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Josh Powell speaks: My wife, Susan, left us behind

Published November 8, 2010 10:07 am

Disappearance • But missing woman's family says son-in-law is looking for someone besides self to blame.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Puyallup, Wash. • Despite pressure from police and the public, Josh Powell has remained tight-lipped about why he thinks his wife disappeared or how she might be found.

But this week the husband of Susan Cox Powell broke his silence to say his wife is "extremely unstable," and that he believes mental illness drove her to leave her family behind.

Only reduced scrutiny from her family and the public, he said, will speed her return.

"She knows she will be chewed up like hamburger when she comes back," Josh Powell said in a Wednesday interview with The Salt Lake Tribune.

He complained his wife's family has created an image of her that puts her under too much pressure.

"She can't come back with them treating her this way," Josh Powell said. "They want her to be perfect, a saint with no fallibility."

Susan's family and friends have openly criticized Josh Powell's level of cooperation with investigators and recounted instances of controlling and abusive behavior toward his wife. Yet Josh Powell said his wife's family must stop lying about him and be more accepting of an imperfect Susan.

"She doesn't have as much strength as they like to think she has," Josh Powell said.

But he also tearfully described Susan as "a good person and a good wife and a good mother."

Susan's parents say they aren't the problem, and that their son-in-law and his family are unhappy they have been criticized. They continue to believe their daughter would never have left her two young sons.

"It's clear with them they need to blame somebody," said Susan's father, Chuck Cox, during an interview at his Puyallup home.

He says she's alive • Police have called Josh Powell the only person of interest in his wife's Dec. 7 disappearance from their home in West Valley City.

Josh Powell declined to answer many questions about the investigation and at points asked his father, Steve, not to bring up some subjects.

But Josh Powell stuck by his previous statements: that he last saw his wife as he left her at home and took their sons, then ages 2 and 4, on a late-night camping trip to the west desert in the family's blue minivan. He and the children stayed warm in the freezing temperatures with a generator and heater he had purchased two weeks earlier, Josh Powell said. Police have since seized the equipment, he said.

"Susan was with me at the generator store," Josh Powell said, but was unable to remember the name of the store.

As for the wet spot police found on the carpet of Josh and Susan Powell's home the day after her disappearance, Steve Powell said his daughter-in-law had decided to clean the carpets. There was a red spot on the carpet underneath the couch, he said.

"It was probably juice or something," Steve Powell said.

Steve Powell said an FBI agent who came to his Puyallup home on May 11 told him the bureau, after reviewing evidence gathered by West Valley City police, does not believe Josh Powell had anything to do with the disappearance and that Susan is alive.

That agent, and others from the U.S. Marshals service, were there to retrieve a GPS tracking device secretly attached to Susan and Josh Powell's Dodge Caravan. Two court orders, signed by a federal magistrate in Salt Lake City and reviewed by The Tribune, indicate the device was attached to the van in January.

An FBI spokeswoman on Friday declined to comment.

Also on May 11, Steve Powell gave agents permission to search his home, according to other documents provided by the family. Josh Powell also gave permission for authorities to search the storage sheds at his home in West Valley City.

Police there have said Josh Powell has not responded to requests for additional interviews. However, Steve Powell said when his son returned to Utah from Washington in December, his attorney told police he would meet them for another interview. Steve Powell claims the detectives said they only work Monday through Thursday. Josh Powell was arriving on a Friday. The interview did not occur.

"How interested were these people in talking to Josh?" Steve Powell asked rhetorically.

Josh Powell said he will not meet with West Valley City police again.

Steve Powell said he has spoken to law enforcement multiple times, including a three-hour interview on Dec. 17 with West Valley City police detectives who traveled to Puyallup. The two detectives spent most of the time gathering information about Susan, Steve Powell said.

Steve Powell believes his daughter-in-law ran off with a boyfriend. He said Susan talked with her friends about sex and the sexual encounters she had before meeting her husband.

"Susan's very sexually motivated, and she's very financially motivated," Steve Powell said.

At the end of the interview with detectives, Steve Powell said, he allowed them to search his home for Susan.

West Valley City police Sgt. Mike Powell, a department spokesman who is not related to the Puyallup Powells, declined to talk about evidence in the case. As for whether detectives decline to work on a Friday, he said: "We make all sorts of accommodations under all sorts of difficult circumstances."

'Hate wagon' • Josh Powell spent much of the interview discussing Susan's parents, Chuck and Judy Cox.

"Someone needs to take the velvet gloves off and treat [the Coxes] like an investigative subject," Josh Powell said.

He accused them of directing what he referred to as a "hate wagon" where their supporters go on Facebook and accuse Josh Powell of murdering his wife and other bad behavior.

Instead, Josh Powell said his wife's family mental history might be to blame for her running away. He claimed Judy Cox is prone to uncontrollable crying and emotional outbursts and said he wonders whether Susan inherited those traits.

Josh Powell said his wife would sometimes yell at him while chasing him around the dining room table. Another time, Susan ran down their street in West Valley City in her underwear to yell at him, he said.

Meanwhile, Chuck Cox is controlling and manipulative, Josh Powell claimed.

"You can't escape the fact that he is the puppet master," Josh Powell said.

The Coxes expected their daughter to be perfect, Josh Powell said. But Josh Powell claims they also tried to undermine their daughters' relationships with their husbands by encouraging them to keep secret bank accounts and make false reports of abuse.

The Coxes, Josh Powell, said, "are entirely motivated by image."

He accused the Coxes of lying about his behavior, including that he mishandled the family finances. Josh Powell said a 2007 bankruptcy was the result of a bad investment he made in telephone-book advertising for his real-estate firm. But he said he and Susan were combining to earn about $100,000 a year when she disappeared. The couple had even been shopping for a pop-up camping trailer, he said.

Josh Powell also questioned why his wife's family began using her maiden name in references to her. He believes the family did so to disassociate her from Josh Powell and for financial reasons.

Josh Powell said he bought all the website domain names similar to his wife's name, but the Cox family wanted to be able to start a foundation and raise money in association with Susan and began referring to her with both surnames.

Their Susan Cox Powell Foundation is a registered not-for-profit corporation with the state of Washington. Its stated mission is to help families of missing people and raise awareness of domestic violence.

"They are trying to solicit donations on the bull—— idea I am an abuser," Josh Powell said.

The Coxes and Josh Powell's estranged sister, Jennifer Graves, are among the board members.

A different story • Jennifer Graves and her husband, Kirk, who live in West Jordan, told The Tribune on Friday that Josh and Steve Powell have concocted a story to cover up their involvement in Susan's disappearance.

"They need an explanation for why she's not around," Kirk Graves said. "He can't say 'Of course, she's not around because I killed her.' "

The Graves balked at assertions that Susan was "sexually and financially motivated" to leave her marriage.

"They've basically accused Susan of being a slut, and it's offensive to me," Jennifer Graves said. "She was not. She was frustrated with her marriage."

Jennifer Graves said the idea that Susan had a boyfriend is particularly laughable because those who knew her also knew she couldn't keep a secret.

"She was such a talker, it would have gotten out," Jennifer Graves said.

She said her sister-in-law was frustrated that her relationship with Josh Powell lacked intimacy. Susan wanted that to improve, but Josh refused, Jennifer Graves said.

The Graveses also shot down Josh Powell's assertion that Susan is mentally ill and that Chuck Cox is controlling.

The irony, the Graveses said, is that one of Josh Powell's brothers has been diagnosed as bipolar and schizophrenic. Steve Powell, they said, is a controlling person who often drives the actions of some of his children. With mental illness running in the family, the Graveses wonder if Josh might be the one suffering from it.

"Josh has some of the same tendencies, only very mild," Jennifer Graves said of her brother's similarities to their bipolar brother.

The Graveses say Josh Powell was responsible for the family's bankruptcy. Susan maintained excellent credit, they said, while Josh's scores had slumped because of repeatedly bad financial decisions.

Chuck and Judy Cox also say no one in their family has been diagnosed with or possesses significant signs of mental illness.

"We have both seen psychiatrists since this started," Chuck Cox said referring to his daughter's disappearance, "who have told us we are doing very well, except we're mildly depressed."

Chuck Cox said he encouraged his daughter to keep a separate bank account because Josh Powell was controlling the family finances and their daughter did not have money for food, diapers and clothes for her sons.

Susan would gain access to her and Josh Powell's account and Josh Powell "would change the account numbers and the PIN numbers," Chuck Cox said.

Chuck Cox said his daughter saw a marriage counselor and that counselor also suggested a separate account.

Friends of Susan told The Tribune in late December that she was keeping a separate bank account and arranging for a place to go in the event she needed to leave her husband. The friends, who requested anonymity at that time because police had asked them not to speak to the media, said Susan was worried Josh Powell might kidnap their children and try to break her financially.

Members of the Cox family have also said Susan spoke of a divorce if things didn't improve by her April anniversary.

The Coxes acknowledge they inserted Susan's maiden name to disassociate her from her husband and to create a unique name for the foundation. However, they say they did that because their daughter would not want to remain married to Josh Powell if she knew how he has "impeded" the investigation into her disappearance.

The Coxes said the foundation has raised about $2,000.

"Mostly it's our money and a few contributions," Chuck Cox said.

Josh Powell said he allowed the Coxes to see his sons periodically after Susan's disappearance but that he told them not to discuss the children with reporters.

The Coxes did discuss the boys, though it was usually to say they wanted to see them more often. Josh Powell said he considered discussion of the issue to be a violation of his sons' privacy and that he will not let the Coxes visit the children if they continue to discuss the children.

"Whether or not they ever have contact with my sons is their choice based on their own behavior," he said.

Yet information about Charlie, 5, and Braden, 3, is given out periodically on a website, Josh and Steve Powell maintain. The site recounts school projects, how the boys spent their Mother's Day, and other information about them. The boys' faces are blurred.

Life in Puyallup • Josh Powell and his children continue to live with Steve Powell. A brother and sister of Josh also live in the home.

Josh Powell said he has taken a job to which he commutes every day, though he declined to discuss where his job is or in what field. Charlie is attending kindergarten at a school near Steven Powell's home.

On Thursday night, the boys ate a dinner of tacos and played in the living room while Josh and Steve Powell discussed the events of the past 11 months. Steve Powell said because they don't know where Susan is, they have only told the boys that their mother is missing.

"All they know is she's gone, and they want her back," he said.

Josh Powell said he has been attending Parent Teacher Association meetings at Charlie's school, despite objections from some parents. He criticized television station coverage of those objections.

"I'm a Marvel Comics super villain," he said of the coverage.

Josh Powell said he will not move back to Utah nor attend The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — where he met his wife — again. Steve Powell, a former church member, has alleged members including the Coxes have waged a campaign against his son, something the Coxes have also adamantly denied.

Steve Powell said he and his son expect to see Susan again. People wanting to find his daughter-in-law's body to produce closure are "a bunch of morbid f——— assholes," Steve Powell said.

"She absconded," Steve Powell said. "We don't believe she was abducted. We don't believe she was murdered."

Josh Powell said he has not granted previous interview requests because the people criticizing him did not deserve a response.

"They underestimate my discipline," Josh Powell said.

Melinda Rogers contributed to this report.

ncarlisle@sltrib.com Susan Cox Powell timeline (PDF)

http://bit.ly/96wSTQ

The investigation

West Valley City police have gathered and analyzed a raft of evidence in connection with the case:

Fibers and a computer taken from the Powell home

DNA from Josh Powell

Josh and Susan's blue minivan, which was tracked by a GPS device in the months after Susan's disappearance

Phone records

They may have examined a journal sources have previously said Susan kept at her workplace —

How to help

Anyone with information about the case may contact West Valley City Police at 801-840-4000.