Chief: West Valley Police will continue to look for Susan (video)
Crime • Says father of missing woman: “She’s gone, and I don’t know if we’ll ever know where she is.”
Published: February 7, 2012 11:24AM
Updated: February 7, 2012 01:59PM
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Braden Powell, left, and Charlie Powell are dressed as Transformers in a family photo from Halloween. Courtesy of the Cox family

Graham, Wash. • Susan Cox Powell’s husband, the only person of interest named by police in her disappearance, is dead.

Their two little boys, whose welfare attracted public attention, are dead, too.

And so, the West Valley City police search for the missing wife and mother may receive more scrutiny than ever, although the definition of “case solved” likely has changed.

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Arresting Josh Powell might have produced a coda, but now nothing less than finding his wife — a task that has eluded West Valley City police for two years — will end the mystery.

“There’s no success here,” West Valley City police Chief Thayle “Buzz” Nielsen said Monday after touring the charred remains of Josh Powell’s home here. “This is terrible.”

Josh Powell on Sunday set a fire that killed himself and his sons, Charlie, 7, and Braden, 5.

Nielsen vowed his department would continue investigating Susan Powell’s disappearance. He said he hopes someone who was afraid to speak when Josh Powell was alive will come forward, and he didn’t rule out charging someone as an accomplice in Susan Powell’s disappearance or death.

When asked if Josh Powell’s father, Steve Powell, might be an accomplice, Nielsen replied, “Absolutely.”

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said Monday that his office has held periodic briefings with police over the years in connection with the case.

“We have certain elemental criteria we need to meet in terms of evidence and, at this point, we did not feel that we were there,” Gill said.

Gill called Josh Powell “a strong person of interest” in connection with his wife’s disappearance, but said that his death did not necessarily mean the end of the investigation.

“This continues to be a missing persons case with an open and active investigation,” Gill added. “Until I have some conversation with law enforcement [about whether] they will close their case out or not, it’s still a missing persons case.”

Susan Powell’s father, Chuck Cox, on Monday said he doesn’t think his daughter will return.

“She’s gone, and I don’t know if we’ll ever know where she is,” Cox said.

Nielsen said Josh Powell did not know where the West Valley City police investigation stood and it should not be considered a reason for the suicide and murders.

The case against Josh Powell was circumstantial, Nielsen said, but the chief hoped to arrest Josh Powell, or some culprit, this year.

Nielsen declined to discuss evidence in the case on Monday, saying a judge had sealed evidence collected in the case.

The chief acknowledged he has heard criticisms — he specifically mentioned Internet comment boards — that West Valley City police have done a poor job in the Powell case, but he defended his department, pointing out they received no assistance from Josh Powell.

“We had to turn over every rock to get as far as we got,” Nielsen said.

Nielsen said he has had a minimum of seven and as many as 40 officers working on the case.

Susan Powell was reported missing Dec. 7, 2009.

Josh Powell — who denied any involvement in her disappearance — told police he last saw his wife around midnight, when he put their sons in the family’s minivan and took them on a late-night camping trip in freezing temperatures in Utah’s west desert.

Nielsen began to choke up Monday when asked about his reaction to the deaths of Charlie and Braden.

After a long pause, Nielsen said: “There isn’t a person in the world who deserves this.”

The boys, who had been living with their maternal grandparents, arrived for a supervised visit with their father at about 12:30 p.m. Washington time on Sunday. When his sons entered his home, Josh Powell locked the door against the social worker who had brought the boys. He then started a deadly gasoline-fueled fire, according to police.

The Pierce County Medical Examiner listed the cause of death of Josh Powell and his sons as carbon monoxide poisoning. The boys also suffered “chop wounds,” which the ME listed as a “significant condition” contributing to their deaths. Charlie suffered chop wounds to the neck. Braden suffered chop wounds to the head and neck.

A Pierce County sheriff’s officer told the Tacoma News Tribune that investigators found a hatchet with the bodies that they believe was used on the boys.

— Reporter Aaron Falk and Brooke Adams contributed to this story.

ncarlisle@sltrib.com

Twitter: @natecarlisle