Written by: Jenae
Trigger warning: relationship violence, child abuse/neglect, suicide
No graphic crime scene photos are in this post.
Josh Powell was born in 1976 in Washington to parents who were a part of the Church of Latter Day Saints. Their marriage was far from perfect and many of the issues they had were caused by Steve Powell’s (Josh's dad) issues with the church. Steve Powell displayed troubling behavior as the father of many children including: showing porn to the boys at a young age and refusing to set limits on behavior. His parents divorced in 1992. Upon divorce, Josh’s mother got custody of all the girls and his father got custody of all the boys. There are times where Josh would threaten his mom with a knife and even killed his sister’s pet gerbil.
Susan Cox (Powell) was born in 1981 in Oregon. I was unable to find a ton of back story on Susan but we do know that she was involved in LDS as well. From what I was able to find, Susan had a standard upbringing in the LDS church.
In 98, Josh was living in Seattle, attending school at the University of Washington. At this time, he met a woman named Terry Everett that he became involved with and had met through a LDS function. They quickly moved in together and their relationship began to take a turn for the worst. Josh became incredibly controlling of Terry, not even allowing her to visit her family on her own. Terry was able to visit a friend in Utah without Josh on one occasion, at which time she ended their relationship.
Susan and Josh met through a classmate in November 2000. They moved their relationship very quickly and ended up marrying in April 2001. For a short time after Susan and Josh married, they lived in the home of Steve Powell. Steve had an obsession with Susan. He would record her around the home, taking pictures and videos of her, he’d read her journals, stole her panties from the laundry, and would even use a mirror to spy on her as she used the bathroom. While the couple still lived there, Steve confessed his love for Susan and she rejected those advances, Steve even got this rejection on his creepy camera. After this, the couple moved out of the state and relocated to Utah.
Both Susan and Josh had decent jobs, even relocating to Utah for Susan to take a better job. They moved to West Valley City, UT. Eventually, they had two sons, Charles (2005) and Braden (2007).
When Susan was pregnant, the problems got worse. Josh became especially controlling of Susan, even forcing her to log each item bought on grocery runs while he spent a lot of money, even only giving her $10 a week for groceries. Josh refused to attend LDS church services with Susan, something that was really important to her. Susan wasn’t the only person who thought Josh’s behaviors were controlling, Susan’s friends and family also stated that he was awfully controlling of her behaviors. While in labor with their first child, Josh wouldn’t even take Susan to the hospital for her labor and instead made her ask her parents. In 2007, Josh declared bankruptcy for $200,000 of debt. Josh’s controlling was so bad that there was hardly any food in the house, the children often went without meals and Susan would have to borrow things like hot dogs from neighbors and friends just to keep the boys fed.
In July 2008, Susan took a home video that showed damage Josh had done to the home (holes in walls, broken doors, etc.) and showed off all his extravagant things that were his. She had also written out a secret will that she gave her lawyer, with quotes like “if I die, it may not be an accident, even if it looks like one”.
The last time Susan was seen was Dec. 6th, 2009 by a neighbor who had dropped by. The following morning, the entire family was nowhere to be found. The boys had not been dropped off at daycare and Susan had not made it to work. Family and friends worried that the family might have been killed by carbon monoxide poisoning. The family called both Josh and Susan before deciding to get the police involved. The police broke into the home and found no one, no noise but the sounds of two box fans running on a freshly cleaned couch and the carpet. They also found Susan’s purse and wallet in the home but the family car was gone.
Around 5pm on the same day, Josh arrived back at the home in the family car with his two sons. He was then taken to the police for questioning. Josh stated that he left Susan sleeping and took his two sons (4 and 2) camping at midnight, in the middle of a huge snowstorm. The police even went to check the campsite and found no evidence of its existence. When asked why he didn’t call into work on 12/7, he said he said he thought it was Sunday and not Monday.
Police began an investigation on 12/9, two days after the disappearance. Police searched the Powell’s home and found many troubling things including: traces of Susan’s blood, life insurance policies for Susan that were in total $1.5 million, and even a letter that Susan had written explicitly stating the fear she had for her life.
When the oldest child was questioned, he confirmed the camping trip happen and said that Susan had gone with them but didn’t come back with them. Many times after his mother’s disappearance, the oldest son told his teacher that his “mommy is dead”. For months after the disappearance, the youngest son drew pictures of himself, his brother, and his dad in the van. When asked where his mom was, he’d point to the trunk and say, “Mommy’s in the trunk”. (Keep in mind the youngest one is 2 years old!)
Many months into the investigation, police named Josh a person of interest in Susan’s case. He had been completely uncooperative with police throughout questions. Soon after this, Josh packed up the two boys in the middle of the night and moved back to Washington with his father without telling anybody. For awhile after the move, Josh wouldn’t speak to the press. He finally broke his silence in a media interview but during this interview, he spoke of Susan as though she was promiscuous and even claimed her parents abused her and she had to runaway. Josh and his father went as far as to publish an entire website devoted to the theories they had created about where she was. The biggest theory was that they stated that Susan ran away with another Utah man who went missing around the same time. This was extremely out of character for Susan and seemed like a ploy to take eyes off of Josh. In 2010, her family got sick of Josh’s lies and went to the press about the relationship violence she had experienced in her marriage.
In 2011, Steven goes on live TV and states that he has Susan’s journals and they confirm the theory him and Josh had come up with. With that information, the police go to search Steven's home. They seize a lot of stuff, including a lot of computer equipment. They find Susan’s journals. They also find all the creepy stuff that Steven had kept of Susan’s including all the stuff I mentioned earlier, tampons, thousands of pictures of her, and songs/journal entries that he had written about her. They found that he was stalking her around town too. They also found child porn that Steven had stored on his computer. He was arrested on those charges and serves 30 months in prison. He died in 2018.
At this point, Susan’s family uses this opportunity to request emergency custody of the two boys and is granted it. Josh tried to fight for custody for the two boys, but the court granted custody to Susan’s parents. Because of all that was going on, Josh was required to do supervised visitation to see his sons. These visits had to be supervised by a social worker.
In 2012, a social worker drove the kids to Josh’s home. Upon arriving, the kids ran into the house, ready for a visit with their dad. The social worker gets to the door and Josh slams the door in her face. In the brief time the door was open, the social worker smelled gas and moves her car away from the home. After the door shuts, the social worker hears the youngest son scream. This panicked her. Let’s listen. She spends almost 6 minutes on the phone with the worst dispatcher, he promises he’s sending the police but they have to attend to “life threatening emergencies” first.
A few minutes later, the house explodes in flames. The social worker calls 911 again. (These two calls are shortened in episode 28.)
The fire gets put out, but everyone in the home has died. Upon further investigation, police discovered that the two boys had hatchet marks in their heads but ultimately died of smoke inhalation. Josh died immediately, he had sat on a 5 gallon drum of gas before lighting the gasoline soaked carpet on fire.
In the aftermath of this, the West Valley City UT police department was heavily criticized because they didn’t arrest Josh. They also found that Josh had planned this, calling his family members the night before and saying that he was going to kill himself.
Police had believed that Josh’s brother helped Josh hide Susan’s body. In 2013, Josh’s brother also committed suicide.
After that, Susan’s case went cold and there hasn’t been a lead since. Also in 2013, the West Valley City police announced that they presume that Susan is dead but how she died and where her remains were disposed are still a mystery to this day. What are your thoughts on this case? Let us know!