Ep 13: 4theKidzz

Pendleton, Oregon didn’t figure as a key location in the story of Josh and Susan Powell. It was, at most, a place they would stop for gas during occasional road trips to visit family in Puyallup, Wash.

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
Pendleton, Ore. as seen from the Deadman Pass viewing area along Interstate 84. Josh and Susan Powell sometimes stopped for gas in Pendleton during drives between Utah and Washington. Photo: Dave Cawley, KSL Newsradio

That changed in 2011 when West Valley City police learned Josh Powell’s youngest brother, Michael, had sold his 1997 Ford Taurus at an auto salvage lot in Pendleton just two weeks after Susan Powell’s Dec. 7, 2009 disappearance.

Michael stopped at Lindell Auto on Dec. 22, 2009, looking to unload his car. He claimed it had developed a transmission problem.


Lindell Auto​

Lindell Auto is well known in eastern Oregon and southeastern Washington. The owner and operator, Dave Lindell, said the business had been in his family since his dad first bought it in 1963.

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
Dave Lindell stands at the front desk of his shop, Lindell Auto, on March 13, 2018. Photo: Dave Cawley, KSL Newsradio

Lindell advertises auto wrecking services, but that’s just one part of the operation.

“We run an automotive recycling, auto parts scrapping, towing type business,” Lindell said. “We do a variety of things with cars, and we sell some used cars. We’re in a small town and you might have to do several different things to make it all kind of band together.”

It wasn’t at all unusual for people to show up at the Lindell Auto lot near the Umatilla River looking to unload broken-down vehicles.

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
Michael Powell sold his car to Dave Lindell for $100 at Lindell Auto on Dec. 23, 2009. Photo: Dave Cawley, KSL Newsradio

“We have customers all over on a regional basis somewhat, out of other towns, within a decent distance,” Dave said. “It keeps us pretty busy.”

As a result, Michael Powell didn’t stand out much from the crowd.

“I can remember him being kind of a clean cut, decent looking, normal run of the mill kind of guy,” Dave said. “Maybe a thirty-something, young thirties, something like that. Looked like he had a job. Looked like he probably had some responsibilities and needed to get somewhere in a hurry.”

The Taurus was more than 10 years old at that point and supposedly not in running order. Dave offered Michael $100 for the car. Michael accepted the offer on the spot.

“I bought the car and didn’t think much about it,” Dave said. “Had the title, paid him. Time went by, we sold a few parts off the car.”

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
Michael Powell carries a bird perch out of Josh and Susan Powell’s West Valley City, Utah home on Dec. 19, 2009. Michael had traveled to Utah on Dec. 12, 2009 to assist his brother after Susan’s disappearance. Photo: KSL 5 TV

Dave didn’t think much about that clean-cut man with the Ford Taurus again until September 2011, when he received a phone call from a detective from West Valley City, Utah.

“All the sudden the West Valley police department showed up from Utah, asking about a car that I got from Michael Powell,” Dave said.


The Taurus Discovery​

West Valley police were approaching the two-year anniversary of Susan Powell’s disappearance and still lacked any solid piece of physical evidence to link her husband to her presumed murder.

However, at that time the investigation was by no means cold. Detectives had secured a wiretap on the phones of Josh Powell and his father, Steve Powell.

They had just gone public with a search of mines in Ely, Nev. and served a search warrant at Steve’s home in South Hill, Wash. They were preparing to launch another major desert search at Topaz Mountain, hoping to find human remains.

“He might have thought he was selling it to somebody who’d just run down and squish it right away.”

Dave Lindell

Dave Lindell knew about the case.

“I was aware of the Powell murder just through the news,” Dave said. “I pay attention to those kind of stories and I’d kind of read pretty much what had happened in Seattle and what had happened with Josh’s dad.”

In the midst of all that, West Valley City police had learned of Michael Powell’s stop at Lindell Auto.

This map shows the location of Lindell Auto in Pendleton, Ore., in reference to Josh and Susan Powell’s West Valley City, Utah home and Steve Powell’s Puyallup, Wash. home

“An intel analyst of ours at West Valley, phenomenal intel analyst, she came across this information and got it right to us and we followed up on it right away,” Ellis Maxwell said.

Ellis, the now-retired lead detective on the Susan Powell case, figured it was a long shot to hope the car might still be in Pendleton.

To his surprise, it was.

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
West Valley City police obtained records the day after serving a search warrant at Steve Powell’s home on Aug. 25, 2011 showing Michael Powell had sold his car in Pendleton, Ore. just two weeks after Susan Powell disappeared. Photo: West Valley City, Utah police

“It was a 10-year-old car,” Dave said. “We don’t keep 10-year-old cars very often for very long. But just that one had managed to stick around. In fact, I probably had told my guys at the time, if they’d come probably another three months later, it wouldn’t have been there.”


Cadaver Dog​

West Valley dispatched another detective, David Greco, to Pendleton with a cadaver dog.

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
This Sept. 20, 2011 photo shows a cadaver dog, named Tug, sniffing the inside of Michael Powell’s 1997 Ford Taurus at the Lindell Auto lot in Pendleton, Ore. Photo: West Valley City, Utah police

“We dug up the paperwork, which is pretty easy,” Dave said. “They gave me the VIN number. I went back by the VIN number. Pulled the file on the car, and I could see where the paperwork had come from and what it was. And I started to put the picture together in my head that this was to do with that Michael Powell.”

Dave took the West Valley team out to his lot, pointing out where they could find the Taurus.

The dog’s handler let his animal loose.

“And this dog went directly, didn’t hesitate, didn’t stop at any other vehicles, went directly to Michael Powell’s vehicle,” Ellis said.

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
West Valley City police brought a cadaver dog to the Lindell Auto lot on Sept. 20, 2011. The dog, named Tug, showed particular interest in the trunk of Michael Powell’s car. Photo: West Valley City, Utah police

That was a surprising result, considering many of the wrecked vehicles that turn up in salvage yards like Lindell Auto have been involved in injury crashes.

“So you’re gonna have blood and stuff like that in those vehicles,” Ellis said.

The dog, named Tug, sniffed around the rear end of the Taurus and then sat. That’s what Tug was trained to do when he’d detected the odor of cadaver.


Search and Seizure

Detective Greco returned to the Lindell Auto office.

“They said they got a hit on it,” Dave said. “Then they said, ‘Well, we’re gonna load that car up and take it back to Utah.’ And I’m like, ‘What?’ ‘Cause it was like, I was kinda shocked by the whole thing.”

Dave told the police he had already submitted paperwork to the state of Oregon to have the car declared destroyed.

“I had to figure out what was going on,” Dave said. “I called our police chief and says, ‘so, can they just take this car?’ And he said, ‘yeah, you gotta give them that car.’”

The next day, on Sept. 21, 2011, West Valley police returned to Lindell Auto with a flatbed tow truck. They put a sheet of cardboard over the missing front passenger door, wrapped it in place with plastic and drove away.

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
West Valley City police took Michael Powell’s 1997 Ford Taurus from the Lindell Auto lot on Sept. 21, 2011 and drove it back to Utah for forensic testing. Photo: West Valley City, Utah police

Dave Lindell was left wondering if a key piece of evidence in a murder case from two states away had sat on his lot for the better part of two years.

“We had no idea that it was in our possession at all,” Dave said. “It had just been sitting out there. I mean anything could have happened to it in the meantime.”

As for Michael Powell, Dave couldn’t help but question what his motive had been for dumping the car midway between Utah and Washington.

“He might have thought he was selling it to somebody who’d just run it down there and squish it right away,” Dave said. “When we checked the car out, we couldn’t really find that much wrong with the car. … I said, ‘Well, he said there was something major going on but everything I find on this car, I don’t find what he’s talking about.’”


Hear what Michael Powell had to say in his brother’s defense in Episode 13 of Cold: 4theKidzz.

Ep 12: Topaz Mountain

Susan Powell felt disoriented.

She, her husband Josh and their two sons Charlie, 4, and Braden, 2, had departed on the afternoon of Saturday, May 30, 2009 for an overnight camping trip in Utah’s West Desert.

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
Topaz Mountain is a prominent destination in Utah’s West Desert. Several small quarry sites sit in an amphitheater on its southern flank. Photo: Dave Cawley, KSL Newsradio

Josh intended to take his boys to a popular rockhounding site called the Dugway Geode Beds. However, he made an error in navigation while on the way there. Instead of turning north after crossing Dugway Pass on the Pony Express Trail, he turned south.

Josh then drove the family’s 2005 Chrysler Town and Country minivan up a rocky path.

“We kept climbing/driving up, I felt like at points he van was pointed straight up and gravity would take its course,” Susan later wrote. “We found this white quarry and I found out later that it had real topaz in it.”

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
Susan Powell uploaded these thumbnail photos to her Facebook page following a family camping trip in Utah’s West Desert on May 30-31, 2009. Many of the images were captured at a mining claim called Solar Wind #1

Susan’s three-page account of the trip led many people to speculate after her disappearance that the place she’d described was Topaz Mountain, another rockhounding destination well south of the Pony Express Trail.

However, Cold recently confirmed that assumption was incorrect.


Old Solar Wind Claim

Dave Stemmons with Topaz Mountain Adventures owns mining claims in the Thomas Range and is familiar with the area. On Jan. 2, 2019, he suggested to Cold that Susan might have instead have been describing a mining claim much closer to the Dugway Geode Beds.

Geographic features in Cold’s photo (right) show Susan Powell’s May 30, 2009 photo (left) had to have been taken from the Solar Wind #1 claim at the northern end of the Thomas Range

Cold used photos Susan had posted to Facebook in 2009 to independently confirm the location was that abandoned claim.

Bureau of Land Management records indicate the claim was titled Solar Wind #1. The old Solar Wind claim sat just a half-mile south of the Pony Express Trail, on the opposite side of the Thomas Range as Topaz Mountain.

Susan Powell’s photographs reveal she and her family visited an abandoned mining claim near the Pony Express Trail called Solar Wind #1 on May 30, 2009. Many people have incorrectly assumed based on her photographs that the Powell family had instead been at Topaz Mountain

In her typed account, Susan had also described encountering a rattlesnake near the Solar Wind quarry while walking hand-in-hand with Braden. She’d screamed, then brought Josh and Charlie over to the spot.

“The snake started to rattle, and Josh just stood there explaining to the boys, and then it retreated into its huge rock and Josh tossed a rock at it as it continued to rattle.”


Simpson Springs

Josh had taken his boys camping in the West Desert at least once before. Photos later recovered by police from one of Josh Powell’s computers showed he visited Simpson Springs with Charlie and Braden earlier in 2009, without Susan.

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
West Valley City, Utah police recovered this image from one of Josh Powell’s digital devices. It shows his sons, Charlie and Braden, during an outing to Simpson Springs on the Pony Express Trail in early 2009

Susan referenced Josh’s earlier desert outing with the boys in an email dated June 29, 2009. She described overhearing a telephone conversation between her husband and his dad, Steve Powell.

“I heard him say ‘No, Susan didn’t go camping with us that time,’” Susan wrote. “Then he said, ‘Yeah, I just found some people and bummed off their campfire so I didn’t have to build my own.’”


Charlie Powell Interview

West Valley City detective Kim Waelty interviewed Charlie Powell on Dec. 8, 2009, the day after his mother’s disappearance. During the interview, Charlie made several perplexing comments.

Det. Waelty asked Charlie about the camping trip Josh had taken he and his brother Braden on two nights prior. Charlie said he’d flown on an airplane to Dinosaur National Park.

Charlie also said that his mom had stayed where the pretty crystals are, adding that crystals are colorful and grow inside of rocks.

West Valley City police detective Kim Waelty interviewed Charlie Powell, 4, about his Dec. 7, 2009 camping trip with his dad and brother the day after they returned home

Police later learned that the Powell family had gone on a different camping trip the prior August, to Dinosaur National Monument. It seemed likely that Charlie had blurred several different trips together in his mind.

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
West Valley City, Utah police recovered this image from one of Josh Powell’s digital devices. It shows his wife, Susan, and their oldest son, Charlie, at Dinosaur National Monument during a family camping trip in August, 2009

At the time, police supposed Charlie’s talk of crystals might have referred to a mine or to the Dugway Geode Beds. Detectives made their first sweep of the geode beds later that week. They returned for a more thorough check in February 2010.

A West Valley team spent much of that same year visiting hundreds of abandoned mines scattered throughout western Utah.


Rattlesnake Rock

On April 17, 2010, Josh’s father Steve Powell made an entry in his digital journal.

“This afternoon Charlie commented that ‘Mommy is lost in the desert,’” Steve wrote. “Josh and Michael were also present, so we all heard it.”

By that point, Susan had been missing for just over four months. Josh and his sons had been living in Steve’s South Hill, Wash. home for three months, along with Josh’s younger siblings John, Michael and Alina.

“Please, please, please don’t search near Rattlesnake Rock.”

Steve Powell, quoting Michael Powell

At the time, news media were reporting on plans for a large public search for Susan in the Simpson Springs area of Utah’s West Desert.

“Michael has joked that Josh should make a comment like Brer Rabbit, such as ‘search anywhere, in West Valley, in Simpson Springs, in Salt Lake City, but please, please, please don’t search near Rattlesnake Rock,’” Steve wrote.

West Valley City police discovered that journal entry after seizing several computers and hard drives from Steve Powell’s home during a search warrant raid on Aug. 25, 2011.

That raid was a piece of a larger operation code-named “Tsunami.”


Topaz Mountain Search

Detectives had gathered intelligence during Tsunami that suggested Josh might have disposed of Susan’s body near the Dugway Geode Beds or Topaz Mountain.

On Sept. 12, 2011, police launched a major effort to scour that entire region using cadaver dogs. They began near the geode beds, then moved down to the southeastern side of the Thomas Range.

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
Officials search in the area of Topaz Mountain, Juab County as they follow up on information regarding the Susan Powell missing person investigation, Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2011. Photo: Ravell Call, Deseret News

Several of the cadaver dogs indicated at a small pile of rocks on the eastern flank of Topaz Mountain on Sept. 14, 2011.

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
This Sept. 15, 2011 police photo shows a possible grave site near Topaz Mountain in Utah’s West Desert. Police excavated the site during their search for the remains of Susan Powell. Photo: West Valley City, Utah police

West Valley police immediately announced that the dogs had located “human remains.”

“When the news reports started about this information, investigators intercepted numerous calls regarding the search,” one detective wrote in a warrant affidavit. “Conversations by Joshua Steven Powell again affirmatively indicated the police would not find Susan Marie Powell at that location.”

Detectives had been monitoring Josh and Steve Powell’s phone calls since Aug. 16, 2011. However, the court order authorizing the wiretap was set to expire as the Topaz Mountain search was unfolding. Police immediately requested and received a 30-day extension from Utah’s Third District Court.


Human Remains​

Police spent Sept. 15-17, 2011 excavating the supposed gravesite and sifting through the dirt for any sign of human remains. They succeeded in locating only some fragments of charred wood. Once they removed the wood from the pit, the cadaver dogs lost interest in the site.

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
Charred wood found during a recent search near Topaz Mounain in the Susan Cox Powell investigation.

Police delivered the cinders to the Utah Office of the Medical Examiner for forensic testing. Those tests did not detect any DNA.

The cadaver dog search around Topaz Mountain continued until Sept. 22, 2011. GPS tracks obtained by Cold show that by that point, the dog teams had made a complete circuit around the Thomas Range. They did not locate any other sites of significant interest.

This map shows tracks and waypoints recorded by West Valley City, Utah police and supporting law enforcement agencies during their September, 2011 search of the Topaz Mountain area. Cold has added the old Solar Wind #1 claim Josh and Susan Powell visited on May 30, 2009 for reference

However, the tracks also show only one dog made a pass through the Solar Wind claim during the Topaz Mountain search.


Hear what Susan’s dad, Chuck Cox, carried home from the pit in Episode 12 of Cold: Topaz Mountain.

Ep 11: Operation Tsunami

Steve Powell’s public flaunting of his missing daughter-in-law’s private, childhood journals proved to be a major miscalculation on his part.

He went on NBC’s “Today” show on July 14, 2011 to share his theory that Susan Powell had “absconded” to Brazil with another missing person, Steven Koecher. He showed the TV camera crew the journals, which he and his son Josh Powell had scanned, transcribed, annotated and started to publish online.

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
This Aug. 25, 2011 image shows one of several volumes of Susan Powell’s childhood journals which police seized during a search warrant raid at the home of Steve Powell. Photo: West Valley City, Utah police

“Them coming forth with the media and letting the media into Steven Powell’s home was great,” retired West Valley City, Utah police detective Ellis Maxwell said. “I was like ‘Right on’ because that’s what I needed to get inside Steve’s house.”


Working Relationship​

Ellis had developed a close relationship with Pierce County Sheriff’s detective Gary Sanders in the year-and-a-half since Josh Powell had relocated from West Valley City, Utah to his father’s home in South Hill, Wash. The two detectives had collaborated on several prior operations connected to the disappearance of Josh’s wife, Susan, on Dec. 7, 2009.

“West Valley was calling the shots,” Gary said. “We were just the auxiliary team, I guess you might call it, assisting them.”

However, in August of 2011, Ellis provided Gary with the even more inside information about his investigation.

“Yes, we wanted Josh to see this on the news and see what he had to say about it.”

Ellis Maxwell

Police planning documents obtained exclusively by Cold revealed that West Valley police had conceived of a major multi-state operation code-named “Operation Tsunami.” It hinged on the use of a court-authorized wiretap to monitor phone calls made and received on three phone lines: Josh Powell’s mobile, Steve Powell’s mobile and the landline at the Powell family home.

Ellis Maxwell declined to discuss specifics of the Tsunami plan when interviewed for Cold, citing a need to protect police tactics.

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
West Valley Police Sgt. Mike Powell leaves a press conference about new developments in the Susan Powell case in Ely, Nev. on Aug. 19, 2011. Photo: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Tsunami was to include a series of coordinated events that would prompt discussion between Josh and Steve Powell, including a public search of abandoned mines near Ely, Nev. and a “Remember Me” honk-and-wave event in the area of Puyallup, Wash.

West Valley needed Pierce County’s assistance with perhaps the biggest piece of the Tsunami plan: a search warrant raid at the Powell house.


Probable Cause

Gary’s search warrant affidavit spelled out why police believed Josh Powell had committed the crimes of murder, kidnapping and obstruction. It explained that Susan’s journals held potential evidence of those crimes, as they likely included her first-hand perspective on her relationship with Josh.

West Valley police had asked Josh and Steve Powell to voluntarily turn over the journals in November of 2010, a request which the father and son had refused.

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
Pierce County Sheriff’s detective Gary Sanders authored this affidavit supporting a search warrant for Steve Powell’s house in August, 2011. The primary target of the search warrant was Susan Powell’s childhood journals

“With the lack of cooperation and criminally obstructive behavior from Steven and Joshua Powell refusing to provide the journals to law enforcement,” Gary wrote, “a search warrant must be executed to recover this evidence and in addition, any and all digital copies.”

Susan’s journals were not the only target of the warrant affidavit. It also sought digital media, images or papers that might contain passwords for Josh’s encrypted files, photographs or videos, trace evidence and “any items determined to be evidence of the crimes listed” that would help detectives complete their investigation.

A Pierce County Superior Court judge issued the warrant on Aug. 24, 2011. West Valley police, with the assistance of Pierce County deputies, U.S. Marshals and FBI agents, served it the following day.


The Puyallup Raid

Ellis and Gary led the service of the warrant together. They and a team of more than 20 law enforcement officers swarmed the house at 18615 94th Ave. Court East in the early afternoon.

“Hot day,” Gary said. “I remember because the house didn’t have A/C and it was a huge house.”

Josh Powell was at home with his sons, Charlie and Braden, as well as two of his younger siblings, John and Alina Powell. The police ordered them all out of the house.

Steve Powell was not at home, having traveled to the Tri-Cities area of Washington to investigate a business opportunity.

West Valley City, Utah police helped arrange a business meeting for Steve Powell in Kennewick, Wash. on the same day detectives were serving a search warrant at Powell’s house in South Hill. This was part of a strategy aimed at getting Powell and his son, Josh, talking on their cell phones

Ellis declined to confirm if that business meeting was arranged by police, again refusing to discuss operational details.

“Maybe, maybe not,” Ellis said. “I don’t know if it was valid or not. I wasn’t there for that business meeting.”

However, the documents obtained by Cold revealed that business meeting was, in fact, part of the Tsunami plan.

The detectives told Josh he was free to leave, but they would not be able to release his minivan until they’d searched it. Josh, John, Alina and the boys waited in the yard.

“We were hoping to get some more information from Josh but he just, he wouldn’t talk to us,” Ellis said.

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
Josh Powell provided police with a USB key “token” required to boot his desktop computer, as well as a user name and password needed to access his laptop on Aug. 25, 2011. Photo: West Valley City, Utah police

Josh also handed over a USB device, a “token” without which his desktop computer would not boot.

As soon as police completed a search of Josh’s minivan, he left the house.


House of Horrors

The detectives made a methodical, room-by-room search of the Powell family home.

Many of the rooms and hallways were clogged with clutter. Shelves of Steve Powell’s books lined the walls in many of the rooms.

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
Clutter, boxes and bookshelves made service of a search warrant at Steve Powell’s Washington home on Aug. 25, 2011 difficult. Police were looking for evidence related to the disappearance of Susan Powell, as well as any possible passwords for her husband Josh Powell’s digital devices. Photo: West Valley City, Utah police

“A hoarder is your biggest nightmare on a search warrant, just because you know you have to go through every item,” Gary Sanders said. “If you’re not being thorough, you’re not doing a good investigation.”

The main floor of the house held the kitchen, dining space, Steve’s office or music room, a back office space and the garage. All of the bedrooms in the house were on the upper level.

Josh’s bedroom was among the neatest in the house. Police found several interesting items there, including a multi-camera security system, draft documents for the susanpowell.org website and a banker’s box containing nine volumes of Susan’s childhood journals.

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
Josh Powell set up this multi-camera security camera system at his father Steve Powell’s home. It was active on Aug. 25, 2011, when police raided the home with a search warrant. Photo: West Valley City, Utah police

The camera system showed views of the front porch, the driveway and the side yard of the house. Its screen was positioned so that Josh could have monitored all of the live feeds simultaneously from his bed.

“I think he was starting to, he was getting worried,” Gary said. “They knew something was coming.”

Charlie and Braden shared a bedroom. It held a single futon, a children’s play table and a few toys. Steve Powell’s book collection took up most of the space in the boys’ room.

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
Three large bookshelves occupied much of the space in the bedroom used by Charlie and Braden Powell. Police noted while serving a search warrant on Aug. 25, 2011 that it didn’t look like a typical child’s bedroom. Photo: West Valley City, Utah police

Alina’s bedroom held few items of interest, aside from her computers. Detectives observed that one of her laptops was powered on and logged in and appeared to be running file eraser and encryption software.

West Valley police detective Brad Hardinger located a wireless router in Alina’s bedroom and disconnected it to ensure no one could remotely log in to any of the machines on the network.

John Powell’s bedroom presented police a significant challenge. Stacks of boxes filled the floor. Clothing was scattered about, along with piles of used tissues. John’s art projects also caught the attention of detectives.

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
Police located this art project in the bedroom of John Powell while serving a search warrant at his father Steve Powell’s home on Aug. 25, 2011. It included a paper creature and what appeared to be a hangman’s noose. Photo: West Valley City, Utah police

“It had a noose, had a giant paper pterodactyl that was hanging,” Gary said. “His drawings of swords through women’s vaginas, just weird depictions and stuff.”

Even more bizarre were collections of what appeared to be toenail clippings and a bag of hair.

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
This bag of hair was one of several perplexing items located in the bedroom of John Powell when police served a search warrant at his father Steve Powell’s home on Aug. 25, 2011. Photo: West Valley City, Utah police

“It was a house of horrors when we went through there,” Gary said.

They hadn’t even started going through Steve Powell’s bedroom.


Hear what Steve Powell had to say about the raid in Episode 11 of Cold: Operation Tsunami.

Ep 10: Charlie

Josh and Susan Powell’s first child, Charlie, was a bright and curious boy.

Even at the young age of five, Charlie had a fascination with the natural world. He collected bugs, memorized facts about reptiles and dinosaurs.

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
This 2007 family photo shows Charlie Powell reading a book to his younger brother, Braden. Their mother, Susan Powell, sits just out of frame to the right

Tammy Forman taught Charlie in kindergarten at Carson Elementary School.

“He was really interested in rocks,” Tammy said. “He was kind of obsessed about worms and wanted to name every worm he’d ever run over with his bike, for some reason.”

Yet, there were also signs that Charlie Powell was haunted by the loss of his mother.


How to Kill a Bear​

Josh Powell moved with his boys from West Valley City, Utah to the outskirts of Puyallup, Wash. in early January of 2010, just weeks following the disappearance of his wife, Susan Powell.

That summer, he enrolled Charlie in summer camp programs at the Mel Korum Family YMCA.

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
Josh Powell enrolled his sons, Charlie and Braden, in summer camp programs at the Mel Korum Family YMCA in 2010. Charlie made several comments that caught the attention of staff members. Photo: Dave Cawley, KSL

It didn’t take long before staff members learned who Charlie was and about the troubling circumstances of his home life. Their concern for his wellbeing grew throughout the summer, as he made a series of odd statements.

On Aug. 19, 2010, Charlie told a pair of counselors about the best way to kill a bear.

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
Two summer camp counselors at the Mel Korum Family YMCA wrote this statement to document a concerning story told by 5-year-old Charlie Powell about how to kill a bear

Just shy of a week later, on Aug. 24, 2010, Charlie explained during a campfire activity that it was important to kill Mormons.

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
A counselor at the Mel Korum Family YMCA wrote this statement about a troubling comment from Charlie Powell about killing Mormons on Aug. 24, 2010

Charlie wasn’t alone in raising eyebrows at the YMCA.

On Aug. 4, 2010, Josh Powell told one of the YMCA managers that he wanted to make sure his missing wife, Susan, would not be able to pick up their boys. The statement baffled the manager, who spoke to Cold but asked that she not be publicly identified.

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
A manager at the Mel Korum Family YMCA provided this statement about an Aug. 4, 2010 conversation with Josh Powell to West Valley City, Utah police

West Valley City, Utah police, who were investigating Susan Powell’s disappearance as a likely murder, later collected statements from all of the YMCA staff members who had interacted with Josh or Charlie.


Carson Elementary​

At the end of that same summer, Charlie enrolled in kindergarten at Carson Elementary School. His father, Josh, harangued the faculty to make sure they would not allow Susan Powell or her family anywhere near his son.

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
Josh Powell delivered this letter to Carson Elementary School on Sept. 19, 2010, ordering the faculty to keep “outsiders” away from his son, Charlie

The command seemed strange to Charlie’s teacher, Tammy Forman.

“I was certain that Josh had killed Susan and it was really creepy to me that one of the first things he had said to me was ‘Their mom is not allowed to see them,’” Tammy said. “Once I found out who he was, I thought ‘If you killed her, why would you even be saying that? Why would that be an issue for you?’”

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
Josh Powell caused concern for some faculty members at Carson Elementary School during 2010 and 2011. He at one point attempted to join the school’s PTA, over protests from other parents. Photo: Dave Cawley, KSL

Tammy appreciated Charlie for his inquisitive mind and love of science. He didn’t seem to make friends easily, but neither did he seem depressed or mopey.

“Even in the classroom, he could be sitting by other kids but he was completely engrossed in whatever he was doing and not paying attention to the kids around him,” Tammy said.

One day during free time, Tammy noticed Charlie coloring with a crayon. She asked what he was drawing. Charlie told her it was a gun.

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
Charlie Powell drew this picture during “choice time” while in kindergarten at Carson Elementary. He told his teacher, Tammy Forman, that it was a gun

“He drew it kind of upside down so when I first saw it, it looked like people on a mountain or something,” Tammy said. “I right away felt very uncomfortable. Sent him off to the counselor. That poor counselor.”

Another day, Charlie overheard a classmate say that his mom was dead. Charlie marched over to the other boy’s table and shouted that his mom wasn’t dead, she was just away from her parents because they had abused her.

Tammy went to try and comfort Charlie after he had calmed down a bit.

“I asked if he was feeling better.’ He said ‘I’m feeling a little better because I’m really smart and I can figure out a way for liars like this student to go to jail for fourteen years,’” Tammy said.

Tammy Forman, who taught Charlie Powell in kindergarten at Carson Elementary School, shares her impressions of Charlie as a student. Video: Sean Estes, KSL 5 TV

West Valley City police gathered statements from Tammy, just as they had from the YMCA staff.


Puyallup Gem and Mineral Club​

Josh Powell began taking both Charlie and his younger brother Braden to meetings of the Puyallup Gem and Mineral Club after encountering their booth at the Washington State Fair in September of 2010.

The club’s vice president, Nancy, noticed the new arrivals.

“Originally he was this nice guy. And he just seemed like a nice young man.”

Nancy, on meeting Josh Powell

“I didn’t even know who he was. And I would look at the little boys and I would think, ‘Where’s your mommy?’” Nancy said. “Then I’d just put it like ‘Well maybe they’re separated and he’s got custody every other week and this is where they go because it’s something to do, rather than just stay home on a Friday.’”

It didn’t take long before another club member set Nancy straight.

“Then I went home and I watched the TV, or you know I pulled it up on the internet and there his face is,” Nancy said. “I literally cried because, first off, that’s where’s your mommy. That was answered.”

Nancy asked that her last name not be used in Cold, out of concern for her privacy.

“I got frightened,” Nancy said. “I sent an email out to the board members and I said, ‘Don’t ever leave me alone with him again.’”

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
The vice president of the Puyallup Gem and Mineral Club sent this email to Washington DSHS social worker Forest Jacobson on Oct. 17, 2011. She shared concerns over Josh Powell’s parenting skills

Josh brought his boys to every meeting and several field trips, even though he was advised the trips were not safe for young children. He allowed the boys to use potentially dangerous tools, like rock tumblers, without supervision.

Nancy crafted new rules requiring young children to have an adult with them to take part in any hands-on activities.

“He went to the back where the kids would meet once a month — the kids had a special meeting spot — and I guess he came unglued with a gal that ran the kids group at the time,” Nancy said. “Just angry and saying ‘That’s not fair!’”

Nancy drafted a letter to Washington’s Department of Social and Health Services as a result of these and other experiences. She suggested Josh be required to take “extensive parenting classes.”

“I am doing this for Susan,” Nancy wrote.


Hear how police tried to use an undercover officer to get Josh talking in Episode 10 of Cold: Charlie.

Ep 9: The Light of Seattle

On Dec. 8, 2009 — the day after Susan Powell’s disappearance — her father-in-law Steven Powell sat at his computer and reviewed a Microsoft Word document containing the lyrics to a song he’d written a year and a half prior. It was titled “Your Sweet Name was on my Lips Again.”

The third stanza of the song included the lyrics “There’s a sadness, knowing that you’re gone/Without you, how can I carry on?”

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
Steve Powell added this note to lyrics for his song “Your Sweet Name was on my Lips Again” on Dec. 8, 2009. Tap to view the full PDF in a new window

Steve typed an asterisk in front of those words and added a comment.

“I am now reviewing this on December 8, 2009, as I contemplate the events of the past two days, which may include Susan’s death,” Steve wrote. “She is missing, but circumstances suggest that she was murdered over the weekend. I am now truly ‘wondering what on earth to do.’”

Cold obtained a copy of that document from among the private personal files of Steve Powell. It has never previously been made public. The note suggests that Steve Powell did not have an active hand in his daughter-in-law’s disappearance, or any immediate firsthand knowledge of what had actually happened to her.


The Songs of Steve Chantrey

Steve was a prolific songwriter. A draft outline for an autobiography he intended one day to write suggested he began viewing himself as an “aspiring composer” early in his marriage to Terrica Martin.

His personal journals showed that Steve believed he would one day achieve great success as a singer.

“I think my “Light of Seattle” has a good chance of being in the common repertory, along with “New York, New York” and “Chicago is My Kind of Town,” as THE song about Seattle.”

Steve Powell

“There is something that always gnaws at me when it comes to contemplating the suitability for me of a given woman,” Steve wrote on Oct. 25, 2004. “I feel that with my songs and music I will step into the limelight one day, and I need someone who understands what that means.”

After meeting his eldest son’s wife, Susan, Steve came to believe she was that woman. He adopted the stage name of Steven Chantrey and began composing songs for and about Susan.

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
This Aug. 25, 2011 police photo shows Steve Powell’s home recording music studio, including the Roland VS-2400CD mixer/recorder he bought to impress Susan in 2003. Photo: West Valley City, Utah police

“I just ordered a $3,000 computerized recording studio, a hard-disk recorder. I did it mainly because she likes my music, and I am hoping there will be an opportunity to have her sing some parts, and that would be an opportunity to be near her,” Steve wrote on April 17, 2003. “That’s what it’s all about: I want to be near Susan.”


50 Songs for Susan Powell

Steve kept a tally of songs Susan had inspired on his computer. In 2002, that included 4 titles. He added another 16 in 2003. By 2005, the list had grown to more than 40 songs.

“I find it astounding that Susan has inspired so many songs,” Steve wrote in an undated digital journal entry in 2005. “When it was approaching three dozen, I thought that would be it. Enough is enough. I though she would diminish in my thoughts, and that I would have to find another muse.”

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
Susan Powell wrote this email on March 9, 2009, describing her reaction to hearing some of her father-in-law Steve Powell’s love songs, including two for which she sang backing vocals

Some were full-fledged arrangements with drums, keys and guitar parts. Steve sang the melodies and harmonies in a warbling voice. Other songs were little more than nebulous ideas, comprising only titles and a few lines of lyrics.

“Clearly, not all of these song are classics or hits, but the ideas keep coming, and that’s what is important,” Steve wrote in 2006. “I think I would feel the equivalent of impotence if I were not writing songs on a fairly regular basis.”

The most up-to-date version of the list later discovered among Steve’s computer files included around 50 songs.

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
This list of 50 songs was the most complete version of several located on Steve Powell’s computer following a search warrant raid at his South Hill, Wash. home on Aug. 25, 2011. Tap to view PDF in a new window

“I like about half the songs on this list reasonable well. Some of the others, well, I don’t even know what some sound like, let alone how to play them,” Steve wrote in an undated digital journal entry. “There is a lot of work left to do to make every song on this list viable.”


The Light of Seattle

In 2008, Steve convinced Susan to record backup vocals for some of his arrangements while she, Josh and their sons were visiting Washington for Susan’s sister’s wedding reception. He did not inform Susan that the songs she was singing were about her.

“This week the highlight was spending over three hours working with her on the background vocals for one of the songs I wrote about her, ‘I Only Feel Love,’” Steve wrote in his journal on June 26, 2008. “She has a beautiful and sweet voice. While it was not really a sexual experience, it was definitely an emotional one.”

Susan Powell sang backing vocals for some of her father-in-law Steve Powell’s songs in 2008, including “I Only Feel Love”

Steve’s journals revealed that his obsession with Susan had become so all-consuming, his job and finances suffered. He believed achieving success as a musician was the key to both wooing Susan and getting his life back in order.

“The only way I see of moving forward any kind of relationship with Susan is to achieve monetary success with my music. I think that is within my grasp,” Steve wrote on July 1, 2008.

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
Steve Powell wrote this July 26, 2008 journal entry describing a vocal recording session with his daughter-in-law, Susan Powell

He arranged several of his songs into an album, which he titled “Light of Seattle.” Clips of the songs went up on his website, www.stevechantrey.com, as well as on his Myspace page.


The Light of Seattle

Just weeks after Susan’s disappearance on Dec. 7, 2009, Steve sent an email to West Valley City police detective Gavin Cook. The message included footer text that read “Hear the music at www.stevechantrey.com.”

Steve also shared his songs with his sons.

“I recently dusted off my song ‘The Stars are Twinkling Down in Provo’ and when I played it for Josh and Michael, they said it sounded like it was also about Susan,” Steve wrote in his journal on April 6, 2010. “They like the line ‘You departed in a hustle, you flipped me off and showed your muscle.’ Since wrote the song years ago, Michael called me Nostradamus, a prophet. I told him I prefer to be called Nostra-God-damn-us.”

Josh Powell, who was then living with his father in South Hill, Wash. and under intense scrutiny from detectives investigating his wife’s disappearance, worried how the public would react if they discovered Steve’s songs about Susan.

Steve Powell altered lyrics to his song “Lydie With the Sunlight Hair” to make the song about Susan. Drag the slider to see the changes

“Josh was telling me I should change the subject name on ‘Susan with the Sunlight Hair’ to avoid criticism that I am an old man hitting on her. I rejected his arguments, but Josh is determined and relentless,” Steve wrote on April 6, 2010. “There is a place in the instrumental bridge with the line ‘I’m in love with Susan.’ Josh said people would find that objectionable, but that’s my favorite four seconds in the whole song. If she is still in love with me, or realizing that her infatuation with me (it was at least that much) is actually love, and that she wants to be with me and her boys, that song will be a message to her that I am still in love with her.”


Hear the warning FBI agents gave to Steve Powell about his son in Episode 9 of Cold: The Light of Seattle.