The documentary, which clocks in at nearly one hour and 45 minutes, features a fresh interview with investigative reporter and podcast host Dave Cawley, along with key players in the investigation sharing tidbits that did not make it into the podcast.
“There was so much, right? That was the biggest thing to me,” Cawley said in an interview with KSL’s Mike Headrick. “How do we take all of this material, hundreds of pages of police reports, all of these transcripts of witness interviews, all of the warrants, the affidavits, and make sense of it? I was overwhelmed.”
A podcast three years in the making
Cawley spent three years doing the investigative work that would eventually become COLD, digging into documents and data related to the 2009 disappearance of Susan Powell. For two of those three years, the work came while he was still working full-time as a producer for KSL Newsradio’s afternoon news program.
“I’ll admit it was overwhelming at the beginning just to try to understand the scope of the material that was there,” he said.
“How do you know where to start?” Headrick asked.
“It was almost like [being] a cat with a string,” Cawley recalled. “As time went on, I used a lot of different software to keep track of the things I was learning. Making notes, so that you could go back and double-check. Remembering, right? You would learn something and then six months later, forget that you learned it. And so keeping detailed notes of all of this information was really important.”
Cold hard facts and new information
Along the way, Cawley was able to learn things even the police had not uncovered in their exhaustive investigation. For example, Cawley learned Josh Powell sought treatment for a serious shoulder injury just days after his wife, Susan, vanished — blaming it on a rear-end fender bender back in September 2009. Police never knew about it until Cawley discovered it.
In December 2009, ten days after Susan disappeared, Josh Powell was diagnosed with a rotator cuff strain and possible partial tear.
A producer working with Cawley took the diagnosis and paperwork to Dr. Peter Chalmers, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Utah and an expert on rotator cuff injuries.
“It’s really unlikely this kind of accident caused a rotator cuff injury,” Chalmers said, adding that most patients with this type of injury are over the age of 50. “But you can also see them in younger individuals with major traumas. And by major traumas, I usually mean, you know, like, ‘I crashed my helicopter,’ or, right? ‘I fell off a corner skiing.'”
Ellis Maxwell, the now-retired detective who headed up the Powell investigation for West Valley City Police, said the rotator cuff injury was an interesting discovery, even though he’s not sure it would have led to an arrest or to a different outcome in the case.
“It would have been a critical piece of evidence to introduce,” Maxwell said.
There were also some things Cawley reviewed that were downright repulsive.
“The journals of [Josh’s father] Steve Powell turned my stomach on a daily basis,” Cawley said.
Shining a light on domestic violence
The podcast also gave Cawley something of an unexpected platform from which to educate the public about domestic violence. Jen Oxborrow, Executive Director of the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition, says Susan Powell’s story is not unique, but is a classic example of how complicated domestic violence can be.
“Domestic violence isn’t as simple as, you know, being slugged or hit or kicked or slapped. It can include that, but it can also include these many, many, many other layers that we never really get a chance to see, that are often deeply private,” Oxborrow said. “We can terrorize people without laying a hand on them. We can do that by threatening to hurt children or animals, by threatening to ruin someone’s career or leave them in a poor situation financially or with their credit. So, we can really terrorize people and be very violent and abusive without being actually physically in contact with them.”
Susan Powell’s close friend, Kiirsi Hellewell, says Susan never told her the extent to which she feared for her own safety. Hellewell hopes that her story can now help others.
“There’s many Joshes in the world. There’s many Susans,” Hellewell said.
The Utah Domestic Violence Coalition operates a confidential statewide, 24-hour domestic abuse hotline at 1-800-897-LINK (5465). Resources are also available online: udvc.org.
Help for people in abusive relationships can be found by contacting:
- Utah Domestic Violence Coalition: Utah’s confidential statewide, 24-hour domestic violence hotline at 1-800-897-LINK (5465)
- YWCA Women in Jeopardy program: 801-537-8600
- Utah’s statewide child abuse and neglect hotline: 1-855-323-DCFS (3237)
- National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233
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