated child porn is where it depicts what appears to be minors, but is produced without the direct involvement of children. Bestiality is relations between humans and animals and incest is gross stuff between family members. The images were not technically illegal because they were hand-drawn or cartoonish 3-D format, but it certainly caused concern. It was now recommended that Joshua have a more thorough psychosexual evaluation and polygraph test, but he was still allowed to continue visitation with his sons.
On February 5th, 2012, a social worker named Elizabeth Griffin Hall brought Charlie and Braden to their supervised visit at Joshua's home. The boys were walking slightly ahead of the social worker as they were approaching the house. Joshua grabbed them, pulled them in the house and would not let the social worker inside. Elizabeth placed a 911 call and about 7 minutes later, the house exploded with Joshua and his two sons inside. When authorities notified Steven, who was in jail, he didn't seem overly upset about the news, but seemed angry that he was notified. Two weeks later, Steven invoked his Fifth Amendment right to answer questions about Susan's case. He was eventually convicted of Voyeurism charges in May of 2012. The investigation of the house explosion showed that it was obviously deliberately planned and the official cause of death for Joshua and the two boys was determined to be carbon monoxide poisoning. The coroner also noted that both children had significant chopping injuries to the head and neck. A hatchet was discovered near Joshua's body and it appeared that he had attacked the boys before they were all consumed by the smoke and fumes. They 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 had actually received emails from him just minutes before the incident to say goodbye. Some of them, including his pastor, received instructions about finding his money and shutting off his utilities. Joshua had withdrawn $7k from his bank account and donated his children's toys and books to local charities on the day prior to the incident. Joshua named his brother, Michael as the main beneficiary of his life insurance policy. Charles and Braden were buried at Woodbine cemetery, which is where a memorial for their mother is and Joshua's remains were cremated.
On February 11th, 2013, Joshua's brother, Michael took his own life in Minneapolis, MN. He jumped from the roof of a parking garage. Police had questioned him several times in 2012 after discovering his abandoned car at the Oregon wrecking yard and he was evasive about why it was at that location. It's believed that Joshua and Michael were accomplices in Susan's murder.
Steven Powell was released from prison on July 11th, 2017 and he died of natural causes on July 23rd, 2018. I'll leave you with some extra disturbing facts about him too. In his journals, where he wrote about his infatuation with Susan, he wrote, “The fact is, I can hardly control myself when it comes to her. He admitted that he often secretly recorded Susan and later watched the video clips while he touched himself. He also spied on Susan in the bathroom by placing a handheld mirror under the door. He wrote that he had never lusted for a woman as he had for Susan. He fantasized and said he would love to kiss those lips and that his love for Susan was his greatest problem and his greatest pleasure.
Steven wondered if the 31-year age difference would be an issue for him and Susan and would often cut out newspaper articles that discussed age gap relationships. He wrote about selling his home after he learned that Susan said it was too dark. If Susan ended up marrying him one day, he would need to buy a different home.
Ok you're going to die when I say this. Investigators found cotton balls where Susan had taken her fingernail polish off. They were dated and had her name on it. There were pairs of her underwear in ziploc bags. There were feminine hygiene products in bags. There were also toenail clippings and hair clippings.
Steven did write about Susan's disappearance and he said he would be devastated if he found out she was dead, he was so in love with her that he could barely function.
Unfortunately, Susan's remains have never been located, but the investigation has been closed.
Disappearance of Susan Powell
Timeline: What we know in the 10 years since Susan Cox Powell went missing
The Details Surrounding Susan Cox Powell's Unsolved Disappearance and the Death of Her Sons Don't get More Chilling Than This