Det. Ellis Maxwell shares his theory on what happened to Susan Powell

Mar 22, 2019, 11:08 AM
Susan Powell...
Susan Powell's disappearance on Dec. 6, 2009 remains one of Utah's most notorious unsolved mysteries. (Photo: Powell family / Cold)
(Photo: Powell family / Cold)

What happened to Susan Powell?

Up until now, police have stayed relatively quiet on what they think happened on Dec. 6, 2009, the night she disappeared. They’ve made it clear that their lead suspect has always been her husband, Josh Powell. Beyond that, however, details have been few and far between.

Last night, however, during a Daybreak Pillar Talk Q&A Council with Cold podcast host Dave Cawley, the now-retired lead detective on the case, Ellis Maxwell, shared a few details from his theory for the first time.

Ellis Maxwell’s theory

Susan Powell blood splatter evidence

Blood splatters in the Powell family living room, which tests proved to have come from Susan Powell, have been considered a key piece of evidence in the case. (Photo: West Valley City Police)

Susan Powell, Maxwell believes, died in her own home.

That’s something that’s never been a given. The day after Susan vanished, her four-year-old son Charlie told police that she’d joined them on a midnight camping trip but had stayed in the desert.

A lot of weight has been put on the word of that young boy. Many have taken it as proof that Josh drove his wife out into the wilderness and murdered her while his kids waited in the car. Even Maxwell used his words as their key piece of evidence when they filed their first warrant against him.

But some nine years later, Maxwell doesn’t seem to put much stock in Charlie’s story. Instead, he now believes that Susan died in her home, where blood splatters were found in the living room.

Charlie’s claim that she’d joined them, Maxwell seems to believe, was just a mistake made by a confused young a boy.

He does believe that Josh Powell killed her, and he does believe that he’d been planning it for some time. However, Maxwell doesn’t believe that he’d ever intended to kill her that soon. Josh was still biding his time, he believes, but something pushed him to act faster than he’d planned.

At 11:45 p.m. on the night Susan vanished, a car alarm woke the neighbors. That alarm, Maxwell believes, is a part of the story. He believes that the car that sounded it was Josh’s, and that, at that moment, Susan was already dead.

Josh was fumbling with his key chain as he struggled with Susan’s body, Maxwell believes, and accidentally set off the alarm.

Then, with his wife dead inside his vehicle, he drove off to hide her body.

The full picture

Dave Cawley and Ellis Maxwell

Cold host Dave Cawley, left, with Det. Ellis Maxwell, right, at the Pillar Talk: Behind the Cold Podcast event on March 21, 2019. (Photo: Cold)

There are still a lot of unanswered questions, and Maxwell has yet to fill in every detail. We may, however, soon get a chance to get a deeper glimpse into his unique insight.

Maxwell and will be joining Dave Cawley again for another live event on May 16, 2019, at the Eccles Theater in downtown Salt Lake City, and they’ve promised to share insights and stories never heard before.

“We’ll share more of our personal experiences investigating the case,” Cawley has told KSL Newsradio. “You’ll hear the story behind the story.”

Attendees will be open to ask their own questions to Cawley, Maxwell, and a panel of other guests deeply connected to the case.

More than solving a mystery, however, Cawley and the team behind Cold seem determined to make the event about positive action and about helping other women who might be in the sort of circumstances Susan suffered through.

“Susan Powell’s case is a cautionary story many are connecting with,” said Sheryl Worsley, Director of Audience Development for KSL and the Cold podcast. “Recognizing the signs of domestic abuse before tragedy strikes is a significant reason for us to tell this story, and a reason we can feel good about. We are hearing from scores of people who say they saw the signs because of this telling of Susan’s story and we hope it means fewer cases of violence in our community.”

To that end, a portion of proceeds from every ticket sold will benefit the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition.

Tickets for the event can be bought online at the Eccles Theater’s website or by clicking here.

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Det. Ellis Maxwell shares his theory on what happened to Susan Powell