Ominous signs of trouble were quickly seen in Powell case
Release of a search warrant provides new details in the disappearance of Susan Powell.
The News Tribune
On Dec. 7, 2009, less than 24 hours after his wife, Susan, disappeared, Josh Powell lied over and over.
He lied to police in Utah. He lied to his sister. He lied to his wife's friend.
The next day, he lied to police again, appearing to hand over potential evidence even as he concealed it.
A week later, he canceled his wife's chiropractic appointments and withdrew all the money from her IRA accounts.
Investigators who searched Josh's home and car that day found traces of blood in the Powell home — Susan's blood.
The blood traces were a few feet from a just-cleaned sofa, drying out in the breeze of two fans.
They found a letter from Susan, hidden from Josh, kept in a safe-deposit box. She labeled it her last will and testament and warned that if she died suddenly, it might not be an accident.
Those and other details emerged in search-warrant affidavits unsealed Friday in Pierce County Superior Court. The documents were used as justification to search the home of Josh Powell's father, Steven, who has been charged with multiple charges of voyeurism and possession of child pornography.
Though the records are tied to the elder Powell, they shed new light on another case that will never reach a courtroom: Susan Powell's disappearance and the possibility that her husband killed her.
Josh Powell killed himself and their two young sons in a gas-fueled inferno at a rented house in Graham, Pierce County, earlier this year.
Susan Powell is missing and presumed dead, her remains undiscovered after more than two years.
The search-warrant affidavits, under seal for months, reveal for the first time, the first steps in the investigation of Susan Powell's disappearance and Josh Powell's actions in those first days.
In Utah, law-enforcement officials held a late-afternoon news conference Friday to respond to questions about the newly unsealed search warrants. Accounts from other media outlets said Utah authorities were unhappy with the decision to open the records.
Asked by reporters why they lacked sufficient probable cause to arrest Josh Powell earlier, a police spokesman in West Valley City, Utah, answered that the investigation was still open.
Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist had no authority or influence over the Utah investigation. He said his office would have reacted differently, given the circumstances that appear in records.
"Based on the facts we now know, we would have charged Josh Powell with Susan Powell's murder if it occurred in Pierce County, but it didn't," he said. "Washington law allows prosecutors to file murder charges without a body. I don't know the law in Utah, and I don't know what facts the Utah district attorney had, and therefore I can't speak to any decisions made in Utah by the D.A. or law enforcement. Pierce County is only responsible for the charges against Steven Powell."
Missing from work
The statement in the affidavit comes from sheriff's Detective Gary Maxwell, who relayed information gathered by police in West Valley City, Utah, where the Powells lived at the time of Susan's disappearance.
Susan was reported missing on Dec. 7, a Monday. The last time anyone had seen her was a day earlier; a family friend, Jovanna Owings, had been visiting. Susan had gone to bed around 5 p.m., tired after eating a meal prepared by Josh, records state. Reportedly, Josh intended to take their two boys sledding that evening.
Susan didn't come to work Monday. Neither did Josh. Owings called Josh's mobile phone at 3:03 p.m. Josh reportedly said he was driving around the city with the boys and didn't know his wife hadn't shown up for work.
After that call, Josh drove 20 miles out of town, the affidavit states, citing data from cellular towers. He called his own voice-mail number at 3:34 p.m. He called Susan's voice-mail a moment later and left a message: He said he and the boys had just come back from a camping trip. He asked Susan if she needed a ride home from work.
Police suspect that when he called Susan's phone, it was sitting in his car in the center-front console. Investigators found it there a few hours later, records state. The sim card — the cyber-guts of the phone that contained contacts and personal information — was gone.
At 5:27 p.m., two hours after Josh called Susan's voice-mail, his sister, Jennifer Graves, called and asked where he'd been. Josh said he was at work.
Jennifer said she knew he was lying. Josh then said he was camping. Jennifer told him to come home; the police were there and Susan was missing.
Josh asked Jennifer how much she knew. Jennifer didn't understand the question. Josh hung up. Police called him 20 minutes later, at 5:48, using Jennifer's phone.
They told him to come home. Josh said he had to get his boys something to eat. He was home by 6:40 p.m.
As he pulled into the driveway, a detective walked up to the car and asked Josh why he hadn't answered his phone earlier or called anyone.
Josh said he had to leave the phone off to save battery power. He said he didn't have a charger.
The detective saw the phone sitting on the center console, plugged into a charger, records state.
Interviewed by police later that day, Powell said he'd been camping with his sons in the west desert. He said he and the boys left at 12:30 a.m.
He said he thought it was Sunday, not Monday — that was why he missed work. He said he'd been afraid to call his boss, for fear of being fired. He said he didn't know where Susan was.
Investigators searched his car. They found a generator, blankets, a gas can, tarps and a shovel. They also found Susan's phone. Josh couldn't explain why it was there.
Two fans were blowing in the living room, aimed at the couch. Josh said Susan told him to clean it. Her purse was in the house. Her money, credit cards, ID and keys were inside.
The affidavit quotes two family acquaintances who said the couple had problems. Susan had talked of divorcing Josh. Both acquaintances had heard Josh talk about how to kill someone and dispose of the body without getting caught.
Another detective opened a safe-deposit box Susan kept in Salt Lake City. Inside was a letter dated June 28, 2008, addressed to her family and friends. It was titled "Last will and testament of Susan Powell." The affidavit summarizes the contents.
"This is handwritten and Susan Powell writes how she does not trust her husband and that he has threatened to destroy her if they get divorced and her children will not have a mother and father," the affidavit states. "Also stated in the letter is a statement about, if Susan Powell dies, it may not be an accident, even if it looks like one."
Detectives interviewed Josh again on Dec. 8 — one day after the disappearance. He was four hours late for the appointment.
Detectives asked him to give up his cellphone for forensic analysis. Josh gave it to them — but they didn't know he'd removed the sim card.
Forensic evidence from the search at the West Valley house included blood traces, recovered from the tile floor not far from the just-cleaned sofa.
"Forensic tests of this blood indicated it was Susan Powell's," the affidavit states.
Investigators also searched Josh's car again. He left the police lobby while they were doing it, rented a car and bought a new mobile phone. In the next two days, he drove more than 800 miles, records state.
On Dec. 14, one week after the disappearance, Josh called the day-care center where his boys spent weekdays. He said they wouldn't be coming back.
On Dec. 15, he called his wife's chiropractor and canceled all of Susan's future appointments. On Dec. 17, he went to a bank, armed with a power of attorney form, and withdrew the money in Susan's IRA accounts.
The affidavit also describes two statements from Charles Powell, oldest of the two sons. Police interviewed Charles on Dec. 8, one day after his mother's disappearance. The boy was 5 years old.
He said "his mommy went camping with them although she did not come back home with them and he did not know why."
The second statement in the affidavit dates to Jan 3, 2010, less than a month after the disappearance. By this time, Josh and his sons had moved to Pierce County. During a Sunday school class at a Puyallup church, a teacher chided Charles for misbehaving. She told the boy she'd have to talk to his mom or dad.
"My mom is dead," Charles said.
Information from The Associated Press was included in this report.