Dave Cawley: Josh was cash-strapped and still carrying debt from his time with his ex-girlfriend, Catherine. He had about a thousand dollars in savings, but owed about $400 a month just to cover his debts. He worked for Virco, the same company as his dad, but was afraid of being fired. In spite of this, he insisted on holding dinner parties at his apartment in Tacoma, hosting friends from church.
Josh Powell (from December 13, 2000 audio journal recording): People come over to my house and instead of eating what I’m offering them they look in my freezer and say ‘oh, I want to make orange juice to go with dinner and I want to put this with dinner’. Well, eventually when they start doing that it gets extremely expensive to have these dinners.
Dave Cawley: That is Josh’s actual voice, saved on a handheld audio recorder.
Josh decided the dinners were important, in spite of the cost. One in particular changed the course of the rest of his life. That’s because a young woman — just weeks past her 19th birthday — attended. Her name was Susan Cox.
Josh had just recently met Susan at Institute. That’s a religion class for college-age members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He’d been competing for her attention with a mutual friend, but was demoralized and intended to give up the chase.
When the food was done that night, Josh asked his guests for help doing the dishes. Susan volunteered.
Josh Powell (from January 5, 2001 audio journal recording): She said that doing dishes together with me, at that very moment she decided that she loved me. And for me, doing dishes with her was the turning point for me when I thought “it’s not over.”
Dave Cawley: They shared their first kiss that night. Susan later wrote that’s when she knew that Josh was “the one.” Josh’d tried and tried and tried for years to get any girl to give him the time of day.
Josh Powell (from December 13, 2000 audio journal recording): Sometimes I feel like I can’t reach any girls anywhere, that for some reason or another they won’t give me even a chance to go out with them.
Dave Cawley: Susan was different. She thought Josh was hot. He was smart, too, and had his own place and a motorcycle. He was a Latter-day Saint, like she was, and appeared to live the church’s standards.
Josh Powell (from February 17, 2000 audio journal recording): I just wanted to say, to remind myself for the future, that I feel like I have been incredibly blessed because of my righteousness, because of my willingness to pay my tithing.
Dave Cawley: It also helped that Josh was five years older and more mature than the guys Susan’s age, or so she seemed to think. She met Josh while on the rebound from a break-up.
The couple marked November 11, 2000 as the start of their relationship. For their first official date, they went to see the movie “The Perfect Storm” and then ate sandwiches from Subway. They talked about getting married from that very day.
Josh Powell (from January 5, 2001 audio journal recording): I love this girl, Susan Marie Cox. Every day I love her more. I become more and more certain that I want to be with her. So I am slow to warm up, it has taken me awhile to realize that I do want to be with her forever.
Dave Cawley: This is Cold, Episode 2: Wake Up, Little Susie. I’m Dave Cawley.
Dave Cawley: Real quick — you’re going to hear a lot in this podcast from Josh’s sister Jennifer Graves. She wrote a book about her experiences called “A Light in Dark Places.” I mention that because in this episode in particular, you are going to see some of that darkness up close. We’re putting it under a spotlight, in order to reveal truth. Just stick with me.
Susan wasn’t long out of high school when she met Josh. She’d started studying cosmetology at the Gene Juarez Academy of Beauty just eight days after graduation. Josh had actually encountered Susan before, years before, but claimed not to have realized it the day they met at a church Institute class. It happened when Josh was 18 and a high school senior. He’d followed his dad from Spokane to Puyallup after his parents’ divorce. That’s where he met Susan’s older sister, Mary. He went to the Cox house and saw Susan for the first time. She was 12.
Josh Powell (from January 5, 2001 audio journal recording): So we had met at her house and she remembered me as the person who came over and played piano. But she was much too young, relatively speaking, for me to consider dating. But as I think back, I think that I looked at her and thought “she is really cute, too bad she is too young.”
Dave Cawley: Josh and Susan were not an obvious match when they met again in October of 2000. They had few common interests, aside from each being a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and knowing some American Sign Language. Susan’s friends wondered what she saw in Josh. His feelings for her seemed self-centered.
Josh Powell (from January 5, 2001 audio journal recording): I think that she is incredibly beautiful and a lot of that is because of the way she treats me, the way she takes care of me and my house. She comes in here and she is the one person that I can feel comfortable with in my house. She’ll start doing the dishes or dust something just because she is standing there for a minute and she doesn’t have anything else to do. And I know that this is a real part of her and it’s important to me to have someone who is, who takes care of me and my stuff and our space together.
Dave Cawley: That wasn’t the only thing Josh liked about Susan. She had clean credit. As I mentioned, Josh had racked up some serious debt in his early 20s.
Josh Powell (from December 13, 2000 audio journal recording): In the past it seems like I’ve had the goal of ‘have more now’. Have a computer now, have a TV and VCR and all these things now and forget about the future. Don’t worry about saving money. It’s okay to go into debt. I went into debt pretty heavily.
Dave Cawley: Josh had recently enrolled at the University of Washington Tacoma business school and needed to find about $1,500 to cover tuition. He failed to qualify for any kind of scholarship or financial aid, so he took out a student loan. Susan worked hard. She started her days at 7:30 a.m. at the cosmetology school, cutting and coloring hair. Then, she headed to her second job at the JCPenney jewelry counter. She worked there until late in the evening.
Josh Powell (from January 5, 2001 audio journal recording): I want her to make as every bit as much money as she possibly can and receive every compliment and tip for her hair cutting and the procedures she does. I want my sweet Susan to feel good about herself because she deserves to, she has a right to, because she is good.
Dave Cawley: Shortly after Christmas, Josh went to visit Susan at work. He told her he wanted to buy a gift for his mom. Susan showed him a number of rings. He found one that he liked and asked her to buy it for him using her employee discount. The ring wasn’t for Josh’s mom. It was Susan’s engagement ring.
Josh Powell (from January 5, 2001 audio journal recording): I don’t want her to have the most expensive looking ring the in world. I don’t want her to have a big rock to attract someone who would want to hurt her or mug her, or mug us as we’re together. I just want her to have a modest ring with the best quality diamond I can possibly find. Something that will tell her that I love her without necessarily acting like a magnet for the attention of the world. The wrong attention from the world.
Dave Cawley: They’d been dating less than two months.
Dave Cawley: On the evening of January 5, 2001, Susan went to Josh’s apartment after work, as she always did. He met her outside and covered her eyes by wrapping shirt around her head. Then, he led her inside the apartment. Once inside, Josh took off the blindfold. Susan saw a dozen white roses in a crystal vase. A large drawing of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Portland temple leaned against his futon, the one he’d bought while living with his ex-girlfriend Catherine. The church’s hymn “Families Can Be Together Forever” played softly on the stereo.
Josh sat Susan down on the futon, next to the picture, being careful to keep everything framed perfectly for the camcorder that was whirring quietly in the corner. He’d borrowed that from his dad. He asked Susan to read an LDS scripture — Doctrine and Covenants chapter 132, verse 19.
Kristen Sorensen (as Susan Powell): And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant…
Dave Cawley: It was a production for the camera and it wasn’t done. Next, Josh read Susan a poem he’d written in 1994, when he was 18.
Eric Openshaw (as Josh Powell): Marriage is for the most in Love
For two so deeply in Love
they become the Love they
Sow within each other
Marriage can only suffice me
when Always True Love waxes
when her greatest Love and so she is solely for me
and me solely for her
Dave Cawley: Ok, ok it, it wasn’t Shakespeare. In fact, it was barely poetry. But Josh was working up to something. He kneeled and presented Susan with the ring that she had bought using her discount at work. He had paid her back, by the way.
Josh Powell (from January 5, 2001 audio journal recording): I leaned in to her and said her name and asked her “will you marry me” and she whispered “yes” and then we kissed and then we hugged.
Dave Cawley: Josh and Susan were engaged. Their friends were concerned. So were Susan’s parents.
Chuck Cox: So when they were going to get married in the temple, I called their bishop and said “I’m also in the bishopric here and y’know, I don’t think they understand what it means to be married for time and all eternity and what the vows are going to take. I don’t think they understand it.” And he said “well, it’s important I feel.” I said “okay, well you’re the bishop, but still I just want to let you know, I don’t think this is right. Something is not quite right here.”
Dave Cawley: Susan spent every waking moment either at work, or with Josh. She’d head to his apartment at the end of her shift and often fell asleep there. Her parents didn’t realize what was happening at first, because Susan was living with her sister Mary. Chuck Cox finally figured it out.
Chuck Cox (from January 3, 2001 voicemail message): Hello Josh, this is Chuck. Susan said she was at this phone number. Could you have her maybe, if you can, call back or come over so she can talk to her mom? Her mom wants to talk to her by herself for a few minutes. Anyway, talk to you later. Thanks, bye bye.
Dave Cawley: Susan confessed she’d all but moved in with the boyfriend she’d only known for weeks.
Chuck Cox (from January 3, 2001 voicemail message): Hi honey, I love you. I’m at my parents’ house right now. I told my dad that I’ve been basically living with you. He asked “sleeping there?” And I said “yeah.” And he asked “where?” And I said, like, he said “on the couch?” And I was like “yeah.” So he doesn’t know all of that but he knows that I’ve been staying there and that I don’t want to live with Mary because there’s liquor in the fridge and I feel unwelcome there.
Dave Cawley: This caused Susan’s parents a lot of heartburn.
Chuck Cox: But she would then get home at 12:30 or 1:00. But she’d drive home alone. I mean, it wasn’t that he was going to watch over, she would just leave later and finally get home. I said “well that’s not a good thing to do, let your fiancé be traveling home late at night, unescorted, all that kind of stuff.” He just, he didn’t care.
Dave Cawley: Josh didn’t see a problem with it.
Josh Powell (from June 22, 1999 audio journal recording): And the concept of curfew is not familiar to me because I normally don’t have a curfew. I’ve never really had a curfew in my life.
Dave Cawley: Josh’s sister Jennifer told me that growing up, he’d done pretty much whatever he wanted. That attitude carried over into his dating life.
Jennifer Graves: Boundaries. There are no boundaries.
Dave Cawley: Jennifer was living in Utah but started to hear about Susan from Josh.
Jennifer Graves: So I just had high hopes, you know. She came from a good LDS family that her parents seemed very good and I just thought, ‘maybe this is it. Maybe he’ll be alright. He’ll be alright because he’s got her now. And he’ll want to improve for her. What guy doesn’t want to put forth the effort and improve and be the best he can be for an awesome woman? And Susan was great.
Dave Cawley: Josh knew Susan’s parents were less enthused but figured he could win them over.
Josh Powell (from December 13, 2000 audio journal recording): It would seem that her dad likes me for the most part. It seems that her mom is starting to like me as well, although she’s been slower to warm up.
Chuck Cox: You look at it and if you tell your daughter “no,” that’s exactly what she’s going to go for. So we didn’t do that. But he was just so ridiculous to us that, but, but we can’t say “stay away from him.” But on the plus side, he had an apartment of his own that he was paying for, he had a job and he was going to college. So, y’know it seemed, “well okay.” It’s not my best idea but maybe he’s got something going we don’t see.
Dave Cawley: Josh pressed for a quick marriage — in March or April — as soon as they could receive clearance to have the ceremony performed in the Portland temple.
Josh Powell (from January 5, 2001 audio journal recording): Susan has been hesitant. She’s like “well, I always thought of an engagement as being nine months or a year. That seems awful fast.”
Dave Cawley: Josh had Susan on the hook. He wasn’t going to let her escape, the way his ex-girlfriend Catherine had. Just as he’d done with Catherine, he started to spend Susan’s money. She paid for new parts for his computer, among other things.
Josh Powell (from February 7, 2001 audio journal recording): Susan’s been putting out a lot of money on some of this stuff lately ‘cause I haven’t really had the money to do it and I need a computer to live, to get my classes done. So she’s been helping me out with some of it.
Dave Cawley: Susan’s generosity caught the attention of Josh’s sister, Jennifer.
Jennifer Graves: I don’t know, the boundaries weren’t quite where they needed to be at that point to, to help Josh realize that boundaries needed to continue. Like, he was starting to get that. Going back, moving in with my mom, going back to church, cleaning up his act a little bit. It seemed like he was starting to get that, realize that you can’t just do everything that you want to in your life. Y’know, you’ve got to, you’ve got to live within some rules.
Dave Cawley: There were even bigger warning signs. At the end of February, Josh and Susan prepared to submit their marriage license application.
Josh Powell (from February 28, 2001 audio journal recording): She miscopied one or two little things and I got frustrated with her and then she got mad at me and said she didn’t want to be in the same room with me, that she wanted me to take her home.
Dave Cawley: He didn’t take her home. He puttered around the apartment while Susan seethed.
Josh Powell (from February 28, 2001 audio journal recording): She was like “I asked you to take me home and you didn’t.” So then she jumped up and stood by the door for me to take her home and I kind of got mad at her again and I threw the marriage license across the room.
Dave Cawley: He at last conceded and started to drive her home, but not before making a stop. Josh drove Susan to a copy shop. He left her to sit in the car, alone, while he made the photocopies.
Josh Powell (from February 28, 2001 audio journal recording): And I was really hoping she would get over being mad at me by the time I get done making these copies.
Dave Cawley: Oh no, she was not. Josh next drove to the post office, where he mailed in their marriage paperwork. In his journal, he attributed Susan’s anger and his manipulative behavior to a “dark influence.”
Josh Powell (from February 28, 2001 audio journal recording): I feel a real disturbance within myself that I just can’t find peace. I’m afraid of something. I think Susan and I need blessings. We turned in our marriage license application. We mailed it tonight. I think we’ve angered Satan pretty deeply.
Dave Cawley: Thankfully, not every argument they had was so serious.
Josh Powell (from March 5, 2001 audio journal recording): We argued about whether or not we should put cake on each other’s face at the wedding. Of course, we resolved that one by realizing that of course we’re going to put the cake on each other’s face.
Susan Cox (from March 5, 2001 audio journal recording): No!
Josh Powell (from March 5, 2001 audio journal recording): Ok, Susan doesn’t seem to agree with that one, but she will.
Dave Cawley: They married the afternoon of April 6, 2001 in the Portland temple. It was the same place Josh’s sister Jennifer had married her husband, Kirk. The similarity wasn’t lost on Jennifer.
Jennifer Graves: And, you know it’s kind of interesting because I think there was some piece of Josh that really wanted what I had. He could see that I was in a better position and that I had extracted myself from the family situation and found happiness and had moved on from the crap that we’d gone through.
Dave Cawley: Josh’s own audio journals supported that. He envied Jennifer’s stability and independence.
Josh Powell (from December 13, 2000 audio journal recording): And I really want to emulate my sister’s marriage. She has a wonderful situation with her husband.
Dave Cawley: But the emulation started off pretty poorly.
Jennifer Graves: Josh was always running late. And that was a constant irritation to pretty much everyone around him. Trying to get him to move and follow through with stuff in a timely manner, it was just a constant battle. And so he was late to his own wedding.
Dave Cawley: Jennifer hadn’t invited her dad Steve to her wedding. Josh made to sure Steve was there for his wedding. But there was a problem. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints only allows members who are in good standing to enter its temples. That’s true even for guests at temple weddings.
Now, Steve Powell had given up on trying to live the religion’s rules. He tried to walk into the temple, but was turned away. In fact, none of Josh’s siblings, aside from Jennifer, were able to witness the ceremony. They waited outside. So did Jennifer’s three young kids. They were too young to enter the temple. She worried what might happen.
Jennifer Graves: I was left with quite a bit of anxiety because I knew that, who was going to be with my children outside. My dad and my sister, who’s under the influence of my dad, heavily. And so, I said a lot of prayers and left them for that very short time with them. And I think, you know, they survived. They managed to make it through, mostly unscathed I think. (Laughs)
Dave Cawley: Jennifer reserved Josh and Susan a room on their wedding night at the Hood River Inn, a scenic spot on the south bank of the Columbia River. It’s where she and Kirk had spent their honeymoon.
It turned out, Josh was more interested in playing with his camera than spending time with his wife. Josh recorded his observations of that afternoon on his handheld voice recorder. He detailed the logistics of the day, never once mentioning how he felt about being married or remarking on his beautiful bride. He just wanted to play with his dad’s video camera.
Josh Powell (from April 6, 2001 audio journal recording): We got the pulling up to the hotel shot and walking into our room. A few scenes around the hotel room and the view from the hotel room.
Dave Cawley: The next day, they were back in Puyallup for the reception. Susan, feeling “giddy in love”, allowed her dad to drag her around the dance floor to the tune of Wake Up Little Susie.
Dave Cawley: The choice of song was apropos.
Chuck Cox: That was in reference to her coming home late at night.
Dave Cawley: Did you pick that song to play at the wedding?
Chuck Cox: Oh yeah. (Laughs) Trying to say “hey,” y’know, “do you understand?” Not, kinda making fun of it that it’s fine now but whatever, yeah. Probably an important song. She should’ve woke up a little sooner, yeah.
Dave Cawley: Josh hovered over his dad, making sure he got video from all of the right angles.
Steve Powell (from April 22, 2001 home video recording): Let’s see that ring. Hold your hand up please. Mmkay. And this ring—
Susan Powell (from April 22, 2001 home video recording): And my nails that aren’t done, thanks.
Steve Powell (from April 22, 2001 home video recording): —let’s see, the ring has 2,000 backwards and forwards on it. That’s cool, in the band. Ok. Great. Now we will no longer look at your fingers.
Susan Powell (from April 22, 2001 home video recording): (Nervous laughter)
Steve Powell (from April 22, 2001 home video recording): We will look at you. (Laughs)
Susan Powell (from April 22, 2001 home video recording): Great.
Dave Cawley: So Josh and Susan entered their period of newlywed bliss. Josh believed it would last forever.
Josh Powell (from January 5, 2001 audio journal recording): Most people don’t have our friendship. We talk like most people don’t talk in their marriage. Even some people with incredible, awesome marriages, they don’t talk like we talk. We talk about everything.
Dave Cawley: Jennifer saw it differently. She saw Susan tolerating her new husband’s idiosyncrasies.
Jennifer Graves: I think there’s, you know, there’s a little bit of that honeymoon phase where you’re willing to put up with a little bit more because you think, “Well, you know, it’ll go away, right? It’ll go away, hopefully.” But it doesn’t.
Dave Cawley: Susan had all but moved in to Josh’s apartment before the wedding, but made the move official after the were wed. The young couple were evicted eight months later, after getting into dispute with the landlord. Susan wrote about it in her journal.
Kristen Sorensen (as Susan Powell from January 3, 2002 journal entry): We do not trust renting and are paying off Josh’s debts while he waits to take his last quarter in school for his bachelors in business management and get a job and for his credit to clean up so we can get a loan for a house. … I want a house to call mine and come home to so I can prepare meals for Josh and clean and decorate.
Dave Cawley: They were in no financial position to buy a house, so Josh did what he often did when his life went wrong — he turned to his dad for help. The young couple moved in with Steve Powell at the start of 2002.
The Powell family home didn’t have enough bedrooms for Steve, the other Powell boys John and Michael, as well as Josh and Susan. They all coped as best they could, sectioning off a piece of the living room by hanging sheets as dividers.
Life there was not comfortable. Josh and Susan had very little privacy. Steve, John and Michael came and went at all hours, making it difficult to get any sleep. Steve seemed to be ever-present with his video camera. Susan was his favorite subject.
Steve Powell (from undated home video recording): So anyway, we just don’t get too many, any, any women around here so—
Susan Cox Powell (from undated home video recording): I’m it?
Steve Powell (from undated home video recording): You’re it. So you get the full treatment.
Susan Cox Powell (from undated home video recording): From head to toe?
Steve Powell (from undated home video recording): Mmhmm.
Dave Cawley: Susan tolerated Steve’s filming. She was usually friendly, even if a little annoyed. But watching those videos now, she comes across as terribly naive. As a cosmetologist, she pretty was proud of how well she could wax her legs. One time, she showed Steve how smooth her legs were after waxing, not understanding he perceived this as a tease.
Susan Cox Powell (from undated home video recording): This is a week after waxing. No hair. Woohoo!
Steve Powell (from undated home video recording): (Inaudible) …see any hair. No, no. It’s pretty clear.
Dave Cawley: On at least one occasion, Susan thought she saw a small mirror under a crack in the door while using the bathroom.
Steve took every opportunity to needle Susan in attempt to undermine her marriage. At one point, Josh wanted to sell his futon. Steve wondered aloud if Josh could rightfully do that, considering that he’d bought it while living with his ex-girlfriend Catherine.
Kristen Sorensen (as Susan Powell from December 16, 2002 journal entry): I didn’t realize she was considered a direct past owner of it or whatever so it irritated me that he wanted to point that out.
Dave Cawley: Susan called it a “dark time.” She started to see that Josh’s faith was not strong. She wrote in her journal about the struggle of having to be the “strong” one.
Kristen Sorensen (as Susan Powell from August 4, 2002 journal entry): I know the gospel is true. … I can’t pretend it’s not really that important and move on to more worldlier things.
Dave Cawley: It came as a relief when, by March, they were back in their own place. Josh got a job at Home Depot. Susan bought her first car. She got a raise at her job, while Josh was fired from his. They argued often.
Kristen Sorensen (as Susan Powell from Mary 18, 2002 journal entry): We drove to our storage unit. I didn’t want to waste a beautiful sunny day digging around in there but Josh did. One thing led to another and I walked off two miles down the road before Josh caught up. After an hour or so of discussion Josh got his way.
Dave Cawley: Josh finished his courses at U-W that June. His dad attended the graduation ceremony, but spent more time videotaping Susan than he did his own son.
Steve Powell (from June 14, 2002 home video recording): Turn around this way, ok? Just turn around to the, there we go. Well now, now turn back this way.
Susan Cox Powell (from June 14, 2002 home video recording): Oh geez, you lost your chance.
Steve Powell (from June 14, 2002 home video recording): Ok.
Dave Cawley: Chuck and Judy Cox gave Josh cash and some camping supplies as a graduation gift. Josh bragged to his dad about it.
Steve Powell (from June 14, 2002 home video recording): They did give you money?
Josh Powell (from June 14, 2002 home video recording): Yeah, I don’t know how much.
Steve Powell (from June 14, 2002 home video recording): They gave you money and the presents?
Josh Powell (from June 14, 2002 home video recording): Yeah, isn’t that nice of them?
Steve Powell (from June 14, 2002 home video recording): Wow.
Susan Cox Powell (from June 14, 2002 home video recording): My parents are really into giving presents.
Josh Powell (from June 14, 2002 home video recording): See, I married good, huh?
Dave Cawley: Finally free from school, Josh and Susan looked forward to paying off their debts and finding permanent work. Easier said than done. Josh couldn’t seem to keep a job. He always knew better than his bosses and coworkers, and didn’t hesitate to tell them so. His dream was to become a self-made millionaire.
Josh Powell (from December 13, 2000 audio journal recording): I was looking for other jobs. I looked into real estate. I went to a couple offices, checked out what it would take to get a license and start selling real estate. I think that would be a reasonable option, a reasonable thing to fall back on.
Dave Cawley: Josh’s youngest brother Michael enlisted in the Army midway through 2002. Josh briefly considered joining the military as well. In her journal, Susan listed some pros and cons. The pros: cheap living, free education and Josh being more healthy. The cons involved her husband going to war and possibly dying, leaving her a young widow, stranded on some Army base somewhere, far away from friends and family.
Instead, in early 2003, they took a job together managing a senior living center called Orchard Park in Yakima. At first, it seemed like a great fit. They put distance between themselves and Josh’s dad. They had a free place to live, in an apartment on-site. They hoped to stay there a couple of years, paying down their debt, building up experience and moving up the management ladder.
Steve Powell watched his son and daughter-in-law from a distance. He’d become deeply infatuated with Susan while she was living under his roof. He visited their Yakima apartment one night and offered to give Susan a massage. She allowed him to rub her feet and shoulders. He took full advantage.
Later that night, he put his camcorder on a tripod and filmed himself undressing while describing what he’d done.
Steve Powell (from February 1, 2003 home video recording): I just had what is probably the most erotic experience I’ve had in my entire life.
Dave Cawley: Most of this video is too explicit to share. Steve was convinced though Susan had consented in silence to what could very well be considered a sexual assault.
Steve Powell (from February 1, 2003 home video recording): I went back to her shoulder blades and I went up, up her sleeve and she didn’t even mind. She just, she seemed to enjoy it. I mean, I slipped my hand up inside of her sleeve and I had it over here and I was pushing, I was massaging her shoulder blade and I was right here, just above her breast.
Dave Cawley: Steve wanted Susan for himself. He wanted Josh, his son, out of the picture. Here’s what Steve wrote in one journal entry.
Ken Fall (as Steve Powell from April 17, 2003 journal entry): I have long known that they had a very unstable relationship, and that Josh was only using her as a means to a financial end. There is never any money for her to do nice things for herself because all their money goes to pay off debts Josh accumulated while he was single and living with Catherine.
Dave Cawley: The senior living center job went sideways soon after. Josh wrote in his journal that their managers were asking them to break policies and laws. He escalated it to regional management and human resources, but got nowhere. They considered transferring to another center, possibly in Colorado. That was complicated though, because Josh’d developed a bad reputation.
On the other hand, they’d made progress paying down his debts and started to discuss beginning a family. They bought a little green parakeet. Steve brought his camcorder to their apartment to meet “Verde.”
Steve Powell (from February 2, 2003 home video recording): This is—
Susan Cox Powell (from February 2, 2003 home video recording): What’re you doing?
Steve Powell (from February 2, 2003 home video recording): Verd, the newest member of—
Susan Cox Powell (from February 2, 2003 home video recording): Verde.
Steve Powell (from February 2, 2003 home video recording): Verde, I’m sorry.
Susan Cox Powell (from February 2, 2003 home video recording): No, we’re not idiots—
Steve Powell (from February 2, 2003 home video recording): Yeah.
Susan Cox Powell (from February 2, 2003 home video recording): —we don’t butcher the Spanish language.
Steve Powell (from February 2, 2003 home video recording): You don’t. This is the newest member of Susan and Josh’s family.
Susan Cox Powell (from February 2, 2003 home video recording): This is our baby.
Steve Powell (from February 2, 2003 home video recording): This is their, your baby. Well do the cute little things. Y’know, kiss him, give him your, pet him.
Susan Cox Powell (from February 2, 2003 home video recording): (Kissing noises)
Dave Cawley: A little while later, they bought a mini-macaw parrot, which they named Triley. Susan’s unease around her father-in-law continued to grow. He seemed to visit a lot, even after they’d moved to Yakima. Steve dumped thousands of dollars into a home recording studio, convinced that his music would help woo Susan.
Susan’s picture was the desktop background on Steve’s computer.
Dave Cawley: Steve was a pressure cooker. His obsession for Susan continued to boil. A close friend told him to leave it alone, because pursuing a relationship with his daughter-in-law would tear his family apart. But he couldn’t contain himself.
On July 13, 2003, Steve drove out to meet Josh and Susan at a commercial trucking business in Kent. Josh was considering a yet another career change. He wanted to drive a big-rig.
Josh Powell (from July 13, 2003 home video recording): See you later.
Steve Powell (from July 13, 2003 home video recording): Ok, bye.
(Sound of truck driving away)
Dave Cawley: Steve brought his video camera, as he always did when Susan was around.
Steve Powell (from July 13, 2003 home video recording): So there’s Josh, taking off on his first drive in a truck.
Dave Cawley: Josh was going to be awhile, so Steve offered to give Susan a lift back to her parents’ house in South Hill. It was the opportunity he’d dreamed of for months. At last, he’d have Susan all to himself. He grabbed a quick video clip of Susan from the driver seat of his minivan, then crammed the camcorder into its bag just before she opened the minivan’s passenger door.
(Sound of car door closing)
Dave Cawley: He pressed the red button to stop the recording but it kept rolling.
Susan Cox Powell (from July 13, 2003 home video recording): Josh brainwashed me never to slam the doors…
Dave Cawley: The video was just black but the microphone caught the whole conversation. They started driving south on State Route 167. Susan talked about how she and Josh were considering a move to Colorado. It was the last thing Steve wanted to hear. He could not take it.
Steve Powell (from July 13, 2003 home video recording): I’m probably wrong but I’ve really fallen in love with you. And, y’know, I don’t know, I mean I, y’know, for the last year and a half, you’re about the only thing I can think about. And, and I don’t know where it began. It probably began when you were living with me and, and would come into my office and, y’know, y’know, let me feel your legs, smooth, waxed or whatever and, and then it just went from one thing to another. And, uh, y’know, that experience on the couch, your couch in Yakima six months ago was just I, I mean, I, I know that, I mean, it was a massage, right? But it, but just being with you for two hours and holding you and, and uh, y’know.
Dave Cawley: That long silence spoke volumes. Consider the situation as well, the power disparity between them. Steve was in control, at the wheel. Susan was trapped in the car with him. She tried to change the subject. Steve wasn’t deterred.
Steve Powell (from July 13, 2003 home video recording):
May, maybe, maybe I’m getting the wrong signals from you, maybe I’m, maybe I’m interpreting something that I shouldn’t be interpreting. Umm, y’know it just, like for example when we were sitting on the couch it just felt like you were very, umm, y’know, I mean I was extremely aroused and I think you were somewhat aroused at least I thought.
Susan Cox Powell (from July 13, 2003 home video recording): I don’t know where you’re going with this.
Steve Powell (from July 13, 2003 home video recording): But Susan, I don’t, I, I, my, yeah, well I’ll tell you what I’m, where I’m—
Susan Cox Powell (from July 13, 2003 home video recording): I mean, I’m married to your son and I should just be the daughter-in-law—
Steve Powell (from July 13, 2003 home video recording): I know.
Susan Cox Powell (from July 13, 2003 home video recording): —which puts me a step beneath your own children.
Steve Powell (from July 13, 2003 home video recording): Ok.
Susan Cox Powell (from July 13, 2003 home video recording): And that’s where I’m comfortable.
Steve Powell (from July 13, 2003 home video recording): Ok, ok.
Steve Powell (from July 13, 2003 home video recording): I was kind of meaning to talk to you about this because I realized the last time I came over that my own father — and not to be mean to him about it ‘cause everyone treats everyone differently — but my own father doesn’t kiss me.
Steve Powell (from July 13, 2003 home video recording): Mmhmm.
Susan Cox Powell (from July 13, 2003 home video recording): He, as of like six years ago maybe just started getting in the habit of saying ‘I love you’ and my mom also. My family is not that uh, vocal and physical with showing their emotion mainly as that you tease someone to show that you care about them—
Steve Powell (from July 13, 2003 home video recording): Mmhmm, yeah.
Susan Cox Powell (from July 13, 2003 home video recording): —y’know, which I think is what most, is the first level that most people use. Y’know, your coworkers, you tease ‘em because you like hanging out with them. And I was just thinking about the last time that my own father doesn’t kiss me and you, and you kiss me and I didn’t like that.
Steve Powell (from July 13, 2003 home video recording): Ok. That’s fine. I won’t…
Dave Cawley: Ok. A few important points: first, Susan was clearly uncomfortable. Her voice was very guarded when she said “I don’t know where you’re going with this.” Second, she told Steve that she did not like it when he kissed her. He had taken to giving her a peck on the forehead whenever he visited. Also, remember their ages: Susan was 21, Steve was 53.
Steve Powell (from July 13, 2003 home video recording): Susan, I, y’know, I mean, as I say, I, I don’t know, y’know, when your, when your daughter-in-law walks into your office and, y’know, shows, shows you her legs and says, y’know, y’know what I’m saying? I, I don’t, y’know, I don’t know, I don’t know how—
Susan Cox Powell (from July 13, 2003 home video recording): Well I’m sorry I did that.
Steve Powell (from July 13, 2003 home video recording): Yeah ok, ok.
Susan Cox Powell (from July 13, 2003 home video recording): And I, y’know, can’t undo it.
Steve Powell (from July 13, 2003 home video recording): Ok, and that’s fine.
Susan Cox Powell (from July 13, 2003 home video recording): Let’s just try to forget, I guess.
Steve Powell (from July 13, 2003 home video recording): Ok, try to forget.
Dave Cawley: Steve’s fantasies were crumbling. Susan didn’t even want him to touch her. She changed the topic again. But Steve wouldn’t let it go.
Steve Powell (from July 13, 2003 home video recording): Are you upset at me for talking to you like that?
Susan Cox Powell (from July 13, 2003 home video recording): Uh, no it’s nice to answer your questions—
Steve Powell (from July 13, 2003 home video recording): I appreciate that—
Susan Cox Powell (from July 13, 2003 home video recording): —resolve.
Steve Powell (from July 13, 2003 home video recording): —I really do because I’ve been wanting to, are you (clears throat) are you gonna, are you going to talk to Josh about it?
Susan Cox Powell (from July 13, 2003 home video recording): Is there anything I don’t talk to Josh about?
Dave Cawley: After nearly an hour of awkwardness, Steve at last pulled up outside Susan’s parents’ house. He told her thank you for being so sweet before she stepped out of the minivan.
Susan Cox Powell (from July 13, 2003 home video recording): Alright.
Steve Powell (from July 13, 2003 home video recording): Bye.
Susan Cox Powell (from July 13, 2003 home video recording): Thank you much.
Steve Powell (from July 13, 2003 home video recording): You’re welcome.
(Car door closes)
Dave Cawley: That night, Steve wrote in his journal about their conversation.
Ken Fall (as Steve Powell from July 13, 2003 journal entry): I am in so much pain right now. I don’t know where to turn with it. I spoke to Alina, who has been very supportive of my infatuation or obsession. Her advice was to accept that Susan is a ‘player,’ and that is what players do. They lead guys on. … This will probably be one of the last entries about Susan, my desire and love for her.
Dave Cawley: It was not the last, not by a long shot. Steve went back to his video, to see if he’d captured any good shots of Susan. That’s when he discovered the recording of their conversation and went through it again, analyzing every word. He became convinced that Susan had not, in fact, rejected him. Here’s what he wrote
Ken Fall (as Steve Powell from July 14, 2003 journal entry): I was thinking awhile ago that maybe I should apologize. Maybe I will. But I don’t feel too much at fault. Maybe I’ve done irreparable damage. I don’t know. … So depressed. How can a woman do this to me? It’s insane.
Dave Cawley: Susan told Josh about what’d happened. He came unglued. Josh told his dad “I guess insanity runs in our family.” Steve worked his magic. He told Josh the insanity had started with Susan. He said she’d led him on. I mean, He was only reacting to her provocations.
Josh kept his distance, for a little while. He didn’t see his dad face-to-face for a couple of months. When they talked on the phone, Josh would make sure Susan was not in the room.
By September, Steve was writing in his journal that Josh had come around to his point of view.
Ken Fall (as Steve Powell from September 7, 2003 journal entry): It would seem that he has pretty much brushed the incident off. … It did not take much for me to convince Josh that she instigated my feelings for her by her little enticements. … The reality is, I don’t think Susan is upset at me.
Dave Cawley: (Laughs) Oh, no. Susan was very upset. Her father-in-law had propositioned her and her own husband didn’t seem to care. She wanted nothing to do with Steve. When he came to visit Josh and Susan’s apartment in October, she locked herself in the bedroom and refused to talk to him.
Dave Cawley: That same month, Josh and Susan transferred jobs from the Orchard Park center in Yakima to another senior living community called Capital Place in Olympia. The move put them even closer to Steve than they’d been in Yakima. Enough was enough. Josh and Susan decided they needed to get away from Steve. They were going to move far away, to Utah. Josh asked his dad for help loading their stuff into the moving van. Here’s what Steve wrote in his journal.
Ken Fall (as Steve Powell from December 12, 2003 journal entry): I helped them clear out their apartment Wednesday. Now Josh doesn’t need me for awhile. It is interesting that he was upset at me for telling Susan I was in love with her, but needed my help too much to stay away.
Dave Cawley: Josh also grabbed his motorcycle. He’d given the bike to Michael to cover a debt. Steve was furious. From his point of view, Josh had cheated his younger brother, twice. He wrote in his journal that Josh was also cheating Susan.
Ken Fall (as Steve Powell from December 12, 2003 journal entry): She has in essence paid off his and Catherine’s debts … All I can say is that Susan deserves to walk away from their marriage with more than an empty wallet. That’s pretty much how Catherine was left.
Dave Cawley: Josh and Susan left Washington in December, 2003. When they arrived in Utah, they crashed with Josh’s sister Jennifer, her husband Kirk and their kids.
Jennifer Graves: Just watching them interact, I was concerned. I was already concerned. … Josh was very controlling and umm, by that point, Susan was starting to push back a little bit. She didn’t want to, y’know, just be controlled and have any choices in her life. And so she wouldn’t always handle it in the best way and she would bite back, y’know, verbally. Umm, she would, uh, she would definitely resist and, and say things that, you know, weren’t always in the nicest way. (Laughs)
Dave Cawley: Josh and Susan both signed up with a temp agency and landed jobs at Fidelity. They also found a realtor and started looking to buy a house. In late January, they toured a home on a cul-de-sac in the Salt Lake suburb of West Valley City. The house on Sarah Circle was about 2,200 square feet. Josh ran from room to room, giddy, imagining all of the space he’d have for tools, computers and RC toys.
They submitted a bid at what Josh called “the Lord’s appointed price,” about $500 above list, and prayed for a miracle. Their prayers were answered. Josh wrote about the experience, oddly referring to himself in the third person.
Eric Openshaw (as Josh Powell from January 27, 2004 journal entry): He had several misty-eyed moments as he contemplated the workings of the spirit. Also the greatness this house could bring to Josh and Susan. … No longer would they be transient and subject to whatever unsuitable shelter came available. No more clutter and lack of access to their property. No more getting angry every day because of these factors.
Dave Cawley: Yet, Josh’s other writings reveal that by that point, he’d already abandoned his faith. I found a text file among the thousands of documents police recovered from Josh’s computer must later. It was dated January 15, 2004. In it, he wrote…
Eric Openshaw (as Josh Powell from January 15, 2004 computer file): Where has the spirit gone today? He’ll never leave my side, they say. But now I need him so and I don’t know where to go. I am afraid but full of pride. I can’t believe. I know too much. My mind has overdriven my heart. I have been taught the untruth of my God.
Dave Cawley: Buying the Sarah Circle house put Josh and Susan in a precarious position. The financing only worked because nothing on their pay stubs revealed that they were working on a temporary basis. Had the lender known, they probably wouldn’t have qualified for a mortgage.
It didn’t take Susan long to make friends at work. She landed in the Fidelity call center, a natural fit for her outgoing personality. Josh, on the other hand, struggled. He was stuck doing data entry. Josh felt the job was beneath him. Not long after getting the home loan, Fidelity let him go.
Susan’s dad Chuck Cox couldn’t understand why they still moved forward buying the house.
Chuck Cox: So if it took two incomes to qualify for the house and now they know they don’t have one income, what’s your plan here? Why are you doing this?
Dave Cawley: Josh had bigger ambitions: to make a million dollars working as a realtor. Susan had to support him, as she revealed in her journal.
Kristen Sorensen (as Susan Powell from May 7, 2004 journal entry): Maybe Josh will get a client so he can start making an income, or we’ll get pregnant! Either would be great! I feel like I’m too stressed out because I’m in a temp job, supporting a mortgage and no prospects for Josh.
As she settled in to her new church congregation, Susan made fast friends with her neighbors, particularly Kiirsi Hellewell.
Kiirsi Hellewell: When she moved to Utah she was, I don’t know I guess I’d call her a little bit immature. When she became friends with my husband and I she said “I don’t know if this is going to work out because I’ve never been friends with anybody with kids before, but we’ll give it a try and see if we can hit it off.”
Dave Cawley: She also received a calling in her new church ward, or congregation, working with young women. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, callings are volunteer positions held by members. Susan did her best to juggle work, home and church life.
Kiirsi Hellewell: Even though she had been raised in the LDS Church, she, she was very much in the newlywed, kind of teenage girl sort of still mentality… kind of had to grow up really fast with Josh as a husband.
Dave Cawley: Though they’d moved away, Steve Powell continued to loom over Josh and Susan’s marriage. He spent hours talking to Josh on the phone. Susan documented frustration over that in her journal.
Kristen Sorensen (as Susan Powell from April 21, 2004 journal entry): I’m trying to deal with forgiving my father-in-law of what he’s said/done. As I try, he continued to re-offend, which makes it even more difficult… I am to the point where if I had fur, it would bristle whenever I know Josh is talking to his dad.
Dave Cawley: In June, Susan applied for and received a permanent full-time position with Fidelity. Her pay worked out to roughly $33,000 per year. The job came with benefits that would cover medical care for her baby. Yeah. That’s right. Susan was pregnant.
Dave Cawley: While pregnant, Susan studied for, took and passed the tests necessary to obtain her stockbroker licenses. She became breadwinner for her growing family. Susan confided in her friend Kiirsi, saying she had misgivings about how Josh would fare as a father.
Kiirsi Hellewell: It was funny because when she was first pregnant with Charlie, she kept saying “I just can’t picture Josh as a dad. He’s just, I just don’t see how this is going to work. But then I look at how he acts with our pet bird and he’s really loving with the bird, so maybe it will work out for him to be a dad.”
Dave Cawley: Susan went into labor on January 19, 2005. Chuck and Judy Cox traveled to Utah for the event. They drove Susan to the hospital, because Josh was too busy tinkering with his computer. When he arrived an hour late, he sat on the window sill with his laptop.
Chuck Cox: So we were right in that little frantic phase where she’s in great pain and all that and the baby’s just about to be born everything and I say “Josh, Josh, come over here,” and he’s still nothing. So I went over and I took the laptop and I just closed the lid on it and I said “it’s time, you need to be with her.” And I set it down beside and kinda helped him up and he went over and took her hand and thats, then she shortly thereafter, y’know, she looks up and says “see dad, he’s here for me.” Yeah, “ok dear, yes dear. Of course it is.”
Dave Cawley: Chuck said Josh’s behavior changed once he held his son Charlie for the first time.
Chuck Cox: He had fear in his eyes in the sense of just “oh my gosh, what’s going on” as she’s squeezing his hand and, and as soon as the baby’s born and then he was “oh man, look what I got!” He says “this is a super thing. This is the best child in the world.” And then he’s a big proud daddy. And I’m going, “well good maybe, maybe there’s hope here. If it took that to wake him up, maybe he’s woke up. I don’t know.”
Dave Cawley: Susan took about five weeks of maternity leave before returning to work. She wrote in her journal that when she went back, being apart from Charlie tore at her.
Kristen Sorensen (as Susan Powell from March 3, 2005 journal entry): Bawled my eyes out while he ate and I rocked him. Can’t imagine giving up a son, it was hard enough to leave him for 12 hours. Did a lot of tearful praying as I cried. Somehow, made it through the day, but felt on the verge of tears all day long.
Dave Cawley: She considered quitting her job and working as Josh’s assistant in his real estate business. He continued to spend money they didn’t have, a habit he’d justified from the beginning of their relationship. Susan poured out her frustrations in an April 7, 2005 journal entry. Josh had failed to take any notice of their fourth wedding anniversary a day earlier.
Kristen Sorensen (as Susan Powell from April 7, 2005 journal entry): I’m depressed/stressed because Josh wants me to possibly go back to work again and doesn’t seem to want to focus on real estate … and the church is covering our utilities and our groceries and I feel like a mooch and like Josh just wants to take the easy way out and never get around to supporting his family.
Dave Cawley: She brought her frustrations to her bishop, the lay leader of their church congregation. She told him about her father-in-law, how Steve had propositioned her two years earlier. The bishop suggested Josh and Susan go to marital counseling. The bishop also talked to Josh, telling him to show his wife more affection. Josh dismissed him, saying they couldn’t afford another baby.
Josh resented the time Susan spent on church obligations, feeling that she was neglecting him. He quit going to church himself. An awareness grew in Susan that something was fundamentally wrong with their marriage. She sometimes considered running away, back to her parents in Washington. But never did.
Kristen Sorensen (as Susan Powell from April 17, 2005 journal entry): So it’s just more of me changing me to hope it helps Josh. I love him and Charlie and no longer feel the need to hop on a bus to Puyallup like I did earlier when Josh was being so negative.
Dave Cawley: It was during this time she wrote in her journal about a dream in which her teenage ex-boyfriend saved her from a bomb. Susan didn’t want to get back with him, but realized something important was missing from her marriage.
Kristen Sorensen (as Susan Powell from August 31, 2005 journal entry): It’s been almost a year since Josh and I have been physically close, as in sex. Josh always seems to be stressed out, or busy on the computer or too tired by the time he gets to bed or he’s worried that he’ll get sick by kissing me or that we’ll get pregnant again. Despite the fact that you can’t get pregnant just by kissing.
Dave Cawley: In fact, this side of Josh stretched far back into his past. He’d expressed desire for Susan in his audio journals when they dated…
Josh Powell (from January 5, 2001 audio journal recording): I love resting with her sweet body next to mine. I love the way it feels. She is, she is soft but she’s not fat. Her body is soft in the right spots and more toned and hard in the right spots. I just think that she is incredible that way.
Dave Cawley: …but at the same time, Josh had struggled to do simple boyfriend things, like hold Susan’s hand.
Josh Powell (from December 13, 2000 audio journal recording): When it really comes down to it, I am not into any kissing and I’m really less likely to even be comfortable cuddling. I almost have to get away from a girl. I can cuddle for a second as kind of playing around, but then I have to get away from her in order to maintain my comfort zone.
Dave Cawley: I decided to ask Catherine Everett, the woman Josh had dated before Susan, about this part of his personality. Here’s what she said.
Catherine Terry Everett: In the beginning of our relationship, it was very much, y’know, we’d hold hands and, y’know, cuddle with each other and stuff like that. But then when we moved in together, it turned into he didn’t want to kiss me anymore. Because any time he kissed me, he would get sick. That’s what he was convinced of.
Dave Cawley: Sound familiar? Josh told Susan the same thing he told Catherine. Was he a germaphobe, or was it something else? In any case, Josh’s treatment of Catherine wrecked her self-esteem.
Catherine Terry Everett: I remember, y’know, thinking to myself, I’m like “is there something wrong with me?” Y’know? I couldn’t understand how it could go from one thing to him being like that. It just didn’t make any sense. But that’s what he would tell me, he’d be like, he goes “I want to kiss you but every time I kiss you, I get sick.”
Dave Cawley: So one can imagine how Susan must have felt when her husband refused to even give her a kiss. The growing physical distance only compounded the financial strain Josh and Susan were under. By Valentines Day of 2006, they were talking about the “logistics of divorce.”
Josh had been scarred when his parents split. He had no intention of allowing Susan to divorce him. After their talk, Susan wrote a pleading letter.
Kristen Sorensen (as Susan Powell from February 14, 2006 letter to Josh Powell): I want this marriage to work, not just for Charlie, but for us, because Charlie will grow up just like you did. And I still want to be with you after Charlie grows up. Just like how I’m sure your mom and dad wish they had a significant other in their lives, now that you kids are all grown up.
Dave Cawley: In the letter, Susan made several promises in the hopes of keeping her husband happy.
Kristen Sorensen (as Susan Powell from February 14, 2006 letter to Josh Powell): I will keep working at Fidelity, keep not spending money — only gas, only drive to and from work and daycare. I will not do hair or only do it when you tell me you won’t be home or if I can do it at someone else’s. I can continue to try to scan. … I can read scriptures out loud for us. … I can continue to say prayers and make a continuous effort to make our marriage work and us be happy in it.
Dave Cawley: Did you catch Susan’s mention of scanning in there? I’ve made a lot of references to Josh’s journals so far in this podcast. The truth is, many of Josh’s “journals” were just random scraps of paper. He’d write notes in the margins. If he went to church, he’d write down who with and what was discussed.
Josh kept everything — letters, receipts, notes, fliers — and made digital copies. All of his correspondence back and forth to high school friends like Jackie and Theresa survive because he or Susan scanned those letters and envelopes.
Josh also pressured Susan to edit her teenage boyfriend out of her journals. He wanted her to throw away pictures from the high school dances she’d attended. But Susan, she resisted this. She later told a coworker one day her own children would be mature enough to understand the mistakes their mother had made as a teen.
Susan quit Fidelity for good in May of 2007. They took out a second mortgage on the Sarah Circle house to get by as their incomes dwindled. Josh’s at-home realtor business, which had never really made it off the ground, started to collapse. Hoping to prop it up, he bought a full-page ad in the local phone directory. The directory publisher, Dex Media, did its part, but Josh was not happy with the outcome. He accused the company of misprinting the phone number and refused to pay. Dex sent the account to a debt collector, who in turn sued Josh in Utah state court. That lawsuit demanded more than $91,000 in unpaid costs.
In the middle of all of this, Susan learned she was again pregnant. This time, she desperately wanted a girl. There were signs early on the baby might be born with cystic fibrosis or Down syndrome.
Kristen Sorensen (as Susan Powell from September 2, 2006 journal entry): I worry that we won’t be able to support the needs of a CF or Down’s child, that Josh won’t accept it and get a divorce, that he’ll favor Charlie and ignore this child.
Dave Cawley: Susan delivered their second child, another boy, on January 2, 2007, just a few weeks shy of two years after Charlie’s birth. The baby weighed just 5 lbs., 10 oz. He’d had the umbilical cord wrapped twice around his neck and Susan in horror saw that he was blue. The delivery room staff used her oxygen line to help get the newborn breathing. To Susan’s relief, her second boy was born free of any disease.
Kristen Sorensen (as Susan Powell from March 31, 2007 journal entry): Josh was supposed to name him, he’s on the phone telling my mom and says ‘what about Brady?’ and I’m thinking ‘Brady Bunch? No.
Dave Cawley: They agreed on Braden, their miracle baby.
Then, more than ever before, she had her hands full. She was caring for two young kids. She wasn’t working and Josh’s adventure in the real estate business continued to worsen. They had only one car at that point, a 2005 Chrysler Town and Country minivan, which Josh rarely allowed Susan to drive. Debt had haunted Josh his entire adult life.
Josh Powell (from December 13, 2000 audio journal recording): That’s not to say that I’m, that I regret any of the purchases I’ve made. I’m happy with the way I am, with the way I’m living.
Dave Cawley: In April of 2007, Josh and Susan filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Federal court records show at the time, he had more than $30,000 in credit card debt, nearly $59,000 in outstanding student loans, and roughly $100,000 owed to that botched phone book ad. He also owed his father-in-law Chuck Cox $3,000 and made sure to include that on the court filing.
The bankruptcy court didn’t exactly wipe the slate clean. Josh’s student loan debt persisted. He reaffirmed his mortgage and car loan, so those stuck around as well. But the credit card balances and the phone book debt collection lawsuit disappeared.
The nation was sliding toward what would come to be known as the Great Recession. Josh’s political and social views were also growing more extreme. He often ranted about a coming environmental catastrophe, during which the world would run short of water. He warned Susan they might need to flee the United States on short notice. Susan was baffled but tolerated it all as best she could.
Kiirsi Hellewell: She learned to be really really self-reliant. She started growing a garden. She had fruit trees. She learned to can things and she had wheat storage. I mean she was, she kept saying “this is weird for me, I’m not really a homemaker type but I’m trying to learn how fit into this Utah mom and wife thing and learn how to do all these self-reliant things.” She learned how to bake bread, so she would come over and we could cook and watch movies and just talk.
Dave Cawley: Susan’s journal, emails and Facebook messages show those friendships helped her cope.
Kristen Sorensen (as Susan Powell from July 1, 2007 journal entry): I made dinner which I’m the only one enjoying and I’m sitting here reading a self-help book thinking nobody appreciates my efforts, or at least, not the people I’m closest to make an impact with, like Josh. I’m not suicidal or anything, just feeling alone and frustrated which is interesting because even as I write “feeling alone” I know I’m not alone and I’m aware how blessed I am and I almost feel selfish to want to pray for improvements but I still want things to be better than they are.
Dave Cawley: By the start of 2008, it was clear to Susan she could no longer depend on Josh to support the family. They had to get regular jobs again. Though Josh had legally erased the $3,000 he owed Susan’s dad through the bankruptcy, Susan insisted in her journal, she would repay it.
Kristen Sorensen (as Susan Powell from January 6, 2008 journal entry): We started job hunting about December 12th and I’m not telling my parents because I want to tell them in the form of handing them a check of pay them back for money we borrowed literally ears ago. Torture not to tell them.
Dave Cawley: She soon landed a position at Wells Fargo Investments, a call center, doing similar work to her old job at Fidelity. There were even some people she recognized from her old stockbroker study group. Susan again was breadwinning for her family.
Kristen Sorensen (as Susan Powell from January 23, 2008 journal entry): As I’m kneeling on the kitchen floor, cleaning up the food from the boys (all 3 of ‘em) eating, I had to make an effort to concentrate on why I’m better off being married as opposed to the single mother I often feel like I am. Had to stop and think about if Josh had died, if we were divorced, if he were the original guy I married … what would be different and how much better that would or wouldn’t be. Decided I don’t want him dead, like him around for the boys, occasionally he actually does what I need him to do.
Dave Cawley: Susan was finally awake, but mired in a terrible marriage.
On the next episode of Cold…
Debbie Caldwell: They were not doing well in their marriage and she was talking to an attorney and looking at getting a divorce.