Nine years after Susan Powell was last seen at her home in West Valley City, she’s the subject of a two-hour TV documentary.
“Susan Powell: An ID Murder Mystery” premieres Wednesday at 7 p.m. on the Investigation Discovery channel. And the big new is — there is no news. Her body still hasn’t been found. No additional evidence has been discovered linking her husband, Josh Powell, to her disappearance.
So what’s the continuing fascination with the crime?
“There is something about that nagging desire to have closure that kind of sparks people’s imaginations more than a cut-and-dried, solved case,” said executive producer Pamela Deutsch.
There’s not a lot of mystery remaining in the Powell case. Josh Powell was a person of interest as soon as his wife disappeared on Dec. 6, 2009. On Feb. 5, 2012, he killed himself and his two young sons by hitting them with a hatchet and then setting off an explosion that destroyed his home in Graham, Wash. And Josh’s father and brother — suspected of knowing what happened to Susan — are both dead.
But Susan’s body has never been found.
Deutsch believes continuing interest in the case is fueled by the fact that the Powells looked like the average family next door. “I think the people who knew them were shocked to hear what was really going on in that household and in that marriage,” she said.
On top of that came revelations about the dysfunction in Josh Powell’s family, centering on revelations about his father, Steve, who went to prison for voyeurism when the investigation into Susan’s death uncovered evidence that Steve had been photographing naked pre-teen neighbor girls through the windows of their home.
“There’s something very interesting about people who maintain a very perfect façade, and there’s obviously lots of skeletons,” Deutsch said. “But then to realize that it had probably gone on for a couple of generations just makes it that much more interesting for us to do.”
The goal was to tell the whole story in two hours for people who weren’t paying attention to every detail as it played out over years.
“We try to give that bird’s-eye view, so it pulls all of the pieces together in one fell swoop,” Deutsch said. “Most people didn’t follow it from beginning to end.”
The program features interviews with Chuck Cox and Denise Cox Ernest, Susan’s father and sister; several of Susan’s friends; the Coxes’ attorney; police detectives from Utah and Washington; and more. There are photos and video of Susan and Josh Powell and their children. And there are actors playing the principals in re-creations.
While the program might be of interest to people in Utah, it’s clearly not intended for us. At least not for those of us who remember the case — who were inundated with all the media coverage — because, again, there’s nothing new.
And there’s nothing unusual about that. Utahns are among the millions who tune in to shows like “48 Hours,” “Dateline NBC” (which did an hour about Josh Powell in 2012) and “20/20” (which did two hours about him in 2012) as they retell the stories of crimes in other parts of the country, spinning them as if they’re mysteries when they are in fact — more often than not — long-since solved. If you live in the town where the crimes were committed, there’s a good chance there will be nothing surprising in the TV retellings.
If there is news about the Susan Powell case at some point — if her body is found — ID will update this program online at InvestigationDiscovery.com. That’s standard operating procedure at the channel, where they’re updating the status of cases two or three times a week, Deutsch said. “Not always so dramatic as finding a body, but we’re always on top of that.”
And the odds of repeating this “ID Murder Mystery” with a new ending would be high.
“This is just one of the most twisted, fascinating stories that really will grip our audience,” Deutsch said.