Steve Powell couldn’t sleep the night after he learned that his daughter-in-law, Susan Powell, had disappeared. He tossed and turned in bed, feeling sick and exhausted but unable to sleep.
A little after midnight, he stopped trying. There was a dark thought plaguing his mind, and the only way he could get past it, it seems, was to pick up his journal and put his worries on paper.
“I fear the worst,” he wrote. “I think Susan is dead, and Josh spent the 20 hour lacuna disposing of her body far away.”
It’s a fear Steve Powell would never share with the world. No matter how much suspicion grew against his son, Steven was always his defender. He pushed so hard to try to convince the police and the media that Josh was innocent that some even began to publicly suggest that he may been an accomplice in Susan’s death.
But investigative reporter Dave Cawley of the podcast Cold has managed to obtain journals written by Steven that tell a very different story from the one he told the world.
Steve Powell, on the night Susan disappeared, wrote down that he feared his son was a murderer.
The journals of Steve Powell
Steve Powell wrote his first entry at 12:35 a.m. on Dec. 8th, 2009 – 14 hours after Susan Powell disappeared.
“I am feeling sick,” he wrote. “It is possible that Susan is dead.”
He wouldn’t get any sleep that night. Over the next 24 hours, he would slowly add more and more to his journal, keeping a detailed record of the tortured thoughts that were going through his mind as he wrestled with the possibility that his son might be a murderer.
He had heard Josh’s alibi for where he’d been when Susan disappeared: that he had taken the children on a midnight camping trip camping in a blizzard. That story, Steven’s journals reveal, didn’t make any more sense to him than it would to the police.
“The story is so implausible, and our conversation with Josh so unconvincing that I fear the worst,” Steven wrote. “The whole thing sounds so wrong, even if it had nothing to do with disposing of Susan’s body. Why would anybody do that?”
Steven wasn’t the only one struggling with that thought. He had spoken with two of his other children, Michael and Alina, about it, as well. His journal makes it clear they believed Josh’s story to be full of holes.
“Michael and Alina are very supportive of Josh, and advised him to tighten up his story, as it sounds weak and unconvincing,” Steven wrote. “Josh responded that the police may have already tapped his phone, which was the same as saying, ‘Be careful what you say.’”
Steven was convinced that Josh had already mutilated and disposed of Susan’s body. He wrote about some of the strange decisions Josh had made over the past couple of weeks, flirting with the idea that his son had been getting ready to commit premeditated murder.
“In the last two weeks, Josh bought an oxy-acetylene welder and a Rug Doctor carpet cleaner. I had no clue why he might want a welder, but now I wonder if it was required for the process of mutilating or disintegrating her body.”
Michael had to assure him that, if Susan was dead, it was probably a murder of passion. Josh’s alibi, Michael told his father, was so poorly planned that he couldn’t imagine he had taken the time to think it through.
Steven doesn’t seem to have known much for certain. He had his theories on where Susan been buried, on how Josh had disposed of her body, and on how this would all end, but he didn’t know anything for sure. If Josh did kill his wife, it doesn’t seem that he let his father in on any of the details.
There was one belief, though, that Steven seemed so sure of that he wrote it down, in various ways, again and again:
“I doubt Susan is alive, and I doubt Josh’s hands are clean.”
“If I could only turn back time.”
Josh’s mother, Terri Powell, would later tell the police that she didn’t see her son as someone capable of killing his wife.
“I’ve never known Josh to be violent,” she told the police in February of 2010. “I do see him as — y’know, he’ll get in and get things done and he also has a certain disregard for trying to accommodate other people and their needs — but he also seems very gentle.”
In his journals, however, Steve Powell made it clear that he didn’t see his son the same way. 36 hours after Susan disappeared, he wrote:
“Years ago I made up my mind that Josh was, of my kids, capable of doing such a thing.”
He blamed Terri for how Josh had turned out, linking everything that had happened back to the difficult divorce the two of them had gone through when Josh was young. Josh’s motive, Steven believed, was to avoid having to go through such a painful divorce himself.
He wrote that he regretted not warning Josh earlier that he wouldn’t be able to get away with murder.
“If I had only known,” Steven wrote. “If I could only turn back time.”
His struggle now was between what he saw as his obligation to be a supportive father to his son and the hard reality that the boy he raised might be a killer. And he worried, above all, what that would mean for Josh and Susan’s sons, Charlie and Braden.
Braden, then two-years-old, was already struggling with the absence of his mother. While Josh was cleaning the house, Steve Powell wrote, Braden cuddled up to a picture of a woman on a cardboard box and said: “Mommy.”
Worse still, however, was the thought of Josh might now be capable of doing. With terrifying prescience, Steven wrote one thing in his journal that predicted how the whole story would end:
“I want Josh to be with his boys, but I am also angry with him for murdering such a beautiful woman…
“That he could do such a thing once suggests that he could do it again. If things go too badly, he could murder the boys and hang himself.”
Cold: Episode 17
Cawley has shared whole excerpts from Steve Powell’s journal in the seventeenth episode of his Podcast “Cold”, shedding a light unlike any before on the thoughts that went through Steven’s mind on the day Susan disappeared.
Listen to Steven’s journal entries, as he wrote them, in episode 17 of Cold.
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