SALT LAKE CITY— Susan Powell had been married about a year when she started writing a journal. She was a love-struck, 20-year-old newlywed, dreaming of the future she would build with her husband.
“I just feel incredibly lucky to have Josh,” she wrote in 2002.
Before long, however, she found herself torn. A growing sense of danger was telling her to grab her kids and flee, but her strong religious faith led her to believe she could save her young family. The journal entries turned grim.
“If I die, it may not be an accident even if it looks like one,” she wrote in 2008. “Take care of my boys.”
She went missing the following year and hasn’t been seen since. Her husband later killed their sons and himself. No one was ever charged in her disappearance, and the people at the center of the police investigation — her husband, his brother and their father — are all either dead or in prison.
As leads have gone cold, the chief agency in the investigation, the West Valley City Police Department, has closed the case saying for the first time they believe Josh Powell played a role in killing his wife and that his brother Michael Powell helped get rid of her body. Both men denied involvement in her disappearance before committing suicide about a year apart.
With the investigation over, police released thousands of pages of documents, providing new details about a scandal that made national headlines with each development.
Susan Cox and Josh Powell married in spring 2001 at a Mormon temple in Portland about four months after meeting at a Latter-day Saints singles dance.
They were regulars at church and sang together in the choir. The newlyweds bounced from job to job and from apartment to apartment, sometimes living with Josh’s father, Steve Powell. Susan Powell wrote that her husband was “computer smart,” but she worried that he couldn’t keep a regular job.
Money was a constant problem. They disagreed over whether to tithe 10 percent of their income to the church, with Josh Powell considering it a waste of money, according to the journal. He also wanted to spend as little as possible on food, proclaiming, she wrote, “The food we eat will only be from our garden and if we don’t grow it, we will not eat it. We will only buy dairy products and meat.”
Eventually, Susan Powell found steady work at a call center to support the family financially. Her husband’s behavior, meanwhile, grew increasingly controlling, according to both the handwritten journal and police records.
Josh Powell limited her computer and phone access. He had calls to their home forwarded to his cell and would decide which messages she received. He refused to let her have a cellphone of her own. “I can’t believe our marriage deteriorated so quickly. I feel so blind and naive and foolish,” she wrote in 2008.
She also came to see her father-in-law as meddlesome. Steve Powell is behind bars on voyeurism charges after being convicted of taking photos of young neighbor girls without their knowledge, a crime that emerged after police seized computer hard-drives from his Puyallup home while investigating Susan Powell’s disappearance. He has denied involvement, but Steve Powell became a public figure in the case after saying on national TV that he and his daughter-in-law had been falling in love.
Documents show Susan Powell sent notes to friends in 2009 from a work email address, saying she needed to “take a shower” after reading lyrics to songs her father-in-law posted on his website. She wrote that his song “I’m Missing You,” is directed toward her: “I can love you in a secret way. I can love you each and every day.”
“Glance over the lyrics — they are creepy,” she writes. “Especially when you know the background.” Her writings also suggest she saw something terrible coming.
She believed Josh had bipolar disorder and wrote about his violent temper. She worried about saying things that would set him off and told her sister in the fall of 2007 that Josh Powell said he would kill her before agreeing to a divorce.
“Will he do something irrational? Do I need to pack up kids and run,” she wrote in 2008. “Will he hurt me and/or take the kids, hurt them?”Eventually, Susan began to assert her independence.
According to police files, she took the family car on her days off, and opened her own bank account so he couldn’t control her spending. She got a computer and a cellphone.
“I think he thought I would always be docile and do whatever he says,” she wrote in an email to a friend in the fall of 2009. “Now I’ve learned the mother bear protection/survival mode so I’m stronger than I think he ever thought would happen.”
She disappeared months later. Her husband killed their sons and himself in February 2012. Her father-in-law was convicted three months later. Within a year, Michael Powell killed himself by jumping from a Minneapolis parking garage.