Josh Powell was the husband of Susan Cox Powell, a young mother in Utah who disappeared in 2009. The case took another horrific turn when, three years later, Josh ignited a gas-fueled explosion in his home, killing himself and the boys he shared with Susan.
Susan Powell simply disappeared one day without explanation. Josh Powell’s story – that he went on a late-night camping trip with the kids in a blizzard – sparked a great detail of scrutiny over the years. That scrutiny hasn’t ended with his death. The case is the subject of a Dateline special on October 4, 2019. At the time of his death, Josh remained a suspect in his wife’s disappearance.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Josh Powell Denied Killing His Wife & Claimed He Still Loved Her
At first, authorities put out a missing person’s alert for the entire family: Josh, Susan and kids Charlie, 2, and Braden, 4. That’s because neither parent had shown up for work. However, when Josh turned up with the kids in tow, he had a story to tell.
Susan Powell has been missing since that day in 2009. She was last seen in West Valley City, Utah. Charley Project describes her as “Caucasian female. Brown hair, blue eyes. Susan’s maiden name is Cox and some agencies refer to her as Susan Cox Powell.”
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the couple met in high school at a singles ward activity of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; for a time, they managed an assisted-living facility together. He created a home-based firm that created websites and logos, the newspaper reported. He also worked as a computer programmer.
Court records in a wrongful death lawsuit Susan’s parents filed against the state in the death of her children say that, in December 2009, “Susan Powell disappeared from the Utah home she shared with her husband, Joshua Powell and their two boys. Joshua, the lead suspect in Susan’s disappearance, subsequently moved with the two boys to his father Stephen Powell’s home in Washington.”
According to the Charley Project, which is a missing persons’ website, Susan Powell’s friend had lunch with Susan and her husband Josh Powell at the Powell home on December 6, 2009. At the time, Susan and Josh had been married for eight years. The friend didn’t notice anything amiss.
Things went awry the next morning. Neither parents showed up at work. They provided no explanation and made no call. They didn’t drop the kids off at daycare. That evening, though, Josh returned home with the children. He claimed that he had taken the children camping and didn’t know where his wife was. No one has ever seen Susan Cox Powell again. As it turned out, her children would only get a few more years.
Josh Powell told ABC News in an interview that he did not kill his wife. “No,” he said when asked if he had anything to do with his wife’s disappearance.
“People who know me know that I’m a good dad. I work hard. I put my sons first. I was a good husband. I took care of my family.” He was still wearing his wedding ring. He said that he still loved his wife, breaking down when asked the question. “I guess you could say that I still love her.”
The ABC News journalist asked why he would take his two young sons camping after midnight in freezing cold temperatures. “We just go out and do things that are fun. People who know me know that time is hard for me to keep track of. I tend to be spontaneous. I do things in the spur of the moment.”
He said he didn’t call work because “Saturday was a blur. I was convinced it was still Saturday.” Authorities searched abandoned mines for Susan but didn’t find her. In the interview, he criticized Susan’s parents and alleged Susan had erratic behavior. In fact, he floated the theory that Susan left him and may still be alive.
2. Susan Powell Was Deeply Troubled by Her Husband’s ‘Crazy’ Opinions & Controlling Behavior
Susan Powell documented her unraveling marriage and she made it clear that she was worried for her life. This comes out both in emails she wrote and a video she recorded before her disappearance.
In emails, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, Susan told friends that Josh “had changed into a surly, moody, controlling person she feared could harm her.” Among other bizarre behavior, Josh wouldn’t give his wife money for groceries, demanding she start a garden, The Tribune reported.
“I want him in counseling, on meds, I want my husband, friend, lover BACK no more crazy, outrageous, outlandish beliefs/opinions,” she wrote. Adding to this concern, Susan even recorded a video and secret will the year before she died. “I want it documented that there is extreme turmoil in our marriage” and “If I die, it may not be an accident, even if it looks like one,” she said, according to Investigation Discovery Channel.
Court records from Washington State say that Susan Powell “disappeared from her home in Utah in December 2009 under suspicious circumstances. Joshua was a person of interest in Susan’s disappearance.” The family’s minivan was searched, the camping site investigated, and Josh soon hired an attorney and then moved from Utah to Washington State, according to Charley Project.
3. Josh Lost Custody of the Kids When His Father Steve Powell Was Sent to Prison on Child Pornography Charges
One of the strange twists in the case involved Josh’s dad, Steve Powell. He had his own secrets to hide. Although he wasn’t accused of Susan’s disappearance, those secrets were unearthed during the investigation.
According to a State of Washington court decision, Steve Powell was convicted of “second degree possession of depictions of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct. The conviction was based on the seizure during the execution of a search warrant of images of children who were his former neighbors.”
The court records say that “After Susan’s disappearance, Joshua and his two young children moved from Utah to Washington to live with Powell. While investigating Susan’s disappearance, Utah police found a journal belonging to Susan at her workplace. Powell and Joshua then announced to media that they had numerous journals belonging to Susan that contained over 2,000 pages of additional journal entries. Powell and Joshua also indicated that the journals they possessed contained information important to the investigation.”
However, when authorities searched the home looking for this information, they discovered something else altogether, the court records say. “Officers from Pierce County and Utah executed the search warrant on Powell’s home. They seized computers, hard drives, discs, a camcorder, videos, and notebooks during the search,” the court records say. “One disc seized from Powell’s bedroom contained numerous photos and videos carefully cataloged into folders. One such folder was titled ‘Neighbors,’ which contained subfolders titled ‘Open Window in Back House,’ ‘Taking Bath-1,’ and ‘Taking Bath-2.'”
The records continued, “The subfolders contained numerous images of young girls, including two who were later identified as Powell’s 8-year-old and 10-year-old neighbors. The images were taken through Powell’s window, looking into the bathroom of the neighboring house. They depicted the girls in the bathtub, going to the bathroom, and changing clothes. Some images captured and focused in on the young girls’ exposed genital regions.”
Steve Powell was sent to prison, served three years, and was paroled. He died of a heart attack in 2018.
The family faced another tragedy when Josh’s brother, Michael, jumped off a building in Minneapolis, committing suicide, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. Josh and Michael were among the five children of Steve and Terrica Powell, who eventually divorced. They were members of the LDS Church, but Steve split away from the faith.
The Tribune reported that Susan Powell’s emails indicated she wasn’t always comfortable around Steve Powell. “he wrote of being uncomfortable with a song that her father-in-law, Steven Powell, wrote about her. She also wrote that Steve Powell once tried to console her about her problems with Josh,” the newspaper reported.
Steven Powell’s journals revealed he suspected his own son, according to KSL News Radio. “The story is so implausible, and our conversation with Josh so unconvincing that I fear the worst,” Steven wrote of Josh’s tale of going on a midnight camping trip in a snowstorm, according to the station. “The whole thing sounds so wrong, even if it had nothing to do with disposing of Susan’s body. Why would anybody do that?”
Steve Powell told ABC News that he interacted with Susan “in a lot of sexual ways. Because Susan enjoys doing that.” He said he started falling in love with Susan. “Yeah, I would say so. And there’s no question in my mind that the feeling was mutual.” He said “Susan was very sexual with me. She was very flirtatious. I’m her father in law and she would do a lot of things. ”
4. Josh Powell Triggered the Explosion as a State Social Worker Waited Outside
After his father’s arrest, Josh Powell lost custody of his kids. He was supposed to have supervised visitation. That occurred on the day he murdered the boys, who were then 7 and 9. But the social worker never made it inside. This was all the subject of a wrongful death suit against the state by Susan’s parents.
According to ABC News, Josh Powell took a hatchet to the boys, wounding them but not killing them initially. Then, he set off a “gas-fueled explosion” that killed Powell and the children.
I\According to ABC News, a social worker was at the scene but Josh “shut and locked the door before the social worker could enter. Moments later, the house smelled of gas and erupted in a ball of flames.” He had lost custody of the boys after his father’s arrest. Images of concern were also found on Josh’s computer, ABC reported.
The oldest boy had started verbalizing details of the camping trip, claiming he saw Susan in the trunk of the car, according to ABC. Court records say that on September 28, 2011, the Superior Court of Washington, County of Pierce, Juvenile Court “issued orders placing the two boys in the custody of DSHS; authorizing placement with the Coxes (Susan’s parents); allowing Joshua weekly visits with the two boys under supervision by a DSHS-approved provider; and prohibiting Joshua from either discussing pending litigation with the boys or making disparaging remarks about the Coxes.”
5. Josh Had Financial Issues & There Were Life Insurance Policies Out on His Wife
Authorities found some disturbing evidence in the house. According to KUTV, “authorities found Susan Powell’s blood on a floor next to a sofa that appeared to have been recently cleaned, with two fans set up to blow on it.”
In addition, the station reported, there were life insurance policies taken out on Susan Powell and Josh Powell “had filed paperwork to withdraw her retirement account money about 10 days after her disappearance.”
According to Investigation Discovery Channel, Josh had a gambling problem and had filed for bankruptcy but Susan’s life insurance totaled more than $2 million, Investigation Discovery Channel reported.