Editor’s note: This is another episode in a series that highlights a KSL investigative podcast series titled “Cold” that reports new information about the case of missing Utah woman Susan Powell.
WEST VALLEY CITY — Ten years have passed since the day that Susan Powell was last seen alive.
For her parents, Chuck and Judy Cox, the decade without their daughter has been fraught with pain, uncertainty and frustration. Yet, in an interview marking the anniversary with the KSL podcast “Cold,” the Coxes also described a sense of hope.
“I think at the right time she’ll be found,” Chuck Cox said. “If not, there’s a whole lot of people in the world that are missing.”
Over the past decade, those hopes have soared each time the Coxes learned of situations in which human remains were located in the western United States. None of those discoveries have led to the recovery of Susan’s remains.
“We’re thankful for whoever is found, that’s good for the family,” Judy Cox said.
Susan Powell’s disappearance
The last time anyone besides her husband, Josh Powell, is known to have seen Susan Powell alive was the afternoon of Sunday, Dec. 6, 2009. A neighbor, JoVanna Owings, was over for lunch at the Powell family’s home on Sarah Circle.
The following morning, on Monday, Dec. 7, 2009, the Powell’s two children, Charlie and Braden, failed to show up for their day care as scheduled. Josh and Susan Powell both missed work that morning. Their day care provider, Debbie Caldwell, called the Powell family’s emergency contact, Josh Powell’s older sister Jennifer Graves.
Graves and her mother, Terri Powell, went to Josh and Susan Powell’s home and discovered it was secure, with no sign that the family had come or gone since a significant winter storm started during the prior night. Terri Powell placed a 911 call to West Valley police, who sent officers to the house.
Police had launched an investigation by the time Josh Powell returned that afternoon in the family’s minivan, with the couple’s two boys. He told a detective that he’d taken his sons out on an impromptu camping trip in Utah’s West Desert. He claimed to have no idea where his wife was, stating only that he believed she would have gone to work.
West Valley police immediately focused in on Josh Powell as a suspect in his wife’s disappearance and likely murder. However, they encountered significant setbacks in their efforts to hold him accountable.
“Police aren’t miracle workers, they’re just police,” Chuck Cox said. “I do know their heart was in the right place.”
On the night of Dec. 8, 2009, Powell slipped out of the West Valley police headquarters building unnoticed as detectives were attaching a GPS tracking device to his minivan and serving a search warrant at his home. Powell rented a car from Salt Lake City International Airport and vanished for the next 18 hours.
It remains unclear where Powell traveled during that time, though detectives discovered Powell had put 807 miles on the car before returning it on Dec. 10, 2009.
Powell left Utah with his sons on the night of Dec. 18, 2009, taking up residence with his father, Steve Powell, in South Hill, Washington. He made several subsequent trips back to West Valley City to gather his possessions and attend to business, but never again called the house on Sarah Circle his home.
In September of 2011, child welfare workers in Washington took Powell’s sons into protective custody. Their grandfather, Steve Powell, with whom they were living, had been arrested on suspicion of voyeurism and child pornography possession.
Josh Powell killed himself and his sons on Feb. 5, 2012, by setting fire to a home he had rented in the community of Graham, Washington, while the boys were there for a court-authorized visit.
On Feb. 11, 2013, Josh Powell’s brother Michael Powell took his own life in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he was living while attending school. Detectives believed the younger Powell might have had knowledge of Susan Powell’s fate.
Steve Powell served two terms in prison and, on July 22, 2018, died from a heart attack.
“It’s just a sad waste of a life,” Chuck Cox said. “Steve ruined his family.”
Chuck and Judy Cox have spent the years since Susan Powell’s disappearance and the deaths of their grandsons praying for answers.
“Ten years later, how I get through it is because of my beliefs,” Chuck Cox said. “I don’t understand how anybody can handle it without that kind of support.”
Coverage of the tragedies surrounding the Powell family in national and international news, as well as in the “Cold” podcast, have turned Susan Powell into something of a lightning rod for other individuals and families impacted by domestic violence. The Coxes have found themselves acting as advocates for other abused women.
“It’s hard for me because I’m reliving the emotions,” Judy Cox said. “But I also want to help others and I want people to know this story so it doesn’t happen to them.”
The Coxes also engaged in a yearslong court fight with Josh Powell’s mother and younger sister for the proceeds of Josh and Susan Powell’s multimillion-dollar life insurance policies. A federal court ultimately split the money between the two families. The Coxes said they invested their allotted portion, minus attorneys fees, in case their daughter ever returns home alive.
“It’s hers and we hope someday she’ll be found,” Judy Cox said. “I’ve had dreams where that has happened. I wake up thinking she’s home and know it was a dream. It was a good dream. You know? For a time. It was a peace, or a moment that was happy.”