This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.
Three-and-a-half years after it started, the most heart-wrenching missing person investigation in Pierce County’s history may have come to an end. And Susan Cox Powell’s remains have yet to be found.
The Puyallup mother’s mysterious disappearance in December 2009 was the beginning of a slowly unfolding horror show. The unimaginable climax followed a year ago February, when her husband, Josh, hatcheted and burned their two boys to death in a Graham-area rental house.
Josh Powell was the prime suspect all along, according to records just released by the Police Department in West Valley City, Utah. Susan disappeared in West Valley, and its detectives spent years searching for her body before finally calling it quits and closing the investigation Monday.
The released records held some surprises.
It turns out that investigators had been looking hard at Michael C. Powell, Josh’s more distinguished brother. Michael Powell was not a likely criminal suspect. He’d been active in the Pierce County Democratic Party, ran unsuccessfully for the Legislature and attended the 2008 national convention as an Obama delegate.
But West Valley police came to believe that this seemingly decent man assisted his brother in disposing of Susan’s body. But whatever consequences Michael Powell might have faced became moot in February when he committed suicide in Minneapolis.
The investigators also discovered that Josh Powell had carried on an affair with a woman in the months prior to Susan’s disappearance. This sheds a strange light on Josh Powell’s later insinuations that Susan left their family to secretly run off with another man.
Josh Powell’s father, Steven Powell, was the first to publicly smear Susan as a child-abandoning adulteress. He also took to claiming that she’d been coming on to him sexually — and explored that theme in salacious detail two years ago on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
Steven Powell’s conviction on 12 counts of voyeurism last year — for covertly filming neighbor girls as they bathed and played — is all you have to know about his credibility. What a tangle of pathologies Susan had the misfortune to marry into.
Josh Powell’s hideous immolation of his children and himself last year was a de facto admission of guilt in his wife’s disappearance. But while he settled that question in the most horrifying way, he denied final closure to Susan’s family and friends.
The police now acknowledge that he appears to have taken the knowledge of her final resting place to his grave. His brother may have done the same. It’s the final insult to a woman who kept on getting robbed — of reputation and children — even after she’d been robbed of life.