Susan Powell is a married mother of two from Utah who vanished in 2009 in a disappearance with many strange twists and turns. After she vanished, her husband murdered their children and killed himself, and her father-in-law ended up in prison. Her brother-in-law also committed suicide.
It’s how Susan’s husband Josh died, though – with the couple’s two children in a home explosion – that’s the most bizarre aspect of the case. Susan Powell is still missing. Her disappearance is the subject of a Dateline special on October 4, 2019. What happened to Susan Powell? Her husband Josh was a prime suspect in her disappearance even before his death, but she’s never been seen again.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Susan Powell Disappeared While Her Husband Claims He Was Camping With Their Children
Susan Powell has been missing since 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.”
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.
However, the next day, neither Susan nor Josh showed up for work. They also didn’t let their employers know what was going on or drop their two children – Charlie, 2, and Braden, 4 – off at daycare, according to Charley Project. At first, authorities put out a missing person’s bulletin for Susan, Josh and both children.
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 Powell again.
2. Susan Powell Wrote Emails & Recorded a Video About Her Husband’s Disturbing Behavior
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.”
“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. Susan’s Father-in-Law Steve Powell Was Sent to Prison on Child Pornography Charges
According to a State of Washington court decision, Susan Powell’s father-in-law 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 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 received 30 months’ confinement time. He later received 60 more months for other related charges. He was paroled in 2017, according to Investigation Discovery.
In 2018, Steve Powell died of a heart attack at a hospital, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. He was only 68 years old. Powell went to prison but not for Susan Powell’s disappearance, and he was already behind bars when his son, Josh, killed himself and Josh’s two sons.
According to the Tribune, Powell was convicted of crimes “related to photographing neighbor girls as young as 8 through their bathroom window.” However, his other son, Michael Powell, committed suicide too by jumping off a building in Minneapolis, and so Steve Powell’s death extinguished one final pathway to learning what happened to the missing woman, The Tribune reported.
The Tribune reported that Steve Powell and his wife Terrica Martin had five children. Josh and Michael are deceased. Jennifer, John, and Alina survived. Terri and Steve Powell divorced; he left the LDS church. Despite his legal troubles, the newspaper reported that Steve Powell had a complicated personality. To some, he appeared to be a “doting husband and father, the songwriter inspired by a rocky childhood, the friendly neighbor ready to lend a hand, the seasoned salesman,” according to the newspaper.
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?”
4. Josh Powell Tried to Murder His Sons With a Hatchet Before Blowing Them Up
The grisly deaths of Josh Powell and his two sons were horrific. It was 2012, three years since his wife’s disappearance, and Josh Powell was 36 years old. Charles was now 7 and Braden was 6 when the boys died.
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.
It was supposed to be a supervised visit, ABC reported, and Josh had recently given away the children’s toys. 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. Blood & Life Insurance Policies Add to the Evidence Against Josh Powell
Is Susan Powell dead? Who killed her? Was it Josh Powell? There’s evidence pointing at him as a key suspect. 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 television 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, “Steven and Josh allegedly made a website outlining a theory that Susan ran away to Brazil with a missing Utah journalist named Steven Koecher.” However, that theory was discounted. Josh had a gambling problem and had filed for bankruptcy but Susan’s life insurance totaled more than $2 million, Investigation Discovery Channel reported.