Bonus Ep: Justice Delayed

NOTE: This page includes details about a wiretap of Josh Powell by police. The wiretap notes include instances of strong language, which have been blurred by Cold.

West Valley City, Utah police needed a break. They were running out of leads after searching for Susan Cox Powell for more than a year and a half. Her husband, Josh Powell, remained the sole suspect in his wife’s disappearance but had avoided being arrested or charged with any crime related to the disappearance.

So, in the summer of 2011, police crafted a plan. They secured court authorization for a wiretap on three phone lines: Josh Powell’s cell phone, his father Steve Powell’s home line (where Josh was then living with this two sons, Charlie and Braden) and Steve Powell’s mobile.

Cold previously detailed how several significant events during August and September of that year were coordinated by police as “catalysts” for the wiretap. The entire effort was known by the secret codename “Operation Tsunami.” However, details of the actual captured phone calls have never been publicly disclosed.

What follows are selected excerpts from the secret Josh Powell wiretap records, obtained and accessed exclusively by Cold.

Powell wiretap: Friday, Aug. 19, 2011​

West Valley City police have staged a public search of abandoned mines in the vicinity of Ely, Nev. Media coverage of the event has prompted reporters, such as KSL NewsRadio’s Paul Nelson, to interview Josh Powell.

Josh Powell wiretap West Valley City police

After conducting a round of media interviews, Josh told his father Steve Powell that the search in Ely was going to come up empty.

Josh Powell wiretap West Valley City police

Powell wiretap: Saturday, Aug. 20, 2011​

Susan Powell’s father, Chuck Cox attended a honk-and-wave event outside a grocery store in Steve Powell’s South Hill, Wash. neighborhood. Steve crashed the event and engaged Chuck in a shouting match in front of TV news cameras. Afterward, Josh’s brother Michael urged Josh to call 911. He believed they could get Chuck arrested for violating a temporary restraining order Josh had obtained earlier in the month.

Josh Powell wiretap West Valley City police

The temporary restraining order was due to expire the following week. Josh intended to ask the judge to replace it with a permanent domestic violence protective order and had asked his family members to write declarations supporting him. Following the honk-and-wave, Josh talked to Michael about the declarations.

The brothers were also monitoring a private Facebook group called “Where is Susan Powell” using a phony account under the name Molly Hunt. Members of the group were reacting to news of what had happened at the honk-and-wave.

Josh Powell wiretap West Valley City police

Powell wiretap: Sunday, Aug. 21, 2011​

Josh and his family spent hours on the Sunday following the honk-and-wave continuing to work on their declarations. As they talked, Josh provided evasive or misleading comments to his father, brother and sister about his actions in the days immediately following Susan’s disappearance.

Josh Powell wiretap West Valley City police

One of the primary points Josh planned to make during the scheduled hearing on the protective order was that his father-in-law, Chuck Cox, had once threatened to kill him during an encounter at a playground near Steve Powell’s home.

Josh Powell Chuck Cox Charlie Braden playground
Josh Powell and his sons, Charlie and Braden, visit a playground with Susan Cox Powell’s parents, Chuck and Judy Cox, on Feb. 27, 2010. Photo: Steve Powell

The supposed threat had occurred on Feb. 27, 2010, less than three months following Susan’s disappearance. Whether it had actually happened was a matter in dispute.

Josh Powell wiretap West Valley City police

Powell wiretap: Monday, Aug. 22, 2011​

Steve and Alina Powell both spoke with reporters early in the day. Both made comments that angered Josh. Steve, for one, revealed to the press that he had recorded an album of songs about and for Susan.

Josh Powell wiretap West Valley City police

Later in the day, Josh and Michael spent time collecting screenshots of posts in two Facebook groups, “Friends and Family of Susan Powell” and “Where is Susan Powell,” using the phony Molly Hunt profile.

Susan Powell case files Cold podcast

Powell wiretap: Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011​

Susan’s friend and neighbor Kiirsi Hellewell published a blog post detailing Steve Powell’s “immorality and depravity.” The blog caught the attention of reporters in Utah, who called Steve for  comment.

Susan Powell case files Cold podcast

Kiirsi’s blog specifically claimed Steve had once sent Susan pornographic photos in the mail. When confronted with this claim by the reporter, Steve said a sexual energy had existed between himself and Susan.

Susan Powell case files Cold podcast

Meanwhile, Josh was behind schedule for the 3 p.m. court hearing on his request for a permanent domestic violence protective order against Chuck Cox.

Susan Powell case files Cold podcast

The hearing did not go in Josh’s favor. Chuck Cox denied having threatened his son-in-law and, in the absence of any physical violence, the judge instead handed down mutual anti-harassment orders to both Josh and Chuck. In a phone call following the hearing, Josh told Michael that he’d “lost.”

Susan Powell case files Cold podcast

But Michael soon convinced his brother winning or losing was irrelevant. Josh simply needed to portray himself as a winner, regardless of the facts.

Susan Powell case files Cold podcast

Powell wiretap: Thursday, Aug. 25, 2011​

Steve Powell awoke early and departed home en route to Kennewick, where he was scheduled to attend a business meeting. He spoke to his daughter Alina on the phone driving. Alina expressed concern for her father’s safety, fearing the meeting could be a police trap.

Susan Powell case files Cold podcast

That afternoon, while Steve was still in Kennewick, West Valley City police and Pierce County sheriff’s deputies arrived to serve a search warrant at Steve’s home. Alina met them at the door and was ushered outside, along with Josh, Charlie, Braden and another of Steve’s children, John Powell.

Alina narrated the search for her father as he raced back toward home. Josh, after a time, left the house with Charlie and Braden to rendezvous with a producer for NBC Dateline.

Michael, who was at the time living in Minneapolis, left his condo for fear police could be coming to serve a search warrant there as well.

Susan Powell case files Cold podcast

Michael advised his family to avoid speaking to the media, urging them to keep quiet until they had an opportunity to seek legal counsel.

Susan Powell case files Cold podcast

Hear more of the secret Josh Powell wiretap calls in a bonus episode of Cold: Justice Delayed.

Episode credits
Research, writing, hosting and production: Dave Cawley
Production assistance: Danielle Prager, Adam Mason
Additional voices: Kristen Sorensen (as Susan Powell), Eric Openshaw (as Josh Powell), Ken Fall (as Steve Powell)
Cold main score composition: Michael Bahnmiller
Cold main score mixing: Dan Blanck
Supplemental music: Dave Cawley
KSL executive producers: Sheryl Worsley, Keira Farrimond
Episode transcript:
KSL companion story:

Bonus Ep: 10 Years

The last time anyone saw Susan Powell alive, at least the last time that can be proven, was Dec. 6, 2009. Ten years have now passed since that date.

This photo is one of the last known pictures of Susan Powell. In it, she poses with her husband Josh, their children, Charlie and Braden, as well as neighborhood friends John and Kiirsi Hellewell and their children at a church Christmas party on Dec. 5, 2009. Photo: Unknown

In that time, Susan’s story has spread across the globe. Network and cable news shows have aired hours-long specials about the investigation into her disappearance, as well as the criminal probe that focused on her husband, Josh Powell.

An Unwelcome Anniversary

For Susan’s friends and family members, the anniversary marks a milestone they’d hoped to never reach. Susan, who Josh is widely believed to have murdered, has never been found. The manner of her death has not been determined. Questions persist about the circumstances of that snowy night a decade past.

Susan’s parents, Chuck and Judy Cox, sat down for a special interview with Cold, marking 10 years since their daughter vanished.

Judy and Chuck Cox hold a picture of their missing daughter, Susan Powell, at their home in South Hill, Wash. on Feb. 1, 2010. Susan’s coworker Amber Hardman had taken the picture of Susan a few months before her disappearance on Dec. 7, 2009. The picture of Susan is © Hardman Photography/Polaris. Photo: Pat Reavy, Deseret News

“Nothing’s really changed from our point of view because our daughter’s still missing, our children are still dead, our grandchildren are still dead,” Chuck Cox said. “Evil has been exposed, but our response to it is the same. It’s beyond our control.”

The interview was also the first time Susan’s mother, Judy Cox, shared her perspective with Cold on the record.

“It took me a long time to be willing to get in front of cameras or answer questions, because it hurts,” Judy said.

Susan Powell’s parents, Chuck and Judy Cox, speak with Cold host Dave Cawley about how their lives have changed in the 10 years since their daughter disappeared. Video: Josh Syzmanik, KSL

“Every time there’s a body found, every time there’s a you know cadaver found somewhere, we wait here,” Chuck said. “You kind of start wondering, ‘Well is this the one? Is our wait going to be over? Will we be able to put whatever’s left to her to rest with her children?’”

Family Annihilation

The Coxes also reflected on the legacy of abuse in the Powell family, passed down by Josh’s father, Steve Powell.

“Steve taught [Josh] to be who he was. And Steve’s parents affected him,” Chuck said. “It’s just a sad waste of a life, a waste of time, and the tragedy that his time in life, Steve ruined his family. But is he a victim? And who’s going to judge that? I’m not going to judge that.”

Steve Powell, who recorded music under the pseudonym Steve Chantrey, wrote more than 50 love songs about his daughter-in-law, Susan. After Susan disappeared in December 2009, her husband Josh Powell recorded lyrics for one of his dad’s songs. Video: Dave Cawley, KSL

Judy described visiting Steve’s home one time when Josh and Susan were vacationing in Washington. Susan had left their sons, Charlie and Braden, with Josh at Steve’s home while she went to spend time with her family. However, Susan had forgotten something and returned to the Powell house to retrieve it.

“We’re going up the stairs to the second floor,” Judy said. “As soon as I got to the top of the stairs, she looked at me, she goes, ‘Do you feel it?’ I go ‘What? I feel uncomfortable. I am not exactly happy to be here.’ She goes ‘You feel the evil?’”

When police served a search warrant at Steve Powell’s home on Aug. 25, 2011 in search of Susan’s childhood journals, one detective described the scene as a “house of horrors.” Investigators uncovered Steve’s collection of voyeur videos, many focused on Susan, as well as more than 2,000 pages of journal entries about his daughter-in-law. Most of them were explicit.

“I want people to know this story so it doesn’t happen to them.”​

Judy Cox

Susan had spent years during her marriage to Josh attempting to counter the negative influence of his father.

“The only reason she stuck around as long as she did is because she was trying to follow every everything that [The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] taught, and she was not giving up on him,” Chuck said. “She kept investing time and energy and love and stuff to try and bring him back and save him and all that when he was a lost case from the beginning.”

Josh lost custody of his sons as a result of Steve’s arrest, due to the fact they had all been living under the same roof since December of 2009. However, during a court-authorized visit with the boys on Feb. 5, 2012, Josh bludgeoned Charlie and Braden and set fire to a home he had rented. All three died in the fire.

Chalk outlines of Susan, Charlie and Braden Powell’s feet adorn the concrete sidewalk outside the Powell family’s home in West Valley City, Utah on July 29, 2008. Photo: Josh Powell personal files

In the mean time, the Coxes find comfort in their faith, as well as in the knowledge that sharing their daughter’s story can help highlight the dangers of domestic abuse.

“[Susan] wanted to help [Josh]. She wanted to be a mom and have children and have a happy life and all that. And I think everybody still wants that, and everybody still looking for that,” Chuck said. “By sharing those experiences, talking about this and doing this, we’re helping a lot of people who are in different situations that may be similar but are different. 

Bonus Ep: Cold Live

It’s a daunting thing to stand alone on a stage in front of a crowd.

On May 16, 2019, I stepped out from the wings on the stage of the Eccles Theater on Main Street in Salt Lake City, Utah to face just such a situation. It was a packed house. Looking out through the glare of the stage lights, I could see Susan Powell’s parents and close friends sitting in the first few rows.

Don’t screw this up, Dave, I thought.

Cold host Dave Cawley (right) speaks with KSL Podcasts Director of Audience Development Sheryl Worsley at the Eccles Theater on May 16, 2019. Retired detective Ellis Maxwell and Utah Domestic Violence Coalition Executive Director Jennifer Oxborrow engage in a separate conversation (left). Photo: Josh Tilton, KSL

Many of the rest of the more than 2,000 people in attendance for the special event, Cold Live, had come to hear the behind-the-scenes story of how the podcast had come to be. They had come to ask questions of myself, retired West Valley City police detective Ellis Maxwell and Utah Domestic Violence Coalition Executive Director Jennifer Oxborrow.

In spite of those nerves, I aimed to do my best in Susan’s honor.

Cold Live at the Eccles Theater, May 16, 2019. This video is an edited version of the event, comprising elements of both the 4 p.m. dress rehearsal and 8 p.m. performance. Video: KSL TV

Question and Answer

Both the dress rehearsal and the main event included question and answer sessions. Audience members submitted their questions online and using printed cards during the pre-show and intermission periods.

Cold Live at the Eccles Theater, May 16, 2009. This video includes the question and answer sessions from both the 4 p.m. dress rehearsal and 8 p.m. performance. Video: KSL TV

Ellis, the former lead detective on the Powell case, discussed his frustration in dealing with Josh during the first two weeks of the investigation.

“If we went and took this in front of a judge or court or a jury and we had her last will and testament, we had blood on the tile and we had a theory… I guarantee you that a defense attorney could take this case a thousand different directions to sway the jury or the judge,” Ellis said. “There is absolutely no way that he would have been convicted.”

Ellis said that changed by the spring of 2012, after police eliminated many of the other possible explanations for Susan’s disappearance. However, Josh killed himself and his sons before detectives could secure criminal charges against him.

“I had spectacular investigators on this case that really, really poured everything they had into it.”​

Ellis Maxwell

Many of the questions aimed at Jennifer Oxborrow dealt with how to help loved ones who find themselves trapped in situations similar to Susan’s.

“It’s a difficult conversation to have. It’s very embarrassing to people sometimes. People just usually want the abuse to stop,” Jennifer said. “Avoid that question ‘Why do you stay? Why did you get yourself into this?’”

Instead, Jennifer said society needs to shift the focus onto the abusers, asking why they choose to mistreat their partners. She added that the most important actions people can take when confronted with situations of domestic abuse are to express support for the victims and direct them to resources.

Jennifer pointed out the availability of help through the Utah 24-hour domestic violence hotline, 1-800-897-LINK, or for people in other parts of the country.

How Cold Live Came to Be

KSL, my employer and the company behind Cold, had partnered with MagicSpace Entertainment to craft a program focused on Susan and her sons, Charlie and Braden. Together, we hoped to provide an enlightening look at how Susan’s life and loss have impacted not only her immediate friends and family, but also an entire community.

Susan Powell buckles her son Braden into his car seat on Dec. 20, 2008 while her other son, Charlie, waits. Photo: Josh Powell

The director of Cold Live, Jim Millan, and I had spent hours discussing the proper approach.

“Conversations and questions coming at this from the personal and journalism angle created all the ideas for the stage presentation,” Jim said later.

We did not want Cold Live to turn into a funeral in absentia, or to glorify the more ghastly aspects of what occurred in the Powell family. Keeping Susan central was our goal.

Retired detective Ellis Maxwell (left), Utah Domestic Violence Coalition Executive Director Jennifer Oxborrow, Cold Live director Jim Millan and Cold podcast host Dave Cawley (right) pose for a photo backstage at the Eccles Theater in Salt Lake City, Utah on May 16, 2019. Photo: Sheryl Worsley, KSL Podcasts

“Working with Dave to help him write the story of his journey with Cold was fascinating,” Jim said. “He was open and curious about how it might share something new for an audience and determined to make it worth people’s time.”

A conversation was then playing out among the Cold audience about how Susan had become a victim of domestic abuse. By shining a light on the mistreatment she’d endured, we hoped to help others recognize the warning signs.

Glimpse Behind the Scenes

For me, Cold Live also provided an opportunity to share the backstory to how a news story that I had covered off-and-on throughout the years morphed into an idea for a podcast, then blossomed into an outright obsession. The quest for answers extended beyond the KSL newsroom, filling the dark and quiet hours at home as I reviewed hours upon hours of Josh Powell’s audio journals.

No such undertaking can occur without the help of many talented people. So, during Cold Live, the voice actors who took on the difficult task of portraying Susan, Josh and Steve Powell in Cold told of their experiences filling those roles.

Far too many others went without credit, like composer Michael Bahnmiller. I had to cut part from the program in the interest of time.

A behind-the-scenes look at the music in the Cold podcast. Composer Michael Bahnmiller discusses how he crafted themes to match the moods and tones of the Susan Powell story. Video: Josh Tilton, KSL

Many in the audience had never met or even seen the people who are portrayed in the podcast. Through several video clips, they were introduced with Josh’s ex-girlfriend Catherine Everett, his sister Jennifer Graves and the Powell’s daycare provider Debbie Caldwell, among others.

Susan’s oldest sister, Mary Douglass, even shared her perspective, something that was not present in the podcast itself.

After Cold Live​

I walked off stage at the conclusion of Cold Live feeling a little hoarse. A sense of uncertainty and self-doubt pervaded. What would Susan have thought, I asked myself, had she been in the audience?

Susan’s parents and several of her close friends were in the lobby afterward. We shook hands and stood together for pictures.

Susan Powell’s friends and parents stand in the lobby of the Eccles Theater in Salt Lake City, Utah on May 16, 2019. From left to right: Catherine Everett, Debbie Caldwell, Ken Caldwell, Judy Cox, Chuck Cox, Dave Cawley, John Hellewell, Kiirsi Hellewell. Photo: Sheryl Worsley, KSL Podcasts

In a conversation the next day, Susan’s mom, Judy Cox, told me how it felt sitting in the audience and listening to Ellis Maxwell describe his part in the investigation.

“You always learn from your mistakes,” Judy said. “I knew they were working hard and doing their best. We also felt frustrated about things because [Chuck Cox, Susan’s dad] wanted to try to be more involved.”

Chuck, for his part, shared a pragmatic perspective.

“Police aren’t miracle workers, they’re just police. They’re people doing their job,” Chuck said. “I do know their heart was in the right place.”

And, as a parting note, he offered words of thanks for the role that Cold has had in drawing new attention to his daughter’s story.

“I’m so thankful that you took the time to go through it,” Chuck said. “You’re getting the story out and teaching people some stuff. So thank you for the effort.”

Bonus Ep: Project Sunlight

Cold has uncovered new clues regarding the likely contents of an encrypted hard drive seized from the West Valley City, Utah home of Josh and Susan Powell on Dec. 8, 2009, one day after Susan disappeared.

The Josh Powell hard drive was encrypted and has never been accessed, in spite of extensive efforts by law enforcement and ongoing work involving private digital forensics experts.

Josh Powell hard drive encryption My Book World
Police seized this Western Digital MyBook World Edition external hard drive from Josh Powell’s basement office while serving a search warrant at his home on Dec. 8, 2009. Photo: West Valley City, Utah police

It is not clear whether or not the device might hold clues pointing to Susan’s whereabouts. However, breaking the encryption could reveal new information about Josh’s activities in the weeks prior to the disappearance.

The Josh Powell Hard Drive

Detectives seized the device in question while serving their first search warrant at the Powell family’s home on Sarah Circle in West Valley. They located it in the downstairs bedroom that Josh used as his home office. The Western Digital-brand MyBook World Edition was connected by way of an ethernet cable to Josh’s home network.

The MyBook World drive had been in that same position for at least a year and a half. Susan pointed it out while recording a video documenting the family’s assets in July of 2008.

In this series of clips from Susan Powell’s July 2008 video documenting her family’s assets, she shows computers and digital devices present in the Powell house. Those include a Western Digital MyBook World Edition external hard drive. Video: Dave Cawley, KSL

“This is some type of backup device,” Susan said in the video. “It says WD on the side. I don’t know, it like shares the information somehow.”

West Valley police investigating Susan’s disappearance discovered the MyBook World drive was inaccessible after delivering it to the FBI’s Intermountain West Regional Computer Forensic Laboratory or RCFL in Salt Lake City. Based on the FBI’s analysis, it appeared the whole drive had been encrypted using a freeware tool known as True Crypt.

ViceVersa Pro

Not all of Josh Powell’s hard drives were similarly encrypted. While reviewing data from Josh’s other computers and digital storage devices, investigators flagged several files referencing encryption, hoping to discover possible passwords or other insights that might help them gain access to the MyBook World drive.

One of those files resided on an array of hard drives in Josh’s desktop computer tower. It had the file name vvdb1NetworkEncrypted.tdb.

Josh Powell computer RAID array
Josh Powell set up his desktop computer with a RAID array. He took this photo documenting the configuration process on Feb. 27, 2007. Photo: Josh Powell

The Cold podcast obtained a copy of that file and discovered it is a tracking database created by a file backup app called ViceVersa Pro. The database contained a log of files ViceVersa Pro had transferred to a disk named “mybookworld.” While the database did not hold copies of the files themselves, it did record their names and the locations to which they were saved on the MyBook World drive.

Josh Powell hard drive database archive encryption keys password
This screenshot of the vvdb1NetworkEncrypted.tdb file from Josh Powell’s desktop computer shows file paths for a device called “mybookworld.” The encrypted hard drive police recovered from Josh and Susan Powell’s home with a search warrant on Dec. 8, 2009 was a Western Digital MyBook World Edition model. Image: Dave Cawley, KSL

Based on this evidence, Cold believes the ViceVersa Pro database is likely an at least partial log of the files saved to the encrypted Josh Powell hard drive.

Forgotten Password

Josh made an effort to determine whether or not police had gained access to the MyBook World drive in the months immediately following Susan’s disappearance.

His defense attorney, Scott Williams, contacted police by email in March of 2010, requesting the return of his client’s digital devices. West Valley police Sgt. Robert Bobrowski refused, but offered to have detectives seek out any individual files Josh might need.

“If it is in the encrypted section then your client will need to provide the password to help the process move along,” Bobrowski wrote to Williams.

Josh had previously told police he could not remember the password to the encrypted MyBook World drive.

“If possible, pleas send all photos, audio, and video files you can find. There will be some hundreds of gigabytes in total.”​

Josh Powell

On April 5, 2010, Josh provided police with a list of files he wanted them to retrieve for him. At the top of the list were his photos and videos, which he described as “basically unreplaceable [sic].”

“Everything that can be released from the white Western Digital drive would be greatly appreciated,” Josh wrote.

West Valley police were unable to accommodate Josh’s request.

In truth, Josh already had copies of many of those files safely in Washington. This became clear after police served a search warrant at the home of Josh’s father, Steve Powell, in South Hill, Washington on Aug. 25, 2011. At that time, they once again seized Josh’s computers and digital devices.

Josh Powell boys sons Charlie Braden computer parts
Josh Powell and his sons, Charlie and Braden Powell, play with computer parts at the home of Josh Powell’s father, Steve Powell, on April 9, 2010. Photo: Josh Powell personal files

An RCFL examination of those devices revealed some of them contained copies of Josh’s photo and video library, the very files he had claimed were not replaceable.

Decipher Forensics Attacks the Josh Powell Hard Drive

On Feb. 5, 2012, Josh Powell killed himself and his sons, Charlie and Braden. The murder-suicide forever deprived police of the possibility that Josh might voluntarily provide the password for the MyBook World drive. The subsequent release of West Valley’s redacted case files in May 2013 publicly revealed for the first time the existence of the still-encrypted Josh Powell hard drive.

Richard Hickman, who was then a partner in a Utah-based digital forensics firm called Decipher Forensics, saw media reports about the encrypted drive. He contacted Susan’s father, Chuck Cox, and offered to attempt to crack the encryption.

“I reached out and said ‘hey, we’d be willing to take a look at it at no charge,’” Hickman said.

Decipher Forensics password cracking computer Josh Powell encryption
Mike Johnson with the digital forensics firm Decipher Forensics built this machine and another like it to mine cryptocurrency. In 2013, Decipher Forensics repurposed the machines to attempt crack encryption on a Josh Powell hard drive. Both machines eventually failed after running for years. Photo: Trent Leavitt

Another partner at Decipher, Mike Johnson, had built a pair of powerful computers to mine cryptocurrency. Hickman told Cox those machines could also be used for password cracking. Cox convinced West Valley police to meet with Decipher.

Police case records showed Detective Ellis Maxwell, the now-retired lead investigator on the Powell case, provided Decipher with a copy of the MyBook World drive in December of 2013.

Box Within A Box​

Trent Leavitt, a third partner at Decipher, said they put their computers to work on what’s known as a dictionary attack in an effort to guess the password. The dictionary was built off of lists of common passwords collected from past data breaches. Special software used that dictionary, along with variations, to attempt to unlock the encryption.

After a period of time, the software reported success. It had discovered that the encryption on the MyBook World drive accepted the password “ap1124.”

“It’s six characters,” Trent said. “It’s really simple.”

Josh Powell password ap1124 computer
Josh Powell used variations of the password “ap1124” as shown by this Oct. 1, 2007 photo. Powell was sending his Avertec 3700 series laptop in for repair and listed his Windows password as “ap1124tec” on the paperwork. Photo: Josh Powell

However, when Decipher attempted to access the drive, they discovered it was blank. This led them to believe that Josh had utilized a feature of True Crypt that allowed for the creation of invisible encrypted partitions nested within encrypted volumes. In essence, a box within a box.

“There might not even be a second layer,” Hickman said. “It could just be, we cracked that top code and it was an empty hard drive.”


The Decipher Forensics team put their machines back to work in an effort to crack the suspected second layer of encryption. The software ran through billions of possible passwords.

“That thing would run around the clock, 24/7, for months, if not, you know, close to two years before those things burned up,” Trent said. “And still didn’t break it.”

In October of 2017, word leaked that the Decipher team had succeeded in cracking a password for Josh’s MyBook World hard drive. However, West Valley police had Decipher under a non-disclosure agreement. They were legally prohibited from discussing their work.

“We didn’t talk about the fact that we were even doing it with anybody.”​

Richard Hickman

A short time later, the firm Eide Bailly purchased Decipher Forensics. Richard Hickman and Mike Johnson left the company, but Trent Leavitt brought their copy of the MyBook World drive to Eide Bailly’s new state-of-the-art digital forensics lab in Lehi, Utah.

His work on the Powell case has continued there, when time and resources have permitted.

“Most of its done after hours,” Trent said. “We’ll get together as a group and meet and pull our computers out and start working on it. We’ll collaborate on whiteboards.”

Focusing Sunlight​ on the Josh Powell Hard Drive

The public revelation of Decipher’s work in late 2017 drew the attention of cybersecurity analyst Rob Burton. He worked for a large corporate employer in West Valley City as a digital forensics specialist and had a keen interest in the Susan Powell case.

“The Susan Powell case had a big impact on me personally,” Rob said. “I was aware of it 10 years ago when the news first broke of Susan’s disappearance and the involvement of Josh Powell.”

Rob decided to approach West Valley police. Like the team from Decipher Forensics and Eide Bailly, he offered to volunteer his time and expertise to the password cracking effort. Police accepted his offer and provided him with a copy of the MyBook World drive. They also required that he sign a non-disclosure agreement.

Rob Burton Project Sunlight password encryption
Rob Burton speaks with Cold host Dave Cawley about his efforts to crack Josh Powell’s encrypted hard drive. West Valley City granted Burton a release from a non-disclosure agreement to speak with Cold. Picture: Winston Armani, KSL TV

“I knew I just couldn’t just create a folder on my computer called ‘Susan Powell project’ because I was under NDA and kind of had to keep it hidden,” Rob said.

He decided to give that folder the codename “Project Sunlight.”

“There’s a lot of dark things related to this case. And especially after listening to the Cold podcast. Josh, Steven and some of their activities and efforts and a lot of dark subject material. But there’s hope and there’s light,” Rob said. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant, I think.”

Hear the surprising discovery we made in Josh Powell’s digital data in a bonus episode of Cold: Project Sunlight.​

Episode credits
Research, writing, hosting and production: Dave Cawley
Production assistance: Danielle Prager, Adam Mason
Additional voices: Kristen Sorensen (as Susan Powell), Eric Openshaw (as Josh Powell), Ken Fall (as Steve Powell)
Cold main score composition: Michael Bahnmiller
Cold main score mixing: Dan Blanck
Supplemental music: Dave Cawley
KSL executive producers: Sheryl Worsley, Keira Farrimond
Episode transcript:
KSL companion story:

Bonus Ep: Car Crash Con

Josh and Susan Powell moved from their home state of Washington to Utah at the beginning of 2004. Neither had a job lined up, nor did they have a place to live planned.

Prior to the move, the Powells had worked as live-in managers at a pair of senior living communities. They’d run afoul of management at the first, Orchard Park in Yakima, Washington, due in part to excessive absenteeism related to medical treatment.

Susan Cox Powell case files Cold podcast
In this photo from early 2003, Susan Powell is seen working at the Orchard Park retirement center in Yakima, Wash. Photo: Josh Powell

That treatment, comprising several months of chiropractic and massage therapy care, had followed a minor car crash on May 12, 2003 in the community of Union Gap, Wash.

Records now recovered exclusively by Cold raise questions about the necessity of the treatment and suggest fraudulent behavior in this and other Josh Powell car crashes.

Josh Powell Car Crashes

The Union Gap crash occurred as Josh and Susan Powell were driving northbound on an I-82 frontage road called Rudkin Road.

Another motorist who was behind the Powells had glanced away from the road for a brief moment. Bob Powers told Cold he recalled looking back to see the minivan stopped in front of him, for no apparent reason.

Bob Powers recalls his May 12, 2003 car crash with Josh and Susan Powell from near where it occurred on Rudkin Road in Union Gap, Washington. This was the second of three suspicious Josh Powell car crashes. Video: Dave Cawley, KSL

“There’s clear roadway ahead, no stop lights, no stop signs, no right or left turn opportunities,” Powers said. “There was no reason for him to be stopped dead center in the middle of the road.”

Powers’ Lexus ES240 sedan collided with the Powell’s minivan at a low speed. The crash caused minor damage to a headlight on the car.

Repair records from Greenway Auto Body in Yakima showed the crash also left a small dent in the rear bumper of the minivan. The shop billed $1275 to Powers’ insurance to repair the damage.

Photos taken by appraiser Kelly Lawson and included with the body shop paperwork showed the damage was mostly cosmetic.

Josh Powell car crash damage minivan insurance scam
The rear bumper of Josh and Susan Powell’s minivan sustained minor damage from a low-speed car crash on May 12, 2003. A body shop charged $1275 to replace the bumper cover and trailer hitch, as well as to repair a dent in the bumper bar. Photo: Kelly Lawson

A Union Gap police officer responded to Powers’ phone call reporting the crash. A report authored by the officer described Josh as having claimed he had slowed to make a left-hand turn. The officer’s report also noted that “no injuries were reported.”

Josh Powell Car Crashes and Whiplash

Following the crash, Josh had Susan drive him to Memorial Hospital in Yakima. Josh sought an evaluation in the emergency department for symptoms of whiplash.

Josh Powell car crash insurance scam hospital Yakima
The entrance to the emergency department at Virginia Mason Memorial Hospital in Yakima, Wash. Photo: Dave Cawley, KSL

Records retained by Josh Powell and recovered from his digital archive by the Cold podcast, with the assistance of digital forensic experts at the firm Eide Bailly, showed he received a prescription for Vicodin. Josh was also advised to avoid strenuous activity at work “for 3-4 days.”

Josh Powell car crashes insurance scam prescription
Josh Powell received this doctor’s note following a minor car crash on May 12, 2003. Powell used the “no serving coffee” instruction as justification for missing work. Image: Josh Powell

Susan Powell did not complain of any pain the evening of the crash. She did not request an evaluation at the hospital. However, the morning after the crash, she went to a clinic with general body aches. Susan received a prescription for Celebrex, which she did not end up taking, and similar advice regarding light duty.

On the second day after the crash, Josh convinced Susan they both needed to see a chiropractor. Josh had found one he liked in the Yellow Pages. Josh and Susan spent the next two months seeing the chiropractor two or three times per week. They also made multiple visits to a massage therapist.

Josh Powell car crashes insurance scam chiropractor
Billing paperwork related to one portion of Josh and Susan Powell’s care following a May 12, 2003 car crash showed auto insurance covered the majority of treatment expenses. Image: Josh Powell

All of those visits were billed to auto insurance.

Evidence Against Josh Powell’s Injury Claim​

In mid-July, 2003, Josh Powell decided that his recovery had plateaued. On July 16, 2003, he transferred his and Susan’s care to a different chiropractor.

However, only three days earlier, Josh and Susan had visited a trucking business in Kent, Wash. Josh at the time was considering obtaining a commercial driver license. In video recorded that day by Josh’s father, Steve Powell, Josh can be seen using his arms and upper body to steer a tractor-trailer.

Josh Powell uses his arms and upper body to drive a big-rig truck on July 13, 2003, the same period of time he was receiving treatment for a neck and back injury from a car crash two months prior. Video: Steve Powell

By coincidence, that day was also when Steve Powell confessed his infatuation with Susan to her in a conversation he accidentally captured on tape.

Josh Powell’s personal notes indicate the second chiropractor advised the Powells they should hire a personal injury attorney in an attempt to extract a settlement from Bob Powers’ insurance company. Josh resisted this idea, opting to instead negotiate with the insurance company directly.

“I actually had no idea that this guy had made any claim whatsoever with my insurance company until you guys had come up with that information.”

Bob Powers

By August, both insurance companies involved in the claim had become suspicious about the necessity of the ongoing chircopractic and massage therapy treatments. Josh’s insurance provider, Pemco, ordered the Powells to undergo independent medical evaluations.

Josh and Susan Powell’s IME​

Records show both Josh and Susan Powell took part in those evaluations on Aug. 19, 2003.

The evaluator noted that Josh complained of  “aching, stabbing, or burning pain” in his neck, as well as headaches. Josh also described having hit his head at the time of the crash and blacking out “for about two seconds following the accident.”

On an intake form, Josh checked boxes indicating he was experiencing severe or frequent headaches,  shaking or twitching in limbs, loss of motion in joints, spine abnormality and excessive worry or anxiety.

Susan did not check any boxes indicating current symptoms.

The IME paperwork also revealed both Josh and Susan had each missed eight days of work following the crash.

Josh Powell car crashes insurance scam injury paperwork IME
Paperwork from Josh Powell’s independent medical examination on Aug. 19, 2003 showed he missed eight days of work following a low-speed car crash on May 12, 2003. Image: Josh Powell

Josh also told the evaluator that he had no “previous problems involving his neck or mid back prior to the motor vehicle accident of May 12, 2003.” In fact, this was the second in a series of three Josh Powell car crashes from which he’d claimed injury. Josh had received similar treatment for neck and back pain following the first crash in June of 2000.

In the end, Pemco agreed to cover the lion’s share of the medical costs. It refused to pay for specific treatments provided by the second chiropractor, finding them to be “not reasonable.” Pemco, in turn, received reimbursement from Bob Powers’ insurance provider, State Farm.

Josh Powell insurance check scam car crash con
State Farm sent Josh and Susan Powell $6,160 as part of a settlement agreement following a low-speed car crash on May 12, 2003. The payment was in addition to reimbursements made for medical bills and property damage. Image: Josh Powell

Josh Powell’s own negotiations with the other insurance provider proved lucrative. He ended up receiving a check for more than $6,000, above and beyond the covered medical expenses.

Josh Powell on Unemployment​

A dispute over Josh and Susan’s missed work time as a result of the May 2003 car crash contributed to a worsening of their standing with their employer, Holiday Retirement. In a probationary move, they transferred to a different senior living center in Olympia, Washington toward the end of 2003.

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Josh and Susan Powell appear in this undated photo from late 2003. The couple worked together as co-managers of two separate retirement communities at different points during that year. Photo: Unknown

However, that move brought Josh and Susan Powell physically closer to Steve Powell, who Susan had gone to great lengths to avoid in the months following her rejection of his love confession. So, in the waning months of the year, Josh and Susan decided to move to Utah.

The couple spent the first few months of 2004 living with Josh’s older sister, Jennifer Graves, and her family in West Jordan, Utah.

They obtained jobs with Fidelity through a temp agency. Josh lost his within a matter of days. By February, he was receiving unemployment insurance benefits from the Utah Department of Workforce Services.

Susan Powell Insurance​

On Feb. 8, 2004, Josh filled out paperwork applying for private health insurance coverage from IHC Health Plans. On the form, he listed his occupation as “manager.” He did not disclose that he was unemployed.

Elsewhere on the form, Josh wrote that he and Susan were both in “great health.” On a section of the form dealing with past prescription medications, he omitted the pain medications both he and Susan had received after the May 12, 2003 car crash in Yakima.

Insurance application processing notes later recovered by West Valley City police through an investigative subpoena showed IHC Health Plans quoted Josh a 15% rate increase due to his and Susan’s recent neck and back pain.

Susan Powell insurance injury
Internal health insurance records captured the conversation between an agent, sales representative and underwriter involved in Josh Powell’s application for coverage in February 2004. Image: West Valley City, Utah police

Those processing notes included a history of contacts between the insurance agent, sales representative and underwriter. In one exchange, the agent described Josh as “quite difficult to work with” over a request for records related to the chiropractic treatment.

In the final exchange captured in the processing notes, the sales representative asked the agent what it was that Josh managed. The agent replied that she had learned Josh was actually “between jobs.”

Hear about the two other Josh Powell car crashes in a bonus episode of Cold: Car Crash Con.​

Episode credits
Research, writing, hosting and production: Dave Cawley
Production assistance: Danielle Prager, Adam Mason
Additional voices: Kristen Sorensen (as Susan Powell), Eric Openshaw (as Josh Powell), Ken Fall (as Steve Powell)
Cold main score composition: Michael Bahnmiller
Cold main score mixing: Dan Blanck
Supplemental music: Dave Cawley
KSL executive producers: Sheryl Worsley, Keira Farrimond
Episode transcript:
KSL companion story:

Bonus Ep: Dumpster Drops

Josh Powell made an unexpected drive from his father’s home in South Hill, Washington to his former home in West Valley City, Utah on May 5 and 6, 2010. He returned to Washington after spending just hours in Utah.

West Valley City police were at that time conducting a surveillance operation focused on Powell. They believed Powell was responsible for the disappearance and likely murder of his wife, Susan Cox Powell.

Josh Powell camera photos West Valley rearview mirror
Josh Powell captured his own image while photographing the intersection of 5600 West and 3500 South in West Valley City, Utah on May 6, 2010. This image has been modified to increase the brightness of the rearview mirror area. Photo: Josh Powell

During the trip, Josh Powell took a series of photographs with a Nikon digital camera. Police were not aware of the photos until they located copies of them on a hard drive seized from the home of Steve Powell in Washington on August 25, 2011.

Cold obtained copies of those photos with the assistance of digital forensics experts with the firm Eide Bailly. They are published here for the first time.

Josh Powell Photos Metadata​

The photos recovered from Josh’s hard drive by police included a form of metadata specific to files generated by digital cameras. That EXIF data, as it is known, records settings used by the camera, as well as timestamps and, on some devices, geolocation information.

An examination conducted by the Cold podcast of the EXIF data recorded by Josh Powell’s Nikon D60 camera shows it did not include geotags. The model of camera Powell used did not include a GPS receiver. However, Cold managed to manually pinpoint the locations of all of his photos.

This map shows locations of photographs taken by Josh Powell during a trip to Utah on May 5-7, 2010

Cold’s analysis of the timestamps recorded to the EXIF data showed them to be incorrect. Based on Powell’s known locations from police surveillance logs, the timestamps appeared to be offset from Mountain Daylight Time by 13 hours.

This could likely have resulted from someone incorrectly setting the camera’s date and time in regards to AM/PM while in Pacific Daylight Time. At the time these digital photos were created, Josh Powell was living in Washington, which falls entirely within the Pacific time zone.

Josh Powell Photos in Utah​

Police surveillance logs indicate Josh entered Utah at approximately noon on May 6, 2010. After stopping for gas in Tremonton, he drove south toward Salt Lake City on the Legacy Parkway. Josh began taking photos from the driver seat of his minivan as he passed through the suburb of Woods Cross.

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Southbound on the Legacy Parkway, looking southeast toward the Wasatch Mountains on May 6, 2010. Photo: Josh Powell

The photos showed Josh Powell continued from Legacy onto the I-215 west belt and then to westbound I-80. He exited the freeway at Wright Brothers Drive. At about 12:47 p.m., Josh shot a trio of pictures from the parking lot of an office building in the International Center, a business park adjacent to Salt Lake City International Airport.

Josh Powell photos Utah Cold podcast
An office building in Salt Lake City’s International Center business park, as viewed by Josh Powell on May 6, 2010. Photo: Josh Powell

Josh’s photos showed he next drove to the parking lot of the Wells Fargo call center where Susan had worked prior to her disappearance on Dec. 7, 2009. EXIF data revealed he remained at that location for less than two minutes.

Susan Powell job Wells Fargo Josh Powell photos
The exterior of the Wells Fargo call center where Susan Powell worked prior to her disappearance, as viewed by Josh Powell on May 6, 2010. Photo: Josh Powell

Josh then left the Wells Fargo call center and headed west. He turned south at 5600 West and proceeded to drive to his former employer at Aspen Logistics.

West Valley surveillance logs and Josh’s own photo metadata showed he spent about 20 minutes at Aspen Logistics. Detectives later interviewed the company’s HR director, who told them Josh had arrived unannounced under the guise of returning some company property.

Upon leaving Aspen Logistics, Josh returned to 5600 West and continued south. He took a large number of photos while driving along the busy stretch of road. The photos did not appear to be of any particular subject.

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Josh and Susan Powell’s home (right) on Sarah Circle in West Valley City, Utah as it appeared on May 6, 2010. Photo: Josh Powell

Josh completed his drive when he reached the Sarah Circle home at 2:37 p.m.

Here Lies Death​

Josh’s arrival caught his tenants by surprise.

Dax Guzman had agreed to remodel and finish the basement of the home on Josh’s behalf, in exchange for reduced rent. Josh told Guzman he wanted to check on the progress of the work and explain how he wanted the finished project to look.

“With the amount of work that I put into that basement, I mean if I broke it down, he was paying me like 2 or 3 bucks an hour,” Guzman said.

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The unfinished basement of Josh and Susan Powell’s home on Sarah Circle in West Valley City, Utah as it appeared on May 6, 2010. Photo: Josh Powell

Josh arrived without warning on that May afternoon to check on the progress of the work and to gather the last of his and his wife’s belongings. The Guzmans were caught by surprise.

“We’re living in the house and he’s giving us deadlines of when he wants things done,” Guzman said. “I’m like ‘dude, I’m working. I have a family. … If you want it done, come back and do it. Why don’t you come back to Utah, see how you’re greeted?’”

Josh’s photos indicate he also examined the state of the yard, as well as the contents of a shed on the property.

“When I went into the shed it was kinda weird,” Guzman said. “He had wired a light in it but under the base of where the light was it read ‘here lies death.’”

Josh Powell shed here lies death Susan Powell
The interior of a shed on the West Valley City, Utah property belonging to Josh and Susan Powell as it appeared on May 6, 2010. The sign partially visible in the upper left reads “here lies death.” Photo: Josh Powell

Josh also used the opportunity to gather the last of his and Susan’s Utah possessions.

Josh Powell’s Final Utah Departure​

Josh Powell took his final photos in Utah just after 10 p.m. They both depict two young girls sitting on a couch. Cold has been unable to identify the girls or determine where the photos were taken. Due to privacy concerns, those photos are not published here.

Police surveillance logs indicate Josh left the Sarah Circle house en route to Washington at about 11:10 p.m. He headed north toward Idaho on I-15 and I-84, with detectives on his tail.

“He’s of course driving exactly 65 miles an hour the whole way,” U.S. Marshal Derryl Spencer said.

“We couldn’t lose him because we didn’t know where he was going or what he was doing.”​

Derryl Spencer, U.S. Marshals Service

Spencer, who was assisting West Valley detectives with their surveillance operation, noted the presence of two large plastic barrels strapped to a tow hitch cargo carrier on the back of the vehicle. A roof box and bicycle were also strapped to the top of the minivan.

“That made it extremely easy to watch him from a distance ‘cause you had this large 55-gallon drum on top of a minivan cruising northbound going 65,” Spencer said.

Josh Powell Photos in Idaho​

At approximately 2:20 a.m. on May 7, 2010, Josh Powell left I-84 at exit 194 in Jerome County, Idaho. Police wrote that he appeared to sleep near a field north of the interstate until 10:30 a.m.

This spot was just two miles west of another location where Josh had stopped during a previous drive between West Valley City, Utah and South Hill, Wash. That earlier stop, first discovered by Cold through an analysis of data collected by a court-authorized GPS device hidden on Josh’s minivan the day after Susan disappeared, occurred near where I-84 crosses the Milner-Gooding Canal.

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The I-84 westbound bridge over the Milner-Gooding Canal in Jerome County, Idaho. GPS tracking data revealed Josh Powell stopped near this point for five minutes at 2:01 a.m. on Dec. 19, 2009. Photo: Dave Cawley, KSL

Shortly after resuming his drive on May 7, 2010, Josh stopped at the side of I-84 and took four photos of a farm north of the interstate. All four photos show irrigation sprinklers covered with ice.

Police surveillance records do not mention this stop. Nor do any other West Valley records suggest that police ever identified this spot or conducted a search of it.

Left: Josh Powell’s photo of a field north of I-84 in Idaho on May 7, 2010. Right: Dave Cawley’s photo of the same field on Oct. 17, 2019.

Cold used a combination of Google Earth and Street View imagery, as well as a visit to the site, to determine precisely where Josh had stood while taking the Idaho photos.

Josh Powell Photos in Oregon​

West Valley police did, however, take notice of several photos Josh Powell shot later on May 7, 2010 alongside I-84 in rural Oregon.

Josh Powell photos Oregon minivan
Josh and Susan Powell’s Chrysler minivan parked alongside I-84 in rural Malheur County, Oregon on May 7, 2010. Photo: Josh Powell

Josh took those pictures at a spot between Ontario and Farewell Bend, Oregon. Several showed his minivan. Others captured the landscape surrounding the interstate.

Detectives flagged the Oregon photos while reviewing the digital evidence seized from the home of Steve Powell on Aug. 25, 2011 as well as Josh’s safe deposit box on Sept. 12, 2011.

Left: Josh Powell’s photo of I-84 near Farewell Bend, Ore. on May 7, 2010. Right: Dave Cawley’s photo of the location on Oct. 17, 2019.

West Valley police, with the assistance of cadaver dogs and sheriffs deputies from Carbon and Malheur Counties in Oregon, conducted a search of the Oregon photo location on May 1, 2012. By that point, Josh had been dead for nearly three months, having killed himself and his sons Charlie and Braden on Feb. 5, 2012.

Case records said “based on the area searched by law enforcement … there was no evidence located to suggest that further searching was required in this particular area.”

Hear about Josh Powell’s suspicious dumpster drops in a bonus episode of Cold: Dumpster Drops.​

Episode credits
Research, writing, hosting and production: Dave Cawley
Production assistance: Danielle Prager, Adam Mason
Additional voices: Kristen Sorensen (as Susan Powell), Eric Openshaw (as Josh Powell), Ken Fall (as Steve Powell)
Cold main score composition: Michael Bahnmiller
Cold main score mixing: Dan Blanck
Supplemental music: Dave Cawley
KSL executive producers: Sheryl Worsley, Keira Farrimond
Episode transcript:
KSL companion story:

Bonus Ep: Nutty Putty Cave

The disappearance of Susan Cox Powell from her home in West Valley City, Utah on Dec. 7, 2009 came just two weeks following another major tragedy. Just before Thanksgiving of that year, a man named John Jones became trapped in Nutty Putty Cave.

Nutty Putty Cave was a popular spot for spelunkers. It had also been the site of multiple search-and-rescue operations in the decades since its discovery. Jones’ ordeal in the cave ultimately cost him his life and Nutty Putty was permanently sealed.

Nutty Putty Cave Blowhole Hill Utah John Jones
The entrance to Nutty Putty, atop Utah’s Blowhole Hill. Photo: Dave Cawley, KSL NewsRadio

Because that caving tragedy and the disappearance of Susan Powell occurred close together, both in time and in place, it led many people to wonder if Josh Powell might have hidden Susan’s body in the cave prior to its closure.

There are indications Josh was aware of the cave. A review of his personal files by Cold uncovered a scanned postcard. On the back of the card, Josh had written a note describing Nutty Putty as a “hole in the ground w/ maze.”

Josh Powell Nutty Putty Cave Susan Powell case files
Cold located this scanned postcard among Josh Powell’s digital files. It includes Josh’s handwritten note about Nutty Putty.

In this bonus episode of the Cold podcast, we examine the evidence to see if the theory of Susan Powell being buried in the cave holds any merit. Utah County Sheriff’s Sgt. Spencer Cannon, who was present for the John Jones rescue effort in 2009, also provides his insight.

Spencer Cannon Dave Cawley Cold podcast Susan Powell Nutty Putty Cave
Utah County Sheriff’s Sgt. Spencer Cannon discusses the difficulty of reaching Nutty Putty from the top of Blowhole Hill. Photo: Mark Wetzel, KSL 5 TV

Hear… in a bonus episode of Cold: Nutty Putty Cave.

Episode credits
Research, writing, hosting and production: Dave Cawley
Production assistance: Danielle Prager, Adam Mason
Additional voices: Kristen Sorensen (as Susan Powell), Eric Openshaw (as Josh Powell), Ken Fall (as Steve Powell)
Cold main score composition: Michael Bahnmiller
Cold main score mixing: Dan Blanck
Supplemental music: Dave Cawley
KSL executive producers: Sheryl Worsley, Keira Farrimond
Episode transcript:
KSL companion story:

Bonus Ep: Marshal Misdirection

U.S. Marshal Derryl Spencer played a unique role in the search for Susan Cox Powell. During 2010 and 2011, Derryl interfaced with Josh Powell and members of his family numerous times. He worked to build rapport with the Powells, playing the “good cop” to the West Valley City police department’s “bad cop.”

U.S. Marshal Derryl Spencer Josh Powell Steve Powell
U.S. Marshal Derryl Spencer spoke to Cold in 2019 about his role in the search for Susan Cox Powell. As a marshal, Derryl’s role was not the same as other members of law enforcement. Photo: KSL TV

Derryl shared his recollections from the Susan Powell investigation for this bonus episode of the Cold podcast. He talked about his frustration over prosecutors refusing to charge Josh Powell and the feelings he was left with after Josh murdered Susan’s sons.

“It was so frustrating because I felt like we had enough evidence. Let’s get him into custody, let’s solve this problem and let’s finish building the case from there,” Derryl said. “And I just didn’t feel like the district attorney’s office was supportive of that.”

Derryl also played a key part in police efforts to obtain Susan Cox Powell’s childhood journals from Josh and Steve Powell. He on multiple occasions attempted to negotiate a trade with the Powells, offering a return of evidence in exchange for the journals.

Steve Powell U.S. Marshal Derryl Spencer
Steve Powell sat for an interview with U.S. Marshal Derryl Spencer in Puyallup, Washington on July 7, 2010. The marshal wore a hidden camera to the meeting. Photo: Josh Powell

“Steve soon became the proxy. He wanted to communicate with me instead of Josh,” Derryl said. “Steve was extremely fascinating to talk to. … I always felt dark and like I needed shower after getting off the phone with him.”

Hear about U.S. Marshal Derryl Spencer’s hidden camera recording of Steve Powell in a bonus episode of Cold: Marshal Misdirection.

Episode credits
Research, writing, hosting and production: Dave Cawley
Production assistance: Danielle Prager, Adam Mason
Additional voices: Kristen Sorensen (as Susan Powell), Eric Openshaw (as Josh Powell), Ken Fall (as Steve Powell)
Cold main score composition: Michael Bahnmiller
Cold main score mixing: Dan Blanck
Supplemental music: Dave Cawley
KSL executive producers: Sheryl Worsley, Keira Farrimond
Episode transcript:
KSL companion story:

Bonus Ep: Anatomy of an Audio Journal

Josh Powell exhibited traits of narcissism from at least early adulthood. That fact was made clear by his audio journals and backed up by the court-ordered psychological evaluation Josh underwent in 2011.

But the audio journals, which were made public for the first time in the Cold podcast, are one of the most unique and bizarre aspects of the entire Susan Cox Powell case. When discovered by police among Josh’s computer files, they provided nothing in the way of evidence that might lead detectives to Susan’s body. They seemed irrelevant to the investigation.

Those journal recordings provided listeners of Cold unique insight into Josh Powell’s narcissism. They showed who he was and how he thought during his formative years.

Clinical psychologist Matt Woolley podcast Josh Powell audio journal
Clinical psychologist Matt Woolley provided insight about the behaviors and attitudes of Josh Powell, including Josh Powell’s narcissism, after reviewing one of Josh’s audio journal recordings. Woolley is also a co-host of the KSL Podcast Project Recovery. Photo:

Clinical psychologist Matt Woolley reviewed an entire Josh Powell audio journal entry from December 13, 2000 for this bonus episode of Cold. Woolley then discussed what he heard in the more than hour-long recording.

The topics covered included Josh Powell’s relationship with Susan Cox, his frustration with friends, Steve Powell’s influence and more.

“He’s very much on the hunt, so to speak, for finding a girlfriend and I assume then later a wife,” Woolley said of Josh Powell. “When he finds Susan, she has these traits that he just has been looking for.”

Josh Powell Susan Cox temple LDS Mormon marriage
Susan Cox and Josh Powell pose in front of the Portland, Oregon Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in March of 2001. The couple were married here two weeks after this photo was taken. Photo: Josh Powell

Hear about the traits of Josh Powell’s narcissism revealed by his recordings in a bonus episode of Cold: Anatomy of an Audio Journal.

Episode credits
Research, writing, hosting and production: Dave Cawley
Production assistance: Danielle Prager, Adam Mason
Additional voices: Kristen Sorensen (as Susan Powell), Eric Openshaw (as Josh Powell), Ken Fall (as Steve Powell)
Cold main score composition: Michael Bahnmiller
Cold main score mixing: Dan Blanck
Supplemental music: Dave Cawley
KSL executive producers: Sheryl Worsley, Keira Farrimond
Episode transcript:
KSL companion story:

Ep 18: Angel of Hope

Susan Cox Powell remains missing. A judge declared her dead under Utah law on Dec. 6, 2014, five years from the date she was last seen alive.

Her husband Josh Powell, the man believed responsible for her death, is also dead and cannot be held accountable.

Steve Powell and Michael Powell are both dead. If they knew anything about Susan Powell’s whereabouts, they chose not to disclose that information. The surviving members of the Powell family are living in seclusion, with the exception of Josh’s estranged older sister, Jennifer Graves.

Jennifer Graves Josh Powell
Jennifer Graves talks with her daughter Adara, after a media interview on Aug. 25, 2011. Photo: Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

During our interview, Jennifer told me she believes Susan, Charlie and Braden have been reunited in heaven.

“Susan is on the other side. We may not know where her body is, but I know where she is,” Jennifer said. “She’s with her boys and she’s fine. She’s just fine.”

In the wake of Susan’s disappearance, Jennifer had hoped to help Charlie and Braden escape the same destructive family from which she’d extracted herself.

“The biggest single thing that I was concerned about was the boys. I wanted them to get out of that situation and not continue to perpetuate this violent cycle that was continuing through my family,” Jennifer said.

A Generational Cycle​ of Abuse

The seeds of Josh Powell’s actions were planted well before the murder-suicide in Washington. They were present from his early childhood, cultivated by a father who himself had been raised in a tumultuous family environment.

Steve Powell made no secret of his own troubled upbringing. He included a story about the kidnapping game his parents had played in the biography section of his music website,

“At an early age my mother made a unilateral and secretive decision to separate from my dad, and moved with my brother, my sister and me to Chillicothe, Ohio,” Steve wrote. “My dad found us after a few months, and my parents reconciled.”

In a previously undisclosed journal entry dated July 9, 2010, Steve was more candid. He made a stunning admission about the development of his own deviancy.

“My parents both contributed to the interruption and distortion of my emotional development,” Steve wrote. “My dad ‘kidnapped’ us when I was eight years old. His mother told us ‘you will never see your mother again,’ and it took a year for her to find us. For the rest of our lives with her she kept us from our father and villainized him to an extreme degree.”

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Steve Powell, 33, poses for a photo with his mother Julie Powell, 56, in February 1983. West Valley City, Utah police recovered this photo from among a collection of Powell family pictures on Steve Powell’s hard drive. Photo: Unknown

Steve supposed that separation gave rise to his predilection for voyeurism.

“My mother was the parent I was close to. No doubt this is related to the Oedipal Complex, and at eight years I was probably still in a stage in which I had not yet differentiated myself from my parents,” Steve wrote. “Perhaps this has led to my extreme attraction to the opposite sex and tendency toward voyeurism.”

Steve carried his demons into his own marriage. He attempted to instill his aberrant views on sex and relationships in his children, exposing them to pornography at a young age. He nurtured the development of narcissism in his eldest son, Josh.

Jennifer Graves, alone, appeared to have escaped the maelstrom.

“Part of me doesn’t understand why I walked away from that, where my siblings would not recognize what was going on.”​

Jennifer Graves

In June 2013, Jennifer and her co-writer Emily Clawson released a book titled A Light in Dark Places.

“Part of my motivation for writing that book was to kind of show a little bit of the background and the lead up. How things happened,” Jennifer said. “That was one of the things that was so good about writing the book was for me personally to be able to go through that and face those things and that was very therapeutic.”

Susan Cox Powell Domestic Abuse​

Susan Cox entered into a marriage with Josh Powell at age 19, not understanding the full scope of his history of family turmoil. Warning signs of the toxicity were evident in some of her husband’s statements and actions yet at her young age, Susan failed to recognize them.

Josh Powell Susan Cox Powell parakeet bird
Steve Powell took this still image from an undated video clip of Josh and Susan Powell playing with their parakeet, Verde. Based on the appearance of both Josh and Susan, the video was likely captured in 2003. Photo: Steve Powell

In a Facebook message to Cox family friend Mike Gifford on Nov. 15, 2008, Susan acknowledged her regrets.

“I’m finding out more and more that family/friends were seeing the red flags long before I did and of course I wish they would have said something,” Susan wrote. “Of course I realize I would never take back having my boys and the trials I’ve experienced so far have made me so much stronger and I should really thank the jerk I married for putting me through them.”

Susan disappeared 13 months after sending that message, likely killed by her husband in an outburst of violence.

Susan’s writings suggest the absence of physical violence in her marriage up to that point had made it difficult for her to recognize Josh’s treatment as domestic abuse.

“Often times people who are at risk don’t even realize it because it’s been abuse or violence that’s escalated over time.”

Jennifer Oxborrow

Jennifer Oxborrow, the Executive Director of the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition, said the term “domestic violence” can be a misnomer.

“There’s a lot of talk within the advocacy community about changing some of that terminology,” Oxborrow said. “We can be violent in our communication. We can be violent in the coercive control. We can terrorize people without laying a hand on them. We can do that by threatening to hurt children or animals, by threatening to ruin someone’s career or leave them in a poor situation financially.”

UDVC and similar organizations exist to provide assistance to people in situations like Susan’s. They offer services including legal advocacy and advice to help people safely escape abusive situations.

Missed Opportunities​

The disappearance of Susan Cox Powell triggered a sequence of events that have touched many lives.

Law enforcement officers tasked with investigating her presumed murder worked for years in the hopes of bringing Susan home and delivering justice for her family.

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast missing person poster
West Valley City police continue to solicit information in the cold case investigation of Susan Cox Powell’s disappearance. Photo: West Valley City, Utah police

To this date, no one has ever been held to account for Susan’s death, a fact that haunts retired detective Ellis Maxwell.

“There’s answers that I’ll never ever get and there’ll never be any justice held against anybody for their actions and the likelihood of Susan ever being discovered is in my personal opinion very super low,” Ellis said.

Ellis expressed regret over not securing a search warrant for the Sarah Circle home on the night of Susan’s disappearance. He described frustration at the unwillingness of prosecutors to pursue criminal charges against Josh.

“I think everybody involved in the case has struggled at one point or another with it.”

Ellis Maxwell

In the years since his retirement, Ellis had made sporadic progress on a book of his own. He hoped it would provide insight to other police officers and agencies about lessons he learned through the course of the investigation.

“I thought I could have that thing written in six months but it’s tough because I’m basically just reliving the case,” Ellis said. “I’d sit down and I’d start typing and I’ll type and type and type and do this and do that and then next thing you know, I can’t sleep for two, three days.”

Ellis Maxwell detective West Valley City police
Retired police detective Ellis Maxwell speaks with Cold host Dave Cawley during an interview about the Susan Powell investigation. Photo: Meghan Thackrey, KSL 5 TV

More recently, Ellis has focused on launching a non-profit organization called Shield Guardian. He’s also started sharing his experiences through his website,

“I have empathy for the Coxes,” Ellis said. “I can’t imagine losing a child and never being able to see them again or put them to rest or not ever have any answers. That would be something I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy. That’s just horrible.”

Dave provides his theory on what happened to Susan Cox Powell in the finale of Cold: Angel of Hope.​

Episode credits
Research, writing, hosting and production: Dave Cawley
Production assistance: Danielle Prager, Adam Mason
Additional voices: Kristen Sorensen (as Susan Powell), Eric Openshaw (as Josh Powell), Ken Fall (as Steve Powell)
Cold main score composition: Michael Bahnmiller
Cold main score mixing: Dan Blanck
Supplemental music: Dave Cawley
KSL executive producers: Sheryl Worsley, Keira Farrimond
Episode transcript:
KSL companion story: