Dave Cawley: Steve Powell couldn’t cope. News of his daughter-in-law’s disappearance down in Utah had thrown his entire world into disarray. On December 12, 2009, he wrote this in his digital journal.
Ken Fall (as Steve Powell from December 12, 2009, journal entry): Last night when I got home Michael and Alina told me that Josh was freaking out now. Evidently, they found blood in the entry way of his house and are checking that out. … Michael and I were tentatively planning to go down to Utah next Friday or Saturday. He wanted us to leave within the hour. I was tired. I am emotionally drained. I told Michael I could not do that. He said he would go with Alina.
Dave Cawley: Michael and Alina departed for Utah on December 12th. West Valley City police had their first interaction with Michael five days later, when they served their third search warrant at the Sarah Circle house.
On the night of December 21st, Michael and Alina were headed back home to Washington when they pulled off of I-84 in Baker City, Oregon. They’d stopped just north of the intersection of Elm and Indiana. Something was wrong with Michael’s Ford Taurus. Alina called AAA. She wanted a tow all the way to Pendleton, almost 100 miles away. She and her brother had a reservation at the Motel 6 there.
It was snowing over the Blue Mountains. AAA called a few of the tow shops in the region but all were either too busy or unwilling to brave the storm.
Ken Fall (as Steve Powell from December 21, 2009, digital journal entry): Michael called from Baker City, Oregon, to tell me that his transmission had gone out, that the gears had quit engaging. Fortunately, they were a quarter-mile from a motel, and were able to secure lodging.
Dave Cawley: Just before 10 a.m. the next morning, Alina called AAA again. She again insisted on a tow for herself, her dog and her brother Michael to Pendleton. The dispatcher warned Alina that was a 97-mile tow. It would result in over-mileage charges. And there were auto shops in La Grande, which was only half the distance. Alina replied she was broke and couldn’t afford repairs or the additional charge but she had to get to Pendleton that day.
AAA made it happen. M.J. Goss Motors in La Grande sent a driver to Baker City, where he picked up Michael and Alina. Then, they rode all the way to Pendleton, and dropped Michael’s Ford Taurus at Lindell Auto.
This is Cold, episode 15: Fall of the House of Powell. I’m Dave Cawley.
Dave Cawley: Michael was in many ways the brightest of the Powell children. When he was 18, he flew to Europe alone to spend several months backpacking. At the time in June of 2000, Steve wrote this about his youngest son.
Ken Fall (as Steve Powell from June 18, 2000, journal entry): Michael was always quiet, happy and contemplative as a child. He was the complete opposite of a hyperactive child. And he still is that way. There is always something very deep going on behind those eyes.
Dave Cawley: Two years later, in October of 2002, Michael enlisted in the U.S. Army. He trained in human intelligence, learned Korean at the Defense Language Institute and was eventually stationed at Menwith Hill in England, a hub in the United States’ electronic surveillance network. Michael’s next duty station was in Seoul, South Korea. In a later letter, Steve told Michael how that military service had affected him.
Ken Fall (as Steve Powell from July 23, 2012, letter to Michael Powell): I worried about you throughout your military career, and other parents’ losses were felt more deeply because I knew, I was exposed to the possibility of similar loss.
Dave Cawley: Michael received an honorable discharge from the Army in 2007. The next year, he ran for a seat in the Washington legislature. He prevailed in the primary but failed to win the general election.
Ken Fall (as Steve Powell from July 23, 2012, letter to Michael Powell): I worried when you ran for state legislature, that the hiatus might derail your academic career.
Dave Cawley: Michael received a two-year degree in intelligence operations from Cochise College in Arizona before graduating from the University of Washington with a four-year degree in International Studies in 2009. The University of Minnesota accepted Michael into a PhD program in early 2010. That September, Michael bought a condo at 431 South 7th Street in Minneapolis. He moved away from Washington for good.
Ken Fall (as Steve Powell from July 23, 2012, letter to Michael Powell): Now I worry that you won’t get the respect you deserve, or that you’ll work so long and hard that you’ll burn out before you reach your goal. I worry and wonder about how you’ll best use your credentials once you have them.
Dave Cawley: Michael’s move to Minnesota kept him away from the eyes of police, until August of 2011. During Operation Tsunami, police repeatedly overheard Josh talking to Michael on the wiretap. Detective Ellis Maxwell wouldn’t tell me what they discussed, but court records show Michael often warned his brother police were likely eavesdropping. They would move their conversations to encrypted emails.
Ellis Maxwell: We later discovered that he was using a voice over IP phone number to check his voicemail. So y’know, this is, it wasn’t uncommon for him to, uh, engage in conversation through, y’know, encrypting an email or using a voice over IP phone number.
Dave Cawley: VOIP calls travel over the internet. Like emails, they can be encrypted.
Ellis Maxwell: And he was doing this even clear back, the day before Susan went missing, and the day of.
Dave Cawley: At the start of September 2011, West Valley police worked with the DEA and federal prosecutors to subpoena Michael’s cell phone records surrounding the time of Susan’s disappearance. Those records showed Michael typically made and received several calls a day. But after getting a spam call on Friday, December 4th of 2009, his phone went dark. There were no calls on December 5th or 6th. On the afternoon of December 7th, the day of Susan’s disappearance, Michael checked his voicemail, right around the same time Josh was coming off the Pony Express Trail.
Then, his phone went dark again until the afternoon of December 12th of 2009, as he was driving to Utah with Alina. This change in behavior seemed curious. Then, police found Michael’s car in Pendleton.
Detective Ellis Maxwell: Made him very suspicious, and that led to us following up with him more and going to Minneapolis and trying to talk to him.
Dave Cawley: A detective and lieutenant flew to Minneapolis in October of 2011 to interview Michael. They caught him by surprise. Warrant affidavits later filed in court revealed the police asked Michael about the whereabouts of his Ford Taurus. Michael said the car had broken down in Pendleton awhile back. He didn’t volunteer that it had actually broken down nearly 100 miles away in Baker City or that he’d sold it for just a hundred bucks in the apparent hope that it would be destroyed.
Detective Ellis Maxwell: He wouldn’t answer any questions and he straight told ‘em, like, even if he thought that his brother was involved he wouldn’t tell us anything.
Dave Cawley: The lieutenant warned Michael that could be viewed as obstructing the investigation. It could put his PhD program at risk. Worse yet, Michael might face charges himself. This appeared to rattle Michael.
Two months later, he went to the website for a satellite imaging company in Colorado called Apollo Mapping. He entered his name, phone number and email address into a contact form, along with the message “I am looking for an aerial photo of Pendleton, Oregon taken in October 2011 or later.”
The company responded, saying its most recent image available dated back to August. Michael said that wasn’t recent enough. It had to be October or later.
Ellis Maxwell: It is interesting that they went 100 miles north to dispose of it and then him being concerned why it wasn’t smashed and looking for satellite imagery.
Dave Cawley: Michael’s car hadn’t yielded the break Ellis had hoped it would. Once the Taurus was back in Utah, detectives tore out the trunk carpet and found hair.
Ellis Maxwell: And again, we thought it was a huge break.
Dave Cawley: It seemed to suggest Michael might have transported Susan’s body in the trunk of his car, then trashed the car to get rid of the evidence. Police sent the the hair and swabs from around the trunk to Utah’s state crime lab.
Ellis Maxwell: When that was done and we had a full DNA profile, the lab called me and I went down and, and sat with them and I had butterflies. Umm, I was excited, I was nervous but then again I was skeptical, I mean, again because, y’know, is this going to be another swift kick in the guts? And at the end of the day, it was. It wasn’t her profile.
Dave Cawley: The hair had not come from Susan. That setback didn’t quell suspicion about Michael.
In November of 2011, West Valley police obtained federal warrants for pen register and trap-and- trace devices on Josh and Michael internet connections. That allowed them to see the IP addresses related to Josh and Michael’s online activities.
Dave Cawley: Detectives reading through Steve Powell’s digital journals started to notice some interesting entries regarding Josh and Michael
In one, dated January 4th of 2010, Steve talked about Josh and Michael’s plan to drive a U-Haul to Utah, so Josh could empty out the Sarah Circle House.
Ken Fall (as Steve Powell from January 4, 2010, journal entry): He is concerned that when he goes to Utah the press will begin hounding him again. He is also worried that the police will harass him and maybe arrest him.
Dave Cawley: While the Powell brothers were in Utah, Josh went to the office of attorney Thomas E. Nelson in Salt Lake City. He was there to make changes to the trust he and Susan had formed 11 months earlier.
Ken Fall (as Steve Powell from December 23, 2009, journal entry): He had been talking about his life insurance, as he had hinted at before, with direct reference to his own demise.
Dave Cawley: Josh had hinted at his own suicide two years before it happened. Susan had been missing for barely a month, but Josh was already obsessed with keeping her parents away from the boys. He asked his dad to serve as Charley and Braden’s surrogate parent, if he were to be arrested or worse.
Ken Fall (as Steve Powell from December 23, 2009, journal entry): I told him I did not know if I was up to the responsibility, and told him to work hard to make sure he is exonerated, so that the kids will have their father.
Dave Cawley: In its original form, the trust called for Chuck Cox and Michael Powell to serve as co-trustees, in the event both Josh and Susan were incapacitated.
Kenn Fall (as Steve Powell from December 23, 2009, journal entry): He wants us to keep them active in the church, so that I will have the local LDS congregation behind his decision to give me custody, should something happen to him. … If I am taking the kids to church, they will not mobilize their resources against me, in his mind.
Dave Cawley: On that day in early January 2010, Josh made an amendment to the trust, removing Chuck Cox. Under the amendment, Michael would become the sole trustee if something were to happen to Josh. The change required both Josh and Susan’s signatures. But Josh signed for Susan, using the power of attorney she’d granted him.
Fast forward to the start of October of 2011. Steve had just been arrested and the kids seized by the state of Washington. Josh immediately met with a New York Life agent in Tacoma and signed paperwork changing the beneficiaries on his life insurance. He removed the trust that he’d formed with Susan. And in its place, listed Michael and Alina in a 50-50 split.
Eric Openshaw (as Josh Powell from December 3, 2011, letter to Michael Powell): It is part of a paper trail to show my intentions. You, Alina, John, and Dad are my intended beneficiaries according to my forms.
Dave Cawley: On December 3rd of 2011, Josh changed the distribution again. He set the pay-out to 93% for Michael, 4% for Alina and 3% for his brother John. He sent Michael this hand-written letter explaining the changes.
Eric Openshaw (as Josh Powell from December 3, 2011, letter to Michael Powell): I know you don’t want the money so I am trusting that you will use it for my sons if the need were to arise. I have decided that Alina may not be financially responsible enough for that duty. Plus, if she was taking care of my sons, you would need to provide the financial oversight.
Dave Cawley: Josh called Alina the best possible caretaker for Charlie and Braden, aside from himself.
Eric Openshaw (as Josh Powell from December 3, 2011, letter to Michael Powell): I am not forwarding these forms to Alina or John because I don’t want them to feel bad for having such a small share. I just don’t want them to squander the money. John will totally understand, I’m sure. I obviously trust Alina, but she needs to learn job skills. She’ll learn them better by having less money available to her.
Dave Cawley: Michael was the only person Josh trusted without condition.
Eric Openshaw (as Josh Powell from December 3, 2011, letter to Michael Powell): I love you all equally even if these percentages aren’t equal.
Dave Cawley: Josh’s letter to Michael came as he was in the middle of that custody fight with Susan’s parents. It was early December, and he still believed that he would prevail.
Eric Openshaw (as Josh Powell from December 3, 2011, letter to Michael Powell): My attorney is very positive about the situation. He feels my rights are being severely trampled so it is only a matter of time before we can start to force some moves.
Dave Cawley: Yet, Josh didn’t know police had found those incestuous cartoon images on his computer. Then, on the day after that fateful court hearing on February 1st of 2012, Josh mailed Michael keys to his storage unit and several letters granting his brother full ownership of his personal property. That included his computers and hard drives, which were still in the hands of police.
Eric Openshaw (as Josh Powell from February 2, 2012, letter to Michael Powell): I specifically grant you full ownership and rights to negotiate and obtain my property from the police department when the time comes.
Dave Cawley: There was more.
Eric Openshaw (as Josh Powell from February 2, 2012, letter to Michael Powell): I irrevocably grant you full ownership and rights in all of my intellectual property to include, but not limited to: my name and likeness, my story, my software, websites and databases which I have created.
Dave Cawley: Three days later, Josh did the unthinkable.
On February 13th of 2012, as Susan’s family was burying Charlie and Braden at the Woodbine Cemetery, Steve Powell filed a “notice to law enforcement authorities” with the Pierce County Superior Court. It notified West Valley police, the FBI and any “Utah law enforcement” that Steve was asserting his right to remain silent about Susan.
The very next day, on Valentine’s Day, Michael and Alina contacted New York Life to lay claim to their brother’s life insurance.
Dave Cawley: Michael and Alina’s play for Josh’s insurance put New York Life in a difficult spot. If the company paid out on Josh’s policy to his siblings, it would likely face a lawsuit from Susan’s family. Because Susan wasn’t dead in the eyes of the law, she could arguably still come forward and assert a claim on the money through the trust.
On the other hand, if New York Life denied Michael and Alina’s claims, the Powell’s were likely to sue.
So, on March 3rd of 2012, New York Life filed what’s known as an interpleader lawsuit. It essentially asked the federal court in Tacoma to decide what should happen with the money. The lawsuit called into question all of the changes Josh had made to his beneficiaries, due to concerns about his mental state.
Everyone got served: Steve, Terri, John, Michael, Alina, Chuck, Judy, Susan’s estate, the trust and on and on. Beneficial Life, which also held a half-million dollar policy in Josh’s name joined in on the suit as well.
Dave Cawley: The RCFL continued to uncover clues about Michael, like this Steve Powell journal entry from April 22nd of 2010.
Ken Fall (as Steve Powell from April 22, 2010, journal entry): This evening Josh was recording his voice on the version of “Susan with the Sunlight Hair” I arranged for him. Where the chorus goes “Susan with the starlight, Susan with the moonlight, Susan with the sunlight hair,” Michael substituted “Susan with the nappy, Susan with the mangy, Susan with the unkempt hair.” … He had me laughing so hard, I had to have him leave my studio.
Dave Cawley: The RCFL also found pictures on that hard drive police had seized from Josh’s safe deposit box. Josh had snapped the photos during a drive between West Valley and Puyallup in May of 2010.
For some reason, he’d stopped along I-84 a bit north of Ontario, Oregon and short of Farewell Bend. West Valley detectives identified the exact spot in and went to search alongside the freeway on May 2nd of 2012. They didn’t find anything. Why Josh shot that picture remains a mystery.
Dave Cawley: About a month after the fire, police went back to the U.S. District Court to ask for a search warrant, this time targeting Michael’s University of Minnesota internet traffic. The warrant sought all emails sent and received by Michael since August 16th of 2011, the first day of the wiretap from Operation Tsunami.
Meantime, in Washington, Steve’s defense team tried to convince Pierce County Superior Court Judge Ronald Culpepper that West Valley’s search of Steve’s home had been illegal. They wanted all of the evidence tossed.
Mark Quigley (from April 23, 2012 KSL TV archive): This is an exploratory search. In my judgement, this is a fishing expedition under the guise of searching for journals that were written over 12 years ago.
Dave Cawley: But of course, it was Steve himself who had gone on national television the prior summer to declare the journals important evidence in the case. The youngest of the Powell children, Alina, defended her father.
Alina Powell (from April 23, 2012 KSL TV archive): I do believe that he should be released from jail and I believe that based on the conduct of police, that there has been a lot of illegal hanky-panky going on and frankly that suggests that if they’re willing to go so far as to get a “warrant,” who knows how far they’re willing to go to try and back that warrant up.
Dave Cawley: Culpepper ruled, the probable cause supporting the search warrant had been valid.
Ronald Culpepper (from April 24, 2012 KSL TV archive): I think these facts offer a very reasonable inference and something that would warrant a person of reasonable caution in finding probable cause to believe that Joshua Powell, the subject of the investigation, was involved in the disappearance and very likely the death of Susan Powell.
Dave Cawley: Alina didn’t like that at all.
Alina Powell (from April 24, 2012 KSL TV archive): I empathize with his decision because he has to base it only on the four corners of the affidavit, I understand that. However, there is exculpatory evidence that was not put into the affidavit, so I actually disagree with the overall concept on that point.
Dave Cawley: While Alina arguing on behalf of her father, West Valley police obtained a subpoena for her AAA records. They learned all about the stop she and Michael had made in Baker City and their long tow to Pendleton. Detectives identified the tow driver and went to interview him. The tow driver, who declined to be interviewed for this podcast, told Ellis Maxwell Michael hadn’t said much during that long drive.
Steve Powell’s trial began the second week of May.
Sandra Yi (from May 8, 2012 KSL TV archive): This morning, Powell waved and smiled at his daughter Alina, who sat in the back of the courtroom. Denise Cox was there, too. She said she’ll attend the trial with the hope that Powell will end his silence.
Denise Cox (from May 8, 2012 KSL TV archive): The journals are helping with the voice of Susan and it links to how sick of a person he is.
Sandra Yi (from May 8, 2012 KSL TV archive): Cox wants to the jury to see excerpts from Powell’s journals, which talk about his obsession with Susan. Prosecutors say the writings show a pattern of voyeurism. Powell’s attorney say the journal entries aren’t relevant to the case.
Dave Cawley: Judge Culpepper issued a ruling excluding from evidence Steve’s voyeur photos of Susan, as well as seven of eight passages from Steve’s journals.
Sandra Yi (from May 8, 2012 KSL TV archive): His decision is a blow to the state. Susan Powell’s sister wasn’t happy. She left the courthouse without talking to reporters.
Dave Cawley: The seven excluded excerpts all had to do with Susan, like this one.
Ken Fall (as Steve Powell from March 11, 2004 journal entry): I am a voyeur, and Susan is an exhibitionist. … I like having the camcorder on all the time when she is around because I want to record every possible move she makes and every inch of skin she reveals to my lustful eyes.
Dave Cawley: The one passage Culpepper did allow, said this.
Ken Fall (as Steve Powell from August 17, 2004 journal entry): I enjoy taking video shots of pretty girls in shorts and skirts, beautiful women of every age.
Dave Cawley: In another blow to the prosecution, Culpepper tossed out the child pornography charge. His reasoning was that Steve hadn’t directed those young neighbor girls to pose or act in an explicit fashion. The charge, he said, didn’t fit with the language of Washington’s criminal statute. So, deputy prosecutors Grant Blinn and Bryce Nelson had to make the case mostly on the images of the two neighbor girls.
Bryce Nelson (from May 9, 2012 KSL TV archive): They showed the girls nude, taking a bath, using the bathroom or changing clothes. The images repeatedly zoomed in on the genital area of the two girls.
Sandra Yi (from May 9, 2012 KSL TV archive): A detective with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office drew a picture of Powell’s home which is next to the victim’s house. He also described the pictures of the girls as they were shown to the jury. He says there were so many pictures, he recognized the girls when he went to talk to their mother about them.
Gary Sanders (from May 9, 2012 KSL TV archive): I got out of my vehicle and I immediately recognized victim number one, and then I could tell victim number two.
Dave Cawley: Steve’s attorneys, Mark Quigley and Travis Currie, staged the best defense they could, all things considered.
Travis Currie (from May 15, 2012 KSL TV archive): It’s not about what you feel. It’s about what you know.
Sandra Yi (from May 15, 2012 KSL TV archive): Steven Powell’s attorney told the jury to take away the emotion and decide the case based on the evidence, evidence they said is lacking. Travis Curry said there’s no proof Powell took the photos or that he did it for sexual gratification.
Travis Currie (from May 15, 2012 KSL TV archive): There are people who are nosy, who like to spy on their neighbors.
Sandra Yi (from May 15, 2012 KSL TV archive): He said the thousands of pictures of other girls on the disc support that theory.
Travis Currie (from May 15, 2012 KSL TV archive): If somebody liked to look at pictures of naked pre-pubescent girls, wouldn’t there be lots of pictures of naked pre-pubescent girls?
Grant Blinn (from May 15, 2012 KSL TV archive):What is the defense? There’s no more naked kids on the disc? That’s the defense? Really?
Sandra Yi (from May 15, 2012 KSL TV archive): Prosecutors fired back, saying the evidence speaks for itself. They said the images were tied to a video camera found in Powell’s bedroom. The disc also contained pictures of Powell naked, urinating and performing sex acts on himself.
Grant Blinn (from May 15, 2012 KSL TV archive): That speaks volumes to you as to who it was that filmed the girls in this case.
Dave Cawley: On May 16th of 2012, the jury returned its verdict.
Ronald Culpepper (from May 16, 2012 KSL TV archive): We the jury find the defendant guilty… guilty… guilty.
Dave Cawley: On all 14 counts. Steve didn’t so much as flinch. Detective Gary Sanders, who you just heard testifying on the stand during the trial, wasn’t surprised.
Gary Sanders: Kind of interesting that, element that, he, he, y’know, found guilty. Didn’t take much for that. I think the judge at the time called him the “ultimate creepy neighbor” and that’s what he was. He just videotaped everybody.
Dave Cawley: Ellis Maxwell had also taken the stand, to explain how police knew the pictures came from Steve’s camcorder. The legal wrangling in the voyeurism case against Steve only underlined how messy he would’ve made a murder trial against Josh.
Ellis Maxwell: He is an individual that you would have to prove or disprove his involvement in this particular case. If you did not, then myself up on the stand — y’know, sure wish I had that opportunity with Josh and that was the goal — I would’ve been torn apart by a defense attorney because they easily could have pointed the finger at Steve and used him as a scape goat, for sure.
Dave Cawley: Judge Culpepper had kept Susan’s name out of the trial, but that didn’t stop her family from declaring victory.
Sandra Yi (from May 16, 2012 KSL TV archive):
News Archives: Susan’s family says it’s justice for the two young girls, justice for Susan, too.
Denise Cox (from May 16, 2012 KSL TV archive): In the end, my sister’s vindicated on all the accusations he had against her about being promiscuous and being sexual.
Sandra Yi (from May 16, 2012 KSL TV archive):
News Archives: Denise Cox says Powell got what he deserved.
Dave Cawley: Steve’s youngest child, Alina, saw it differently.
Alina Powell(from May 16, 2012 KSL TV archive): My family was automatically convicted two-and-a-half years ago.
Sandra Yi (from May 16, 2012 KSL TV archive):
News Archives: Alina followed the trial closely, sitting in the back and taking notes. After the verdict, she sat inside the courtroom, crying. She talked about her loss in what she called a complicated situation even she doesn’t understand.
Alina Powell(from May 16, 2012 KSL TV archive): I’ve lost a sister-in-law, a sister, a brother, two darling nephews, and a great father.
Dave Cawley: After the verdict came down, Alina launched a website titled “West Valley and Pierce County Malfeasance.” She claimed the criminal investigation had amounted to illegitimate harassment of her family and abuse of authority.
She also said police had “misrepresented Susan’s writings in bad faith” and that Susan had felt perfectly comfortable around Steve.
Dave Cawley: Social worker Elizabeth Griffin-Hall’s frustrated call to dispatch on the day Josh killed boys ignited a firestorm of criticism when the Pierce County Law Enforcement Support Agency released the recording to the media. The agency reprimanded communications officer David Lovrak, who’d handled that call.
John Hollenhorst (from April 19, 2012 KSL TV archive): The letter of reprimand to Lovrak notes quite a bit of confusion on your part and said there appeared to be many red flags that were stated by the caller. Lovrak’s supervisor wrote in the letter that he should have asked certain questions to clarify the situation, instead of making assumptions and not listening carefully. Shortly after the tragedy Lovrak expressed his personal regret on NBC Dateline.
Dave Cawley: Lovrak, I should note, owned up to his role in the tragedy. He now works to train other dispatchers about what he calls “compassion fatigue.”
Charlie and Braden’s deaths also triggered an inquest at the Washington Department of Social and Health Services. DSHS convened a review board.
James Manley: There’s a law that says everything becomes transparent. And, in fact, I believe there was a webpage dedicated to this and all the discovery — which means the notes, the emails, my report, all the stuff — was on the web for everyone to see.
Dave Cawley: James Manley, the forensic psychologist who’d evaluated Josh’s parenting skills and recommended the psycho-sexual evaluation was himself working through what had happened.
James Manley: I think profoundly was my conclusion and coincidentally the last telephonic message to his attorney, is that he could not live without his children. That said, when he was apparently faced with a psychosexual evaluation, he did not know what to do and he could not even think about living without his sons. So he decided to end their lives.
Dave Cawley: The review board declined to say if the police, courts or social workers could have prevented the murders of Charlie and Braden. The board did suggest a lack of domestic violence training and complex “jurisdictional issues” between Utah and Washington had contributed.
Chuck Cox: They just were trying to stay away from the media, stay away from stuff and trying get rid of this as fast as they could, regardless of what was safe for the boys, the right thing for the children. So they didn’t the children’s best interest in mind, they had their self-interest in mind.
Dave Cawley: The board didn’t agree with that assessment from Chuck Cox, saying instead the social workers had demonstrated “the highest concern for the children’s health, safety and welfare.” But, the board also said that in future dependency actions involving a parent who is under criminal investigation, social workers ought to consult with case detectives before making any changes to visitation.
The DSHS files included all of the emails and reports authored by the social workers. Chuck couldn’t believe what he read. He made up his mind. He was going to sue DSHS and the social workers.
Chuck Cox: And that’s why we went ahead, when I found out about the emails between Forest and her boss and the social worker who was investigating and all that stuff that went on, I went “ok, no no. We’re going after all of them.”
Dave Cawley: I’ve made multiple attempts to contact the social workers who handled the Powell case and get their perspectives. Those overtures have all gone unanswered. I went so far as to submit written questions to Washington’s Department of Children, Youth, and Families in 2018. I received no response.
Chuck had obtained a copy of Steve and Terri’s divorce decree shortly before the murder-suicide. He found himself stunned over what the social workers had known about Josh’s past.
Chuck Cox: Well I didn’t know much about Josh until I read his divorce proceedings of his parents. That was like “oh my gosh, what are we dealing with here?” But after reading that, I’m going “wow, this guy was raised with no rules. He’s always right. Nobody’s ever challenged him. And when he is challenged,” yeah, it kind of made some more sense of what was going on in the family.
Dave Cawley: For the first time, Chuck could see a direct link between how Steve had treated Terrica and how Josh had treated Susan.
Chuck Cox: Matter of fact, if you look at the divorce proceedings from Steve’s things, the same words Steve was using against Terri, he was using against Susan. The exact same words.
Dave Cawley: It brought into sharp relief Josh and Susan’s decision to move away from Puyallup a decade earlier, when they’d taken that job managing a retirement center in Yakima.
Chuck Cox: They moved away to get away from dad. And Josh knew that was to get away from his dad and he was fine with that. And for awhile it was seemed to be working better.
Dave Cawley: Chuck also found himself busy during the summer of 2012 trying to make sense of the financial mess Josh had left behind. He asked Bank of America for a statement on the mortgage for the Sarah Circle house. To his surprise, he learned Josh had taken his name off of the mortgage before the murder-suicide, leaving Susan’s alone. Not only that, but Josh had also listed Susan’s mailing address as the Orchard Park retirement center in Yakima, where they’d lived in 2003 before moving to Utah. Chuck couldn’t figure out why Josh would’ve picked that address. Then he remembered something.
Josh once had keys to facility, he knew the schedule and had kept personal items in the unfinished storage area. Chuck asked the current property managers if he could take a look around and they agreed. Chuck went through the storage area that was framed but not finished. Black plastic sheets covered the dirt floor. Scattered pieces of drywall were nailed to some studs. In a back corner, he came across a piece of soft earth. His imagination started to work. He wondered if Josh might have dismembered Susan, placed the pieces of her body into plastic bags, then buried them beneath what would someday become a concrete floor.
Chuck emailed his thoughts to West Valley police. Ellis Maxwell, in turn, got in touch with the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office. They sent a cadaver dog over to search the Orchard Park storage area, but found nothing out of the ordinary.
Dave Cawley: In June of 2012, Steve Powell received a sentence of 30 months confinement. He left the Pierce County Jail and headed to prison in Shelton, Washington. No sooner had he arrived, than his glasses broke. He was so desperate to read and write that he fashioned a makeshift monocle out of a clear packet of toothpaste.
Steve started work on a novel, a piece of what he called historical fiction.
Ken Fall (as Steve Powell from July 29, 2012 letter to Michael Powell): I have almost 150 hand-written pages so far. … Since it is about Joseph Smith and Mormon history, I have a lot of details at my command, even though I have no reference works.
Dave Cawley: Steve hoarded paper, writing on any free scrap he could collect. He kept Michael and Alina apprised of his progress in frequent letters, like this one dated July 29, 2012.
Ken Fall (as Steve Powell from July 29, 2012 letter to Michael Powell): When you have all the time in the world and can’t see much you do a lot of thinking. And that’s why I got going on a novel. So [expletive] them. They treat me like an animal in a cage, and I evolve my other faculties and become super human.
Dave Cawley: A couple of days later, Steve wrote a “personal log” about a visit from FBI Special Agent Sonja Nordstrom and a man from the Department of Defense named Shamus.
Ken Fall (as Steve Powell from July 31, 2012 journal entry): Shamus said he believes Michael knows something but won’t talk. He made veiled threats related to the funding of Michael’s PhD program. He sort of described Alina as a crackpot with her laughable website and theories. … I am worried they will try to do something to harass my kids more, since I unfortunately allowed them to see that as my hot button.
Dave Cawley: This guy, Shamus, he wasn’t from the department of defense, he was police detective Darrell Dain. Dain later wrote that Steve’d gone into a rage when they touched on the topic of Alina and demanded to be returned to his cell. Shamus also told Steve that Michael might go on a rampage, just like James Holmes. Days earlier, Holmes had carried out a mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, killing 12 people. Prior to the shooting, Holmes had studied neuroscience. Not all that different from Michael work in the field of cognitive science.
In August, Steve moved from Shelton to the Twin Rivers Unit at the Monroe Correctional Complex.
Like Chuck, Steve started to think about suing over the deaths of his grandsons. He wrote a draft of a wrongful death lawsuit by hand. It sought 20 million dollars for Josh, and 10 million each for Charlie and Braden.
Ken Fall (as Steve Powell from October 24, 2012 lawsuit complaint draft): The agencies I will file claims against include but are not limited to the following. One, West Valley City, Utah and its police department. Two, Pierce County, Washington and its sheriffs department. Three, Washington State, attorney general’s office and DSHS. Four, Federal Bureau of Investigation. Five, the U.S. Marshals Service.
Dave Cawley: In a letter to Alina, Steve explained he was also appealing his conviction.
Ken Fall (as Steve Powell from December 16, 2012 letter to Alina Powell): I don’t think the majority of people see this as anything other than a smear campaign against me. It will eventually bite these agencies in the ass, big time.
Dave Cawley: Prison life did have its moments of humor. Steve told Alina he’d become somewhat famous.
Ken Fall (as Steve Powell from August 10, 2012 letter to Alina Powell): A whole gang of Mexicans came in a week or two ago… The other day on my way to the yard, I think it was one of these homeys who yelled at me “where’s Sarah Palin?” Apparently he confused her with Susan Powell.
Dave Cawley: Steve granted Alina power of attorney and tasked her with taking care of his home and finances. Alina drew out her father’s savings and maxed her credit card in order to pay the mortgage.
Dave Cawley: Michael stayed in touch with his dad, but kept his physical distance. He remained in Minneapolis. West Valley detectives hadn’t given up the chase. They used federal subpoenas to get Michael’s financial and phone records. They obtained court permission to monitor his internet traffic. In August of 2012, they found that email exchange he’d had with Apollo Mapping the prior December.
Detective Darrell Dain immediately reached out to Katie Nelson, one of Apollo’s co-owners.
Katie Nelson: He called me and wanted to discuss my interaction with Powell and to see if I could sort of try and figure out exactly what he was looking for, I mean more specific what he was looking for. Uh, be more specific about what he was looking for.
Dave Cawley: Katie has never publicly shared her part in the story.
Katie Nelson: No, you were the first person who’s ever contacted me about it.
Dave Cawley: Really?
Katie Nelson: Yeah.
Dave Cawley: Wow.
Katie Nelson: I know.
Dave Cawley: At the time in 2012, Katie wasn’t too familiar with the Susan Powell case.
Katie Nelson: Yeah, I hadn’t really paid that much attention to the original incident other than hearing about it and thinking “well, that’s terrible.” And that was about it. So I kind of was like jumped into the middle of something without understanding really what was going on and why it was important and sort of what he was trying to accomplish with this imagery.
Dave Cawley: Michael’s request for a satellite image of Pendleton, Oregon the prior December hadn’t struck her as odd.
Katie Nelson: When he contacted me I just thought he was just a normal guy and there was nothing weird about our interaction.
Dave Cawley: But of course, she had no way knowing then just what Pendleton meant to Michael.
Katie Nelson: We get people looking at crop circles. We get totally crazy people looking for aliens or a red ball over Houston. Umm, y’know, we get just all kinds of nutters, but then this one is, is not, not like that but it definitely falls into the category of a strange thing to happen to you.
Dave Cawley: Detective Dain had an idea. He wanted Katie to call Michael back and tell him new imagery had come available.
Katie Nelson: And in this case, I was like “I hope I can help you, I hope I can give you more information and get something out of him” but also going into it knowing that that might not happen. So it’s like a sort of pressure where you know you’re probably going to fail. And it was very cloak and dagger, except Dain was a super nice guy.
Dave Cawley: Darrell traveled to Boulder and met with Katie on September 4, 2012. He rolled tape as she called Michael.
(Sound of phone ringing)
Michael Powell (from September 4, 2012 phone call recording): Hello?
Katie Nelson (from September 4, 2012 phone call recording): Hi, is this Michael?
Michael Powell (from September 4, 2012 phone call recording): Yeah.
Katie Nelson (from September 4, 2012 phone call recording): Hey Michael, this is Katie calling from Apollo Mapping. You had contacted me a couple months ago about some satellite imagery?
Michael Powell (from September 4, 2012 phone call recording): Yeah.
Katie Nelson (from September 4, 2012 phone call recording): Yeah, and you had wanted to know if there was anything more recent whenever we got something in of your area.
Michael Powell (from September 4, 2012 phone call recording): Oh, ok. Yeah.
Katie Nelson (from September 4, 2012 phone call recording): Yeah, we just got something a month or two ago from June of the area you were interested in.
Michael Powell (from September 4, 2012 phone call recording): Pendleton, Oregon.
Katie Nelson (from September 4, 2012 phone call recording): Of Pendleton, of the same area. And I was wondering if you would still be interested in that.
Dave Cawley: Michael hesitated. Katie tried to keep him on the hook.
Katie Nelson (from September 4, 2012 phone call recording): Umm, do you have like, lat-long coordinates or a shape file or a KML of a, of a specific area you’re interested in, or of a smaller polygon so I can see if it covers what you’re really interested in?
Michael Powell (from September 4, 2012 phone call recording): Umm, I couldn’t give you lat-long but I could give you, how about the name of the establishment? I don’t know if you go that way.
Katie Nelson (from September 4, 2012 phone call recording): Yeah, I can do that too. Give me one second, get something to write it down on. What is the name of it?
Michael Powell (from September 4, 2012 phone call recording): Should be like Lindell’s. Uh, Lindell’s junk, junk yard, oh, Lindell’s Auto Salvage I bet.
Dave Cawley: Katie told Michael she would look up the coordinates and see if the satellite image covered the Lindell Auto lot.
Katie Nelson (from September 4, 2012 phone call recording): Ok, alright. Feel free to call me back and I will let you know if that covers this area.
Michael Powell (from September 4, 2012 phone call recording): Ok.
Katie Nelson (from September 4, 2012 phone call recording): Ok, thank you so much Michael.
Michael Powell (from September 4, 2012 phone call recording): Thank you.
Katie Nelson (from September 4, 2012 phone call recording): Bye.
Dave Cawley: Darrell told Katie, Lindell Auto is where West Valley police had found Michael’s car, one year before.
Katie Nelson: It felt odd to be a part of something that was rather nefarious and, umm, yeah I was just, it’s just one of those moments where you feel someone’s walked over your grave and you’re like “oh, that’s uncomfortable.” (Laughs)
Dave Cawley: Michael called Katie back the next day and told her he would like to buy the new satellite image.
Katie Nelson: It’s interesting too because I generally try to dissuade people from getting imagery who are looking for something like cars. And he was rather insistent that it was fine, that he knew the limitations of the imagery and being able to identify a car but still wanted the imagery if we had anything.
Dave Cawley: Katie informed Michael the picture she had didn’t show the whole Lindell lot, just a piece.
Katie Nelson: He didn’t care about that. He just wanted anything that we had.
Dave Cawley: She offered to have a satellite tasked to take a new picture, a job that would cost about $2,500.
Katie Nelson: Rather surprising that someone wants to spend that kind of money but in his desperation … you pay a lot for the security of knowing that people don’t know your secret, which I think is what that was worth to him.
Dave Cawley: Anne Bremner, one of the Cox family’s lawyers, had a lot of work to do during the fall of 2012. She wanted the West Valley police case file. West Valley police refused to hand it over. So, on August 22nd of 2012, Anne took her case to the city council.
Sandra Yi (from August 22, 2012 KSL TV archive): Bremner says the information would help resolve an ongoing life insurance policy dispute with the Powell family, but the legal advisor for West Valley City Police argued, the investigation isn’t over. He says work was done on the case this week.
Clint Gilmore (from August 22, 2012 KSL TV archive): It’s the position of the West Valley City Police department, any release of these documents would jeopardize the investigation. It’s that black and white for us.
Dave Cawley: The council also refused the request.
At the same time, Anne and her team were doing the ground work for Chuck Cox’s lawsuit against DSHS. She and the firm she worked with, Frey Buck, were also involved in the ongoing legal action over the life insurance.
Anne Bremner: Josh Powell had taken out 3.5 million dollars in life insurance on Susan and on the boys and then once she went missing, he changed the beneficiary, umm, in it to his brother, Michael.
Dave Cawley: Anne used the life insurance case to her advantage.
Anne Bremner: I went to New York and deposed their agent, from New York Life. And I’m just like “what were you, what were you thinking?” I mean, “what are you, what are you thinking?”
Dave Cawley: Anne also deposed Terri, Alina and Michael.
Christina Atencio (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Do you swear or affirm to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
Michael Powell (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Yes I do.
Dave Cawley: The federal court compelled him to travel from Minneapolis to Tacoma to face questions on October 20, 2012.
Anne Bremner (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Mr. Powell, are you armed in any way today?
Michael Powell (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording):No.
Thomas West (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Objection, counsel. Look, there is no basis for this type of questioning. You’re attempting to harass and humiliate and embarrass my client.
Anne Bremner: I had asked for police personnel to accompany us because of some concerns, specific things, information I had about Michael—
Anne Bremner (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Next question is, would you be willing to be patted down?
Thomas West (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Counsel, that’s enough. That’s enough, really This is silly.
Dave Cawley: The deposition was recorded. That video has never been made public before now.
They went through Michael’s life, his education, his time in the Army, his relationships with his siblings. He fidgeted a bit with the cable for a lapel microphone as Anne asked him about his phone calls and emails with his brother Josh.
Anne Bremner (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Did you ever communicate with, umm, Josh via email?
Michael Powell (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): A little bit.
Anne Bremner (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): And under what circumstances?
Michael Powell (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Umm, he uh, sometimes we emailed back and forth. Uh, sometimes he was writing court declarations and uh, uh, asked me to proofread them.
Anne Bremner (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Court declarations for what?
Michael Powell (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Uh, regarding the kids, for example.
Anne Bremner (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Why would he ask you to proof them, do you think?
Michael Powell (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Uh, ‘cause I’m in a PhD program, I guess.
Dave Cawley: Michael didn’t mention encrypted emails about Susan, which West Valley police had heard Josh and Michael discussing on the wiretap a year earlier.
Anne Bremner (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): And any other emails with Josh?
Michael Powell (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Um, well he sent a couple. I was CC’d on a couple of emails before he died.
Anne Bremner (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): And who was he sending emails to where he CC’d you?
Michael Powell (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): He sent them to Alina.
Anne Bremner (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): And what were they about?
Michael Powell (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Umm, uh, one of them was a, a, uh, one of ‘em was, was a note… (Michael cries)
Thomas West (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): You ok?
Anne Bremner (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): We can take a break.
Thomas West (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Let’s take a minute.
Dave Cawley: It seemed Josh’s suicide was the only topic that elicited an emotional response.
Anne Bremner: He wasn’t nervous. He wasn’t empathetic with Susan’s family.
Anne Bremner (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Were you on Facebook or have you been at any time?
Michael Powell (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Um, I have been but I almost never use Facebook.
Anne Bremner (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Is your page still up?
Michael Powell (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): It is.
Anne Bremner (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): And is it under Michael Powell or a different name?
Michael Powell (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Um, I’m, I’m not sure. I mean, it’s under Michael Powell but I’m not sure, y’know, the middle initial or, or anything like that.
Dave Cawley: That was a lie. During Operation Tsunami, police overheard a phone conversation between Michael and Josh, in which Michael provided his brother with the login and password for a fake Facebook account created under the name Molly Hunt.
Molly’s account came into being on the night of June 6th of 2010. Her birthday displayed as January 20th, the same as Josh’s. Molly immediately joined Kiirsi Hellewell’s “Friends and Family of Susan Powell” Facebook group, as well as a closed group titled “Where is Susan Powell?” On the wiretap 14 months later, police heard the brothers talking about using the account to secretly monitor discussions in those groups about the police search in Ely, Nevada.
I recently gained access to the Molly Hunt account. I downloaded activity logs, complete with IP addresses. They revealed that on the day of the Ely search, someone using an IP address in Minneapolis made several failed attempts to log in to Molly’s account, before succeeding and changing the password. That would’ve been Michael. Twenty minutes later, someone using an IP address belonging to the ISP Rainer Connect in Washington State also logged in using the new password.
Rainer Connect provided internet service to Steve Powell’s home, where Josh was living at the time.
Michael did not disclose any of this.
Anne Bremner (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Where was Josh when Susan disappeared, if you know?
Michael Powell (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): I don’t know.
Anne Bremner (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Where was Josh in the week after disappearance, if you know?
Michael Powell (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): I don’t know.
Dave Cawley: Most of the rest of the logins on the Molly Hunt account traced back to an IP address at the University of Minnesota, where Michael was studying cognitive science. The last activity on Molly’s account came on January 20th of 2012, exactly two weeks before Josh murdered Charlie and Braden.
Anne Bremner: Michael was so smart that he was very hard to depose because he was ahead of me the whole time and he was very good at not giving me responses.
Dave Cawley: Michael described being at his dad’s house on December 7th of 2009, when Josh, Susan and the boys first turned up missing, then learning of Josh’s return from a “camping trip.”
Anne Bremner (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Did he ever say he was going to take that trip at midnight, when it was snowing—
Michael Powell (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): No.
Anne Bremner (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): —with a 2-year-old and 4-year-old.
Michael Powell (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): No.
Anne Bremner (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Was your dad around Josh during that time, the weeks before Susan disappeared. Was your dad in Utah?
Michael Powell (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): No.
Dave Cawley: Michael said he didn’t personally talk to his brother until a few days later.
Michael Powell (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Josh called me, umm, and he was upset, he was in tears. Umm, he, uh was taking care of two little kids and he said that he just needed help taking care of his kids. And, umm, I uh, got on the road and went down there.
Dave Cawley: He didn’t mention his stop in Pendleton on the way back home until Anne asked just the right question.
Anne Bremner (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Did you sell any cars at that time?
Michael Powell (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Umm, at, at what time again?
Anne Bremner (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Umm, let’s say within the six months after Susan’s disappearance.
Michael Powell (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): I did sell a vehicle—
Anne Bremner (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Mmhmm.
Michael Powell (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): —umm, my car broke down on the way back from Utah and that was the ’97 Ford Taurus.
Anne Bremner (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Mmhmm.
Michael Powell (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): And, umm, so when it broke down, umm, it didn’t seem like we were going to get it back to Washington and, uh, I sold it for a hundred dollars to a salvage lot in Pendleton, Oregon.
Dave Cawley: At that point, it wasn’t public knowledge that police had the car, or that a cadaver dog had indicated on the trunk. Only a couple of weeks after ditching the car, Michael had made that long drive between Puyallup and West Valley with Josh in the U-Haul. They’d had plenty of time to talk.
Anne Bremner (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Did you ever talk to Josh about his potential involvement or role in Susan’s disappearance.
Michael Powell (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): I didn’t.
Anne Bremner (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Did anyone in your family?
Michael Powell (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): I don’t know, they may have.
Dave Cawley: Michael did not volunteer that he’d debriefed Josh after his interviews with police, as Steve had told the FBI.
Anne Bremner (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Do you think Susan’s dead or alive?
Michael Powell (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): I don’t know.
Anne Bremner (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): You don’t have an opinion?
Michael Powell (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): (Sighs) No.
Anne Bremner (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): What is your belief about Josh’s role in Susan’s disappearance or death?
Michael Powell (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): I don’t believe that he was involved.
Anne Bremner (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Ok, why not?
Michael Powell (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): He never gave any indication that he could have been involved. He just didn’t act like it. Umm, in the months following her disappearance, umm, he just act, acted ed like a pretty concerned husband.
Anne Bremner (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Did you have any role in Susan’s disappearance?
Michael Powell (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): No I did not.
Dave Cawley: Here, Michael averted his eyes.
Anne Bremner: His eyes were like black coal. You looked in his eyes and there was nothing there. He had a lot of Josh’s mannerisms. He looked kind of like Josh, but that complete black flat coal eyes. Y’know, I couldn’t even, I couldn’t even look at him.
Dave Cawley: Anne questioned Michael about the 4theKidzz website.
Michael Powell (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): He asked me to write something about the incident in the—
Anne Bremner (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Who is he?
Michael Powell (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): —Cox’s house. Uh, Josh did.
Anne Bremner (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Ok.
Michael Powell (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): And I started an, an essay for him—
Anne Bremner (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Ok. Did you put—
Michael Powell (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): —and I sent it to him and the family was, uh, putting together—
Anne Bremner (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Oh, I see.
Michael Powell (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): —a 4thekidzz website.
Anne Bremner (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Do you think somebody, Alina or he posted your essay on the website?
Michael Powell (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Uh, I believe so.
Dave Cawley: But Michael denied making the specific accusations in that essay. He told Anne that he’d been on the phone with Alina on the day Josh killed himself and the boys., as Alina went over to the burning house.
Michael Powell (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): She said as she drove up, uh, that the house just wasn’t there anymore and she was mostly hysterical, and she was saying that it looked as if it had been blown up or something. So, I didn’t know if it was maybe natural gas or… (Michael sobs) …uh…
Thomas West (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Do you want to stop, Mike, or get it done?
Michael Powell (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Let’s get it done.
Dave Cawley: Michael had also spent time on the phone with Jim Vojtech, a producer for the ABC TV program Good Morning America.
Michael Powell (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): He told me that uh, there were some developments coming out through the media and that they’d found the body of an adult and two smaller bodies. And…
Anne Bremner (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Did Alina go on Good Morning America and talk about it?
Michael Powell (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Yes.
Anne Bremner (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): And did she say basically that Josh was driven to what he did by the media and the Coxes?
Michael Powell (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): I don’t know.
Dave Cawley: Michael explained he didn’t watch TV or read any news articles. He seemed to doubt Josh had actually murdered the boys.
Anne Bremner (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Do you have reason to believe that somebody else killed those kids?
Michael Powell (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): No, I don’t know.
Anne Bremner (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): And just, do you think that Josh did not kill the kids?
Michael Powell (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): It was so out of character with everything that I’d ever known about him that I just spent a long time not believing it.
Anne Bremner (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording):Did you learn the kids had chop marks from hatchets, a hatchet I should say.
Michael Powell (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): I heard rumors.
Anne Bremner (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): And that he said, as they came into the house “I have a surprise for you” before everything else happened.
Thomas West (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Object to the form.
Michael Powell (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): I didn’t hear that.
Dave Cawley: The deposition had started around 8 a.m. Anne asked her final question after 3 p.m.
Anne Bremner (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): So what would you do with the money if you got it?
Thomas West (from October 20, 2012 deposition recording): Object to the form, it’s irrelevant.
Anne Bremner: I’ll withdraw it. I’ll withdraw it.
Dave Cawley: West Valley police obtained a transcript of Michael’s deposition and added it to their case file. I asked Ellis if West Valley police gained anything from it.
Ellis Maxwell: I don’t believe so. I, honestly like, I don’t even remember what he said in his deposition.
Dave Cawley: He said very little.
Ellis Maxwell: And so, but yeah. I don’t, I don’t believe anything they say.
Dave Cawley: A bitter wind blew in Minneapolis.
Michael Powell showed up at the University of Minnesota just before noon. He wasn’t enrolled in any formal classes that semester, just independent study, and had only gone to campus to move some personal stuff out of the V.A. lab where he worked
At about 1 p.m., he pulled his car out of the Church Street Garage and started for home. A dusting of fresh snow sat atop the congealed gray slush lining the streets. He drove west, over the Mississippi River, to 431 South 7th Street.
Michael’s blue Hyundai Sonata rolled to a stop in a space on the 5th floor of the parking structure there. He stepped out into the cold, took a drag on a cigarette, then turned to look out over the edge of the concrete wall. When he’d finished the smoke, he tossed the butt on the ground and went inside.
Ellis Maxwell: Here he is, what was he a PhD candidate at the University? So that in of itself is a lot of stress.
Dave Cawley: Just before 2:30, Michael rode the elevator back to the garage. He didn’t go to the 5th floor. He went to the 7th. The top level.
Ellis Maxwell: And then, now you put all this on there, on top of that, his brother killing himself and murdering his kids and then having some knowledge of what took place…
Dave Cawley: Again, Michael again lit a cigarette and walked up to the concrete half wall.
Ellis Maxwell:…and now the police are kind of targeting in on him for, y’know, some answers, hoping that he can give us some direction to recover Susan.
Dave Cawley: It was February 11th oof 2013. The court fight over Josh’s life insurance was not going well. Chuck Cox, Michael had recently learned, had been named conservator of Susan’s estate.
Ellis Maxwell: I think it was just too much.
Dave Cawley: Michael stood for a long while, the sting of the cold breeze on his face. Then, he climbed to the top of that half wall and launched himself, arms wide, into the frigid air.
Ellis Maxwell: I think it was just too much and that’s what led him to, y’know, doing a swan dive there in downtown Minneapolis.
Dave Cawley: Minneapolis police, responding to witness accounts of the suicide, located his driver’s license and an ID card for the Minneapolis VA Medical Center brain science center in his pocket.
They called in the medical examiner, who entered Michael’s condo, looking for a suicide note. He hadn’t written one.
The ME found Michael’s emergency contact information. He’d listed his mom, Terrica. Notifying Steve proved a bit more difficult. The ME called the Washington Department of Corrections and was passed to the supervisor of the Twin Rivers Unit, where Steve was incarcerated. The supervisor called Steve in and told him what Michael had done while the Minneapolis ME listened on speaker phone.
Steve said “oh my God, oh my God,” but otherwise showed no emotion. The medical examiner asked if Michael had ever dealt depression or addiction. Steve said no. Then, Steve said he’d kept in touch with Michael by phone almost every week. He’d never so much as hinted that he was considering suicide. But, Steve also admitted they hadn’t been candid on the phone because they knew their calls were monitored.
Jennifer learned of Michael’s suicide from her mom. She called Ellis.
Ellis Maxwell: I never thought that he was involved deeply with Josh. I assumed that he would have some information Josh shared with him.
Dave Cawley: West Valley police arrived in Minneapolis two days later. They went to the University of Minnesota, to speak with Michael’s colleagues. None had noticed anything unusual. On February 15, 2012, Ellis, along with detectives Gavin Cook and Darrell Dain, served federal search warrants on Michael’s car and condo. They didn’t find anything all that useful.
Ellis Maxwell: Yeah I was hopeful that maybe, y’know, we’d find a USB drive or something on his computer or even something in writing because Josh wrote a little bit, Steve wrote a lot so, and with Michael being in school I was kind of hoping maybe he’d write too but yeah, nothing was discovered to help us find her or give us any information as to what Josh may have shared with Michael.
Dave Cawley: Over the years, Jennifer has come to believe Michael helped Josh hide Susan’s body after the murder, but…
Dave Cawley: Whatever he knew.
Jennifer Graves: Went to the grave.
Dave Cawley: He took with him.
Jennifer Graves: Mmhmm.
Dave Cawley: Ellis isn’t so sure.
Ellis Maxwell: So hypothetically, Josh dumps Susan’s body somewhere and then goes back, picks it up and decides he’s gonna go to the Pacific Northwest and does an exchange with Michael Powell, his brother, or Steven Powell, his dad. It’s pretty risky.
Dave Cawley: This theory has persisted and I’ll admit, it’s pretty compelling given all we’ve learned about Josh and Michael’s conversations on the wiretap, their encrypted emails and the cadaver dog hitting on the trunk of Michael’s car.
Ellis Maxwell: I know there’s some of my peers out there to believe that that’s a very probable, uh, especially obviously after we located Michael’s car, but uh, I just, I don’t know about that. I have less weight in all of that.
Dave Cawley: If Michael Powell was involved in Susan’s disappearance, he did not bother to unburden his conscience before exiting the stage.
On the next episode of Cold…
Andrew Andersen: Summer was a striper, and she was just using him because he was just paying, just giving money, money, money, money.