Ep 2: Wake Up Little Susie

Steven Craig Powell 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 birthdays, family trips or conversations with relatives.

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

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
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 Powell, his daughter-in-law, was one of his favorite subjects to film. 

Steve’s Obsession

Steve’s oldest son Josh Powell married Susan Cox in April of 2001. Steve attended wedding events in both Oregon and Washington with his camcorder.

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 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 briefly moved into Steve’s home in South Hill, Washington. The proximity inflamed his infatuation, stoking the embers into outright obsession.

He 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 graduated from the University of Washington Tacoma business school that year, Steve filmed the entire convocation. His attention frequently turned to Susan.

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

Steve Powell’s journals revealed even more troubling behaviors. He stole Susan’s soiled underwear from the 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 later 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.”

He even used a small mirror to spy on her when she used the bathroom.

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
Steve’s journal, Jan. 12, 2003

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.

Susan Powell Case Files Cold Podcast
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 moved 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 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.”

Filthy Fantasies

In his journals, Steve expressed a desire to have Susan 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 the apartment she and Josh shared 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.

Confession and Rejection

Steve 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 your 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.

Listen to the rest of Susan’s response in Episode 2 of Cold: Wake Up Little Susie.