Video and audio sheds new light on Susan Powell case
WARNING: Some of the information contained below is graphic and deals with adult themes. Discretion is advised.
SALT LAKE CITY — Video and audio obtained through public records requests as part of a three-year investigation into the 2009 disappearance of Susan Powell shows the extent of her father-in-law’s obsession with the West Valley City woman — and it’s far more extreme than previously reported.
In episode 2 of the Cold podcast released Wednesday, we learn a lot about what Susan’s early relationship was like with Josh Powell, from their days of dating to their quick engagement, the wedding, then life as newlyweds and the birth of their young sons, Charlie and Braden.
How they met
In the summer and fall of 2000, Josh Powell started hosting dinner parties for friends and acquaintances in Tacoma. He invited people who attended his College Heights singles’ ward, and a young woman he’d met in classes aimed at college-aged members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Susan Cox. He’d been competing with another young man for her attention and had all but given up. But then she came to dinner.
In an audio journal, released publicly for the first time as part of the Cold podcast, Josh spoke about how he was impressed that Susan volunteered to help clean up after dinner.
“She said that doing dishes together with me, at that very moment she decided that she loved me. And for me, doing dishes with her was the turning point for me when I thought ‘it’s not over,’” Josh Powell said on the recording. “All that night, until the wee hours of the morning, we just sat there talking. We laid there talking and eventually we fell asleep. We whispered to each other all night until we fell asleep.”
Susan’s father, Chuck Cox, was concerned at how quickly things progressed in the young couple’s relationship.
“You look at it and if you tell your daughter ‘no,’ that’s exactly what she’s going to go for. So we didn’t do that,” he said in an interview for Cold. “But on the plus side, he had an apartment of his own that he was paying for, he had a job and he was going to college. So, y’know, it seemed, ‘well okay.’ It’s not my best idea but maybe he’s got something going we don’t see.”
Just two months after that dinner meeting, Josh proposed — using a ring Susan had bought for him with her department store discount, under the pretense that it was a present for his mother. (He paid her back.)
Video and audio evidence of an obsession
Susan Cox married Josh Powell in the Portland, Oregon Temple in April of 2001, immediately gaining Steven Powell as a father-in-law. At a reception afterward, “Wake Up, Little Susie” played as Susan danced with her father — who chose the song as a nod to that early dating mishap.
“Trying to say ‘hey,’ y’know, ‘do you understand?’ Not, kinda – making fun of it, that it’s fine now, but whatever, yeah. Probably an important song. She should’ve woke up a little sooner,” Cox said.
Early in the marriage, Susan and Josh Powell moved in with Josh’s father, Steven, as a means to pay down debt and save money. It was cramped — some of Josh’s siblings were also in the home, and the newlyweds slept in the living room, with their own private space sectioned off with sheets.
Steven Powell frequently videotaped Susan, never needing an excuse to make her his focus. Soon, he began collecting Susan’s soiled hygiene products from the trash, placing them in plastic baggies marked with the date. His journals revealed he knew what he was doing was both unusual and wrong.
“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 in a journal entry dated Jan. 11, 2003.
The next day, he wrote about sniffing hair of Susan’s that he collected from her hairbrush.
When Josh graduated from the University of Washington Tacoma’s business school, Steve Powell was there, with his camcorder in his hand, but much of the video he recorded focused not on the ceremony or his son, but on Susan. That video, too, eventually wound up in the case files along with journal entries and more related to Susan Powell’s disappearance.
It wasn’t until after the couple moved away and was considering another move, out of state, that Steven Powell told Susan how he felt. He was visiting as Josh learned to drive a tractor-trailer. He filmed Josh driving away, then offered to drive Susan to her parents’ home. It was July 2003.
In the car, he put the camera away but did not realize he was still recording. With a black screen, the camera’s microphone recorded his confession to Susan and her reaction.
“Well, Susan, I’ve had some really nice experiences with you, too and I tell you what, it just, as I said, I kind of, y’know, 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,” he told her. “For the last year and a half, you’re about the only thing I can think about.”
She is clearly uncomfortable. She tries to change the subject repeatedly. Eventually, she points out she is married to his son. At the time, Susan Powell was 21. Steve was 53.
Susan did tell Josh Powell about her encounter with his father. Josh kept his distance for a while, but by September 2003, Steve Powell would write in his journal that Josh had “pretty much brushed the incident off… It did not take much for me to convince Josh that she instigated my feelings for her by her little enticements.”
Susan Powell in Utah
Josh and Susan Powell left Washington State on Christmas Eve, 2003, arriving at his sister’s home in Utah, where they would stay until they got settled. Jennifer Graves was immediately concerned that her brother Josh was too controlling.
“Just watching them interact, I was concerned. I was already concerned,” she said.