Ep 10: Charlie

Josh and Susan Powell’s first child, Charlie Powell, was a bright and curious boy.

Even at the young age of five, Charlie had a fascination with the natural world. He collected bugs, memorized facts about reptiles and dinosaurs.

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
This 2007 family photo shows Charlie Powell reading a book to his younger brother, Braden Powell. Their mother, Susan Cox Powell, sits just out of frame to the right. Photo: Powell family personal files

Tammy Forman taught Charlie in kindergarten at Carson Elementary School.

“He was really interested in rocks,” Tammy said in an interview for the Cold podcast. “He was kind of obsessed about worms and wanted to name every worm he’d ever run over with his bike, for some reason.”

Yet, there were also signs that Charlie Powell was haunted by the loss of his mother.

Charlie Powell on How to Kill a Bear​

Josh Powell moved with his boys from West Valley City, Utah to the outskirts of Puyallup, Washington in early January of 2010, just weeks following the disappearance of his wife, Susan Powell.

That summer, he enrolled Charlie in summer camp programs at the Mel Korum Family YMCA.

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
Josh Powell enrolled his sons, Charlie and Braden, in summer camp programs at the Mel Korum Family YMCA in 2010. Charlie made several comments that caught the attention of staff members. Photo: Dave Cawley, KSL

It didn’t take long before staff members learned who Charlie was and about the troubling circumstances of his home life. Their concern for his wellbeing grew throughout the summer, as he made a series of odd statements.

On Aug. 19, 2010, Charlie told a pair of counselors about the best way to kill a bear.

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
Two summer camp counselors at the Mel Korum Family YMCA wrote this statement to document a concerning story told by 5-year-old Charlie Powell about how to kill a bear

Just shy of a week later, on Aug. 24, 2010, Charlie explained during a campfire activity that it was important to kill Mormons.

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
A counselor at the Mel Korum Family YMCA wrote this statement about a troubling comment from Charlie Powell about killing Mormons on Aug. 24, 2010. Photo: West Valley City, Utah police

Charlie Powell wasn’t alone in raising eyebrows at the YMCA.

On Aug. 4, 2010, Josh Powell told one of the YMCA managers that he wanted to make sure his missing wife, Susan, would not be able to pick up their boys. The statement baffled the manager, who spoke to Cold but asked that she not be publicly identified.

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
A manager at the Mel Korum Family YMCA provided this statement about an Aug. 4, 2010 conversation with Josh Powell to West Valley City, Utah police.

West Valley City, Utah police, who were investigating Susan Powell’s disappearance as a likely murder, later collected statements from all of the YMCA staff members who had interacted with Josh or Charlie.

Charlie Powell at Carson Elementary​

At the end of that same summer, Charlie enrolled in kindergarten at Carson Elementary School. His father, Josh, harangued the faculty to make sure they would not allow Susan Powell or her family anywhere near his son.

Josh Powell letter school no contact Charlie Powell
Josh Powell delivered this letter to Carson Elementary School on Sept. 19, 2010, ordering the faculty to keep “outsiders” away from his son, Charlie. Photo: West Valley City, Utah police

The command seemed strange to Charlie’s teacher, Tammy Forman.

“I was certain that Josh had killed Susan and it was really creepy to me that one of the first things he had said to me was ‘Their mom is not allowed to see them,’” Tammy said. “Once I found out who he was, I thought ‘If you killed her, why would you even be saying that? Why would that be an issue for you?’”

Charlie Powell Carson Elementary School Susan Powell
Josh Powell caused concern for some faculty members at Carson Elementary School during 2010 and 2011. He at one point attempted to join the school’s PTA, over protests from other parents. Photo: Dave Cawley, KSL

Tammy appreciated Charlie for his inquisitive mind and love of science. He didn’t seem to make friends easily, but neither did he seem depressed or mopey.

“Even in the classroom, he could be sitting by other kids but he was completely engrossed in whatever he was doing and not paying attention to the kids around him,” Tammy said.

One day during free time, Tammy noticed Charlie coloring with a crayon. She asked what he was drawing. Charlie told her it was a gun.

Charlie Powell drawing gun Susan Powell
Charlie Powell drew this picture during “choice time” while in kindergarten at Carson Elementary. He told his teacher, Tammy Forman, that it was a gun. Photo: West Valley City, Utah police

“He drew it kind of upside down so when I first saw it, it looked like people on a mountain or something,” Tammy said. “I right away felt very uncomfortable. Sent him off to the counselor. That poor counselor.”

Another day, Charlie overheard a classmate say that his mom was dead. Charlie marched over to the other boy’s table and shouted that his mom wasn’t dead, she was just away from her parents because they had abused her.

Tammy went to try and comfort Charlie after he had calmed down a bit.

“I asked if he was feeling better.’ He said ‘I’m feeling a little better because I’m really smart and I can figure out a way for liars like this student to go to jail for fourteen years,’” Tammy said.

Tammy Forman, who taught Charlie Powell in kindergarten at Carson Elementary School, shares her impressions of Charlie as a student. Video: Sean Estes, KSL 5 TV

West Valley City police gathered statements from Tammy, just as they had from the YMCA staff.

Puyallup Gem and Mineral Club​

Josh Powell began taking both Charlie and his younger brother Braden to meetings of the Puyallup Gem and Mineral Club after encountering their booth at the Washington State Fair in September of 2010.

The club’s vice president, Nancy, noticed the new arrivals.

“Originally he was this nice guy. And he just seemed like a nice young man.”

Nancy, on meeting Josh Powell

“I didn’t even know who he was. And I would look at the little boys and I would think, ‘Where’s your mommy?’” Nancy said. “Then I’d just put it like ‘Well maybe they’re separated and he’s got custody every other week and this is where they go because it’s something to do, rather than just stay home on a Friday.’”

It didn’t take long before another club member set Nancy straight.

“Then I went home and I watched the TV, or you know I pulled it up on the internet and there his face is,” Nancy said. “I literally cried because, first off, that’s where’s your mommy. That was answered.”

Nancy asked that her last name not be used in Cold, out of concern for her privacy.

“I got frightened,” Nancy said. “I sent an email out to the board members and I said, ‘Don’t ever leave me alone with him again.’”

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
The vice president of the Puyallup Gem and Mineral Club sent this email to Washington DSHS social worker Forest Jacobson on Oct. 17, 2011. She shared concerns over Josh Powell’s parenting skills

Josh brought his boys to every meeting and several field trips, even though he was advised the trips were not safe for young children. He allowed the boys to use potentially dangerous tools, like rock tumblers, without supervision.

Nancy crafted new rules requiring young children to have an adult with them to take part in any hands-on activities.

“He went to the back where the kids would meet once a month — the kids had a special meeting spot — and I guess he came unglued with a gal that ran the kids group at the time,” Nancy said. “Just angry and saying ‘That’s not fair!’”

Nancy drafted a letter to Washington’s Department of Social and Health Services as a result of these and other experiences. She suggested Josh be required to take “extensive parenting classes.”

“I am doing this for Susan,” Nancy wrote.

Hear how police tried to use an undercover officer to get Josh talking in Episode 10 of Cold: Charlie

Episode credits
Research, writing, hosting and production: Dave Cawley
Production assistance: Danielle Prager, Adam Mason
Additional voices: Kristen Sorensen (as Susan Powell), Eric Openshaw (as Josh Powell), Ken Fall (as Steve Powell)
Cold main score composition: Michael Bahnmiller
Cold main score mixing: Dan Blanck
Supplemental music: Dave Cawley
KSL executive producers: Sheryl Worsley, Keira Farrimond
Episode transcript: https://thecoldpodcast.com/season-1-transcript/charlie-powell-kill-a-bear-full-transcript
KSL companion story: https://www.ksl.com/article/46469437/cold-police-plotted-to-introduce-josh-powell-to-woman-undercover