TWIN FALLS, Idaho — Josh Powell made two unexplained stops along westbound I-84 in southern Idaho during a drive between his Utah home in West Valley City and South Hill, Washington, on Dec. 19, 2009.
The stops occurred just before and just after 2 a.m. on a dark stretch of freeway between Burley and Twin Falls. They were separated by 7 miles and came seven minutes apart. The first stop lasted 10 minutes, the second only five.
At the time, Powell was the primary suspect in the disappearance of his wife, Susan Powell. She had last been seen less than two weeks earlier, on Dec. 6, 2009. Susan Powell has never been located and is believed to have been murdered.
West Valley police were monitoring Josh Powell’s movements with a GPS tracking device hidden on his minivan. However, there are no mentions of the Idaho stops in the more than 800 pages of reports prepared by detectives during the search for Susan Powell. There are also no indications that the locations were searched by police.
The stops are coming to light for the first time through an analysis of data from the GPS tracking device conducted by KSL’s “Cold” podcast.
Detectives obtained court approval to mount the GPS tracker to the Powell family’s 2005 Chrysler Town & Country on Dec. 8, 2009.
Josh Powell did not pick up the van until the following evening, after he put 807 miles on a rental car in the space of 18 hours. Investigators do not know where Powell was during those 18 hours. When he reemerged on the afternoon of Dec. 9, 2009, it was because he had activated a new cellphone in Tremonton.
Over the days that followed, the GPS tracker on the minivan recorded several odd movements that suggest Josh Powell might have been attempting to dispose of evidence in locations unknown to police.
On Monday, Dec. 14, one week after the start of the search for Susan Powell, the minivan traveled south from the Powell family home in West Valley City to a condominium complex in West Jordan called Serengeti Springs.
The GPS tracker showed the minivan stopped next to a dumpster at 10:23 a.m. It remained there for roughly a minute. The van then returned to the Powell home.
Two days later, on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2009, the minivan made a circuitous trip around the Salt Lake Valley. It departed the Powell home just after 2 p.m. and first traveled to Flat Iron Mesa Park in Sandy. It stopped there for two minutes, in front of a pair of dumpsters.
The mobile tracking data showed the minivan next headed north. It circled the parking lot of a Walgreens store at 4500 South and 900 East in Millcreek, passing close to, but not stopping at a dumpster.
After passing through downtown Salt Lake City, the minivan headed to the parking lot of Poplar Grove Park at 800 S. Emery Street. It stopped there for 12 minutes.
Salt Lake City keeps multiple garbage cans in that parking lot surrounding the location where the van parked.
The December drive
On the afternoon of Friday, Dec. 18, 2009, Josh Powell visited the Mountain America Credit Union branch at 2980 S. 5600 West. Financial records obtained by a police subpoena revealed Josh Powell withdrew $450 in cash from his wife’s final paycheck.
Later that same evening, the mobile tracking data showed the minivan visited a pair of dumpsters in a strip mall parking lot near 3300 South and 5600 West in West Valley City. The van stopped at the dumpsters twice, first at 9:56 p.m. and again at 10:19 p.m.
Then, at 10:29 p.m., the van departed the Powell house. Josh Powell was taking his sons, Charlie and Braden, with him to his father Steve Powell’s home in Washington.
Mobile tracking data showed that at 12:22 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2009, the minivan departed I-84 at Utah Exit 20, between Tremonton and Snowville. It crossed a frontage road, parked near a fence, then returned to the freeway six minutes later.
The minivan then continued into Idaho. At 1:44 a.m., it pulled onto the shoulder of I-84 in rural Minidoka County. It remained there until 1:54 a.m., at which time it proceeded west into neighboring Jerome County.
At 2:01 a.m., the minivan stopped once again. The tracker showed it came to rest at a spot roughly 300 feet west of where I-84 crosses the Milner-Gooding Canal. The canal is a prominent waterway that delivers irrigation water from the Snake River to agricultural areas throughout Idaho’s Magic Valley.
The van departed the area near the canal five minutes later, at 2:06 a.m. It then traveled to the Bliss Rest Area, where Josh Powell likely slept until 4:30 a.m.
May 2010 photos
A further clue has emerged suggesting the stretch of I-84 between Burley and Twin Falls, Idaho, might have been of some significance to Josh Powell. On another drive between West Valley City and South Hill, Washington, on May 7, 2010, Powell parked his van near a field to the north of the freeway off Exit 194.
West Valley police had Powell under physical surveillance at the time. A detective wrote in a log that Powell appeared to sleep there from 2:20 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. The location where Powell slept was roughly 2 miles from the spot where he had stopped near the canal 4½ months earlier. Detectives served a search warrant a year and a half later at Steve Powell’s home in South Hill, Washington. They seized computers and digital devices. Forensic examination of those devices later uncovered photos Josh Powell had taken during the drive on May 7, 2010.
Several of those photos showed Josh Powell had stopped along I-84 between Ontario and Baker City, Oregon. Detectives pinpointed the location and searched it at the start of May 2012, three month after Josh Powell murdered his sons and killed himself during court-authorized visitation at a home he had rented in Graham, Washington. The Oregon search did not turn up any conclusive evidence.
Josh Powell’s photos from the May 2010 drive also included several shots that appeared to have been taken in rural Idaho.
The “Cold” podcast team obtained copies of the Idaho photos from a copy of one of Josh Powell’s hard drives with the assistance of digital forensics experts at the firm Eide Bailly. “Cold” then used Google Earth to geolocate the spot where the photos were taken. That spot was in the same general area as Josh Powell’s unexplained stops on Dec. 19, 2009, just 12 miles to the west.
There are no known police records that indicate investigators ever identified or searched the locations in Idaho where Josh Powell stopped, or the dumpsters in Utah that the mobile tracking data showed he visited.
“Cold” requested clarification on this point from West Valley police. In an email, police spokeswoman Roxeanne Vainuku said, “The absence of a location being documented in a log does not equate to investigators being unaware of the location.”