Dave Cawley: This can’t be the man I’ve seen so many times on TV. He looks thinner, but at the same time weathered. More tired. Worn down. He steps out of a dark gray Dodge Caravan wearing a jacket and a knit cap in the vibrant blue and green of the Seattle Seahawks. A chill autumn breeze blows, rattling wind chimes in a nearby tree.
(Sound of wind chimes)
Dave Cawley: It ruffles the bit of unkempt gray hair peeking out from beneath the hat. I recognize this man, or at least I think I do. It’s hard to be sure from where I’m standing, up the hill a ways in the Woodbine Cemetery of Puyallup, Washington. I watch as he carries flowers, a toy car and a small stuffed animal over to a grave next to the winding cemetery road. That is when I’m sure. He’s Chuck Cox.
I walk down and meet Chuck beside the grave of his grandsons, Charlie and Braden. Their dad, Josh Powell, killed the boys and himself in February of 2012 by setting fire to his rented home. At the time, Josh was the sole suspect in the disappearance of his wife, Susan, from their home in West Valley City, Utah. Susan was Chuck’s daughter. She’s never been found.
Susan Powell (from February, 2001 audio journal recording): Josh is mean to me but only because I was mean to him and then he was mean back to me so I was mean to him more. And now he’s being mean to be again. But I still love him, even though he won’t kiss me.
Dave Cawley: The voice you’re hearing now belongs to Susan. She recorded that while dating Josh, way back at the start of 2001, when she was 19.
Susan Powell (from February, 2001 audio journal recording): And maybe he’ll deserve and earn and actually get his Valentine’s Day gift. Maybe. Depends what he does for me.
Dave Cawley: I found that clip among hours and hours of audio journals that Josh recorded in his early 20s, both before and after meeting Susan.
Josh Powell (from December 13, 2000 audio journal recording): I’m not as good a person, rather depressed, moody, irritable when I get away from things that I know are right.
Dave Cawley: These recordings have never before been made public. They’re just a small piece of what’s to come.
Josh Powell (from December 13, 2000 audio journal recording): It really shows that she cares for her to come over here…
Dave Cawley: My name is Dave Cawley. I’ve worked as a journalist in Salt Lake City for more than 15 years. In that time, I’ve covered a lot of stories and seen some pretty crazy things. But no story has stuck with me more than the unsolved disappearance of Susan Powell in December of 2009. Maybe it’s because Susan and I were the same age, or because we both came from Mormon families. The radio station where I used to work was in West Valley, the same place Susan lived with Josh and her boys. We shopped at the same stores, ate at some of the same restaurants.
About three years ago, I presented my news director at KSL — where I work now — with a proposition: why don’t we do our own investigation of Susan’s disappearance? Police had just declared the case cold and opened up their records. We got thousands upon thousands of pages of documents — police reports, witness interviews, social worker notes, psychological evaluations, emails, journals — on and on and on and on.
What might we learn from all of that about Josh — about how his mind worked? Or how about the rumors that’d gone around, claiming he’d spent time with strippers or had a secret mistress?
Andrew Andersen: He was a sex addict, you know that, right?
Dave Cawley: Uh, hmm. Could we prove that? What about talk of Susan having planned to divorce Josh?
Amber Hardman: I mean that was the first thing I said. ‘Susan, leave. You need to just leave.
Dave Cawley: How about motive?
Linda Bagley: He just didn’t want to have to deal with an ex. He wanted to have control of everything.
Dave Cawley: Or what if, as Josh’s family suggested, Susan ran away? Could we find any clues about where she might be, or rule out where she’s not?
Tony Gallegos: But even still some of those places they, there could have been something in there that we wouldn’t have seen or discovered because it was remote or in the bottom of a shaft.
Dave Cawley: I went to work. I submitted new public records requests, obtaining more than 3,000 never-before-released files from computers that belonged to Josh and his father, Steve. I conducted new interviews, in Utah, Oregon and Washington. I went in-depth with the retired detective who led the investigation.
Ellis Maxwell: It was a theory that he poisoned or sedated Susan…
Dave Cawley: I also tracked down people who’ve never publicly shared their stories, some not even with the police.
Catherine Everett: I didn’t want it to be like ‘oh hey, look at me, I want to be a part of this too’ because I didn’t.
Dave Cawley: That’s Catherine. Her story is absolutely wild. You’ll hear it in episode one. In this podcast, we’re going go through the case together. We’re gonna hear Susan, in her own words, describe her crumbling marriage.
Susan Cox Powell (from July 29, 2008 home video): Hope everything works out and we’re all happy and live happily ever after as much as that’s possible.
Dave Cawley: We will retrace the route of Josh’s unlikely winter camping trip, the night his wife disappeared. We’ll hear about how police might have missed solving the case by just 10 minutes.
Ellis Maxwell: I go to release the vehicle and he’s gone and patrol officers don’t know where he left and went to. He didn’t say anything, he just up and left.
Dave Cawley: We’ll peer into the depths of abandoned mines, as we follow searchers into the dusty wastes of the Utah desert.
Louis Amodt: It was never out in the public everywhere we looked and how soon after she disappeared that we spent time looking.
Dave Cawley: We’ll scour the hard drives police seized with search warrants.
Cheney Eng-Tow: There were items that were encrypted that were never gotten into, but who knows. Is there something on there that is incriminating or not?
Dave Cawley: We’ll hear Steve Powell describe a disturbing obsession with his own daughter-in-law… and how she reacted to it.
Dax Guzman: I guess… we know where Josh got it from. His dad is one messed up dude.
Dave Cawley: We’ll glimpse the horrors police found in Steve’s home as they closed in on Josh. This is all pretty heavy. But amid all of that terrible darkness, we’ll see how people tied to the case have used their experiences to create light.
Kiirsi Hellewell: There have been people that have contacted us and said “because of her story, I recognize the signs and I got out before I ended like her.”
Amber Hardman: Like her, you may feel very, very, very trapped. You may feel like there’s no other way out. And you might be in a very scary situation but people are willing to help and there are ways to get out. Safe ways…
Nancy: If it can help anybody, with anything, any portion of this story, it’s worth it to me to say something.
Dave Cawley: I hope you’ll subscribe, take this journey with me and, if you find the experience valuable, share it with your friends. Welcome to Cold.