Prelude

By DAVE CAWLEY

 

Susan Powell was a wife, a mother, a working professional and a faithful Latter-day Saint.

 

She was also a victim. Of just what crime, no one can say with certainty.

Susan turned up missing on Dec. 7, 2009, on the same day her husband had their two young sons, ages 2 and 4, out for an impromptu camping trip — in a blizzard — in Utah’s West Desert.

 

Her body has never been located.

 

Police suspected Susan’s husband, Josh Powell, had murdered her from the very day of her disappearance. Yet they never arrested Josh. Prosecutors also never filed criminal charges against him.

 

Deputies, detectives and federal agents pursued Josh for more than two years. They believed time was on their side. Then, on Feb. 5, 2012, Josh killed himself and the boys, Charlie and Braden, by setting fire to a home he’d rented in Graham, Washington.

The remains of Josh Powell’s home in Graham, Washington on Feb. 7, 2012. Photo: Ravell Call, Deseret News

The deaths of the boys shocked Susan’s family, friends and many other people who had followed the unfolding story in news reports.

 

Their deaths also triggered the public release of court documents, social worker reports and even a psychological evaluation of Josh from state agencies in Washington.

 

A little over a year later, in May of 2013, police in West Valley City, Utah declared the case cold.

West Valley City leaders discuss detailed information about the Susan Powell investigation on May 20, 2013. Photo: Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

They likewise released a redacted copy of their case file to the media. It included tens of thousands of pages of reports, interview transcripts, warrants, subpoenas, forensic evaluations, cell phone records, evidence, emails, photos and more.

A New Investigation

The sheer volume of those materials made it difficult for people interested in the case to digest all of the new details.

 

Many of the documents from both Washington and Utah were presented without context. In the case of the police files, some referenced investigative leads that were inconclusive or turned out to be dead-ends — but did not clearly indicate that.

 

In 2016, KSL launched a comprehensive review of the Susan Powell records in the hopes of providing that clarity and context.

 

The effort included fresh public records requests in both Utah and Washington.

A West Valley City police report referencing new public records requests related to Cold

It involved new interviews with people associated with the case, including some who had never publicly shared their stories. It led to site visits in Utah, Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Nevada.

The results of the review are now coming to light in the form of a new, multi-part podcast series called Cold.

The Themes of Cold

Cold revolves around three central themes.

 

First, Susan’s own writings showed she had become trapped in an abusive marriage. She recognized this and reached out to family and friends, yet was not able to escape. Understanding why might allow other women to navigate and avoid their own dangerous situations.

 

Second, the totality of the evidence, most all of it circumstantial, suggested Josh was responsible. The police records prove their investigation was comprehensive. There were, however, missed opportunities that could have changed the outcome.

 

Third, the records revealed Josh was groomed as a child and influenced as an adult to act in a controlling, abusive manner to his spouse. The source of this direction was his own father, Steven Powell. Josh and his dad shared a complicated relationship, part of a multigenerational pattern of manipulation.

Subscribe to Cold for free on Apple Podcasts, Google Play or other podcast providers. New episodes will be released each Wednesday.