This podcast discusses domestic violence, criminal behavior, murder and adult themes, while not explicit listener discretion is advised about a month before Susan Powell disappeared.
She hosted a party at her home on Sarah Circle in West Valley City, Utah. The party wasn't for a birthday or anything like that.
It was a sales pitch.
Susan had become interested in a multilevel marketing company called Wild Tree. She wrote about it in an email to her work friend Linda Baguley in October of 2009.
I went to a wild tree party kind of interested in their product or just the menu concept. Wild Tree pitched itself as a health oriented meal planning service.
Customers bought menus, oils and herbs for wild tree recipes through representatives who in turn received price breaks for bringing additional buyers and sellers into the organization, tempted by the prospect of getting wild turkey for cheap.
Susan agreed to host a party at her own home on the night of November 4th, 2009. She urged Linda to come.
It's settled. I'm having a party because Josh didn't get to taste it, and it sounds like it would have something for you.
Social sales pitches were not really Linda's kind of thing, but she went along with it to help her friend. Linda even ended up ordering some wild tree food. But in the days and weeks that followed the party, her package failed to arrive.
Then Susan disappeared when the wild tree product at last delivered, it went to Josh. Detectives swarmed Susan's office interviewing her co-workers. Linda was among them. I'd mentioned it in the to the police that I had this product and that she hadn't given me. And I said I'd probably never see it. So but I had gotten Josh's number and I called him and I I left him a voicemail.
In her voicemail, Linda asked if there was any way she might be able to pick up her food order. Josh didn't respond. He had other things on his mind at that point, less than two weeks after his wife's disappearance, Josh packed up their sons, Charlie and Braden, into the family minivan and headed to Washington State. Linda figured that was the end of it. Then, a month after her friend vanished, something strange happened to Linda. I was taking the weekend off, so I was in Idaho at Costco with my mom, actually, and the phone rings.
I look at the number and it says Josh Powell. And I'm like, you know, what do I say? What do I do?
I got to call, you know? And so I answered the phone and he said he'd found the stuff and he would be happy to drop it off.
Linda told Josh she was out of town, but he wasn't bothered. He said he was back in Utah for a few days and would drop it off at her work.
As I've recently learned, it was one of many, many drops Josh made after his wife vanished.
This is a bonus episode of Cold Dumpster Drops. I'm Dave Colly. Back after a word from our sponsors.
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Visit Madisen Dash read Dotcom now to find your perfect shade. That's medicine dash read dotcom. On the afternoon of January 7th, 2010, Josh Powell stopped by the Wells Fargo Call Center, where his missing wife, Susan, had worked.
He ran into a security guard in the lobby and explained he had a package that he wanted to deliver to Linda Bagley. But Linda was in Idaho, as she had told Josh on the phone, I don't know if he didn't believe me and he was testing me, you know, to see if I just didn't want to see him or something. But he asked for me, even though I told him I was going to be there.
The security guard said Josh could leave the package with the head of security, but that person was out of the office at the moment. Josh said he would wait, and so he did right in the lobby. Word spread among Susan's co-workers. What is your emergency? One even called 911.
One, Josh Powell is in our building. Who's Josh Powell? Well, you see on the news the guy that supposedly abducted his wife and went camping with the kids, OK? I mean, he's not causing any problems, but we've seen them all over the news and stuff and he's sitting down in our lobby just sitting there.
The co-worker told a Salt Lake City police dispatcher it might be a good idea if detectives in neighboring West Valley knew Josh was there. The dispatcher called West Valley to ask if Josh was wanted.
No, as far as I'm aware, he's just a person of interest in the last I heard. I mean, just between you and I. He wouldn't even live here. Yeah, that's what I mean. I've heard things just through work, but not anything like I don't watch the news to see what they're saying because who knows anyway.
So, yeah, the truth of the situation was West Valley detectives had a good idea of where Josh was, thanks to a GPS tracker they had hidden on his minivan.
But that was a closely guarded secret.
When Linda returned to work, her boss's boss asked her to come in for a sit down with the head of security.
And so is like, OK. And the security guy came in and he says Josh Powell stopped by and wanted to give this to you. And can you tell me more about what's going on here?
Why was Linda receiving a gift from Josh Powell?
I think they suspected me for a minute as being a maybe a mistress or another. Oh, here's the sideline.
Oh, look, we found this new possible thing that, you know, the head of security told Linda Josh had acted very odd, even becoming emotional. He asked her why.
Maybe you know more about why he would feel that way, you know? And I'm like, maybe he was thanking me because I didn't accuse him. And, you know, I came out is trying to be neutral and an honest side like he wasn't hadn't done anything, even though I suspected I felt from the beginning that he had done everything that I still feel he did.
Linda did her best to explain. It was not a gift, just some product from a multilevel marketing thing she had gone to. She eventually had to explain that again to West Valley police.
They're like, oh, OK. But I think they suspected something more than there was. I mentioned the GPS tracker detectives placed on Josh's minivan on December 8th, 2009, the day after he returned from his outing on the Pony Express trail, claiming to have no clue where Susan might be.
So he's got the GPS tracker on his van.
Detective Ellis Maxwell, West Valley's lead investigator on the Powell case, talked about the tracker in episodes four and five of cold. It's how police had known Josh took that drive out to West Wendover, Nevada, and to a gravel pit on the Friday after Susan's disappearance.
Curious behavior that ultimately led detectives nowhere.
Just another situation, another possibility that we may catch a break or collect more information to assist with the investigation. And he does nothing.
The particular device tucked away on Josh's minivan wasn't just some Garmin unit attached with duct tape.
It had a rugged case and specialized battery capable of powering the tracker for weeks at a time. It also had a cell phone radio so it could communicate with a server any time it was within range of cell towers.
We've got what's called geo fencing and you can set boundaries. So if he crosses one of those boundaries, then it'll send you an alert.
Detectives would actually receive SMS text messages when the tracker left Salt Lake County or crossed state lines.
For example, every Fixx recorded by the tracker included a timestamp right down to the second.
If the tracker stopped moving, it could power itself down to save battery. Then if it detected motion, it could power itself back up again.
And police could log into the server and see the trackers position in very close to real time data from that GPS tracker was not included in the case file documents released by West Valley police when the Powell case went cold in 2013.
To my knowledge, it's never been examined by anyone outside of law enforcement. When I obtained copies of the tracking files several months back, that's what I set out to do. Former FBI agent Greg Rogers spent most of his 30 years with the bureau serving undercover. He worked narcotics cases. He infiltrated biker gangs and militia groups. He posed as a hit man repeatedly.
You'd be amazed how much work there is in that area. To be honest, he kind of still looks the part longer. Gray hair, leather vest, though it's now under a sports coat. I shared my findings from the review of the GPS data with Greg, in part because he did not work the Powell case himself. I needed an objective perspective from someone who knows the tech and the tactics.
Police departments have analysts that should have been their job. Where is he going? Where is he stopping? And then the next logical question is why is he doing that and what are we going to do based on his activity?
Greg is also an expert on the criminal mind. He teaches a course at Utah Valley University. Two would be cops.
I teach on criminal profiling and the, you know, serial killers. Psychopaths what? So it's always been a real interest of mine.
By the time Greg and I sat down to talk, I'd already spent weeks going through the data. In December 2009 alone, the GPS device recorded tens of thousands of data points to make sense of them. They needed to be reformatted twice.
Only then could I bring the information into Google Earth with all of the metadata intact. It's tedious work point by point. I retraced the van's moves, looking for anything that might have escaped the attention of investigators ten years ago. Some of the trips at first seemed random until I noticed a pattern having to do with dumpsters.
The first significant discovery appeared on Monday, December 14th, 2009, one week after Susan disappeared. The GPS tracker powered up just after 10:00 a.m. that morning, having detected motion, it moved west away from the Powell family home on a circle down 4100 south to a state highway on the far western side of the Salt Lake Valley. Called you 111. The minivan turned left onto you 111 at a T intersection heading south. It cruised along for about six miles until it reached 7800 south.
There, it pulled into an apartment complex called Serengeti's Springs. At 10 23 a.m., the minivan pulled up to a dumpster in a back corner of the complex and stopped. Less than a minute later, it started moving again. It went directly back to Sarah Circle. I showed this to Greg and asked what he made of it. My guess would be that Powell had items that he believed contained DNA or other forensic evidence, and he's getting rid of them based on the time and the fact that it's a condo complex, people are coming and going.
It wouldn't look unusual for him to get out of the car with the garbage bags, be thrown them in a dumpster. Just look like anybody that lives there be a whole different thing to be trying to remove a body from your car, put in a dumpster. So my guess is he was using that dumpster to get rid of items from the home where I, of course, believe that he murdered Susan. That would be my first guess, that he was getting rid of whatever he used in that.
He's obviously had done enough research to know what would contain DNA and what could be harming to him. And he must have believed there was a search warrant coming. In fact, West Valley police had already served two search warrants at the home. They'd also searched Josh's van twice the week prior, once with his permission and the second time with a warrant. It was during the warrant search of the minivan the day after Susan disappeared that Detective Ellis Maxwell found a pair of trash bags.
When we get his van, not only did he clean it all out, but he also had the garbage from inside the kitchen of the home. The garbage sack was in the van. The second trash bag tucked away in a storage space behind the minivan's driver's seat held the melted metal item and burned drywall panels mentioned in cold Episode five, the likely evidence that Josh had destroyed the night before with his oxy acetylene torch. Eliz believed Josh had intended to toss those trash bags somewhere far away from the house where detectives would not find them.
But Ellis found them first. Based on the GPS data, it seems likely Josh had yet other items he wanted to ditch in a dumpster. Days later. Back to the tracking data on the afternoon of Wednesday, December 16th, 2009, the minivan left the Sierra Circle House on another drive across the Salt Lake Valley. This time it went south and east. It took a circuitous path into Sandy, a suburb nestled against the foot of the Wasatch Mountains.
At three p.m., the minivan pulled into a parking stall at flat Iron Mesa Park.
What do you see there? Yeah, same thing, a dumpster. And it's no accident that these are not close to his residence. Another dumpster flat area. This is a big dog walking park. There's a lot of people there. There's going be a ton of cars you could pull in there any time you wanted to and walk over that dumpster and wouldn't attract any attention at all. He's not showing up at midnight. He's not trying to be there when nobody's there.
He doesn't care. He's picking places where he could open the back of his car, grab a garbage bag, walk to a dumpster and wouldn't raise any suspicion at all.
The minivan left the park at 3:00 or 4:00 p.m. after a stop of just two minutes. It headed north to the intersection of 900 east and 4500 south. The minivan came to a stop within line of sight of another dumpster behind a Walgreens pharmacy, the minivan circled the Walgreens slowing as it went by the dumpster, but it didn't actually stop.
That's by a business that's not by a residential neighborhood or a park. I bet there's probably some signage on that dumpster that it's not for public use or something like that. He didn't want to attract attention, so he didn't want to pull up there and put something in that dumpster because somebody could have walked out of that business and said, hey, man, that's that's our business. And then they grab the bag. That's a problem for him. So my guess is he got up there and saw that that was walled in and it wasn't publicly accessible.
So he just kept driving right into downtown Salt Lake City at 500 s and Emery Street. It pulled into the parking lot of a church and once again cruised by, but did not stop at a dumpster. Looking at satellite imagery, Greg noticed that dumpster outside the church was surrounded by a wall and fence.
You can see that has got doors on it that are closed. They may be locked. He'd already decided what dumpsters, what types of dumpsters he was going to use. And if you didn't like what he saw, he just kept driving. He didn't have to be anywhere.
Instead of stopping at the church, the tracking data showed the minivan hopped a couple of blocks south to Poplar Grove Park. It pulled into the parking lot at four, five p.m. and remained there for about 12 minutes.
He obviously had more than one bag. He hit more than one dumpster. He had things all divvied up. He had a plan that he thought was genius. It was this is how I'm going to hide this stuff. The cops are never going to figure this out.
Now, there aren't any dumpsters at Poplar Grove Park, but on any day of the week, any time of year, there are plenty of garbage cans, public place, other cars there, people probably walking their dogs around there.
And as you well know, when people are walking their dogs, they pick up after their dogs, they use the garbage cans. Wouldn't be at all unusual to walk up along those garbage cans, though.
Bag three confirmed stops near dumpsters or garbage cans with several other dumpster drive bys during the first two weeks following Susan's disappearance. Yet there are no mentions of this in West Valley police case files.
Question is, why wouldn't somebody on I mean, why wouldn't they go into those dumpsters? The following day, on Thursday, December 17th, 2009, West Valley police served their third search warrant at the Sierra Circle House. Josh wasn't home at the time, but he had left his boys there with his brother, Michael. The GPS tracker revealed Josh did not go far. The minivan circled the neighborhood around the time detectives appeared at the house. It parked outside of one church, then another.
It appeared Josh was keeping an eye on the investigators, has an obvious need to be up to speed with what's going on, because a guy like Josh thinks he's immeasurably smarter than these people that are working him or in their work in that case. So he's just keeping tabs.
As the detectives tore through Josh and Susan's medicine cabinet, the minivan headed east up 4100 south to and marsh professional therapies. It stopped there for over an hour and a half. That's the physical therapy visit during which Josh was diagnosed with a rotator cuff strain or tear, an injury that escaped the notice of police. Later that afternoon, Josh went to the bank where Susan had kept her handwritten last will and testament in a safe deposit box, detectives had been there days earlier emptying out the box.
Josh spent more than an hour at the bank arranging to have Susan's retirement accounts cashed out on his way home. He drove by another dumpster outside Hunter Junior High School, then parked across the lot from it for 20 minutes. Josh spent a good chunk of Friday, December 18th, 2009, meeting with his attorney in downtown Salt Lake City. The tracking data showed the minivan parked outside the attorney's office for over three hours.
On his way back home, Josh stopped at the Mountain America Credit Union branch on 5600 West and West Valley City. That's where he and Susan did most of their banking. Financial records obtained by police with a subpoena showed that's when Josh withdrew Susan's final paycheck, which had come in a week earlier by direct deposit. He took out 450 dollars of it as cash and moved to the remaining 227 dollars into his checking account. Josh was preparing to leave Utah. He was getting ready to go.
No question. He's getting ready to go after those search warrants. There's nothing for him here. You know, he's going to lose his job. You know, it was a lifelong pattern of his to retreat to his father's house. And so that was going to happen.
Josh departed home shortly before 10:00 p.m. that night. The tracker showed that he drove to the parking lot of a strip mall at 5600 west and 3500 south. He parked next to a pair of dumpsters from 956 p.m. to nine 59 p.m.
Anything he thought could hurt him in those search warrants he had bagged up and ready to go. And so he's just he's just getting rid of stuff.
Then the minivan headed north toward Interstate 80. But then again, it begs the question, how do you do that when they're running search warrants? Yeah, and why didn't somebody following you around and doing dumpster dives after you've been there?
We don't know whether or not West Valley police ever did dive these dumpsters, but if so, they did not take any photos or keep any notes in an email. Police spokeswoman Roxann Vinchuca told me, quote, The absence of a location being documented in a log does not equate to investigators being unaware of the location.
Just before reaching the freeway onramp, the minivan flipped a U-turn. It went right back to that same set of dumpsters.
Had Josh forgotten something or perhaps he was checking to see if police were there digging through the garbage. They weren't, but Greg couldn't understand why not when I showed him the tracking data, if you suspect that he's going to all these dumpsters and you see all this tracking thing, the next thought should be we need to find out what he's done in their search warrants.
Once he chucks it in the dumpster, it's you can dumpster dive unless police didn't happen to be watching the tracker at that time. Somebody should have been there. A whole job should have been this tracker again. West Valley police spokeswoman Roxann Vinchuca by email told me, quote, Any location where Powell visited was subsequently visited by an investigator. She added that during periods when Josh was not under physical surveillance, the tracking data was downloaded, quote, each day.
And when you've got this tracker on him, it's easy surveillance. You're not going to get burned because you don't need to be, you know, following him closely in a car. You could have planes up or you could even be a mile away with your laptop. You saying, oh, look, you just hit another dumpster and then you send gas to that dumpster. After one last stop at the Sierra Circle house, the minivan made its way back to the freeway.
It took the onramp to eastbound IAPT at 10 42 p.m, a late start for the long drive to Washington. The minivan cruised east to a 15, then north. Josh stopped for gas at a pilot travel center in the town of Marriotts, Leederville, paying cash, then continued north to Tree Mountain. He took the split for 84 westbound there. The clock ticked past midnight. At 12, 22 a.m. on Saturday, December 19th, 2009, the minivan pulled off the freeway on Utah, exit 20 just east of Rattlesnake Pass, it stopped briefly next to some roadside weeds crossed under the freeway, doubled back then, took the westbound on ramp at 12 28 a.m. to Gregg.
It looked like perhaps Josh or one of the boys had just needed to relieve himself pit stop, which is probably what happened.
But he could have also been cleaning himself because he's leaving unannounced. They've just run all these warrants. I'm sure he had some suspicion that they were following him to see if he was taken off. He might have even believed that they would attempt to arrest him if he was trying to leave the state. Who knows? But having traveled with young children myself, it could have just as easily been a dad.
You know, the minivan crossed the border into Idaho at twelve forty four a.m. The GPS tracker sent out a text alert to the detectives. In West Valley, Case Records, Detective Alice Maxwell wrote The Tracker Lost Cell Service a short time later. Josh continued driving. There's very little to see between the town of Snowville, Utah, and the Snake River near Rupert, Idaho, especially after dark, no towns, no truck stops, and in 2009, limited cell service.
But after crossing the snake at 131 a.m., the minivan entered the fertile expanse of southern Idaho farmland between BEARLY and bliss. It's a region known as the Magic Valley. The minivan cruised right past a pair of off ramps, leading to bearly logical places for a driver to pull off if gas or pitstop were needed. At 144 a.m., the minivan came to an abrupt stop at the side of the highway. It remained there for 10 minutes, too short a time to sleep or even say change a flat tire.
So why did Josh stop? It's not clear. Josh pulled back onto the roadway at 154 a.m., continuing west. The minivan passed by another freeway exit without stopping it traveled seven miles until at two one a.m., Josh slammed on the brakes right as he passed over the top of the Milnor Gooding Canale. It was a rapid deceleration from more than 70 miles per hour to a full stop about 335 feet past the bridge, the minivan remained there for five minutes.
Two strange stops in southern Idaho just before and just after 2:00 a.m., those are unusual times for a pit stop for the kids.
My guess is the age of those two boys, they were asleep. So it's very interesting. It's by canal. It's a great place to dump something. Nobody's ever going to find that if you know what you're doing.
The canal in question diverts water from the Snake River to farms and ranches. It typically only flows from mid-March to mid-October. I recently visited the site, the canal was not flowing, having been shut off for the winter, still a foot or so of murky green water occupied the bottom of the concrete lined trench.
Thick, high weeds surrounded its banks. Anything tossed into those weeds we're into the canal itself would disappear from view of the traffic just feet away on the freeway, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if he was still just getting rid of whatever he was getting rid of, because we have no idea what the murder weapon was, a knife gun.
We know he's not opposed to killing someone in a violent manner because he killed his children with an axe, but could have been a ligature, could have been a rope. You throw a rope in that canal, it's gone. It's never been found in six minutes is plenty of time to walk from that car to that water.
This is speculation. There is no evidence left to tell us one way or another what Josh Powell was doing during these two stops. But the time and location are suspicious.
We clearly had some reason for doing it, and he didn't want people to know where he was stopping and the times he was doing stuff. And, you know, again, he had a plan that we'll never know what it was. But I can assure you that he thought it was absolutely brilliant, wasn't he was getting tracked, but so he didn't know that.
So now he was getting tracked. But these two stops in Idaho and the December dumpster visits in Utah are not mentioned in West Valley police case files.
I'm not sure if they were ever discovered by investigators or searched by dogs or detectives a decade ago. From the beginning, everybody knew this was going to be a case you were going to have to prove on circumstantial evidence. The chances of finding the body were very slim. I should point out both locations are well within the range of the 807 Miles traveled by Josh in a rental car 10 days earlier. You might remember he was unaccounted for for 18 hours.
He came back on the grid while traveling south through treatment in Utah, as if returning from Idaho, proving a first degree murder beyond a reasonable doubt about the body without a murder weapon is difficult. So but had you found bags full of forensic evidence that he's getting rid of as pretty helpful? I wasn't aware that they had this tracking information. And to be brutally honest, being polite, it's it's stunning. He was getting rid of evidence, no question.
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That's Friends without the ah best fiends. The remainder of Josh Powell's December 2009 drive to Washington State proved uneventful. He pulled off at a couple of rest stops, likely to sleep, and he started using his financial cards again once he was in Washington state.
A few weeks passed before Josh returned to Utah in the minivan on that drive in early January of 2010. The minivan did not make any inexplicable stops on the side of the highway. It only ever left the interstate for gas, fast food or pit stops. Josh arrived back at the Sierra Circle House with his brother Michael on January 6th, 2010, media cameras were waiting when they pulled into the cul de sac. I had been keeping in very close contact with a lot of sources who knew him and people who were very in the know, I guess family members of both he and Susan and close family friends.
KSL TV reporter Jennifer Stagg had worked the Powell story from the beginning. She had received a heads up from a source about Josh's travel plans.
I was so personally invested in the story because I had built relationships with everyone involved. You know, I had a relationship with his sister, Jennifer Graves. I had a relationship with the Halliwells.
But Josh wasn't feeling talkative. He avoided the cameras. The next day, he dropped off Linda Bagley's wild tree order at Susan's work, as I mentioned at the start of this episode.
Then on the morning of Monday, January 11th, 2010, Josh drove the minivan from the Sierra Circle house to a strip mall at 1600 West and 3500 south. This was the same place where he had stopped on his way out of town in December. Once again, the minivan made repeat visits to a series of dumpsters. And once again, there's no indication these dumpsters were searched by police. To be fair, the media didn't catch it either.
He was really, really hard to track. But of course, no reporter had a GPS tracker hidden on the minivan. The minivan also visited a U-Haul store on that Monday morning. That's where Josh rented the truck and trailer he used to empty out the house.
The turning point for me was when he packed up and moved out of his house.
Once again, Josh did not talk to the reporters who stood at the curb, observing as his soon to be former neighbors loaded the U-Haul.
I think I actually asked him at one point, like, if Susan's missing, what if she comes home and you're not here? What if she comes home and you're not here? And he didn't answer me. He just kept going. But in my head, that's when I'm thinking, like, you know, pack up your house and move out of state with your kids if your wife is missing.
Right. When Josh and Michael departed Utah in the U-Haul, they left Josh's minivan in the garage of this inner circle house. The GPS tracker went dormant. This next period in late January is when Josh's sister, Jennifer Graves, went to confront him in Washington while wearing a wire.
In that recording, Josh discussed the drive in the U-Haul microdrive part of the city where he told his brother in law, Kirk Graves, that he and Michael had traded off time at the wheel.
And my son got real McCoy. I'm not sure I should be driving. We don't a that truck. I'm just kidding. It's probably just fine. But he's just comfortable in the truck.
So is Josh needed to get his minivan back and he needed to finish getting the Utah house ready for renters. So Josh boarded a Southwest Airlines flight on the evening of Thursday, January 28, 2010, before flying out of SeaTac. He called his Utah neighbors, John and Kersee Helliwell. He asked them to pick him up from Salt Lake City International, which they agreed to do.
I was thinking if I tried to pretend to be his friends still and stay on his good side, he has a lot more chance of talking to me than if I scream in his face and grab his coat and say, Where's Susan?
But John and Cursi were playing both sides. Kierski sent an email to West Valley Police Detective Alice Maxwell to let him know Josh was coming back into town. John sent a text to Jennifer Stack. I mean, nobody wanted to get to the truth more than they did, right? And so they very much were working with me closely. And so, yeah, they were like, come be here at this time.
Josh's flight arrived at about nine thirty PM. Jennifer and a TV photographer were waiting.
I kind of wanted him to know that we were keeping close tabs without spooking him. And then, yeah, we headed over to baggage claim and waited for him to come down that escalator.
The escalator she's talking about carries passengers down from the TSA security checkpoint to the baggage carousels.
And you can see everything below. And I have jet black hair and pretty recognizable. And the minute his eyes went on me, you saw that like it was like a ghost. He went white and he knew I was there. We made eye contact. Yeah, we made eye contact.
And he was kind of like, oh, my gosh, you saw this moment of like what is happening.
And I think at that moment he realized that we were following him like we were tracking everything that we could that he was doing. And it definitely spooked him.
This baggage carousel will commence operation in ten seconds.
We stand clear there's nowhere to hide. And it puts you kind of right in the middle of the action at the bottom of that escalator. So there was no way getting around talking to me in some way.
Josh had no need to wait around. He hadn't checked a bag or even packed a toothbrush. He dodged Jennifer's questions while looking for John Helliwell.
I realized privacy was not going to talk to me. And then he just beelined out of there.
Josh turned to John and asked, how did they find out? John replied, Someone on the plane must have recognized you and called. In Josh's absence, Susan's friends and neighbors had plastered the front of the Sierra Circle house with purple ribbons and paper hearts, paint on the windows, carried messages like We miss you and we love you, Susan. Signs on the front lawn read. We will find you and we will bring you home. These messages confronted Josh when he arrived at the house.
He took out his camera and took photos of the decorations.
The next day, West Valley police obtained another search warrant for Josh's minivan. On the prior searches, they had failed to pull the air filter from the engine bay. Detectives hoped the filter and doorjambs might hold dust or particles that could show where the van had been when Susan disappeared. They took the minivan to serve the warrant. Josh complained to his dad about it, as Steve Powell later told the FBI.
You know, when they first got there, they wanted is his van again. And they took the air filter out, I guess. And don't ask me what that's all about since he's gone all the way from Utah to pile up and back in the van since this tragedy began. Oh, yeah.
When when you do that, the air filter didn't hold anything useful, but the warrant service wasn't a total bust while police had the van. The FBI also planted a second GPS tracker on it. This was a major win for police because their original court order authorizing the GPS tracking was due to expire in just days.
The federal order for the second tracker extended that ability for at least another month and a half. Unfortunately, I don't have the tracking files from the FBI's device. The final date for which I currently have tracking data is February 7th, 2010. That date happens to be an important one. Just after midnight on that Sunday morning, the minivan made its way north, up 5600 west, as if it were headed to Susan's work or Interstate 80. This time it didn't go either of those places.
Instead, the minivan turned west onto California Avenue. It went about a half a mile, stopping just shy of the entrance to the Salt Lake Valley solid waste landfill. It pulled into a small parking lot under a high voltage power pole. A green sign at the entrance of the fenced red recycling drop off center. The minivan pulled up to a set of large industrial dumpsters and stopped. It remained there for 14 minutes afterward, Josh grabbed some del taco and drove back to the Sierra Circle house.
Then he hit the road for Washington. Another late night departure. The minivan made three unusual stops as it passed through Utah's Weber Valley in those early morning hours. First, it exited northbound 15 at 12th Street, turned around and jumped right back on the freeway. It did the same thing at the next exit to the North Pioneer Road. I showed this to Greg Rogers, the former FBI undercover agent that just looks like cleaning to me, cleaning Josh, making sure he was not being followed, the third and most important stop came at 2700 north in the community of Far West.
The minivan left the freeway and drove directly to the back side of a burger restaurant.
It pulled up to a dumpster next, the minivan moved east, it drove into the lot of a plumbing supply store and once again stopped at a dumpster. Remember, this is a full two months into the search for Susan, classic paranoia, even though this is later, they're still searching his vehicle and he is thinking all day, every day about what could they find in my house or in my any of my cars anywhere else that they could put on me.
So that's what he's doing. He's just coming up with stuff he hadn't thought of earlier.
Police had served three search warrants at Josh Susan's house. They had searched his van repeatedly. And Josh had made multiple suspicious trips to Dumpster's, what could he have possibly still had to dispose of at that point?
At this stage of the game, he's already gotten rid of anything. He thinks it's got DNA on it that's linking him to the homicide. But that doesn't mean he doesn't have other stuff that he doesn't want law enforcement to ever find.
And as we know from his father's behavior, in his hiding in SD card in your house, finding that on a search warrant, that's tough. You don't have to be very bright to hide that where it's not going to be located by law enforcement. He could have had stuff like that from who knows what is his and his father's predilections with cameras are well known. It could have been something that simple, which is very easy to hide, much more difficult to locate.
West Valley police did catch a whiff of what Josh was up to, or at least a small piece of it. Case records show that the next morning, Detective David Grecco logged in to check the tracking data.
He noticed the midnight stop at the recycling drop off near the county landfill. Police rushed out to inspect the site, they peered into each of the dumpsters, one for cardboard, one for plastic, one for glass, but no evidence.
Unfortunately, the case records suggest they missed catching the stops at the dumpsters farther north out of town in the Webber Valley. Looking at the data now, 10 years after Susan's disappearance. It seems a critical oversight.
When I notified West Valley police of these findings, police spokeswoman Roxanne VNU, who told me by email, quote, The hindsight of a reporter in 2019 does not always equate to mistakes made by investigators a decade ago.
I'll be the first to admit it's a lot easier to see this stuff in hindsight once you know what you're looking for. Detectives at the time had a lot on their plates.
They were already out searching mines, interviewing and reinterviewing friends and neighbors, serving subpoenas and poring over records.
I asked Greg if GPS tracking might sometimes lead overworked investigators to feel they have a safety net.
That's one way to look at it, but it's incorrect, Greg explained.
It's not enough in criminal cases to just show where a person went. It has to be backed up with other evidence, like photos, Isaan surveillance, a wiretap or a dumpster dive to recover discarded evidence.
But think about all of the dumpsters I described in this episode. There is a pattern of behavior there. Certainly prosecutors could have used that against Josh in a criminal trial. Right. They'd bring it up. But, you know, the defense attorney would say good defense counsel would get up on cross-examination. Right after that, some cop said he went to this dumpster, went to that dumpster. I wouldn't want to be that police officer because the question you're going to get on cross is, well, did you check what he put in the dumpster?
Did you actually see him put anything in the dumpster? Can you say for sure that he even did put anything in the dumpster? The answer to all those questions is no. The prosecutor may not bring it up for that reason because they would know you're going to get pounded for not checking those dumpsters. That's a that's a huge misstep.
A few minutes ago, I mentioned the decorations Susan's friends and neighbors had placed outside the Sierra Circle House in Josh's absence. We can only guess what he must have thought when he saw them.
Clearly, it's a targeted, no doubt, a hate campaign. Apparently, we don't have to guess.
Josh recorded this video to tell us exactly what he thought of all those posters, flyers and ribbons.
And we believe that that is because they want to. Josh filmed this from the driver's seat of his minivan after returning to Washington in February. He and his brother Michael drove around their neighborhood, noting how people had taped fliers with Susan's name and face to mailboxes, light poles and signposts. This made Josh angry because the flyers were placed where he was sure to see them so clearly.
It's not an effort to find Susan. It's clearly a targeted effort to act as a reminder for us and our neighbors.
At one point in this video, Josh even described the flyers as an assault.
Charlie and Braden don't understand why the people keep doing this, and they don't really need to understand the whole situation. And it's sick for these people to try to push this situation on them again.
Josh recorded this in Washington, not Utah, but it sheds light on how he viewed the broader community's response to Susan's disappearance. He believed the so-called hate campaign went back to one man, Susan's dad.
Clearly, Chuck Cox needs to get his organization under control. If he doesn't know about this, fine, but he will be aware of it soon because we're going to be telling them. Josh Powell made one other drive between Washington and Utah that deserves a closer look, I mentioned it in Episode nine of Cold. It occurred just before Mother's Day in May of 2010. You might remember police were surveilling Josh as he made an unexpected trip from his dad's house to the Sierra Circle House.
Josh left the house and we started to follow him and we followed him all the way back to Salt Lake City. So that was I mean, I literally drove to Washington one day and then we drove to Salt Lake the next day.
That's U.S. Marshal Daryl Spencer, who took part in the operation with West Valley officers.
Extremely hard to watch him because he's, of course, driving exactly sixty five miles an hour the whole way. And to follow someone clandestine, you know, secretively through multistate was extremely difficult. But we did it.
The FBI's tracking order was expiring. We couldn't lose them because we didn't know where he was going or what he was doing.
What Josh was doing was grabbing the last of his and Susan's personal belongings from the Sierra Circle house.
As Josh approached the Salt Lake Valley on Utah's Legacy Parkway, he started snapping photos on an icon, DSLAM, from the driver's seat of his minivan. Police didn't realize this until more than a year later, after they seized Josh's computers from his dad's home with a search warrant on August 25th, 2011. That's when they recovered copies of those photos. The pictures Josh took have never been released. I was able to retrieve copies with the help of digital forensics experts Trent Levitt and Kaili Richmond from the firm I'd Bailey.
They donated time, expertise and equipment to the effort.
The camera Josh used did not have GPS capability, so there are no coordinates hidden in the metadata. But I've managed to locate all of them. Using a combination of Google Earth and Street View imagery, they show Josh did not drive directly to his and Susan's home in West Valley. Instead, he first pulled into the International Centre, a business park west of Salt Lake City International Airport. He took a few photos in the parking lot of an office building on Wright Brothers Drive, then went around the block to the Wells Fargo Call Center, where Susan had worked time stamps on the photos show he only stayed there for about two minutes.
Then he drove to his old work at Aspen Logistics. All along the way, Josh took pictures of nothing in particular. Just streets, road signs and traffic. Same thing after he left Aspen and drove to the Sierra Circle house, pictures of nothing. Josh packed the minivan to the brim when he departed for Washington late that same night, a roof box and an old bicycle were on top. A tow hitch cargo carrier hung off the back, loaded down with two large blue plastic barrels.
Police tailed Josh into Idaho, keeping an eye from a distance.
That made it extremely easy to watch him from a distance because you had this large 55 gallon drum on top of a minivan cruising, you know, north of 65. So, you know, I'm glad that the blue 55 gallon drum was there to help us out.
Police surveillance logs showed Josh pulled off of 84 at exit 194 in southern Idaho at about 220 a.m.. He slept there until 10, 30 a.m.. That exit is just two miles beyond the canal where Josh had stopped for five minutes at two a.m. on his December 2009 drive to Washington. After waking on that May morning, Josh proceeded westbound on 84 toward Boysie. He'd only gone about 10 miles before he stopped, he took his camera, stepped out of the minivan and walked into the weeds alongside the interstate.
Josh took four photos of a farmer's field on it where irrigation sprinklers covered in ice. Maybe it's a clue. We're maybe it's unrelated to anything having to do with Susan, he could have been driving by this and thought is unusual, as it would seem to you and I. He could be driving by, then go. It looks cool. And he believes he's a phenomenal photographer and he likes the ice the way it's coming off the wheels of the water and stuff.
And so he's it's like something Greg Rogers, the former FBI undercover agent, told me he doesn't believe Josh's brain functioned the way yours or mine might. You have to understand, he he has no remorse at all for killing Susan.
All of this that's happening to him now, it's just inconvenient, but it has nothing to do with him feeling badly about what he did.
So if he sees something that interests him, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if you saw that was a cool pick a few hours down the road and Josh stopped again, this time in Oregon, north of Ontario, in rural Malheur County. He shot more photos of the scenery at the side of the road. I mentioned these shots in episode fifteen of Cold. Since that time, I've had the opportunity to visit the site myself. It sits at the crest of a hill surrounded by more hills.
Ranchland of the old Oregon Trail. Avista Bare of trees. To the east, the land falls away into a tributary of the Snake River called Willow Gulch. Josh took 11 pictures here, many of his van, others of the landscape, one of a soaring hawk. The photos have not previously been published, but you can see them right now at the Cold podcast Dotcom. Ask yourself, as you look at them, what might have Josh been thinking as he stood there, wind in his hair road noise roaring behind him.
Was this just his art? That would make perfect sense to him, to you, or I would think, wow, how can you be interested in art or photography or you murdered your wife brutally, but to an absolute psychopath? That that doesn't that's just an inconvenient fact. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse in any form, please get immediate help in the U.S. support is a phone call away at the National Domestic Violence Hotline at one 800 seven nine nine seven two three three or online at W-W dot the hotline.
Doug, if you would like to support cold, please subscribe in your podcast app of choice and consider leaving us a rating or review. All of those help us reach new listeners. You can also find us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at the Cold podcast and we have a Web site with articles, pictures and video. The Cold Podcast Dotcom.
Michael Bond Miller composed the music for Cold, except for the guitar stuff, that was me, the Castle podcast's team includes too many people to name here, but my special thanks to our leader, Cheryl Warmsley, to our TV producer, Kara Fremont, to our radio producer, Becky Bruce, digital specialist Josh Tilton, and my fellow podcast producers Nina Ernest and Danielle Prager. Cold is a production of KCL podcast's, thank you for listening.