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.
After conducting a round of media interviews, Josh told his father Steve Powell that the search in Ely was going to come up empty.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
But Michael soon convinced his brother winning or losing was irrelevant. Josh simply needed to portray himself as a winner, regardless of the facts.
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.
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.
Michael advised his family to avoid speaking to the media, urging them to keep quiet until they had an opportunity to seek legal counsel.
Hear more of the secret Josh Powell wiretap calls in a bonus episode of Cold: Justice Delayed.
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: https://thecoldpodcast.com/season-1-transcript/justice-delayed-josh-powell-wiretap-full-transcript
KSL companion story: https://www.ksl.com/article/50017804/cold-newly-released-wiretap-conversations-depict-powell-family-on-the-brink