A private search team plans to re-examine an abandoned mine shaft in Utah’s West Desert over the next month with the hope of finally finding the remains of Susan Cox Powell, a young mother who disappeared nine years ago.
“It appears to not have been completely searched before,” said Karra Porter, the co-founder of the Utah Cold Case Coalition, which is arranging the search. “We think it’s a likely spot to find her.”
The search will be done by a company donating its time and which the coalition is not publicly naming at this time. The experts will focus on one mine where they believe it’s possible there could be bone fragments, clothing or jewelry linked to the missing woman. But they will also search a few other nearby shafts.
The remote site is a few miles from where Powell’s husband, Josh Powell — the only person of interest police ever named in the disappearance — said he took his two sons camping the night his wife vanished from their West Valley City home.
Police and volunteers scoured the area after her 2009 disappearance — including a total of 400 different mines around the state and in Nevada — and again after Josh Powell killed himself and his sons in 2012 in a fire in Washington. But it’s largely been untouched in recent years.
Porter said the coalition received a tip about the spot in December from a man “who had a lot of information about West Desert mines” and the searches that took place there in 2010. The group looked into the suggestion and found it credible.
“We have a sense that there are a couple of possibilities that weren’t searched in depth,” Porter said Wednesday night.
Susan Powell was last seen on Dec. 6, 2009. No trace of her has ever been found.
Josh Powell said he left his wife at home that night when he took his boys, then ages 2 and 4, on a camping trip in the West Desert in freezing temperatures. Police have said he rented a car two days later and put hundreds of miles on it.
But he denied any involvement in her disappearance and long suggested that Susan Powell ran away, possibly with another man.
Then, on Feb. 5, 2012, Josh Powell opened the door of his rental house for his two sons — who were in the custody of Susan Powell’s parents — before the agent assigned to supervise the visit could get inside. He killed the boys and ignited the home.
The last person thought to have any information on the case, Josh Powell’s father, Steve Powell, died in a hospital earlier this year after he was paroled from prison on charges unrelated to Susan Powell’s disappearance.
Jennifer Graves, Josh Powell’s estranged sister, has been clear in her belief that her brother abused his wife and that her father directly influenced him to do so.
She said Wednesday that she is hopeful for the renewed search for her sister-in-law.
“I don’t know that he really was telling the truth when he said he was out in the West Desert,” Graves said in a telephone interview. “But there’s always a chance.”
In 2011, searchers found charred wood near Topaz Mountain that they said may have been used to burn human remains. But they were not able to link it to the case. West Valley City police said in July of this year that the case remains assigned to a detective but “all leads ... have been exhausted and the case has gone cold.”
The Utah Cold Case Coalition hopes the private searchers will examine the mine within the next month to six weeks, depending on the weather. “If that proves unsuccessful,” Porter noted, the group will also lead a surface area search in the West Desert in April that the public will be invited to attend.
She said the coalition will release more information on both searches when it gets closer to the dates.
“Winds sometimes expose skeletal remains. It doesn’t hurt to try again,” Porter said. “That applies in every case that we’re working. There are still more than 200 unsolved murders and disappearances in Utah. You have to try.”