Originally, this week’s episode was going to be a completely different case, but this case is one of the first cases that got me into true crime and it’s been in the news again recently. So here we are. There is a ton to unpack, and we’re going to get into as much as we can, but if you want a deeper dive into the particulars of the case I can’t recommend the podcast “Cold” enough. I listened to it a couple of years ago and the whole first season is about Susan Powell and they spiral on all the things. Start with the 911 call:
The 911 call you just heard was made on February 5th, 2012, by social worker Elizabeth Griffin. It has since become an infamous call. As you heard, the social worker had brought Josh Powell’s two children over for a supervised visit. He locked the social worker out and she noticed a smell of gasoline and was immediately concerned. Moments after this 911 call, the house – with Josh and his two kids inside – went up in flames.
So how did we get here? To understand, let’s rewind. 23 year old Josh Powell met 18 year old Susan Cox in November of 2000. They quickly fell in love and were married in April of 2001. You might be thinking whoa Breya, that’s super fast, but they were both members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, more commonly referred to as the Mormon or LDS church where it is fairly common for relationships to move quickly like this. Like I said, Susan was only 18 at the time and she was in the process of getting her cosmetology license. Josh was 23 and had a bachelor’s degree in business.
After getting married, the couple moved in with Josh’s father, Steven in Washington. Steven was, quite honestly, a creep. He became obsessed with Susan and had no boundaries. He would follow her around with a camcorder, use a mirror to spy on her while she was in the bathroom, steal her underwear, read her journals, and even wrote love songs for her and posted them online under a pseudonym. This went on until he confessed his feelings for her in 2003. The conversation was actually caught on camera (because of course – Steven and his creepy camcorder) and she of course rejected him. (This is just the tip of the iceberg with Steven)
After this happened, Susan and Josh thought it would be best to get some space from Steven and they moved to West Valley City, Utah. Josh was bouncing between jobs, so Susan took one for the team and took a job as a broker at Wells Fargo to support them. Things should have improved with this space, but tension grew as Josh stopped attending church and still kept in contact with his dad. This in and of itself isn’t the end of the world, but it was the fact that he had continued to make advances at Susan and Josh would always be particularly unpleasant after talking to him. Also, when I say he still talked to his dad, I mean TALKED. They would be on the phone for hours multiple times a week. If I were to put myself in her shoes, I wouldn’t have been very pleased about this either.
Over the next few years, their relationship continued to struggle and Susan talked about some of these issues in her journals and with friends. In 2005 they had their first son, Charlie. Susan was so excited and thought that giving Josh a son would be the glue to fix their marriage. Unfortunately, we know that having a kid doesn’t actually do that and Susan and Josh were no different. Side note: when Susan went into labor, Josh refused to take her to the hospital and said her parents would have to take her because he was busy. What was he so busy with that he couldn’t show up for two more hours after she had arrived at the hospital you ask? He was backing up a hard drive. Despite everything going on and the fact that they were still struggling, the couple welcomed their second son, Braden, in 2007.
There have been many comments made by people that knew the family about how controlling Josh was with Susan and the boys. If she wanted to use the family car, she had to get permission. She was also made to jump through hoops if she wanted to spend any money. He would give a certain amount of money and she had to keep a meticulous spreadsheet to show exactly where it all went. According to a neighbor, the money he gave her for groceries was only $10 a week. This neighbor also shared a story of a time when the boys were hungry, but she didn’t have money for food and asked for a single hot dog to feed them. He also decided that buying socks wasn’t a necessity because Susan could simply learn to knit socks for them. Which by the way isn’t necessarily cheaper. You can get cheap socks and that would surely be cheaper than the money spent on yarn, knitting supplies like needles, and the time it takes to make them. So this was honestly probably just another way of being in control for Josh.
Another issue they struggled with was Josh’s spending problems, which is ironic and extremely hypocritical when you take into account how he treated Susan spending money for literal necessities. He struggled to hold a job and while Susan worked and supported the family, she didn’t make enough to support his lavish spending. It got so bad that they filed for bankruptcy in 2007, declaring more than $200,000 in debts.
In June of 2008, Susan wrote a letter that she addressed to family and friends about what was going on with Josh. In it she said that he had threatened to “destroy her” if she filed for divorce. She also wrote that if she died, “it may not be an accident, even if it may look like one.” This letter was kept in her safe deposit box that Josh didn’t have access to. This letter is concerning enough itself, but add on that he was super into shows like forensic files. Now let’s be honest, being into something like that doesn’t make you a bad person – if it did, I would be just as bad. What is bad about this though, is that the part that interested him was what the people would do to attempt to cover up their crimes. He would make comments about what they did well and what he would do differently. He even made a comment at one point that the best place to get rid of a body would be a mine. Again, this doesn’t make someone a bad person – I think anyone who watches crime shows starts to pick up on these things, but I think it’s the perspective of knowing how he ended up that makes it seem worse in hindsight.
A month later, in July of 2008, she recorded a couple videos that, after knowing what happened to the family, are heart wrenching. One of the videos was of her documenting their assets and she even specified what belonged to her and what belonged to Josh. At the beginning of this video she even says, “Covering all my bases, making sure that if something happens to me, or my family, or all of us, that our assets are documented. [I] hope everything works out and we’re all happy, and live happily ever after as much as that’s possible.”
So Susan is doing all of these things and it sounds like she will probably be filing for divorce, right? She is taking all the steps and it seems pretty obvious that she didn’t want to stay with him. But don’t forget, she had said in the past that she was worried Josh would destroy her if she tried to divorce him, so this could be a risky move for her. Also, I do want to point out that all of this doesn’t mean she wasn’t trying with the relationship. Despite all that he had done and how he treated her, she did try and put effort into the relationship. She even got him to start marriage counseling. Unfortunately, they didn’t seem to be making any progress because Josh wasn’t doing his part. Marriage counseling can be a great thing and in my personal opinion, something that all married couples should be doing whether things are going well or not. The thing is, it only works if both individuals in the relationship are putting the work in and willing to change. Since Josh clearly wasn’t, he and Susan weren’t getting anywhere and both Susan and the counselor were getting frustrated. Susan had also made comments to a friend about how Josh was keeping her at arm’s length, not kissing her, or touching her in general – he wouldn’t even hold her hand.
We’re going to skip ahead now to Sunday December 6, 2009. It had been about a year and a half since Susan recorded that video going over their assets and things were still going poorly. She took her boys to church at noon and returned home with them later that afternoon. Josh had made pancakes for lunch, which was unlike him, but Susan wasn’t about to complain about effort.
The family had their pancake lunch and Susan’s afternoon to do list including some knitting (remember she had to knit their own socks *eyeroll*). She ran into a bit of a problem though as her yarn ball had turned into a giant knot. She wasn’t having any luck untangling it and didn’t know what else to do, so she called a friend who she knew was experienced in knitting and she thought might be able to help her. This friend came over shortly after and left around 5 pm. When she left, Susan wasn’t feeling well and was going to take a nap to try to sleep off whatever it was.
The next morning Charlie and Braden didn’t show up for daycare and when the staff tried to reach Susan and Josh, they didn’t get any answer from either of them. Next on the contact list was Josh’s mom and sister. The daycare staff called them and they were immediately worried, so his mom called the police to do a welfare check. While this was going on, Susan was also being reported as a no call no show at work.
When the police arrived, they noted that Susan’s belongings were there, there were no signs of forced entry, and two fans were blowing on a wet spot in the carpet. When they knocked on the door and there wasn’t an answer, they became worried that the family might have been victims of a carbon monoxide leak. They broke in and were both surprised and somewhat relieved that the house was empty. While it was a relief that they weren’t in there dead from carbon monoxide poisoning, there was a whole new concern because if they weren’t in the house then where were they? They still weren’t answering any calls and this was still a strange scene to walk in on.
Hours went by and everyone was trying to get a hold of the family. Finally, at about 5 pm, Josh returned home with the boys in tow – but no Susan. He was greeted by police who found some interesting things in his car. They found Susan’s phone with the SIM card removed, a generator, blankets, a gas canister, tarps, and a shovel. This looked extremely suspicious and he claimed to not know where Susan was or why her phone was in his car.
He was immediately taken for questioning and things just got stranger from there. Obviously, one of the first questions everyone has is where had they been? Josh said that he had taken the boys camping. Now keep in mind that this is December in Utah. I’ve mentioned it before, but I lived in Idaho for a few years which is right next door to Utah and when I tell you it is cold in December I’m not kidding. It starts snowing as soon as October, so by December we’re well into winter. It also just so happened that there had been snowstorms and it was well below freezing that night. So we have Josh who is suddenly being this doting dad who takes his kids camping in the freezing cold on a school night. Not a single aspect of this camping trip makes sense. Josh claimed that he had gotten his days mixed up and didn’t realize it was a school night which is why they went when they did and were MIA on Monday. He also said that they went without Susan because she was tired, so he had no idea where she was and assumed she had gone to work. On the 10th, police went to the area where Josh said they had been camping and couldn’t find any evidence of the campsite he had described.
So what really happened that night? Well you’re going to hate me, but this is where we’re going to stop for today. Make sure to come back next Tuesday for part two where we’ll get more into the different stories as to what happened the night Susan went missing and to find out how that 911 call we started with fits into all this!
Accessed March, 2022. https://allthatsinteresting.com/susan-powell
Accessed March, 2022. https://abcnews.go.com/US/inside-marriage-josh-susan-powell/story?id=15552031
Accessed March, 2022. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disappearance_of_Susan_Powell#Disappearance
Accessed March, 2022. https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/a27358649/susan-cox-powell-disappearance/
Accessed March, 2022. https://www.oxygen.com/the-disappearance-of-susan-cox-powell
Accessed March, 2022. https://archive.sltrib.com/article.php?id=53450298&itype=cmsid
Accessed March, 2022. https://www.moms.com/couples-think-child-will-mend-relationship/
Accessed March, 2022. https://madamenoire.com/841778/baby-save-marriage/
Accessed March, 2022. https://www.cnn.com/2012/04/19/justice/washington-powell-case/index.html