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Steve Powell skipped work a day after Susan disappeared
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Steve Powell called in sick to work a day after his daughter-in-law Susan disappeared from her West Valley City home, The Salt Lake Tribune has learned.

Powell was absent from his Washington state job on Dec. 8 and Dec. 9, 2009, his former employer confirmed Tuesday.

The days coincide with the period that his son Josh Powell, Susan's husband, rented a Ford Focus from the Salt Lake International Airport, putting more than 800 miles on the vehicle before returning it around 7 p.m. on Dec. 10, 2009.

West Valley City police Sgt. Mike Powell, who is not related, declined to comment Tuesday on what investigators know about Steve Powell's work absence, saying he "wouldn't be addressing that question at all" because Susan Powell's case is "an active investigation that is progressing."

The officer said investigators want to speak with Steve Powell but he "has been uncooperative from the onset," and police haven't attempted to speak with him for some time.

"It's useless at this point," the sergeant said. "He's made it very clear that he doesn't want to speak to law enforcement."

West Valley City Police Chief Thayle "Buzz" Nielsen was asked in February whether Steve Powell might have been an accomplice in Susan Powell's disappearance or death and he replied: "Absolutely."

On Monday, Nielsen reiterated that sentiment.

"The question is what happened to Susan because we represent Susan," Nielsen said. "Where is she? What happened? Who else was involved? And who refuses to help us in finding that?" Asked if that included Steve Powell, Nielsen nodded his head and said, "A few others probably, too."

A spokeswoman for the Washington Department of Corrections confirmed to The Tribune that Powell sent an email to his supervisor requesting sick leave on both days immediately after Susan's disappearance became public. Steve Powell was an account executive with Washington State Correctional Industries; he sold furniture made by inmates to school districts, nonprofit organizations and government entities. He was fired from his $53,468 a year job after his arrest Sept. 22, 2011, on 14 counts of voyeurism and one count of possessing an image of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct.

Last summer, Steve Powell publicly acknowledged having an inappropriate infatuation with his daughter-in-law. A police search at his home in Puyallup, Wash., in May 2010 uncovered indecent photographs he took of Susan without her knowledge; police found other images during another search in August 2011.

Travis Currie, an attorney representing Powell, did not return a telephone call Tuesday from The Tribune. Mark T. Quigley, who also represents Powell, was out of town.

According to search warrants unsealed by a Washington judge on Friday, Josh Powell called his father at 12:14 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 6, 2009, about the same time Susan and their sons Charlie, then 4, and Braden, then 2, returned home from church.

JoVanna Owings, a neighbor, spent that afternoon with Susan at the Powell's home and joined the family for a late pancake and egg brunch prepared by Josh Powell. After the meal, Susan said she was tired and needed a nap. Owings left, as did Josh Powell, who said he was taking their boys sledding.

A neighbor saw the Powell's van return about 8:30 p.m. that night. Josh Powell later told police he left again around 12:30 a.m. to take his sons camping in Utah's west desert, leaving Susan at home.

Debbie Caldwell, the Powell's daycare provider, tried to reach Susan and Josh Powell the next morning, Dec. 7, after they failed to drop the boys off at her home. She contacted relatives, who called police about the missing couple.

According to the search warrants, Josh Powell did not use his cellphone again until he answered a call at 3:03 p.m. from Owings. Josh Powell told Owings he was driving around West Valley City with his sons and did not know that Susan had failed to show up for work.

Police, using cellphone tower-location data, say Josh Powell then drove 20 miles south of West Valley City and called his own voice mail at 3:34 p.m. He next called Susan's cellphone and left her a voice message saying he had returned from his camping trip and asked if she needed a ride home from work.

Police interviewed Josh Powell twice, first on Dec. 7 after he returned home that evening with his sons and again on Dec. 8, 2009. During the first interview, detectives searched Josh Powell's van and found Susan's cellphone. It was missing the digital SIM card. During the second interview, police took Josh Powell's cell phone and found its SIM card was missing, too — and they also did a second search of his van.

Josh Powell initially waited at the police station during that search, but he left before detectives finished, according to the documents. Police learned later he went to the airport and rented a car about 10:30 p.m. on Dec. 8, 2009. He also bought a new cellphone, which was activated Dec. 9, 2009, in Tremonton, Utah, 80 miles north of Salt Lake City.

Josh Powell left Utah on Dec. 19, 2009, and spent two weeks at his father's home in Puyallup, Wash. He came back to Utah in early January, packed up his home and moved to Puyallup, where he and his sons resided until his father's arrest last September. Washington authorities took custody of the two boys after Steve Powell's arrest and had temporarily placed them with Chuck and Judy Cox, Susan's parents.

Josh Powell subsequently moved to a rented house in Graham, Wash. He set fire to the house Feb. 5 shortly after the boys were dropped off for a supervised visit, killing them and himself.

brooke@sltrib.com

Steve Powell's two sick days coincide with his son renting a car and putting 800 miles on it.
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