PUYALLUP, Wash. — The day after Susan Powell disappeared, her four-year-old son Charlie told the police that he knew exactly where his mother was. She had joined the family on a midnight drive, he told them, and she’d stayed at a place the boy called “Dinosaur National Park.”
“My mom stayed where the crystals are,” Charlie told them, “because it has so much pretty where the crystals grow.”
It was a chilling thing for a young boy to say, especially given what the police already knew about the case. Their theory, throughout their investigation, was that Susan had been murdered by her husband, Josh Powell, and one of the theories was her body was left to rot in an abandoned mine.
Charlie’s version of the story was the first hard piece of evidence the police had against Josh; that statement let them get their first warrant to search his home.
But it opened up a dark, disturbing possibility. If Charlie was telling the truth, it would not only mean that Josh Powell had murdered his wife but that he’d taken their children with him when he disposed of their mother’s body.
To this day, nobody knows for sure exactly how Susan died. There is no question, however, that her disappearance and the media circus that followed took an intense psychological toll on her young children, Charlie and Braden.
Investigative journalist Dave Cawley has delved into the aftermath of Susan’s death and the impact it had on her children in episode 10 of Cold. He has spoken to Charlie’s kindergarten teacher, Tammy Forman, and uncovered some chilling details about the young boys at the center of one of Utah’s most infamous cases.
Charlie Powell’s kindergarten teacher speaks
Charlie Powell was raising eyebrows almost as soon as he arrived at kindergarten.
Just a few weeks after Susan Powell vanished from West Valley City in 2009, her son, Charlie, turned five, setting the stage for his school days to begin the following fall. His father, Josh Powell, had moved to Washington state shortly after Susan disappeared. There, he enrolled Charlie at Carson Elementary School.
“He was very entrepreneurial and extremely curious,” his kindergarten teacher, Tammy Forman, recalled. “Just wanted to know about everything.”
She described the little boy as very serious and a bit of a loner.
“He was very quirky and kind of like a little man. He didn’t – he wasn’t playful,” she recalled.
But he was creative and caring.
“He wrote a story about ants because we had an ant infiltration and he was very concerned that I not hurt the ants,” she says, “so he wrote out directions of how to get rid of ants without hurting them.”
However, there were signs that Charlie might also be troubled.
“Charlie said that his brother was dead one day. Just came in, said, ‘my brother’s dead,'” Forman recalls. “But Charlie, more and more, would start to say odd things and I would just send him to the counselor because I didn’t want any kind of big confession there in front of the class.”
Another time, he drew what he told Forman was a gun.
“And he drew it upside-down so when I first saw it, it looked like people on a mountain or something. And I was always on edge about ‘What’s he drawing?’ And then I turned it around and it looked like a gun to me.”
Another day, having overheard another student say his mother was dead, Forman remembers Charlie marching over to that child’s table and saying his mom wasn’t dead, she was just away because her parents abused her.
Later, when things calmed down, Forman asked if Charlie if he was okay.
“He said ‘I feel a little better because I’m really smart and I can figure out a way for liars like this student to go to jail for 14 years,'” she said. “And I feel like, as the year progressed, he was getting closer and closer to saying something that would have incriminated his dad.”
Perhaps that explains why Josh Powell twice showed up at school and planted himself on the classroom floor. Forman told him that wasn’t OK. Powell didn’t budge.
“People would come in to have him leave. He’d say, ‘Oh no, I’m fine.’ He wasn’t really combative. He just wouldn’t leave,” she remembered. “And so then they would have to go get someone else and eventually the principal would have to come in and escort him out.”
Forman says she found both Josh and his father, Steve Powell, creepy.
Perhaps the eeriest thing of all, though, was the letter Josh Powell handed the school with a list of people he would not allow to see his sons. Their grandparents’ names, Chuck and Judy Cox, were on the list — and so was Susan Powell’s.
By then, there was a near-consensus that Susan was dead; but for Josh, this was more than just a minor point. The very first time he met his son’s teacher, Forman said, he made it point to tell her: “Their mom is not allowed to see them.”
Forman would never make sense of it. “If you killed her, why would you even be saying that?” she says. “Why would that be an issue for you?”
Cold: Episode 10
Hear the whole story, including exclusive interviews with Tammy Forman and those closest to the case, on episode 10 of Cold.
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