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Police tracked Josh Powell by plane, wiretapped his phone

Published May 25, 2013 1:44 pm

Wiretaps • Calls show Josh lied about whereabouts when his wife vanished.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Just days after Susan Powell vanished without a trace in 2009, police tracked her husband Josh Powell with an airplane as he tried to evade authorities on his way to a Nevada strip club.

Those were among the new details to emerge in hundreds of pages of search warrants released Friday that were part of the investigation into the West Valley City woman's disappearance. The warrants add to the thousands of documents that became public Monday when police ended their investigation into Powell's disappearance.

The warrants focus considerable attention on Powell's husband, Josh Powell, who fell under suspicion soon after Susan Powell vanished Dec. 6, 2009. The warrants portray his actions as suspicious after the disappearance. In a news conference Monday explaining the end of the investigation, police also described Josh Powell's actions as suspicious, though they stopped short of saying he murdered his wife.

Among the warrants released Friday, one 65-page document aimed to get permission to wiretap phones belonging to Powell and his father, Steve Powell. The warrant also describes Steve Powell as "instrumental in the obstruction" of the investigation into Susan Powell's disappearance.

Police believe that Josh and Steve Powell would discuss their alleged crimes on the phone, and hoped to gather information by listening in.

A later warrant recounts some of the information gathered via wiretapping. While they were searching for for the body of Susan Powell near Ely, Nev., police heard Josh Powell over the wiretap saying that her body would not be found there. The warrant notes that "only somebody familiar with the location of a missing individual would make such a definitive statement."

Josh Powell also said he thought police were wasting their time and their efforts to find Susan were "a joke, not serious." Police never heard him saying anything "desiring a positive outcome in locating his missing wife." Intercepted phone calls also showed that he lied to his family members about his whereabouts during the time surrounding Susan Powell's disappearance.

Another warrant mentions that Josh worried police when he asked for a "couple days to think about answering questions when his wife was missing right then."

That warrant goes on to detail searches of Josh Powell's van and home, as well as an searches of the areas where claimed to be camping with the couple's two young sons the night Susan Powell disappeared. Investigators were unable to find evidence corroborating Josh Powell's camping story.

Yet another warrant mentions that during an interview, one of the couple's sons said Susan went camping with them but did not come back "and he did not know why." Several days later, when the boy was at church in Washington, he told a Sunday school teacher that "my mom is dead," the warrant states.

Days after Susan Powell went missing, on Dec. 11, 2009, officers put a tracking device on Josh Powell's van. Police tracked the van from Utah to the parking lot of a strip club in Wendover. The warrant states that officers "observed that [Josh] Powell had his two sons with him during this drive from Salt Lake City to Wendover, Nevada and back." En route, the warrant states, Josh Powell was apparently trying to evade police surveillance by repeatedly entering and exiting the freeway and driving in the opposite direction.

In response, police called in aerial surveillance to follow the van.

Steve Powell also was a major focus in the warrant, which describes several interviews he underwent with police. At one point, the warrant explains, he described Susan Powell as a "very sexual person" and recalled that he had told her he loved her, a statement that offended Susan Powell.

The warrants goes on to describe an alleged sexual encounter Steve Powell claimed to have had with Susan Powell. The incident began with Steve Powell rubbing her feet, he told police, and escalated as he began touching her breasts and pelvis. She eventually left the home, but Steve Powell expressed confusion over what had happened and recounted the incident as if his behavior was "reasonable and normal." He also "appeared aroused and nostalgic while recounting the sex stories," the warrant states.

The warrant later states that Steve Powell initially told police he believed Josh Powell was involved in Susan Powell's disappearance and that his story was "fishy." Steve Powell later changed his mind after talking to Josh, the warrant states.

On May 11, 2010, police searched Steve Powell's home in Washington and found 20 to 30 photos of various naked women. Police also found photos of Susan Powell, some when she was fully clothed and some that showed her in underwear. The photos appeared to have been taken through a crack in a bathroom door.

Steve Powell was convicted in 2012 on voyeurism charges and sentenced to 30 months in prison. Earlier this week, attorneys for Susan Powell's parents said Steve Powell remains the subject of a federal investigation.

Other details to emerge in the search warrants include:

— One of the warrants also mentions that police toyed with the idea of sending an undercover female officer to "initiate an acquaintance relationship" with Josh Powell. However, police scrapped the idea after deciding that Josh Powell's movements were too unpredictable to set up a "seemingly innocuous meeting."

— A grand jury also was ruled out because, the warrant states, investigators didn't believe it would produce more information.

— Josh sought the help of a media consultant so he would "look and sound more sympathetic when questioned about Susan Marie Powell's disappearance."

— Intercepted calls involved discussions of "the hatred of the Cox family" and defense strategies.