"I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become."
It was the 6th of December 2009. A Sunday. 28 year old Susan Cox Powell lived with her husband Josh and their two boys, Charlie who was 4 years old at the time and 2 year old Braden in West Valley City, Utah, United States. They looked like a beautiful family. But behind their big smiles lay some dark secrets.
Susan, Charlie and Braden
Earlier that day, around 12pm, Susan had taken the two boys to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and when she got home , a neighbour visited her. The neighbour stayed until around 5pm that evening and Josh said that he was going camping with the boys that night but before that he wanted to take them out for a couple of hours. Given there was a snowstorm in Utah at the time, he wanted to take them sledding. That same neighbour saw Josh returning around 8.30pm that night.
When Josh's mother Terrica and sister Jennifer Graves called to the home the next day, the Powells were not there and they reported them missing. A neighbour told them that at 11.45 pm, their car alarm was heard from inside their garage but the lights in the home were off at the time.
Josh, Charlie, Braden
Susan was due at work that day but she didn't show up and the boys were not dropped off at day care. Josh had also been due to go to work that day. So the fact that neither of them were at the house or at work caused alarm bells to ring especially as the weather had been so bad. The temperature was below freezing that night.
Police went to their home. Josh returned home around 5pm that day with the boys but Susan wasn't with him. Josh said that he went camping around 12-12.30 and when he left Susan stayed at home and was asleep. Susan didn't join them as she had work the next day. Josh drove the minivan to Simpson Springs in West Desert. The camping spot was around a two hour drive from their home. He didn't know where Susan was. He thought she would be at work.
Police found Susan's cellphone in the minivan but there was no SIM card in it. Josh was brought into the station for questioning. Police discovered that everything was far from perfect in the Powell home. They knew that Susan had expressed concerns about Josh in the past. The couple were US$200,000 in debt and had filed for bankruptcy in 2007. In 2008, Susan wrote a letter to friends and warned them that Josh said he would "destroy" her if she divorced him and she said that if she died, it may not be an accident even if it may look like one. Even though it appeared Susan was afraid, she had told her family that she may end their marriage by April 6th, their anniversary. She wanted to make a better life for herself and the boys. Josh was controlling and abusive. Josh quickly became very much a person of interest in Susan's disappearance.
Charlie told police that Susan went camping with them but didn't come home. He later told his teacher she was dead . Braden drew a picture with three people in the minivan and said that his "mommy was in the trunk". Police went to the area where Josh said he had been camping but there was no camping site and they could not find the exact location. Nothing else showed up in the search. There were a lot of isolated areas and mines near to where Josh had been and they proved difficult to search.
A year after Susan disappeared , with investigations still ongoing, Josh and his father Steven claimed Susan ran away with Steven Koecher, a Utah man who went missing in Nevada in December 2009. They claimed Susan and Steven were having an affair.
Steven was a Utah based Journalist who disappeared just one week after Susan went missing, on the 13th of December 2009. He was last seen on CCTV Footage in the Sun City Anthem area of Henderson, Nevada parking his car. He walked down the sidewalk and onto the street and that is where the footage ended and he was not seen since. That area was about a two hour drive from his home in Utah. While the circumstances surrounding Steven's disappearance were unusual, there was no connection found to Susan's disappearance. It appeared to be something Josh and his father made up to try to stop police looking at them as suspects. But police believed that Josh killed Susan and his brother Michael helped conceal the body. Michael sold his car to a wreckage yard shortly after Susan disappeared and a cadaver dog alerted to the trunk of the car when sniffing for odour of a corpse.
In 2011, Susan's best friend Kiirsi Hellewell and Josh's sister claimed police should also look at Steven as Josh's father Steven made unwanted sexual advances towards Susan. He denied this. Police soon discovered that Steven had been obsessed with Susan.
Police found images on Steven's computer of young girls and women including Susan dressing. Disturbing images were also found on Josh's computer which included beastiality , incest and simulated child pornography.
A Judge ordered the two boys to stay with Susan's parents, Chuck and Judy Cox. Josh was allowed to have supervised visits. On the 5th of February 2012, a social worker, Elizabeth Griffin, took the two boys to Josh's trailer for their visit. When the boys walked into the trailer, Josh slammed the door on Elizabeth's face and locked her outside. She called 911.
Inside the trailer, Josh tried to kill the boys with a hatchet and set off an explosion. All three died. The cause of death was carbon monoxide poisoning and both boys had chopping injuries on their hands and necks.Two 5 gallon cans of gasoline were found in the trailer.
On the 11th of February 2013, Josh's brother, Michael, jumped off the top of a car park in Minneapolis. Two years later, Steven was sentenced to 5 years in prison for possession of child pornography. He died in 2018.
Michael (Josh's brother), Steve (Josh's father) with Josh, Susan and son Charlie
It is clear that with Steven as a parent, Josh did not have a good role model growing up. He watched how his father treated his mother which included emotional and physical abuse. He had no respect for women and was controlling and possessive. These were traits that were passed on to Josh. When Josh moved to Utah with Susan, he could have cut ties with his father as he lived in Washington at the time but he didn't. This was even after Steven had come on to his wife. Steven, Josh and Michael are now all dead and have taken their dark secrets to the grave. For the Cox family, they did not only lose their much loved daughter but also their cherished grandchildren.
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"The criminal justice system will take a hard look at what happened to Matthew Eappen. It is up to the rest of us to take an even harder look at who is minding our children."
- Eileen McNamara, the Boston Globe
"The effects of abuse are devastating and far reaching. Domestic violence speaks many languages, has many colors and lives in many different communities."
- Sandra Pupatello