CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

Susan Powell can’t be in Nutty Putty Cave, investigators say

Apr 3, 2019, 12:12 PM
The entrance of Nutty Putty Cave on Blowhole Hill in Utah County on March 7, 2019. (Photo: Dave Cawley, KSL Newsradio)
(Photo: Dave Cawley, KSL Newsradio)

The third bonus episode of the Cold podcast debunks a long-held theory in the Susan Powell case: that the missing West Valley City woman’s final resting place could be a Utah County cavern known as Nutty Putty Cave. 

Police have received many tips over the years about Nutty Putty Cave in connection with the Susan Powell investigation. The first came just a week after her disappearance.

But in spite of evidence Josh Powell was aware of the cave and had even looked up information about a tragedy that resulted in the loss of another man’s life just days before his wife vanished, investigative reporter Dave Cawley uncovered several reasons why it’s an unlikely location for Susan Powell or her remains.

Nutty Putty Cave’s dangerous past

Nutty Putty Cave was the subject of national headlines just a short time before Susan Powell disappeared in 2009, when a man named John Jones became stuck in one of the cavern’s tight, twisting tunnels.

Nutty Putty Cave Susan Powell

John Jones and his wife, Emily Dawn Jones. John Jones died in Nutty Putty cave on Nov. 25, 2009. (Family photo)

“[He was trapped] in an unnamed, really unexplored part of the cave that, as far as we know, nobody had been to,” Utah County Sheriff’s Sergeant Spencer Cannon told Cawley in the spring of 2019. “We know now that John had been there, but we don’t know that anyone else had ever been there.”

Utah County’s search and rescue team members were familiar with Nutty Putty, which was actually closed for several years prior to 2009 because of previous rescues. The people who were rescued, successfully, in those previous close calls, were not as “deep” in the cave as John Jones.

Ultimately, the attempt to rescue Jones would fail when equipment that was being used to help hold his weight while rescuers worked to free him failed, and he fell back into the same section where he had been stuck at the beginning of the attempt. 27 hours after they first entered the cave to attempt to rescue Jones, he was confirmed to have died.

Debunking Nutty Putty

The timing is one key reason why West Valley City got so many tips about Nutty Putty Cave in connection with Susan Powell’s 2009 disappearance, but Cannon is quick to point out the timeline doesn’t support the location as a final resting place for the young mother.

“Susan was seen up until the sixth of December [2009],” Cannon said. “The opening of Nutty Putty Cave was permanently closed with 30 yards of concrete and explosives on the second of December.”

Nutty Putty Cave Susan Powell

A memorial plaque located near the former entrance to Nutty Putty Cave, placed in remembrance of John Jones. (Photo: Dave Cawley, KSL Newsradio)

Between the time Jones was pronounced dead and Utah County sealed the cave, deputies guarded the area around-the-clock.

“There are those, a smaller number, who might want to go inside and do something or collect something. And so we had deputies here 24/7, from early on Thanksgiving morning until it was sealed on December 2nd with concrete,” Cannon said.

The terrain is also a problem for the theory. News trucks, gathered during the 27-hour rescue attempt, struggled to reach the site. Many could not summit the steep hill that led to the mouth of the cave. Cannon found himself, instead, hiking halfway down that hill to update reporters, friends and family who had gathered for news.

“It would be virtually impossible for an off-the-rack, off-the-showroom-floor minivan or passenger car to get up here. Even a small four-wheel drive SUV would be very, very difficult. Something like a Nissan Rogue or even a Toyota 4Runner would have a hard time,” Cannon said. “Something bigger, a full-sized pickup truck or full-sized SUV, it’s a challenge getting up here in those vehicles.”

What did Josh Powell know?

There is evidence Josh Powell was aware of Nutty Putty Cave, as well as the plight of John Jones.

In the course of investigating the case for the Cold podcast, Cawley discovered proof Powell indeed was at least familiar with the cave.

Nutty Putty Cave Susan Powell

This scanned image of a postcard was located among thousands of Josh Powell’s computer files seized by West Valley police during the investigation into Susan Powell’s disappearance. A handwritten note references Nutty Putty Cave. (Photo: West Valley City Police Department)

While looking through hundreds of Powell’s digital files, Cawley found a scanned copy of a postcard that had never been mailed. The card depicted the Heart of Timpanogos, a rock feature at Utah’s Timpanogos Cave National Monument. On the back, in Josh’s handwriting, Cawley spotted the words, “Nutty Putty Cave.”

What Cawley cannot say for certain is why or when Powell wrote the words on the postcard.

Additionally, West Valley City police located a couple of “thumbnail” images on the laptop they seized from Powell’s home the day after Susan disappeared that offered more evidence of familiarity. One showed the opening of Nutty Putty Cave. The other was a photo of John Jones. Time stamps on the data showed both were accessed within two days of Susan’s disappearance.

Still, the evidence debunking Nutty Putty as a final resting place for Susan Powell is convincing, at least to Cannon. Cawley asked the sheriff’s sergeant about the likelihood that Susan’s remains are at the site.

“Zero probability,” Cannon answered, without hesitation.

Hear more about Nutty Putty Cave and Sgt. Cannon’s story in the third bonus episode of the Cold podcast. It’s available through the subscription service Wondery Plus, along with the entire first season of Cold ad-free. For more information visit www.wondery.com/plus

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Susan Powell can’t be in Nutty Putty Cave, investigators say