WEST VALLEY CITY — Nine years after the disappearance of Susan Powell, a KSL investigative podcast has revealed police believed her husband, Josh, destroyed potentially key evidence in the case.
That discovery is the subject of episode 5 of “Cold,” available to stream or download free.
The day after Josh Powell returned from what he said was an impromptu, late-night camping trip with sons Charlie and Braden, 4 and 2, in the West Desert of Utah, now-retired Det. Ellis Maxwell asked him to report at 9 a.m. for a second police interview. Instead, he turned up hours later, sometime after noon.
At the start of this second interview with Maxwell, Powell expressed concern that he might need an attorney.
“On the way over here, I actually did call my attorneys and they said I should definitely have an attorney,” Powell said.
“Dude, I didn’t read you your Miranda rights. Have I?” asked Maxwell. “Do you feel like you’re under arrest?”
Powell’s response included audible sniffles.
“I don’t know. I didn’t even think it was that — didn’t even sink in yesterday, but I don’t know where she’s at, and she ain’t back yet,” Powell said.
The flaws in Josh Powell’s story
Maxwell didn’t buy Powell’s story about camping with Charlie and Braden, forgetting what day it was, and coming back home to find police at his house and no sign of his wife. But he didn’t yet have solid evidence he could use to confront Josh. While he interviewed Powell, other members of his team worked on securing warrants to search Powell’s house and minivan.
“You know, there was enough evidence there that – and suspicion, right? Reasonable suspicion – that we could secure these just based off of, you know, his lack of statements, his story, you know, Susan not having any criminal history, no past of running off and abandoning your family,” he remembered later. “So you’ve got a lot of stuff like that that can support the reasonable suspicion, but you don’t have the probable cause to put the guy into jail.”
Meanwhile, Powell’s sister had told police she was willing to help. As a result, Charlie and Braden Powell were at the South Valley Children’s Justice Center where another detective conducted a forensic interview.
Information obtained from very young children can be problematic in an investigation. Charlie, who would be turning five-years-old the next month, was more talkative than Braden, but Maxwell wasn’t sure his memory would be completely reliable — for example, in helping determine a timeline.
However, Charlie said something that gave Maxwell something to work with when it came to Josh Powell. He told police his mother had been with the family on its West Desert camping trip, but that she had stayed “where the flowers and the crystals grow.”
…where the flowers and the crystals grow
Maxwell learned about this development when he left the room for a few minutes. When he came back in, he sprung the information on Powell.
“One of our detectives just interviewed your children, and your children are telling our detectives that Mom went with you guys last night and that she didn’t come back,” Maxwell said.
“She did not go with us,” Powell insisted.
“OK, well, with that – just getting that information, you’re not going to go anywhere,” Maxwell told him. “We’re not gonna let you leave. I’m going to detain you.”
Investigators did not yet arrest Powell, hoping that the warrants they were working to secure would give them that solid evidence they were looking for that they could use to hold him. Detectives combed through the minivan, which looked much different than it had the day before. There was no generator, no tarps, no camping supplies – but there was a plastic trash bag full of what looked like kitchen trash. Included in the mess was a discarded pancake.
“We took it. We analyzed everything out of there,” Maxwell said. “It was a theory that he poisoned or sedated Susan, you know – whether if it was with prescription medication or whatever, but we felt that he likely put something in her food.”
Tests failed to turn up any sign of drugs. Still, it was fishy.
“Both of his garbage cans outside of the residence were empty. So he could’ve easily have thrown that garbage sack in the garbage cans at his residence, but he chose not to. He chose to put it in his van, and he was gonna dispose of it elsewhere,” Maxwell said.
Police found something else in the van, too.
“In the floorboard, there’s a storage space, and when you open that, there’s another garbage sack and it contains several pieces of heavily burnt dry-wall. Sheetrock,” Maxwell said. “You can see that he had sheetrock piled, so he had a few pieces on top and then – and he put some sort of an object on there and destroyed it with some heavy heat.”
To this day, police don’t know what that object was.
“It was just like a black, hard – almost like a rock. About the size of your palm. And there was a couple of wires as well,” he said.
Even the FBI couldn’t identify it.
While searching the minivan, police also got permission to place a GPS tracker on the vehicle, an attempt to lay a trap for Powell.
Instead, he gave them the slip – going off the grid for the next 18 hours.
Find out how Powell was able to elude police in episode 5 of Cold.
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