Editor's note: This is the third installment in a weekly series featuring highlights from a KSL investigative podcast series titled "Cold" that reports new information about the case of missing Utah woman Susan Powell.
WEST VALLEY CITY — Susan Powell shook.
She paced back and forth across the living room of her home as her neighbor and friend Kiirsi Hellewell watched from the love seat.
Powell handed Hellewell a stenographer’s notepad. She knew her friend could write quickly, using a form of shorthand. She asked Hellewell to record what she was about to say.
It was the evening of Friday, June 27, 2008. Powell and her husband, Josh, had just gone through the worst argument of their marriage.
Powell said the fight had rocked her so deeply she felt it important to record the play-by-play as evidence. Hellewell’s hand whipped from line to line, filling both front and back of several pages.
Powell recounted a shouting match over the two primary sources of friction in her marriage: faith and finances.
“Josh wants her to buy food at prices that don’t exist anymore and said that their marriage would be fixed if Susan fixed food for him and he had good food in his stomach,” Hellewell wrote.
He had reportedly told his wife that the economy was so bad, they’d probably have to leave the country.
“Josh said the reason he is mean to Susan and hurtful and the reason the marriage is broken is because of the Republicans and economy and environment,” Hellewell wrote.
Powell had told her husband she wanted control of her own income, in large part so she could pay tithing to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He’d responded by calling his wife a religious fanatic.
“He said if you pay tithing when you’re not supposed to, you are going to hell,” Hellewell wrote.
At one point, Powell had threatened to call the police. He’d laughed at her. Exasperated, she locked herself in a closet.
“He kept trying to open it and said she was acting like a child,” Hellewell wrote.
Shaken, Powell asked Hellewell to type up the notes and print a copy so she could take the document to work. She intended to keep the deposition where her husband wouldn’t be able to access it.
Susan Powell went to work the next day. While there, she took out a blue pen and a sheet of college-ruled paper and began to write.
“I bike to work daily and have been having extreme marital stress for about 3 or 4 yrs now,” Powell wrote. “For mine and my children’s safety I feel the need to have a paper trail at work which would not be accessible to my husband.”
Powell wrote about the fight, about the million-dollar life insurance policy in her name and about threatening comments her husband had made when discussing a possible divorce.
“If I die, it may not be an accident, even if it looks like one,” Powell wrote. “Take care of my boys.”
She signed the document and wrote the words: “Last will and testament for Susan” in the top margin. Then she folded the paper, wrapped it in a second sheet and closed it with staples.
On the outer face of the second sheet, she added, “For family, friends of Susan all except for Josh Powell husband, I don’t trust him!”
Powell placed the document in a blue file folder, next to a printed copy of the deposition she’d dictated to Hellewell. She’d even mentioned Hellewell by name in the will, suggesting police should talk to Hellewell if something were ever to happen to her.
However, Powell did not tell her friend about the will. Hellewell never saw the full document until recently presented with a copy of it.
Safe deposit box
Powell obtained a safe deposit box at a Wells Fargo Bank branch near her work on Aug. 7, 2008. She moved the last will and testament there, along with U.S. savings bonds and various legal documents that might prove useful if she were ever to flee her home with her sons.
Powell also told co-workers she kept a personal journal at work, where her husband couldn’t access it.
“She said, ‘If something ever happens to me, make sure they look at Josh,’” co-worker Linda Bagley said. “I said, ‘What do you mean, has he threatened you?’ And she said, ‘No, it’s just the way he talks.’”
Susan Powell disappeared under suspicious circumstances on Dec. 7, 2009. Josh Powell was the prime suspect in her presumed murder, yet was never arrested.
West Valley police began interviewing Susan Powell’s friends and co-workers the day after her disappearance. They quickly learned about her secret files.
Investigators secured a subpoena to gain access to the safe deposit box and the will on Dec. 15, 2009.
Police and prosecutors considered the will one of their strongest pieces of circumstantial evidence. However, they determined it was not enough to warrant the filing of any criminal charges.
- Utah Domestic Violence Coalition operates a confidential statewide, 24-hour domestic abuse hotline at 1-800-897-LINK (5465). Resources are also available online: udvc.org.
Help for people in abusive relationships can be found by contacting:
You can hear exclusive interviews with Susan Powell's friends and co-workers in “Cold.” Subscribe for free at thecoldpodcast.com. Engage with "Cold" on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at @thecoldpodcast.