Dave Cawley: U.S. Marshal Derryl Spencer never expected the Susan Powell investigation to end up in his lap.
Derryl Spencer: I didn’t really suspect anything was gonna come of this. Umm y’know, it was quite a while from the time she went missing.
Dave Cawley: But about six months into the investigation, West Valley City police enlisted Derryl’s help. They were headed to Washington to surveil Josh Powell over Mother’s Day.
Derryl Spencer: In order for West Valley officers, y’know, to travel out of state and carry guns, they had to do it under the U.S. Marshals special deputization so I got involved in the case, uh, primarily as, as like the dad to take the team up there so that they can successfully operate.
Dave Cawley: That operation culminated in a consent search of Steve Powell’s South Hill home, which I described in episode 9 of Cold. But I didn’t explain exactly why Josh and Steve Powell agreed to let police into their home without a search warrant. Derryl Spencer was the reason.
The FBI’s mobile tracking order for Josh’s minivan had expired. The law required that the feds serve Josh with notice that they’d hidden a GPS device on his minivan. They also had to remove it.
Derryl Spencer: I had come up with the idea, y’know like, let, let me take it up there. I’ll knock on the door, we’ll see if he’ll answer the door and let’s tell him that, y’know, “hey I’m a U.S. Marshal and we’re trying to turn this into a missing persons investigation” instead of West Valley just coming after Steve Powell.
Dave Cawley: That’s just what Derryl did. Josh was suspicious.
Derryl Spencer: He starts yelling at me through the door, like “who is it?” And I said “I’m Derryl, I’m with the U.S. Marshals, y’know, can you come talk to me for a second.” He’s very hesitant to come to the door. Umm, immediately he’s like “are you a reporter?” And I just said “no, I’m not a reporter.” I had my creds out and I said “hey, if you’ll peek out the window I’ll show you my creds.” Like, I’m here for the right reasons. I said “I just, I just want to have a man-to-man conversation with you.”
Reluctantly he did come to the door. He ate it up. He was like “yes, alright, c’mon, c’mon in.” So he invites me in the house. I tell him that I’m working very closely with the U.S. Attorney’s Office out of the District of Utah. I make up some stories about how funding comes in about how I need to, to make sure that we’re being honest with each other. And I ask him for consent to search the house. And he, he, he doesn’t want to give it to me. He’s telling me that, uh, “y’know, I can’t really let you do that.” And I just said “Well you’ve, you’ve gotta meet me halfway. You need to show me that you’re willing to work with me.”
Dave Cawley: Josh and Steve argued about the idea, before finally calling Josh’s defense attorney, Scott Williams.
Derryl Spencer: I’m like “yeah, let’s give him a call!” And so Steve, no Josh calls him, gets him on the phone and just says “hey I’ve, I’ve got a U.S. Marshal in my house.” And I can, I can hear Scott, “tell him to leave right now.” Of course, what any, any defense attorney’s going to say.
Steve ends up on the phone, pulls the phone from Josh, ends up on the phone. He’s trying to control the situation. They’re kinda talking and I can tell that he’s talking Steve out of this, like, like I’m losing ground here. And so I’m just trying to be super calm and, and I said “would it make you feel better if I talked to him?” And so he’s like “yeah, you talk to him.”
So I get on the phone, umm, with the attorney and I’ll never forget, he tells me, he’s like “y’know what, if my client stole a candy bar, I would give you the same advice.” He’s like “you need to leave the house.” And I’m like “that sounds great,” I’m like “thank you, ok thank you.” And he’s like “Derryl,” like ‘cause he knows what I’m doing on the other side of the phone.
So I’m just trying to have them hear that this conversation’s going really well and he’s like “Derryl, you know that I cannot advise my clients to, I’m not going to tell them to give you consent.” And I’m like “that’s great.” I’m like “thank you so much.” And I said “well, we all know that it’s up to your client for the final word,” and I said “so I’ll just have direct communications with them and we’ll figure out the best way to do this.” And he’s like “Derryl—” I’m like “have a great day!” I’m like, “Feel free to call back if you need to talk to them again. And so I hang up the phone. I’m like “gentlemen, I think we’re good to go. I just need you to sign the consent form. (Laughs)”
Dave Cawley: This is a bonus episode of Cold: Marshal Misdirection. I’m Dave Cawley.
Dave Cawley: Derryl Spencer’s interactions with Josh and Steve Powell were good cop-bad cop on a grand scheme.
Derryl Spencer: I had told Steve and Josh, umm, that I had grabbed a bunch of U.S. Marshals and task force officers from the Seattle office. And so, when I really had a bunch of West Valley cops that were there. But I did not want them to know that. They hated West Valley, as you can imagine.
Umm, so I’m just like “look I just, I just grabbed a hodgepodge of, of Marshals and, and task force officers up here.” I said “they’re gonna help me so that we’re not here all day. It would take me, it would take me hours and hours.” I said “we just want to get this done.”
So we uh, I bring them in and I’m kinda just trying to hang out with Josh and Steve and keep them talking, keep ‘em comfortable. Umm, the task force officers, who were actually West Valley cops, come in and uh, y’know they start to search the house and everything. Umm, and they’re walking around and, and they’re badmouthing West Valley. Y’know and I’ve got a West Valley guy standing next to me and I’m just like “y’know, they are just the shadiest agency.” I said “as federal agents, we don’t even work with ‘em. We just, I understand where you’re coming from. And y’know, there’s just, we just have had the hardest time with them as well so I understand.” They were just eating it up. It was, it was hilarious. And uh, a very good friend of mine who’s a West Valley cop who I still hang out with every day, I’m, I’m just badmouthing West Valley right along with Josh and Steve and he looks at me and he’s just shaking his head. (Laughs) And I patted him on the back, I’m like “let’s get to work, Todd. C’mon.”
Dave Cawley: Derryl’s efforts to build a rapport with Josh and Steve bore immediate fruit. No sooner had the police left the house than Steve reached out.
Derryl Spencer: We finished and we got back together and we went to this little pizza joint just outside of Puyallup and Steve was already blowing up my phone with requests. And trying to like, help me out, give me ideas and stuff like this. And uh, he called me and I was, I was floored ‘cause we were eating dinner. I mean, I mean Josh is calling me already, it’s only been an hour.
Dave Cawley: Derryl had secured Josh’s permission to search the grounds of the Sarah Circle house in West Valley.
Derryl Spencer: And he calls me and he asks me if I can move some chairs for him while I was there. And I was like “sure, what do you, what do you need done?” And he had some chairs in one part of the back yard that he wanted moved into this shed. And I was like “ok, no problem.” So he’s, y’know, he’s already thinking we’re, we’re pretty good friends.
Dave Cawley: He used that friendship to look inside the shed, hoping to find any evidence.
Derryl Spencer: Y’know, we do an initial search and of course we’re looking for disturbed ground to see if maybe something would’ve been buried. Uh, we didn’t find anything at all interesting. Umm, but what I did find, in that shed up on a rafter up above, someone had etched with a knife, it said “here lies death.” Which was obviously somewhat concerning. I called the renters immediately and just said “hey, do you know this is here, do you know anything about this?” And she’s like “yeah, we’d seen it but it was here when we moved in.”
Nothing came of it. I don’t know why it was there. I don’t know who put it there. There was no, no, no empirical evidence that I could find that there was anything buried. There was nothing disturbed. Like, you could see the flooring in the shed. It looked very old.
Dave Cawley: A bigger issue soon arose. Derryl’s involvement with the Powell case was a bit atypical. Marshals more often hunt down fugitives in far-flung location across the globe than investigate municipal missing persons cases. Derryl was juggling fugitive task force duties. He had traveled to St. Thomas in the U.S Virgin Islands to help take down a wanted drug cartel member.
Derryl Spencer: And while I’m getting ready to do this hit, Powell’s blowing up my phone. And I’m literally, like we’re getting ready to take down a cartel member (laughs) and I’ve got Powell blowing up my phone and I don’t want to miss these phone calls. And so I’ve got, y’know, the team lead that I work for on the SWAT team leader and I was like “hey, this is super important, I got to take this call.” And he’s like “hurry, we gotta go.”
Josh Powell (from May 24, 2010 voicemail to Derryl Spencer): This is Josh, I’m calling about that airbag problem.
Derryl Spencer: So, I end up talking with uh, with Powell and he’s extremely frustrated because he knows that we, that when the tracker was getting pulled that uh, we had, we had messed something up in the van and that he wanted me to fix it. And I said “well let me reach out, reach out to West Valley, we’ll see what we can do.” And he was, he was extremely upset by that.
(Sound of phone ringing)
Steve Powell (from May 27, 2010 phone call recording): Uh, hello?
Derryl Spencer (from May 27, 2010 phone call recording): Hey, Josh?
Steve Powell (from May 27, 2010 phone call recording): Uh no, Josh, hello, who is calling?
Derryl Spencer (from May 27, 2010 phone call recording): This is Derryl.
Steve Powell (from May 27, 2010 phone call recording): Oh uh, Derryl, this uh, with the U.S. Marshals?
Derryl Spencer (from May 27, 2010 phone call recording): Yeah, is Josh around?
Steve Powell (from May 27, 2010 phone call recording): Oh yeah, he’s kinda in the middle of something, can I have him call you back maybe, or?
Derryl Spencer (from May 27, 2010 phone call recording): Yeah, he’s got my number.
Steve Powell (from May 27, 2010 phone call recording): Is this, is this about the airbag? He was wondering about that.
Derryl Spencer (from May 27, 2010 phone call recording): Yeah, it is.
Dave Cawley: An airbag warning light had illuminated on the dashboard of Josh’s minivan.
Steve Powell (from May 27, 2010 phone call recording): Does he need to call you back on that, or, ‘cause I, I could have him call you back in a, he probably would call you back in an hour or so maybe—
Derryl Spencer (from May 27, 2010 phone call recording): Umm—
Steve Powell (from May 27, 2010 phone call recording): —is that fair Or is it just a message? ‘Cause I can give that to him.
Derryl Spencer (from May 27, 2010 phone call recording): Yeah give it to him. Umm, I’m out of the country right now so my, it’s hard for me to get cell phone service, so—
Steve Powell (from May 27, 2010 phone call recording): Oh, I understand. Yeah, that makes it really hard.
Derryl Spencer: I contacted West Valley, y’know “hey we should, we should resolve this issue.” And they just kind of laughed at me. And I was, y’know, it’s fine, I get it. Like, I, I get that we’re in this investigation. But you’ve got to give to get. You’ve got give to get. And I was like “we should fix this for him.” Number one, like, we got, we got Charlie and Braden he’s driving around with in this van. If there’s an issue, like we should fix this. Like, it’s the right thing to do.
Josh Powell (from May 27, 2010 phone call recording): Hello.
Derryl Spencer (from May 27, 2010 phone call recording): Hi Josh, it’s Derryl.
Josh Powell (from May 27, 2010 phone call recording): Oh, hey Derryl.
Derryl Spencer (from May 27, 2010 phone call recording): How’s it going?
Josh Powell (from May 27, 2010 phone call recording): Oh, it’s good.
Derryl Spencer (from May 27, 2010 phone call recording): Good.
Josh Powell (from May 27, 2010 phone call recording): What’s going on? Did, did I hear that they might be willing to do something about the airbag, or…?
Derryl Spencer (from May 27, 2010 phone call recording): Oh yeah, we’re going to get it fixed. Umm, it’s just going to take a few days, mostly because of the holiday weekend.
Dave Cawley: As Derryl saw it, the airbag issue was a way to build trust and to keep Josh talking. But he found himself standing alone on an island.
Derryl Spencer (from June 8, 2010 phone call recording): Hey is Josh there?
Josh Powell (from June 8, 2010 phone call recording): Oh yeah, this is.
Derryl Spencer (from June 8, 2010 phone call recording): Hey Josh, it’s Derryl. How are you doing man?
Josh Powell (from June 8, 2010 phone call recording): Oh hey, uh, good. How are you?
Derryl Spencer (from June 8, 2010 phone call recording): Good.
Derryl Spencer: I felt like I was having more positive communications with Josh and Steve than I was with some of the attorneys on this case (laughs) and some of the other, uh, players involved. So, it was frustrating.
Derryl Spencer (from June 8, 2010 phone call recording): So I have, uh, pretty good news, but probably not as good of news as you’d like to hear.
Josh Powell (from June 8, 2010 phone call recording): Ok, what’s going on?
Derryl Spencer (from June 8, 2010 phone call recording): Uh, they’re definitely going to fix the airbag, umm, but you have to fill out a claim. And I can’t even begin to tell you how much headache I’ve gone through trying to get this through. Umm, so first thing tomorrow morning—
Josh Powell (from June 8, 2010 phone call recording): What is, what is a claim? I mean, is that like a very difficult process?
Dave Cawley: Josh and Steve had good reason to keep up their end of the conversation. They wanted Derryl’s help prying Josh’s digital data free from the clutches of West Valley police.
Derryl Spencer: They were trying to kinda use me as a proxy. They wanted, they were, they, like “Derryl, Derryl’s our guy. Derryl’s gonna be able to get us what we want.” And the whole time they wanted those hard drives back. They wanted those computers.
Derryl Spencer (from June 27, 2010 phone call recording): I need to bring them up to Josh though because the, the way the whole thing worked is, normally West Valley just won’t give property like this to anyone. So they’ve kind of gone out on a limb.
Dave Cawley: Josh grew tired of the game in short order. That is when Steve stepped in.
Steve Powell (from June 27, 2010 phone call recording): If you wanna, y’know if you’re in the area sometime and wanna get together, Josh is a little hesitant because of the situation he is in, but I’m not hesitant at all.
Derryl Spencer (from June 27, 2010 phone call recording): Ok.
Steve Powell (from June 27, 2010 phone call recording): Y’know, I mean, it’s up to you though, y’know, obviously, and it’s your call.
Derryl Spencer (from June 27, 2010 phone call recording): Well to be honest with you, I’m extremely interested, and I would love to hear what you have to say.
Derryl Spencer: Steve soon became the proxy. He wanted to communicate with me instead of Josh. He wanted to be in charge of the communications. Which was fine. Steve was extremely fascinating to talk to. It was uh, yeah, it was, I always felt dark and like I needed shower after getting off the phone with him.
Derryl Spencer (from June 27, 2010 phone call recording): Y’know, I could go look at the FBI stuff, but I’d rather start fresh. I’d rather sit down and talk with you and Josh. Really hear about what you guys think should be done and then we’ll start exploring those avenues. So—
Steve Powell (from June 27, 2010 phone call recording): That’d be great. Yeah, we’d like to do that. I’d like to do that. Yeah.
Derryl Spencer: So he took over the phone calls. And when he didn’t like what I had to say and he didn’t like the direction of the conversation, he would defer to Alina and he would have Alina stonewall me.
Derryl Spencer (from July 2, 2010 phone call recording): Hey, is Steve home?
Alina Powell (from July 2, 2010 phone call recording): Umm, I’m sorry he’s not available right now.
Derryl Spencer (from July 2, 2010 phone call recording): Well what—
Alina Powell (from July 2, 2010 phone call recording): (Unintelligible)
Derryl Spencer (from July 2, 2010 phone call recording): —what about Josh? This is, uh, Derryl with the Marshals. We met when I came up there a while ago.
Alina Powell (from July 2, 2010 phone call recording): Sure. Umm, let me go see if Josh is available.
Derryl Spencer (from July 2, 2010 phone call recording): Ok. Thanks.
Alina Powell (from July 2, 2010 phone call recording): I’m sorry, I guess he’s not available either.
Derryl Spencer (from July 2, 2010 phone call recording): Ok, umm—
Alina Powell (from July 2, 2010 phone call recording): I wasn’t sure.
Dave Cawley: During one call, Derryl told the Powells he had a trip planned to Seattle for some other business. He wanted to drop off a disc to Josh and maybe talk to Steve.
Derryl Spencer: And so he reluctantly agreed to, to have me come up. And I was like “I’m coming up anyway.” Which was not true. I was only going up there to meet him. I said “let’s just sit down and just, let’s just have this conversation.”
Alina Powell (from July 2, 2010 phone call recording): Y’know, I understand if you guys are really trying to help, that’s wonderful, we appreciate it. It’s just hard for us as outsiders to tell, “ok are they really helping or is this another interrogation tactic?” Y’know what I mean? It’s like we don’t know if they’re, y’know, we just don’t know if you’re helping or not. So—
Derryl Spencer (from July 2, 2010 phone call recording): Right.
Alina Powell (from July 2, 2010 phone call recording): But that’s good if you’ve got…
Derryl Spencer: The day before I was supposed to fly up there he had Alina call me and tell me that like if I wasn’t going to bring any of the computer stuff or any of the evidence or y’know any of these other items that were seized as evidence that, uh, he didn’t want to talk to me. And uh, at this point in time I had, y’know, I almost feel like I’m negotiating with the Powells at one level and then I’m also negotiating with West Valley. I’m like “we’ve got to give to get, gentlemen. C’mon, let’s work, let’s figure something out.” The most I could get West Valley to give me was a couple of family pictures on a CD. And I was like “ok.”
So when I called, Steve wanted to know what I was bringing. Like, I mean, I, I felt like, I felt like a pirate landing on the beach. I’m like, this is what we’re dealing with. Umm, so I just said “y’know I’ve got some family photos and some stuff like that.” And he’s like “well, we wanted computer stuff.” I’m like “I’m sorry, I just, this is, I’m working with West Valley.” And he basically tells me, he’s like “yeah, I’m not going to meet with you tomorrow.”
Derryl Spencer (from July 2, 2010 phone call recording): And, and don’t get me wrong, I understand where you guys are coming from. You have to be very selective because everyone you’ve delt with has been poking Josh on the forehead and I would hope by now Josh is starting to understand that, with me working with him on the airbag and with me, y’know, bringing photos up to him, I’m not going to ask him any questions, it’s not going to be like last time where we wanna go through the house. There’s nothing like that.
Derryl Spencer: So Alina calls me back pretty late into the night and she’s like “ok, you can come up.” And I’m like “alright.” I’m like “well, can I talk to Josh or Steve?” And she’s like “no, they’re busy. They asked me to call you.” Meanwhile, I can hear these two having a conversation in their, y’know, their house was very small. And I’m like “well Alina,” I’m like “I can hear them talking behind you.” I said “I’m not sure why they’re, they’re using you to do the communications.” And I said “that’s fine. I like you.” And I said “You and I, you and I can, y’know, I’ll open up a dialogue up with you about any part of this any time you want.” And “y’know you can, you can talk to me whenever you want. You know that, right?” You can call me and stuff like that. She was like, she was pretty stonewalled. Umm, I mean, she was just doing what daddy said, told her to do.
Dave Cawley: At the beginning of July 2010, Steve reserved a conference room at the South Hill Library, the same place he’d first met with West Valley detectives half a year earlier.
Derryl Spencer: We were supposed to meet at like 1 o’clock and then he, of course he’s got to be in charge of everything so he’s gotta, and I need to let him think he’s in charge of everything or he’s gonna start stonewalling me. And he starts dancing around the times. And then he wants to move it. Now he wants to move it, now he wants me to come earlier. And I just said “y’know,” I said “I’m just here relaxing.” I said “I’m just gonna go grab some food.” I said “just call me whenever you’re ready. I’m, I’ve got nothing going on the rest of the day.” So, (laughs), just play your game with yourself and let me know where we’re at. So when I told him that, y’know, him realizing that I was just “whatever, dude.” He’s like “alright, I’ll meet you there now.” (Laughs) Bravo Steve, well played.
Dave Cawley: Derryl wore a wire to that meeting.
Derryl Spencer (from July 7, 2010 wire recording): West Valley police department has been under a lot of scrutiny based on how they conducted themselves—
Steve Powell (from July 7, 2010 wire recording): Yeah.
Derryl Spencer (from July 7, 2010 wire recording): —in, in totality.
Steve Powell (from July 7, 2010 wire recording): Yeah.
Derryl Spencer (from July 7, 2010 wire recording): So, shortly before we came up and met with you last time, we were approached by the U.S. Attorney—
Steve Powell (from July 7, 2010 wire recording): Uh huh, yeah.
Derryl Spencer (from July 7, 2010 wire recording): —and we were asked to basically take a look at everything and report back to the U.S. Attorney’s Office what we thought.
Steve Powell (from July 7, 2010 wire recording): Yeah, ok.
Dave Cawley: Steve wanted to know if the Marshals were working for the Mormons.
Steve Powell (from July 7, 2010 wire recording): Y’know, I’ve discussed it with family and everybody’s pretty suspicious of the Mormon church’s involvement in this and because, I mean frankly, they were very involved in my divorce and they were very, and they, and, and, most of the people that have been on the attack are Mormons here in this case too, so—
Derryl Spencer (from July 7, 2010 wire recording): Sure.
Steve Powell (from July 7, 2010 wire recording): —it’s really a, they’re kind of a vicious attack group is what they are. And, and, y’know, that what they, even the bishop, y’know, my, my ex-wife, and my bishop too attacked me during my divorce and wrote things for the court and those kinds of things so I’m really suspicious but I’ll take your word for it.
Dave Cawley: Steve spoke in rapid-fire.
Derryl Spencer: I’m not sure if he took a breath the entire time. He had so much information. I let him, I, for the most part I just listened. I let him drive that interview. I, I didn’t really have to ask any questions. I mean, I did interject at some point here and there but it was like “uh, uh, uh, go on, it’s fine.”
Dave Cawley: Steve launched into the latest revision on his theory about Susan “absconding” with another missing person, Steven Koecher.
Steve Powell (from July 7, 2010 wire recording): Susan left after Josh left and I don’t know if she left immediately but she probably didn’t wait too long. I’m guessing probably she waited a couple of hours to make sure Josh was long gone and I’m assuming that she and Koecher had some kind of a mutual friend or a contact there in West Valley City. That may be where they met or they could have met when she worked at Fidelity and he worked three blocks away at the, uh, at the Governor’s Office as an intern. So they, they could have met a number of places—
Derryl Spencer (from July 7, 2010 wire recording): Sure, yeah.
Steve Powell (from July 7, 2010 wire recording): —all along the way. We don’t know, we don’t even know that they knew each other. We’re just assuming a lot of things. At least I am.
Dave Cawley: Steve claimed Susan and Koecher had gone first to California to get fake IDs.
Steve Powell (from July 7, 2010 wire recording): At least, at this point, my guess is, that she probably had some identities, two at least, maybe more, and uh, they wanted, they needed documentation, maybe driver’s licenses that didn’t have Utah on them, clearly. I mean, they’re not going to have a Utah driver’s license and look like they look. Y’know, I’m guessing that he probably stopped shaving on, on December 7th and he probably has a beard. These are guesses, obviously.
Derryl Spencer: The way he was telling me the story and the way he was telling me what happened was almost like he’d been rehearsing it for weeks.
Steve Powell (from July 7, 2010 wire recording): I think they both went to Sacramento and I think they, they were there, they got there the evening or the afternoon of the 8th and they were there on the 9th. And on the 9th of December or on the 8th, I think they got married. So I’m saying, that’s my, that’s my conjecture. I think they went over there for documentation.
Derryl Spencer: And he was demanding that, like, I take a team of U.S. Marshals and almost get on a plane and let’s go to Brazil right now. And uh, y’know let’s, let’s put this together.
Derryl Spencer (from July 7, 2010 wire recording): I mean, to the best of your ability you, neither yourself or Josh, you don’t think Susan had a passport prior to her going missing?
Steve Powell (from July 7, 2010 wire recording): No, neither one of us know.
Derryl Spencer (from July 7, 2010 wire recording): Josh never knew her at all apply to one, for it to be denied—
Steve Powell (from July 7, 2010 wire recording): No—
Derryl Spencer (from July 7, 2010 wire recording): —or anything like that?
Steve Powell (from July 7, 2010 wire recording): —no, never, no. No, it wouldn’t get denied. I mean, if she’d applied for passport under her name, she’s, she hasn’t done anything. She’s never, that I know of, but I mean I, no, I don’t think so. I think that we probably, I mean I suppose she could’ve committed a felony at some point, I don’t know, but I don’t think so.
Derryl Spencer: I’m just like “and I need, I need evidence.” I’m like “Brazil’s a big country. I mean that’s, I mean, this is a needle in a haystack.” I’m like “can you prove to me that they’re there? Show me.”
Dave Cawley: In the middle of the interview, Steve’ phone rang.
(Sound of phone ringing)
Steve Powell (from July 7, 2010 wire recording): Let me see if that’s Josh. Hang on. Hello?
Dave Cawley: It was Josh.
Steve Powell (from July 7, 2010 wire recording): Yeah, Josh. I’m here in this meeting with the Marshals here. What’s up? I’m at the library. Did you want to come and pick that thing up and sign for it or whatever? It’s just a CD, right?
Derryl Spencer (from July 7, 2010 wire recording): Yeah.
Steve Powell (from July 7, 2010 wire recording): What’s, what’s on that?
Derryl Spencer (from July 7, 2010 wire recording): A bunch of family photos.
Dave Cawley: Police had terabytes of his digital data and Derryl had brought that single 700 megabyte CD?
Steve Powell (from July 7, 2010 wire recording): Now is this something that, yeah because see we have all kinds of photos and this might be just stuff we already have anyway. So it’s like, y’know, Josh just feels like it’s a slap in the face. It’s an insult. You’re talking about 5 terabytes of data and they’re sending this over. Y’know, it’s just ridiculous.
Dave Cawley: Derryl redirected Steve back to the topic of Susan and Brazil.
Derryl Spencer: Show me. I said “I’m going to take this information and I’m gonna have to sell it to people who pay my bills to go places.” And I said “what you’ve given me right now is not enough.” I said “this just sounds like a story at this point in time.” And so he tried his best to prove to me that, y’know, those two, umm, were in a relationship, that they were having an affair for quite some time and that they were, y’know, they ran away, they got married and then they went down, y’know, to uh, went down to Brazil.
Dave Cawley: Steve was careful to avoid the topic of his own lust for Susan, until Derryl asked him about it.
Derryl Spencer (from July 7, 2010 wire recording): Is it true that Susan was in love with you?
Steve Powell (from July 7, 2010 wire recording): Yeah. Yeah.
Derryl Spencer (from July 7, 2010 wire recording): That’s true?
Steve Powell (from July 7, 2010 wire recording): That’s true.
Derryl Spencer (from July 7, 2010 wire recording): Ok.
Steve Powell (from July 7, 2010 wire recording): Y’know, girls fall in love with their high school teachers, y’know? They fall in love with their, y’know, it’s just a, it’s like an infatuation and that kind of a thing. So, that’s the truth, she was. And it didn’t really change.
Dave Cawley: Steve went on to claim, without any proof, that Susan had been suicidal, that she’d abused her sons and that she’d felt noncommittal about her religion.
Steve Powell (from July 7, 2010 wire recording): Y’know, Susan had every Wednesday and Thursday off and uh, and she’s claimed that she was going to the temple frequently on those Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Derryl Spencer: Y’know, Susan would go do temple work during the week and he told me that Susan never actually went to do that, that she was meeting with, with, with this Steve character. Umm, so y’know, I just took that for what it was.
Dave Cawley: Derryl’s interview with Steve proved fruitless. In the days and weeks that followed, Derryl went to work attempting to disprove the theory that Susan’s disappearance was linked to the Steven Koecher case.
Derryl Spencer: I was never able to confirm that she had attempted to get a passport, let alone had a passport, even under a potential alias that she might have used. Kinda the same thing with Steve. Was never able to corroborate any passport information. I had also kind of flagged the names with the State Department. They had no record of, of her leaving or coming and going from the country in any way, shape or form. So that also helped in kinda dialing, y’know, possibly. So I also ran Steven Koecher’s. There’s no evidence that he had left the country either. So, I felt like one of those probably would have tripped up the system at some level to show that they left the country. There was no corroborating, no empirical evidence to connect Brazil to Susan’s location at that point in time.
Dave Cawley: Derryl also did his due diligence with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Derryl Spencer: They were helpful. But they, y’know, the church does not keep a written record of, of temple work. At that point in time they didn’t, they might do that now. But at that point in time, they did not document who actually came and did temple work that day. Umm, I think the individual temple collected that information but there was not a database that we could pull to, to get that information so we’ve kinda discredited that as well.
Dave Cawley: In the end, the entire exercise with Steve Powell served as nothing more than misdirection.
Derryl Spencer: He was doing his, I mean it’s obvious. His goals were to derail the investigation, to steer us as far away from possible what was really happening and what was going on, just to get us away from him so that they could, y’know, live in the uh, peaceful Puyallup home that they had created. But that was obvious.
Dave Cawley: As the summer of 2010 stretched on, Derryl kept pushing his colleagues at the West Valley City police department to go hands-on with Josh.
Derryl Spencer: I mean, I run a fugitive task force. My, my role in the community is a little bit different than a regular cop’s. I’m not here to help you cross the street. I’m not here to help you change a flat tire. My sole purpose, umm, Congress funds my task force, for us to chase down violent fugitives. And you don’t do that by hugging and holding hands. It’s a, it’s an aggressive job and we hurt a lot of feelings in the process. But y’know, sometimes if you ask nicely, people will just lie to you and want you to go away. So you need to, you need to think outside the box. And that’s constantly what we’re trying to do. And so that’s what I brought to this investigation.“Let’s, ‘kay, we haven’t done this, let’s do this. Hey, let’s, let’s get crazy today. Let’s be aggressive on this case. What, what do you say?” And uh, y’know, it was, it was frustrating because a lot of times I felt like I would bring these, these ideas to the table and it would be like “ok, sounds good.”
Dave Cawley: Derryl’s involvement also started to raise eyebrows up the chain of command. He and detective Ellis Maxwell were at that point several months into their hunt for Summer the stripper.
Derryl Spencer: So we’re getting to that point where the Marshal Service is just like “what are we doing here? Why are we spending thousands and thousands of dollars to, to allow you to work this investigation? We’re flying you all over the country to do these things. We’re paying overtime to task force officers.” I mean, the Department of Justice and Marshal Service was, was dumping a lot of money into this investigation and at one point in time, a higher-up in the investigative branch, uh, reaches out to us and was like “What are you guys doing? If they’re not going to help you work this case, you’re done.” Like “we don’t go out and solve, y’know, crimes and put this together.” So the headquarters was starting to realize like, this is out of our scope. If they’re not going to be more proactive, we’re not going to allow you to do this any more.
Dave Cawley: At the start of November 2010, West Valley police went to Puyallup.
Derryl Spencer: Right before this happens, Marshal Service basically says “you’re done.”
Dave Cawley: The police planned to confront Josh and Steve about Susan’s childhood journals.
Derryl Spencer: This meeting needed to happen. Like, I couldn’t let it be. So, umm, nobody really knows this but I paid for my own ticket to go up there. I just, I, I, I thought if I pushed headquarters a little bit more, they were going to flat out be like “no Derryl, don’t go.” Umm, and I didn’t, it’s almost like “mom says no, I’ll go ask dad.” I just thought “well, how about I don’t ask mom or dad and I just handle it.” So I paid for my own ticket. Umm, I’m on my own dime. Uh, Ellis was already up there and I said “get a double room, I’m crashing with you.” So I went up there, he picked me up at the airport super late at night.
Dave Cawley: So, Derryl returned to the Powell house on November 16th, 2010 with West Valley police Lieutenant Bill Merritt, who he introduced as a U.S. Marshall.
Derryl Spencer: I felt pretty good about this interaction with the Powells, for a couple reasons. Number one, I’m back in the house and so I think things are moving forward and we’re, we’re, we’re still facilitating conversation which is good, right? And I’ll never forget, uh, Charlie and Braden, the boys, were playing at my feet. And, y’know, I have two sons and so this was like “we’ve gotta fix this.” Like, “we’ve gotta, we’ve gotta make this right.”
Dave Cawley: They talked with Josh and Steve for about an hour and a half, making the case that the Powell family should provide the Marshals with Susan’s childhood journals.
Derryl Spencer: It was the first time I had seen it, but Josh was starting, starting to stand up to Steve and question him on things and they started to bicker, like pretty, pretty aggressively. Like, almost like, borderline domestic. And I’m just sitting on the couch and I’m just like so happy this is happening and watching these two, two argue and fight. The negotiations ensued about this whole thing, like “well can we just get a copy of it?” And then, of course now Steve and Josh are trying to pretend like they’re too computer stupid to figure this whole thing out.
Dave Cawley: The Powells never did end up handing over Susan’s journals and Derryl found himself off the case for good after that. A little over a year later, Josh murdered his sons and took his own life. Steve Powell was, at the time, in the Pierce County Jail.
Derryl Spencer: They went and interviewed him at the jail and he wouldn’t talk to them and he said, uh, he told investigators “if that damn Marshal would have done what I told him, this never would have happened.” So y’know, even at this stage in the investigation and the relationship I’d developed with these two jokers, like they’re still, they’re blaming me for this. Uh, which is, has never really sat well with me, not that, not that neither one of those individuals depict how I feel throughout the day but it was, it was pretty dark to kinda, like these, these, these guys are blaming me for this type thing, like, like I didn’t do my job well enough to find Susan.
Dave Cawley: Derryl Spencer should not bear the blame for what happened to the boys, even though he wishes he could have prevented it. Ultimately, responsibility rests with Josh.
Derryl Spencer: I think people underestimated the darkness and the demons that were Josh and Steve.
Dave Cawley: Derryl, a Marine who served his country in combat and who’s spent his career as a Marshal dealing with violent, dangerous criminals, told me he had the Powells pegged from the get-go.
Derryl Spencer: I picked up on it right away. I’m like, these, these two, there’s something going on here. There’s, there, this is not right. This is, I did not have a good feeling and I immediately knew that they were capable of making a woman disappear. I could tell. In my gut, in my heart like I knew, like that this, they were involved in this. No doubt about it.
Dave Cawley: And Derryl doubts Susan’s body will ever be found.
Derryl Spencer: There’s no doubt in my mind. Not one sliver of, he did this. There’s no doubt about it. There’s no question in my mind. I knew this throughout the course of the investigation, umm, and it was so frustrating because I, I felt like we had enough evidence. Let’s get this, let’s get him into custody, let’s solve this problem and let’s build, let’s finish building the case from there. We have mechanisms, legal, just, mechanisms that we can take him into custody and hold him in a facility while we finish this investigation and we can get a better control of it. And I just didn’t feel like the district attorney’s office was supportive of that. They, y’know, we would present facts and then “here’s where we’re at.” And, and they kept denying it. And they kept denying it, which was frustrating. I’m not surprised how this ended. I’m just not.