Special Reports

Mystery shrouds search of South Hill home in Susan Powell case

About 20 investigators from Utah and the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department on Thursday started searching the South Hill home of the husband and father-in-law of a Utah mother missing since 2009.

Susan Cox Powell, a Puyallup native, was last seen at her West Valley City, Utah, home on Dec. 6, 2009. There’s been no trace of her since.

Her 35-year-old husband, Josh Powell, long has been considered a person of interest in his wife’s disappearance. He denies harming his wife and has not been arrested or charged.

On Thursday, investigators and forensic specialists from each agency focused on the South Hill-area home where Josh Powell, has been living with his father, Steve Powell.

Josh Powell has been at the house since moving back to the area with the couple’s two sons after his wife’s disappearance.

He and his father were detained for a while outside the Silver Creek home while investigators searched the house, Pierce County sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said.

The reason for the search - and what, if anything, investigators found - was not made public.

“We are specifically looking for certain items, but I can’t tell you what they are,” said Lt. Bill Merritt, spokesman for the West Valley City Police.

“The probable cause exists,” he said. “We believe it’s in the home or a vehicle. We’re not just walking in blindly saying, ‘I wonder what’s in here.’”

Merritt said his department brought a dozen detectives and investigators to Pierce County for the search. A large white trailer marked “West Valley City Police” sat directly in front of Powell’s house for most of the afternoon as investigators went through the house.

The street in the subdivision was packed with other police vehicles and television trucks. News helicopters circled overhead. Neighbors kept a close eye on the operation, gathering in small groups or walking slowly past the house.

Merritt said the search warrant also applied to vehicles at the property. Josh Powell waited while his vehicle was searched, which took about 45 minutes, Merritt said.

Josh Powell again declined to be interviewed by West Valley police, Merritt said – as he has since early in the case – and left during the rest of the search.

“Josh was very cooperative,” Merritt said, “but we were not able to interview him before he left.”

Chuck Cox, Susan Powell’s father, said he was pleased the West Valley City police traveled to Washington State for the search.

“It shows they still consider this an active case and they’re following the evidence they have,” he said. “I’m not sure what they’re looking for there, but we’re glad they’re looking. We have a lot of confidence in them.”

The police activity took place as Josh Powell and his family and Susan Powell’s family engaged in a heated - and highly publicized - war of words over the past several days.

The exchanges have taken a salacious turn, with Josh Powell’s family claiming Susan Powell was sexually promiscuous, emotionally unstable and suicidal.

Her father-in-law claims she interacted with him in “sexual ways.”

Both sides appeared separately Thursday on nationally televised morning talk shows.

In an interview on CBS’ “Early Show,” Josh Powell said he would never hurt his wife. He has said he believes his wife ran off with another man.

“A lot of things don’t make sense,” he told CBS. “At first, I had no idea what to think.”

Susan Cox Powell’s family, meanwhile, appeared on NBC’s “The Today Show.” Cox called allegations that his daughter was flirtatious “outrageous, cowardly and despicable.”

The two families also have been publicly fighting over the possible release of Susan Powell’s diary.

Josh Powell’s family has said the pages show she tried to commit suicide as a teen and could have walked away from her family. Cox has said he will fight the release of those pages.

Last week, West Valley City police detectives spent two days searching abandoned mines in the mountain desert around Ely, Nev. Police said the search was based on information from a search warrant executed shortly after Susan Powell disappeared and a new, credible tip in the case.

The location was about 235 miles southwest of the Powells’ home in West Valley City, Utah.

Investigators found no remains and no evidence was taken from the mines but still called the two-day effort successful. They have declined to say what specifically led them to search the mines and what they were looking for.

Last weekend, Steve Powell and Cox got into a shouting match in front of reporters outside a Puyallup store while her relatives waved signs to remind people about her disappearance.

On Tuesday, Josh Powell and Cox got anti-harassment orders against each other during a hearing in Pierce County Superior Court.

On the last day Susan Powell was seen her husband left for a midnight camping trip with their two sons, then ages 2 and 4, in subfreezing weather. Her purse and cellphone were found at the home.

Susan Powell, who turned 29 last October, was reported missing the next day when she failed to show up for work as a stockbroker. An $11,000 reward has offered been offered for information in her disappearance.

She graduated from Rogers High School in Puyallup in 2000 and married about nine months later. The two had met at a church and later moved to Utah.

Staff writer Rob Carson contributed to this report.

Stacey Mulick: 253-597-8268 stacey.mulick@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/crime