Scott D. Pierce: Oxygen channel claims it knows what happened to Susan Cox Powell. It doesn’t.

( Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune ) People gathered to remember missing West Valley City mother Susan Cox Powell's birthday in West View Park in West Valley City, Saturday, October 15, 2011.

The latest TV show about the disappearance of Susan Cox Powell claims that it has “new evidence” and “never-before-seen footage unveiling a new theory in the case.”

To give the program as much latitude on those claims as possible, OK, they're not altogether false.

What Oxygen's “The Search for Susan Cox Powell” doesn't say is that it has nothing to back up this “new theory.” That it is, essentially, idle speculation not supported by anything approaching facts.

The two-part, four-hour program airs Saturday and Sunday on Oxygen (5 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Dish and DirecTV; 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Comcast). It is, for the most part, unremarkable. It’s a rather exhaustive (for TV) look back at the disappearance of the West Valley woman, last seen alive on Dec. 6, 2009. Her husband, Josh Powell, was a person of interest from Day 1, although he was never charged. On Feb. 5, 2012, he killed his two young sons and himself, hitting them with a hatchet and then blowing up his home in Graham, Wash.

( Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune ) Judy and Chuck Cox, mother and father of Susan Powell, hold a photo of Susan Powell that has been signed by supporters in their home in Puyallup, Washington, Wednesday, November 3, 2010.

There are interviews with members of the Cox and Powell families, friends, investigators and journalists. There’s video of Josh Powell being interrogated by police, and by TV reporters.

Although it’s twice as long, “The Search for Susan Cox Powell” isn’t substantially different from “Susan Powell: An ID Murder Mystery,” which aired in December. Like that program, this one is intended for viewers who aren’t familiar with the case. And those viewers might believe it when “investigative journalist” Stephanie Bauer, who serves as the show’s de facto narrator, tells them that Josh Powell’s sister, Alina, “has never revealed her side of the story, until now.”

Actually, Alina Powell has given multiple interviews to multiple news outlets.

(Associated Press File Photo | Ted S. Warren) Josh Powell, the husband of missing Utah woman Susan Powell, listens during a Sept. 28, 2011, court hearing regarding the custody of his two sons, in Tacoma, Wash. Josh Powell later killed the boys and himself.

And Bauer’s claim that “For the first time ever, we’ve pieced together the entire puzzle” is ludicrous. To this day, no one knows for certain what happened to Susan Powell — how she died; who killed her; how her body was disposed of if she died; where her body is if she died; whether she’s actually dead. That’s a lot of missing puzzle pieces.

If you want to be surprised at the conclusions drawn in “The Search for Susan Cox Powell,” read no further. We're headed into SPOILER ALERT territory.

As anyone who followed the case at all knows, Josh’s father, Steve Powell, was super creepy. He was attracted to Susan, his daughter-in-law, and he ended up serving prison time for possessing child porn and for voyeurism — he took pictures and video of neighborhood girls in various states of undress.

(Associated Press File Photo | Ted S. Warren) Steve Powell sits in court on the day of opening arguments in his voyeurism trial in Tacoma, Wash., on May 9, 2012. He died Monday, July 23, 2018, at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tacoma, a year after he completed a prison sentence for possession of child pornography.

His behavior was incredibly disturbing, and police had boxes full of evidence to support that — pictures, videos, writings.

Digging through those boxes, the producers of the Oxygen show “unearthed a secret recording” Steve Powell made in which he tells Susan he is “extremely aroused” by her and believes she reciprocates his feelings. She puts him off: “I'm married to your son … and I should just be the daughter-in-law.” Steve is undeterred and says he wants to marry Susan.

Turns out that, no, the producers didn’t air the recording first, as they claim. It was found by KSL’s Cold Podcast and aired in November. And it wasn’t like it shattered Steve Powell’s sterling image — we already knew he was super creepy. And the show takes a giant leap based on that recording.

“This was the beginning of a chain reaction that fueled Josh's abuse and ended in Susan's murder,” Bauer says. “It was a plan by Steve to break up Josh and Susan that inadvertently pushed Josh to kill her.”

What? Really? Certainly the producers have additional evidence — something Josh Powell wrote. A recording. Even an acquaintance with a third-person recollection.


“This is the motive for Susan's murder — the real reason for why Susan disappeared,” Bauer says.

That’s sheer conjecture based on, well, nothing. Except the desire to promote a TV show.

And that’s why I’ve avoided referring to “The Search for Susan Cox Powell” as a documentary. In the end, it’s just tabloid-style speculation.

Return to Story