Ep 9: The Light of Seattle

By DAVE CAWLEY

 

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?”

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.

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 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.

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.

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.