CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

Nine years later: the Susan Powell case revisited

Dec 7, 2018, 7:47 AM | Updated: 8:17 am
Susan Powell Journal...
Det. Ellis Maxwell, lead investigator on the Susan Powell case, speaks with KSL Newsradio's Dave Cawley on "Cold". (Photo; West Valley City Police)
(Photo; West Valley City Police)

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah — Friday marks nine years to the day since a young wife and mother, her husband and her two young sons were first reported missing from West Valley City – Susan Powell, whose family returned without her.

susan powell candlelight vigil

(left to right) Isabel Vazquez, Crystal Peterson, Carrie Friend and Janette Lazenby and many others gather for a December 10, 2009 candlelight vigil for their friend, Susan Powell, who was reported missing three days before. Photo by Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News.

This week, the KSL podcast series Cold recounts the events of that day — December 7, 2009 — as police first confronted Susan’s husband, Josh Powell.

How it began

Debbie Caldwell, the Powells’ daycare provider, was the first to realize the family was missing when no one showed up to drop off Charlie, 4, and Braden, 2. Because it was a cold and snowy commute, she attributed the tardiness to the weather, at least until time continued to pass.

It was her phone call to the Powells’ emergency contact, Josh Powell’s sister, Jennifer Graves, that prompted the first official report to police. At 9:53 a.m., Graves drove toward Josh and Susan’s home on Sarah Circle in West Valley City while Josh’s mother, Terrica Powell, called 911.

Police broke a window to gain access to the home over concerns about carbon monoxide poisoning. No one was home, but police did find two box fans blowing on what appeared to be a freshly-cleaned couch, and Susan’s purse, undisturbed in the bedroom.

Where is Susan Powell?

At 6:40 p.m., Josh Powell finally arrived home with Charlie and Braden, but without Susan.

Josh Powell Ellis Maxwell Susan Powell anniversary

Josh Powell and Det. Ellis Maxwell, here seen in their second official interview, the day after Powell came home with Charlie and Braden but without his wife, Susan.

At a nearby West Valley City Police Department substation, Det. Ellis Maxwell conducted the first official interview with Josh Powell that night. Powell claimed he’d taken the boys on a camping trip to the desert west of Salt Lake City, on the Pony Express Trail, a washboard dirt road where four-wheel drive is recommended even in good weather.

Records would later reveal no activity on Josh Powell’s cell phone between 12:14 p.m. on December 6 and 3:02 p.m. on December 7. That first call, received from the mother of a boy who sometimes babysat the Powell boys, routed through a tower in West Valley City.

“Did you call Susan?” Maxwell asked Powell on the night of December 7.

“At work, yeah,” Josh Powell answered in that interview. “In fact, I called her when I got back into range.”

“Where’d you get cell service at, when did you pick that up?” Maxwell asked.

“Oh, it seems like I called her when I was getting onto the freeway,” Josh answered.

Phone records confirm Josh Powell did place a call to Susan at 3:36 p.m., with his cell phone routing through a tower at Point of the Mountain, a site south of Salt Lake City. Records show there was another call placed to Susan’s cell phone at 5:43 p.m. from the parking lot of Wells Fargo, where she worked.

Later that night, Maxwell would ask Powell for permission to search the family’s minivan. During that search, Maxwell’s partner discovered, deep in the center console, a pink Motorola cell phone. If Josh had Susan Powell’s cell phone in the minivan with him all along, why did he place those calls?

Episode 5 of Cold, available on Wednesday, December 12, will address those cell phone records and the statements of Josh Powell’s that conflicted with the evidence.

You can catch up on episodes 1 – 4 at https://thecoldpodcast.com as well as Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, Spotify and other podcast providers.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

If you or anyone you know is encountering domestic abuse, violent or otherwise, help is available 24/7. Contact the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition or contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Today’s Top Stories

Crime, Police + Courts

The Goonies House...
Taylor Romine and Ralph Ellis, CNN

Man wanted for leaving a dead fish at ‘The Goonies’ house saved by Coast Guard in daring rescue

A man wanted by police in an incident at a house featured in "The Goonies" was the subject of a Coast Guard rescue when he was tossed from a stolen boat as it capsized, authorities said.
13 hours ago
SLCPD said the driver is fully cooperating with the investigation and the children received non-lif...
Chandler Holt

SLCPD makes arrest connected to fatal stabbing case

SLCPD announced the arrest of 26-year-old Ivy Chase Grant today. Grant was booked into Salt Lake County Metro Jail on a charge of obstruction of justice. 
13 hours ago
Salt Lake City Police say three sticks of dynamite were safely removed from a house this week by it...
Mark Jones

Three sticks of dynamite removed from Salt Lake City home

Three sticks of dynamite were removed from a Salt Lake City home on Wednesday, the SLCPD announced. The dynamite have been seized for investigation.
2 days ago
defraud...
Britt Johnson

Utah County men facing charges for defrauding the United States

The claims state that Zachary Bassett and Mason Warr used a fraudulent tax scheme to receive COVID-19-related relief funds.
2 days ago
Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, sponsor of HB297 Victim Services Amendments, poses for a portrait at...
Katie McKellar, Deseret News

A Utah lawmaker and her sister at odds: Should rape victims need to contact police before getting an abortion?

Rep. Kera Birkeland says her bill focuses on rape victim services and holding rapists accountable. But her sister, a rape survivor, says it strips away choices.
2 days ago
On Jan. 31, 2023, a missing Arizona girl was found and rescued from the basement of a registered se...
Elizabeth Weiler

Missing girl from Arizona found in West Valley basement

On Jan. 31, 2023, a missing Arizona girl was found and rescued from the basement of a registered sex offender. 
2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Banner with Cervical Cancer Awareness Realistic Ribbon...
Intermountain Health

Five Common Causes of Cervical Cancer – and What You Can Do to Lower Your Risk

January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness month and cancer experts at Intermountain Health are working to educate women about cervical cancer, the tests that can warn women about potential cancer, and the importance of vaccination.
Kid holding a cisco fish at winterfest...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Get Ready for Fun at the 2023 Bear Lake Monster Winterfest

The Bear Lake Monster Winterfest is an annual weekend event jam-packed full of fun activities the whole family can enjoy. This year the event will be held from January 27-29 at the Utah Bear Lake State Park Marina and Sunrise Resort and Event Center in Garden City, Utah. 
happy friends with sparklers at christmas dinner...
Macey's

15 Easy Christmas Dinner Ideas

We’ve scoured the web for you and narrowed down a few of our favorite Christmas dinner ideas to make your planning easy. Choose from the dishes we’ve highlighted to plan your meal or start brainstorming your own meal plan a couple of weeks before to make sure you have time to shop and prepare.
Spicy Homemade Loaded Taters Tots...
Macey's

5 Game Day Snacks for the Whole Family (with recipes!)

Try these game day snacks to make watching football at home with your family feel like a special occasion. 
Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...
Sorenson

The Best Tools for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Workplace Success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
Team supporters celebrating at a tailgate party...
Macey's

8 Delicious Tailgate Foods That Require Zero Prep Work

In a hurry? These 8 tailgate foods take zero prep work, so you can fuel up and get back to what matters most: getting hyped for your favorite
Nine years later: the Susan Powell case revisited