Ep 2: Wake Up Little Susie

Pressure was building. It was the summer of 2003 and Steve Powell felt a crushing need to make a love confession to his own daughter-in-law, Susan Cox Powell. Her response would alter the course of the rest of his life.

But to understand what brought Steve to that point, it’s helpful to know a little bit about Steve Powell’s proclivities. He lived much of his life with a camcorder in front of his face. He was prolific, filling boxes with VHS and Hi8 video cassettes. Many of the recordings were mundane, documenting birthday parties, family trips or conversations with relatives.

Others were outright disturbing. Steve’s lens often followed strangers in parking lots. He would record from the cover of his minivan with its tinted windows. His camera would zoom in on the bodies of women and girls, without their knowledge.

Steve Powell love confession voyeur video
A still frame from one of Steve Powell’s many videos of women in public. He often recorded people from parking lots using a Hi8 camcorder.

Susan Cox Powell, his daughter-in-law, was one of Steve’s favorite subjects to film. 

Steve Powell’s Obsession

Steve Powell’s oldest son, Josh Powell, married Susan Cox in April of 2001. Steve attended wedding events in both Oregon and Washington, documenting the union with his camcorder. Much of the footage, obtained by the Cold podcast, focused entirely on Susan.

Video of Josh and Susan’s April, 2001 wedding reception in Spokane, Washington recorded by Steve Powell.

“When Josh first brought her home I didn’t think much of her,” Steve Powell later wrote in his journal. “I didn’t think she was that pretty or anything. Now I can’t take my eyes off her.”

In 2002, Josh and Susan Powell were kicked out of the apartment they’d rented in Tacoma. They moved into Steve Powell’s home in South Hill, Washington. The close proximity inflamed Steve’s infatuation with Susan, stoking the embers into outright obsession.

Steve began following Susan around the house, camera in hand.

Home video recorded by Steve Powell of his daughter-in-law Susan in 2002, as she prepared for work.

When Josh Powell graduated from the University of Washington Tacoma business school that year, Steve filmed the entire convocation. Once again, his focused seemed to dwell most often on his young daughter-in-law, Susan Powell.

Video from Josh Powell’s 2002 graduation from the University of Washington Tacoma recorded by his father, Steve Powell.

Steve Powell journals

Steve Powell’s journals revealed even more troubling behaviors. He stole Susan Cox Powell’s soiled underwear from her laundry basket, replacing the pilfered pieces with duplicates.

“Evidently she took note and began noting the arrangement in her laundry hamper and found that it had been gone through. I learned that she was noting these things from Josh,” Steve wrote in a Jan. 11, 2003 journal entry. “He called and said it appeared that someone was going through her laundry and ‘she didn’t like that.’ So she wanted me to keep her hamper out of sight of the other boys. The fox is in the henhouse, as they say.”

Steve even used a small mirror to spy on Susan when she used the bathroom.

Steve Powell journal Susan Powell hair voyeurism
A Steve Powell journal entry dated Jan. 12, 2003 discusses how Steve kept a “Susan drawer” with items he’d collected from her, including strands of Susan Powell’s hair.

Steve collected Susan’s soiled hygiene products from the trash, placing them in plastic baggies that he marked with the date. His journals revealed he recognized this behavior as aberrant.

“What I’ve written about Susan represents the first time I’ve mentioned fetishes and what might be considered sociopathic. I mean, who looks under the bathroom door with a mirror? I tend to think a lot of guys do,” Steve wrote on Jan. 11, 2003.

Steve Powell collection Susan Powell underwear tampon pad feminine hygiene
A collection of Susan Powell’s undergarments and hygiene products located by police within a locked drawer inside Steve Powell’s bedroom closet in South Hill, Washington on Aug. 25, 2011. Photo courtesy: West Valley City, Utah police

The conduct continued even after Josh and Susan Powell moved out again into their own apartment. During visits, Steve swiped Susan’s childhood journals and took them home to create digital copies.

He dared to read her adult journal on a number of occasions, but was discouraged to learn Susan did not write about him.

“I am almost a footnote,” Steve Powell wrote in one journal entry. “And with all the other negative comments about me she doesn’t mention a word about my sexual proclivities, which include taking video clips of her from head to foot.”

Steve Powell’s Filthy Fantasies

In his journals, Steve Powell expressed a desire to have Susan Cox Powell for himself. He recounted explicit daydreams focused on his son’s wife.

I am so madly in love with Susan that I would do something desperate to have her.

Steve Powell

Steve frequently wrote about the contentious nature of Josh and Susan Powell’s marriage. He yearned for them to divorce.

“It’s very problematic to be madly in love with your son’s wife,” Steve wrote on Feb. 24, 2003. “I am so madly in love with Susan that I would do something desperate to have her.”

Steve offered to give Susan a massage during a visit to Josh and Susan’s apartment in Yakima that same month. He rubbed her legs, arms and shoulders. Later that night, he placed his camcorder on a tripod in his hotel room and recounted the experience as he undressed.

Steve Powell gave Susan a massage in February of 2002. Afterward, he recorded himself undressing and describing the experience. This clip has been edited to remove explicit content.

Steve Powell Love Confession

Steve Powell learned in July of 2003 that Josh and Susan Powell were considering taking a new job in Greeley, Colorado. Steve’s journal entries showed the news imparted him with a sense of desperation.

He wanted to confess his feelings.

“I was (and had been all day) going over what to say to Susan. ‘If things don’t work out with Josh would you consider marrying me?,’” Steve wrote on July 8, 2003. “When the possibility of a ‘no’ comes to mind my subconscious mind put a gun in my hand and I shot myself.”

About a week later, on July 13, 2003, Josh and Susan traveled to a trucking firm in Kent, Washington. Josh, interested in obtaining a commercial driver’s license, was receiving instruction from the company.

Steve drove to the trucking company as well, bringing his camcorder.

At one point, as Josh practiced driving a semi, Steve offered to give Susan a ride to her parents’ house in South Hill. She agreed and sat down in the passenger seat of his minivan.

I don’t know where you’re going with this.

Susan Powell

Steve placed his camcorder in a bag but failed to stop the recording. He drove south on Washington State Route 167. The picture on the tape was black, but the microphone captured the conversation.

Susan talked about the motivations for the possible move out of Washington.

Steve couldn’t take it. He fumbled to express his feelings.

“Just having you go away is really, really hard for me because it just seems like, anyway, I’m probably wrong but I’ve really fallen in love with you,” Steve said.

Silence hung, thick in the air. Susan, who was 21-years-old to Steve’s 53, was trapped in the minivan. She tried to change the topic. Steve wouldn’t allow it.

“Maybe I’ve got the wrong impression from you because, well I guess what I was wanting to really know, because I am going crazy and you’re leaving just, I can’t think of anything else other than you,” Steve said.

“I don’t know where you’re going with this,” Susan said.

Steve Powell was about to make his unwelcome intentions perfectly clear, placing Susan in a dangerous situation.

Listen to the rest of the Steve Powell love confession in Episode 2 of Cold: Wake Up Little Susie

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/wake-up-little-susie-susan-cox-powell-full-transcript
KSL companion story: https://www.ksl.com/article/46431783/cold-secret-audio-video-recordings-of-josh-and-steven-powell-revealed