Records: Utah mom case probed as murder from start
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Authorities investigating the 2009 disappearance of a Utah mother almost immediately began classifying the case as a murder and kidnapping probe as they focused largely on the woman's husband, according to heavily redacted court documents released Tuesday.
The roughly 800 pages of documents provide scant new details in the case of Susan Powell's disappearance or the ensuing investigation of her husband, Josh Powell, who earlier this year killed himself and the couple's two young sons at a home in Washington state.
As early as two days after Susan Powell was reported missing, authorities in their hometown of West Valley City, Utah, were describing the case as a murder, kidnapping, unlawful detention and obstruction of justice probe, the documents reveal.
Publicly, they would only say the case remained active while sharing little else, and they never specifically labeled Josh Powell a suspect. That was despite the fact that authorities found blood in the family home and a hand-written note in which Susan Powell expressed fear about her husband hurting her.
Utah authorities maintain the investigation remains active and open, but said the documents reveal their painstaking efforts to close the case and find Susan.
The records help "make the public aware, to some extent, of what's been going on," West Valley City police Sgt. Mike Powell said Tuesday. "We've been working diligently and very hard on this investigation."
Powell said the redacted court documents released Tuesday represent only some of the actual case file, and only reveal details investigators believe won't hinder the ongoing probe.
Anne Bremner, an attorney for Susan Powell's parents, said that's not good enough. She has been fighting for the release of the entire case file under a Utah law that provides victims the same rights and access to investigative records as criminal defendants.
"We'll keep making attempts to get the full measure of the records," Bremner said Tuesday. "Until I'm satisfied that I have everything, my clients have instructed me to keep going forward."
Susan Powell was reported missing Dec. 7, 2009, after she didn't show up for work. Josh Powell had always maintained his innocence and said he had taken the couple's boys, then 2 and 4, on a midnight camping trip in freezing temperatures the night she disappeared.
During their investigation, authorities found human blood on a couch and on a carpet inside the Powell's home where several fans were being used to dry the material, the records show. Powell told police both had been recently cleaned.
When questioned about his impromptu late-night camping trip, Powell told authorities he was testing out a new generator, according to the documents. The records were released after more than two and a half years of legal wrangling by The Salt Lake Tribune. Multiple media outlets, including The Associated Press, also sought the documents through public records requests.
Charles Cox, Susan's father, has said one of the Powell's sons told social workers his mother came along on the midnight camping trip but was "in the trunk."
One of the children told investigators that his mother had gone on the camping trip "but decided to stay and not come home," according to the records released Tuesday.
Last year, authorities got a warrant to search the Washington state home of Josh Powell's father, Steve. Josh Powell and his sons were living there at the time. Investigators found explicit images of underage neighbor girls on the father's computers during the search. He was convicted in May on 14 voyeurism counts and sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison.
Authorities say he has been uncooperative in their investigation into the disappearance of his daughter-in-law, who he claims he had a flirtatious relationship with, something her family denies.
The two children were placed in the care of Susan's parents, but Josh Powell was later allowed to see them. In February, he attacked the boys with a hatchet, then lit his Washington rental home ablaze, killing himself and his sons.
While accusations continue to fly that authorities could have done more to protect the Powell's two sons, Susan Powell's parents have insisted all along that police had enough circumstantial evidence to charge Josh Powell.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said police were still trying to "put together the strongest case they could."
"They didn't have a body. They didn't know the manner in which she died," Gill said Tuesday. "This was a complex matter and it continues to be."
Also Tuesday, Bremner and another attorney filed a $20 million negligence lawsuit against Washington state's Department of Social and Health Services in the death of Josh Powell's sons. DSHS spokesman Thomas Shapley declined to comment on the claim.
Steve Powell faces a separate lawsuit filed by the mother of the neighbor girls he secretly videotaped. That suit claims the young girls, who were about 8 and 10 when the images were recorded, suffered severe emotional distress. It seeks undisclosed damages.
It wasn't clear whether Steve Powell had an attorney in the civil case. Calls to his attorneys in the voyeurism case were not returned.
Associated Press writer Phuong Le contributed to this report from Seattle.