This podcast discusses domestic violence, criminal behavior, murder and adult themes, this particular episode also includes repeated instances of strong language which have been bleeped while not explicit, listener discretion is advised.
Josh Powell cell phone rang.
It was his brother, Michael. Michael wanted to know what was up with the honk and wave event. Josh's father in law, Chuck Cox, was staging at that very moment, an event focused on Josh's missing wife, Susan Powell.
Josh and Michael's father, Steve Powell, had gone over to the event outside the Fred Meyer grocery store in their Puyallup, Washington, neighborhood to take photos.
But Michael, who was living in Minneapolis, had heard Steve had lost his temper and was shooting his mouth off to reporters. This was a problem. We should get off the phone and deal with it, Michael said. Josh wasted no time. He hung up and tried to call his dad. It went to voicemail. He tried calling his younger sister, Allena, who had gone to the store with Steve. No answer there either. He tried to meet again, to no avail.
Finally, on his third try, he managed to get Leanna to answer.
He asked her what was going on. Was it as bad as Michael was making it sound? Allena told Josh their father was engaged in a shouting match with Chuck Cox. It's just not worth it. Josh screamed into the phone. His call waiting beeped. Michael was calling back. Josh put Olina on hold and answered his brother's call. Hang up with Olina and call 911 one, Michael said. Josh did not do that, infuriated. He hung up and went to his minivan, he sped out of the neighborhood, whipping around the block to the parking lot of the Fred Meyer store.
There, he dialed Olena again. She answered and told him to get there right away. I'm already here. Josh said he told his sister he was angry Steve had lost his temper. You can't control your own temper, Alina said.
I can keep my temper on camera, Josh shot back. Josh went to work trying to manage the situation. He found some reporters and pulled them away from the scrum, diverting attention from his father. It was not easy considering he had his two boys in tow, but he did it. Josh spend about 30 minutes settling the situation before calling Allena again, telling her to grab Steve and get out of there, Olina brushed him off. She said she wanted to go to the gym and relax in the pool.
Josh could hear Steve off to Allena side agreeing the pool sounded nice.
Get your home, Josh ordered.
Shut the fuck up, Olina said, telling her brother not to yell at her. This did not help calm Josh, who was already red hot over what had happened, Steve had thin skin and Chuck Cox had gone right under it. This was off message, not how Josh wanted his family to behave in public. It made them look guilty. What's worse, Charlie and Braden had seen some of it to. Josh headed home once there, he called Michael back to let him know how it had gone, Michael said this could work to their advantage.
Two weeks earlier, Josh had gone to court to seek a domestic violence restraining order against the Coxes. A judge had granted him a temporary one. Michael said Chuck's appearance at the honk and wave probably violated the temporary restraining order.
So Michael asked, had Josh done as he had suggested and called nine one one? No, so the police hadn't showed up at the honk and wave? No, this is a win for Chuck, Michael shouted at his brother. Josh said he wasn't sure Chuck had violated the letter of the law in the temporary restraining order.
Michael didn't care. He told Josh to call 911. Now, it wasn't too late to paint Chuck as a threat. Maybe they could still get him arrested. For that to work, though, Josh would have to choose his words carefully. Michael told him exactly what to say. They hung up and Josh called 911 one one. He made a bogus report against his father in law, accusing Chuck of stalking and accosting his family. This call, one of hundreds involving members of the Powell family during August of 2011, was captured on a wiretap.
The wire was the linchpin of a major multistate police operation I previously uncovered in Episode 11 of Cold.
At the time, I knew these recordings existed, but I didn't know the full content.
Now I do. This is a bonus episode of Cold Justice Delayed. From KSL podcasts, I'm Dave Corley, right back after the break. In July of 2000, 20 retired West Valley City Police Detective Alice Maxwell testified in Washington's Pierce County Superior Court.
Well, can you hear me all right? Sort of. Yes, I can. Can you hear me OK? He, in fact, appeared via Zoom, an accommodation made by the court in light of the threat posed by the coronavirus. Yes, I can't wait for this analysis.
Testimony came as part of the civil trial between Susan Powell's parents, Chuck and Judy Cox, and the State of Washington's Department of Social and Health Services. The suit focused on the deaths of Susan's sons, Charlie and Braden, at the hands of their father, Josh Powell, on February 5th, 2012. For the moment, let's focus on something specific, Ellis said in his testimony.
My concern was the environment inside the Powell home for these children.
Cox family attorney Anne Bremner asked Ellis during cross-examination whether he had had concerns about the welfare of Charlie and Braden before they were taken into state protective custody months before their deaths. Ellis said, yes, this is August 2011.
We've been investigating this case for some time. I learned a lot of information about Steven Powell, Josh Powell, the family members inside of the home. So out of the environment within the home was just concerning to me because of. There's other stuff I can't discuss that's protected to my knowledge, the only part of this case still protected is the wiretap. So imagine my surprise when around the same time Ellis made that comment, I independently gained access to more than a thousand pages of wiretap transcripts.
Nobody but a small handful of police have ever had access to these documents.
To be clear, no source in law enforcement, past or current, provided me this access. I obtained it on my own. I call them transcripts.
But the documents are not always verbatim accounts of the conversations.
They're more summaries sprinkled with direct quotations.
And the transcripts only include conversations that were deemed pertinent by investigators at the time. State and federal laws governing wiretaps place strict limits on what, when and how police can listen in on private communications.
In this episode, we will reconstruct several of the most consequential conversations involving George Michael and Steve Powell during that critical period in August of 2011. As a refresher. You might want to listen to Episode 11 of this podcast, Operation Tsunami, before following up with this one. Otherwise, prepare for a never before revealed glimpse into what the Poles were thinking, saying and doing. During those days. You will come to understand why members of law enforcement tasked with working this case had reason to fear for the safety of Charlie and Braden, a fear Susan's parents argued.
Washington social workers disregarded. Josh Powell was going to be late. It was August 20, 3rd, 2011, three days had passed since the disaster at the honk and Wave.
Josh was due in court in Tacoma for a hearing on his request for a permanent domestic violence protection order against Chuck Cox, the temporary restraining order authorized by the judge a couple of weeks earlier was about to expire.
Josh and Chuck were both scheduled to appear before the judge at three p.m. It was already close to two.
And Josh wasn't even close to ready to leave home for what on a good day was a 30 minute drive over his shoulder. Josh shouted to his younger sister, Alina, that he needed to go.
Now an inkjet printer made its food clunk, clunk, spitting out page after page of paperwork. They were declarations of support Josh had solicited from his family.
In fact, Josh and Michael had spent most of the morning talking about the declarations and Josh was on the phone with Michael right that moment going through last minute wording changes to his own statement for the court. Here is a sample of what Josh had written in the past two years, I've primarily focused on protecting and loving my children, finding and working a regular job to provide for my children, engaging my children in fun and educational activities, and contributing to the search for Susan since his wife's disappearance.
Josh had collected hours of video of himself with his son.
What are you writing? So that's right, Suzanne.
Yeah, how do you feel about your mommy, you love her? I'm happy about it. We sure love her videos.
He planned to publish online in an effort to present himself as a model Father Michael and draw in a message to mommy.
That's right. And we will put that on a Web site for mommy. So if there's any way possible, she's going to be able to see it.
Chuck Cox is going to try and paint me as a horrible murderer, Josh said to Michael over the phone. Michael told his brother to keep calm and do what he had learned to do while serving in the U.S. Army. Remember your training? Josh's declaration spanned 11 pages. He painted his missing wife's father as the ringleader of an online mob, Cox's followers have had us under surveillance and have been communicating information back to Cox about me and my sons and our numerous people.
Acting in this capacity for Cock's people have claimed it is their right and obligation to keep me under surveillance, claiming it is only to protect my children from me.
He went so far as to claim without evidence that Chuck Cox had once threatened to kill him during an encounter near Steve Powell's home at a confrontation at a Seattle area, Lowe's earlier this year, Paula claims Cox mouthed the words You're dead after Powell refused to let Cox hug their grandchildren.
Nobody can deny that I am a tremendous victim, Josh said to Michael Choux. Whole intention is to push me to the edge.
Josh had tasked Michael with collecting screen captures of conversations in the private Facebook group titled Where Is Susan Powell? People there had been discussing the case of Josh's missing wife, often speculating he had murdered her. Josh considered this evidence of harassment. He intended to hand printouts of those screenshots to the judge. It's going to be funny when I walk in there and say all these people are lawbreakers, Josh said. Turning to his sister, Allena, Josh asked how much was left to print.
There were the screenshots, several news articles and Steve's declaration too much. Josh let loose a string of profanities before lashing out at his sons who were under foot.
Go play, he shouted. Don't make me tell you again. He shoved a handful of highlighters into his briefcase, along with as much of the paperwork as had finished printing. I'm headed out the door, Josh said to Michael before adding, Oh, this isn't going to be fast enough, Josh hung up and went to his minivan. He steered out of his neighborhood, headed for Tacoma. He'd only been gone a few minutes when from the driver's seat, he picked up his cell phone and called Olina back at the house.
She told Josh it was good he had not waited around for the print job to finish. She had stepped away to check on Charlie and Braden, and when she had returned, she had discovered the printer had jammed.
This is bullshit, Josh said. I'm stuck behind someone doing 30 miles per hour, as if Olina could do anything about that.
But Josh did need a favor from her. He asked Olina to read their dad Steve's declaration to him over the phone, she didn't have it. The file was on Josh's computer.
You have to tell me the password if you want me to be able to get in, she said.
Josh gave it to her, Abby, one, two, three, four, then he said, go to the car, drive to a folder called Susan Missing Archive, then to a folder called Restraining Order against the Kocsis.
She did as he asked, reading him the pertinent document. There's a sheriff behind me, Josh said, I hope I have enough time to park past the media and get into the court, less than 20 minutes remained before the scheduled start of the hearing, and Josh still had miles to go. Oh, my God. Oh, my God. I just got stuck at a light. Oh, come on. Come on.
You've got to be kidding me. Josh said, Now I'm going 20 miles an hour again. Problem is, even when I get there, I'm not sure how to park. Olina listened on her cell phone as her brother road raged at the same time, she picked up the home phone and dialed the court. Good idea, Josh said before adding, I wish I had a motorcycle today.
He had left his old Yamaha radion to rust in the backyard of the home he and Susan had shared in Utah when he had moved back in with his dad in January of 2010.
In his declaration, he justified that move not as an effort to evade the investigation into Susan's disappearance, but instead as a way of protecting his sons from the media.
They were shining bright lights into my windows all hours of the night for live shows airing in various time zones.
My son slept with me, but they did not understand the bright lights and the crowds. It was giving them nightmares.
Alina relayed the directions from the court staffer to Josh, guiding him on where to park. With that done, Josh told Allena. I'm here. I'm going in. The hearing did not go as Josh had hoped today, Cox's attorney denied making any statement or gesture that could have at all been construed as threatening. Cox goes on to say that it's outrageous that Powell lied under oath when Cox just wants to see the grandkids.
The judge refused to grant a restraining order. Instead, Josh and Chuck received mutual anti harassment orders. They were to leave each other alone for the next year after leaving the court. Josh called Michael. I lost, he said. It, Michael said, published the journals, I don't think the judge is being fair. For months, Josh had been trying to get someone from the national media to publish Susan's childhood journals.
He believed they would tarnish her reputation, leading the public to see Susan as a flawed, immoral woman.
You see, last month, Powell's husband, Josh, and her father in law announced they would release her personal diaries in an attempt to prove that she may have had the mindset to leave her husband and children for another man.
So far, no one had actually published them. If it was going to happen, Josh would have to assume the risk of doing it himself. I don't know what to say, Mike.
Josh said a lot of work for nothing. Now, I've just gotten wasted in the media and public perception and everything else. There is no public perception, Michael said, there is just a group of 50 people that don't like you. Michael suggested maybe Josh should move again when Josh asked where Michael started singing, the Beach Boys hit Kokomo saying Aruba, Jamaica.
Josh wasn't going to leave, not without his family. I'm already gone, Michael said. He had moved to Minnesota a year earlier, in part to get away from the maelstrom that was Susan's disappearance, if you clam up now and don't talk to anyone, then this just goes away in two weeks, Michael added.
Then I lose. Josh said he was tired of losing, tired of maintaining appearances.
This good guy, Josh said.
You ought to have a beer for once in your life, Michael told his brother before adding, It's just a game anyway. Then Josh conferenced Steven on the call. Steve had heard from a news producer in Utah that Josh had lost in court. Michael shrugged it off.
He said they should all just pretend they got exactly what they wanted. Tell the media they were going out to celebrate, invite them out for drinks. Josh agreed. This was a great plan. He picked up the home phone and called a producer for Dateline NBC. He said he had one and Dateline should rush a camera crew over to film their family's celebration.
I hate to gloat, Josh said. I just don't care to have any relationship with the Coxes anymore. I have already done my grieving over the loss of that entire family. He didn't bother to say if that included Susan. Dateline was not able to make the party, but a producer for ABC's Good Morning America named Jim Volchek did. He stayed at the Powell home late into the evening and called Steve early the next morning. On August 24th.
The Powells had been flirting with ABC News about doing a big interview since the prior April, when a freelance producer had showed up on their doorstep and Sweet talked Allena into letting her inside. Steve wrote about that in a May 13th, 2011 journal entry.
We were kind of thinking that the ABC budget was probably not too slim. So we suggested to Tanya that we all go on a ferry ride from Bremerton to Seattle and then eat at Salty's on Alki Point, a really nice restaurant. Steve went on to write about how Volchek had immediately flown up from California to join them for dinner.
They had hired a 14 seat van with a limousine driver for the occasion. We had a nice chat on the way to Bremerton and had time along the waterfront while waiting for the ferry.
Josh, as he often did, carried his camcorder on his outing and filmed the boys write and go down the long way like I like Charlie to.
Charlie and Braden scrambled over rocks along the Bremerton boardwalk right down to the water's edge.
Don't you boys dip your feet in the water, Brian, and don't step in the water?
Well, you know. Yeah, well, they'd be OK. We could run over time, but would make it uncomfortable for for the rest of the day.
Josh kept filming on the ferry and it salties wear whatever you want to work, go for it.
The Powells went all out on dinner knowing ABC was picking up the bill.
Do you want a fresh fruit tart and you want Cravan and lobster? The dinner was not cheap.
As Steve noted in his journal, the dinner cost over seven hundred dollars, including the tip. To put that in perspective, we go out for hamburgers and can get a pretty nice burger at McDonald's for a buck.
The ABC News team, Steve wrote, had pushed for an interview on that April trip. They had wanted to have something ready to air by the end of May. Steve had played coy, saying thanks for dinner, but they just weren't ready.
Part of Josh's reluctance at that point stemmed from the fact that ABC News had so far declined his request to publish Susan's childhood journals. Josh and Steve were at that same time pitching that idea to NBC News, they had been talking to a producer there named Shelly Costolo. Shelly was a former employee of the company. I work for KCL and had developed a rapport with the Powells. Through the summer of 2011, Shelly coordinated with Josh and Steve on planned interviews for an upcoming episode of Dateline.
On July 7th, an NBC crew had come to Steve's house to film the boys and Susan's journals. Steve sat down with Dateline host Keith Morrison the next day at a hotel in SeaTac for what turned out to be a three hour interview. Here is what Steve said about it in his journal.
They went through about four tapes during the interview. It was a very quiet and secluded room. They can't tell us when they will run the Dateline program about this, there is more research to be done. On July 9th, Josh met Shelly and the NBC crew at Tacoma's Tetlow Beach, where he allowed them to again film the boys. So much for his argument that the media gave his boys nightmares.
Charlie and Braden tossed stones into the water and watched as a train rumbled by on the tracks adjacent to the beach.
What's on the train in? The real prize for NBC and ABC alike was not video of the boys, it was an on the record interview with Josh, but he had so far refused to commit.
The wiretap records reveal Josh spent a lot of time talking to a small handful of news producers whom he believed were on his side.
In West Valley, police staged their search of abandoned mines around Ely, Nevada, at the start of the wiretap, Josh told Sheli, quote, They will not find anything out in Ealey, that's for damn sure. He also told her that before speaking to some local news reporters a few days earlier, he had put Visine in his eyes. This presumably to make it appear as though he had been crying. Josh was tiptoeing ever closer to granting a full blown network TV interview.
What appeared to push him over the edge was his loss in court on August twenty third. He at that point conceded the need for a more powerful platform. So that explains how ABC's Jim Volchek ended up speaking with Steve the morning of August 24th, firming up plans for an interview with Josh later that day, he interviewed with ABC after getting off work that afternoon. And he talked to Shelly again that evening after her flight landed, Josh told her he'd have preferred to do just a single interview with all of the networks at once.
Shelly explained it did not work that way because ABC and NBC were competitors. Josh was waffling about doing an interview with Dateline, saying he only wanted to talk about Chuck Cox, the Mormons and Susan's journals. He knew NBC would ask him about Susan and their marriage topics he did not want to discuss. But in the end, Josh relented. He agreed to an interview with Keith Morrison to take place the next day, August 25th. West Valley police had other ideas.
Next on news at noon. More fallout surrounding the mystery of Susan Powell, the search and who's accusing who in a war of words then after three years.
More on that after the break. Steve Powell awoke at about 5:00 a.m. on the morning of August 25th, 2011, he couldn't fall back asleep, so he rose dressed and started his day. Steve had a business meeting scheduled around noon in Kennewick. It was about a four hour drive. So he had to be out the door pretty early. The meeting had come about as a result of an email he had received a week or so earlier. It was a business leader, someone from Utah, who had inquired about buying furniture from Washington Correctional Industries.
Steve had been skeptical about it, wondering aloud in conversations with Josh and Alina if it might be a scam or a trap. The day prior, Steve had asked his boss if correctional industries, their employer, might instead send another salesman. Everyone else was busy. It had to be Steve.
So on the morning of the 25th, Steve drove up past Snoqualmie, joining 90 and crossing the Cascades. Along the way, his phone rang. It was his daughter Olina. Back home. Olina told her dad about a call she had received that morning from a producer at Inside Edition. Now they wanted an interview with Josh or Steve, but Josh had said no. Steve said he couldn't do it either since he was on the road, they talked about the events of the last few days, two days earlier, as Josh had been preparing to go to court.
Steve had received a phone call from a reporter with the Salt Lake Tribune. She had seen a newly published blog post from Susan's friend and neighbor, Cursi Helliwell.
Sunday night news broke about Josh Powell's father, Steve Powell, having feelings for Susan, his own daughter in law.
I've been monitoring Facebook, Twitter and other places online and have seen many comments on this issue by emotional and outraged people on both sides.
I wanted to explain why I personally decided to finally break my silence and talk about these new allegations against Steve Powell.
That is Kirsty's own voice. She has generously agreed to read portions of that old blog post for use in this podcast.
Kirsty went on to write about how Susan had confided in her early in their friendship regarding Steve's many violations of her privacy when Susan talked about Steve Powell.
She expressed extreme disgust and even feelings approaching hatred.
Then she told me why she felt this way.
Kirsty spelled out the parts we now know Steve's voyeurism, Susan's rejection of his advances and the move to Utah to escape Steve's influence.
I was, of course, shocked, horrified and disgusted to hear about this. That's not all, Susan said.
There's more Courcey than described a conversation she had once had with Susan, in which Susan claimed to have received a piece of mail from Steve.
Steve Powell had sent Susan several pictures of Susan's favourite actor. That was Mel Gibson, for the record. At first, Susan thought this was actually a nice gesture on the part of Steve Powell. She wondered if he had changed and maybe become a kind of person.
Then she saw what was sitting in the middle of the stack of pictures, several pictures of naked men.
Susan had thrown the pictures in the trash in disgust. Kirsty explained she had provided this information to police in the first few weeks of their investigation, but had kept quiet publicly so as not to interfere with their work.
She did not acknowledge then, but told me just recently police had given her the green light to share what she knew before she published this blog post.
I did not want to expose what Susan told me in deep confidence about her father in law, but enough is enough. I will speak up for her now and forever and not allowing this evil to go forward unchallenged.
This was, of course, part of the police strategy to get Josh and Steve talking on the wiretap and it worked. Steve took that call from the reporter and was blindsided by her questions about Kirsty's blog. Steve did his best to dodge on the specifics, but he did admit to the reporter that a, quote, sexual energy had existed between he and Susan.
Susan's parents and friends maintained there is no truth to Steve Powell statements that Susan was so uncomfortable around her father in law that she moved her family to Utah.
Talking to Ilina on the phone later that afternoon, Steve had said it wasn't as if he had sent photos of himself to Susan. And even if he had sent her photos out of one of his Hustler magazines, she probably would have enjoyed it.
These were the kinds of conversations Steve had with his youngest daughter. As Steve continued to drive toward Kennewick, Olina asked him to leave his phone connected and on speaker when he went into the hotel for the business meeting, she would monitor and record on her end to make sure he was safe. Steve did just that, but the meeting went off without a hitch. No real surprises. Afterward, Steve talked to Ilina. They agreed the timing of the meeting was strange.
Why were people from Utah wanting to talk to Steve this week with everything else that had been going on? Allena warned her dad not to get too comfortable.
Then at 20 minutes to two, Olina heard a knock at the door. Pierce County Sheriff's deputies and West Valley City Police were outside with a search warrant. She narrated to her father as the officers pushed past her and entered the house.
I knew something was up. I don't think these people are legitimate, Steve said.
Those polls, Alina explained. TV news stations were already parked outside. They had arrived before the police had even started stringing up their yellow tape.
I bet they are looking for my journals on Susan, Steve said. God only knows what they're looking for. What do they think? I had something to do with her disappearance. It can't be about my relationship with Susan. They have known about that.
Neighbors have been unsure how to react as police from both Washington and Utah served a search warrant and removed bags and multiple computers from the Powell home.
Josh had also been at home when the police had arrived. His phone started to blow up, but he ignored the incoming calls and messages. He did not start using his phone again until a couple of hours later, after he had left the neighborhood with his boys. His first call was to his dad. I'm pretty sure I don't have a job anymore, Josh said, explaining how the police were taking anything capable of storing digital data. Steve asked if that included his hard drive.
I'm sure, Josh said. Maybe they're going to arrest me, Steve said they are not going to arrest you, Dad, Josh said they just want the journals.
Josh Powell showed us the warrant, which spelled out in detail the seven childhood journals of Susan Powell they were looking for, as well as any electronic copies, passwords and any other evidence relating to her disappearance.
I had nothing to do with Susan's disappearance, so I'm not concerned about what they're here for or whether they're staying.
He drove south out of his dad's neighborhood and into the neighboring community of Graham, where he stopped at Frontier Park and then called Michael. Michael's first question was if Josh had copies of the journals saved in a safe location.
Of course, Josh said, hey, Josh, you may get a big settlement out of this thing.
Michael said these cops are getting sloppier and sloppier. You may be able to sue these people. Here, Josh conferenced Steven on the call with Michael, Steve suggested 10 million dollars would be a good number to go for. Josh was preoccupied, though he had spotted a helicopter circling overhead and wondered if someone were following him.
Michael said he had even received a call from a Salt Lake Tribune reporter, the same one who had questioned Steve about Cursi Halliwells blog. It had spooked him. He wasn't sure how she had even found his number. Maybe Michael said the police had given it to her. Then he realized Minneapolis police might be headed for his condo. Right that minute he went right to work, making a backup of his computer and shuttling personal papers out to his car. Josh's call waiting beeped.
It was Shelly Costolo, the datelined producer, Josh answered. He told Shelly he was OK. He had not been arrested. I don't care if they take me, Josh said they owe it to me to arrest me and let me have my day in court. I am talking about the entire investigation. I want them to show everything they have. The less they have on you, the more they are with you.
The warrant raid had blown up Josh and Shelly's schedule for the Dateline interview that afternoon, but he told her where she could find him. They met up early that evening. Steve, meantime, was talking to Michael as he continued to drive toward home. We are a year and nine months in and the police failed at finding Susan because they have not been trying.
They have not devoted to the investigation, Michael said. Then Michael switched focus to talking about his brother. I don't know what the hell is going on with Josh, remember when this first happened and Josh was quiet and distracted?
That made us nervous because he was not talking about what was going on. When there is a crisis, he becomes noncommunicative. Steve told Michael Allena was going to call the ACLU and tell them police were attacking their family and trying to suppress their voice, it could be the Mormon Church that is bankrolling this. Steve added. We need to figure out how to get the journals out there. What's going on with Josh? Michael asked. You know, he keeps calling me and then he just sits there quietly.
He just plays with the boys and he doesn't say anything. He is looking around and dropping calls.
I just can't talk to him.
As if summoned, Josh dialed Steve, right then Steve conferenced him in with Michael, Josh asked where Steve was, but Steve said he did not want to say over the phone.
Our phones have GPS and they could track us.
Josh said if they wanted, they got it. They know exactly where I'm at, too.
Josh agreed with the idea of trying to enlist the help of the ACLU, who wants to take on the corrupt police department?
Josh asked rhetorically before adding They will never arrest me. In another call later that evening, Michael told his dad he had left his condo and probably wouldn't return that night, it wasn't safe.
Michael told Steve not to do what his gut was telling him to do, don't talk to any reporters, Michael said they should only talk to achieve a specific goal.
Just because you're angry is not how to do it, Michael said. Nobody needs to know anything about this. Let's not say anything until we speak to an attorney. I get dropped. Every time some media person calls, I get dropped. Put the brakes on everything, Salt Lake defense attorney Greg Skordas questions the wisdom of the men making damaging statements about Susan Powell.
I don't see that helping anyone at this point, especially if they might be used by prosecutors, if they were to bring charges.
All those statements can be used in in some capacity down the road. And all those are recorded and all those can be a part of a case if the government chooses to use those.
Schauder says his advice to both pals would be to stop talking publicly. Steve told Michael what was happening back at the house was a, quote, family emergency.
We have a lot of family emergencies, Michael said. How come we have so many family emergencies? If they can do all this without trial or evidence? Makes me feel like an innocent person cannot defend themselves. Maybe we should all just become criminals and arm ourselves.
And next time the police come to find something, they find a nasty surprise.
Josh stayed out late that night interviewing with Dateline's Keith Morrison the next morning he called his boss and told him about the police raid.
West Valley police call it the most difficult case anyone in their department has ever experienced. A massive amount of evidence and a trail that led them to Washington last night.
He explained how detectives had seized his computers, including the one the company had provided. But not to worry, Josh said he had gone out the night before and purchased a laptop. He would be back up and running soon. I'm sure in time you'll see all this on the news, Josh said.
Josh Powell calls the search grandstanding by West Valley. Still, he views it as a possible sign that police are considering his theory that Susan ran away with another man.
It is definitely a different angle than they've been pursuing.
Josh's boss was understanding all things considered and said he would try to help keep Josh on the payroll. But Josh's problems just continued to compound. That same morning, Chuck Cox had gone to court.
The Cox family filed a restraining order today to block Susan's journals from being published by the Powell family. They say they're pleased police have them.
Later that afternoon, Michael called the house to check on everyone. Alina told him Steve had gone out to run errands, but Josh was at home. Michael asked to talk to him. Are you OK? Michael asked when Josh picked up the phone. Yeah, Josh said they know well, they can't get me on anything related to Susan's disappearance. I had nothing to do with it. I don't even feel safe talking on the phone, Michael said, to which Josh agreed, but they did not hang up.
After a time, Josh turned to the topic of Steve's comments about Susan and sexual energy to the Salt Lake Tribune reporter. I can't believe he thinks this is OK or acceptable on any level, Josh said, Do you think this is OK personally?
Michael said. I don't give a.
I can't believe it, Josh said this is the worst thing that has come out this whole time. This is why I don't keep a journal, Michael said a bit later in the conversation, Steven Powell told reporters early this morning he is relieved West Valley police confiscated his personal journals while admitting they contained embarrassing entries. He believes his journals will back up his claims that Susan Powell was romantically interested in him.
I know that Susan wants the journals published, Josh said. Here Michael stopped his brother. You shouldn't say to the judge what Susan thinks. Michael said. It makes you look like a jackass. I'm not quite the dummy they say I am, Josh said. He went on to discuss his computer passwords as if to prove the point, saying it was funny police were still trying to crack encryption on devices of his they had taken almost two years earlier. He explained how he had used long ungettable passwords.
A 20 character password, he said, was, quote, virtually uncrackable. Even if I knew my passwords, Josh said the police don't have a right to make me tell.
He is the only person that we need to talk to that we still have questions for we still need to interview. He is the only person that has not cooperated with us to the extent that we have everything that we need. That night, on something of a whim, Josh decided to skip town a bit after midnight, he loaded his sleepy sons into their car seats and drove off to go camping down south near Mount St. Helens. He didn't bother telling Steve about this.
So on the morning of Saturday, August 27th, 2011, Steve awoke to find Josh and the boys gone.
In a panic, he wondered if Josh might have been arrested during the night. Charlie and Braden, he feared, might already be in the hands of police or worse yet, the Coxes. He soon learned Josh and the boys were fine.
Around noon, Steve called Michael and told him about Josh's camping trip. Him, Michael said Michael wanted to know if his brother had dragged the media along for the trip, Josh had not hoping to keep the outing private. Steve, not realizing this or not caring, had blabbed to a TV reporter from Utah about Josh going camping at midnight, as Steve said Josh often did. Allena ratted out Steve about this when Josh called home early that same afternoon.
That's going to look stupid, like I'm just doing this for a show, Josh said. People are going to think this is bullshit.
Allena did not want to hear Josh whine. She told her brother she was going to hang up. Tell dad to quit saying that in the media, Josh said Allena told Josh, Steve had said it jokingly, then she made good on the threat and hung up on him. Josh, spend one more night out with the boys, then on the morning of Sunday, August 28th, 2011, he phoned home while driving back toward Puyallup. Steve answered and apologized for telling the reporter about the camping trip.
Steve took his contrition even farther. He said he needed to tell Josh about something the police had found in his bedroom. What are they going to find in your journal? Josh asked. Steve said he wasn't sure, mostly stuff that would show he was obsessed with Susan for all these years. Josh asked. Yes, Steve replied. She did things to titillate me. Josh agreed with this assessment, calling Susan a, quote, seductress. But he added he had only ever seen her go to the point of mild flirtation, not allowed adultery, like, for instance, the time nearly 10 years before when she had invited Steve to feel her freshly waxed legs.
I've had chicks do that to me before. Josh said he had even documented one such encounter in his audio journals, describing a time when he and Susan were engaged and she was over at his apartment.
I got here, was sitting on the couch for half an hour. Turns out she just waxed her legs. She was waiting for me to get home. So she actually discreetly. Of course, Josh wasn't understanding.
Steve worried police might find reason in his journals to arrest him. What do you mean? Josh asked. Steve said they should wait until he got home to talk about it, a tacit acknowledgment someone else might be listening. I can't believe what I'm hearing, Josh said, I can't believe what I'm saying, Steve replied. Josh tried to give his dad the benefit of the doubt, figuring it wasn't as big a deal as he was making it out to be.
It's not like Steve had done anything illegal, right? Steve seized on this line of thought, right. If anything, his obsession showed he cared for Susan, maybe even more than Josh. It exonerated him. Whatever had happened to Susan, it was her own fault.
Here Steve mentioned how Jennifer, his first child and Josh's older sister had, as a young woman, occasionally walked around the house in her underwear. I hope you didn't write anything incriminating about Jennifer. Josh said No. Steve replied, I have read Steve's journals. And he did write an entry on May 19th, 2005, describing a sun at least a decade earlier before Steve had divorced his wife, Terry. Steve had approached Jennifer while her mother was at church.
I came into the family room and saw Jenny in the little sewing nook, working on something. She had her back to me, so I looked carefully and saw that she had nothing on except bra and pantyhose. I walked up behind her for a closer look to see what she was doing and what she was wearing. Steve went on to write about what had gone through his mind as Jennifer had modeled the clothing she had been making. Those thoughts do not need to be repeated here.
Suddenly, the spell was broken when her mother arrived home from church. That was my one and only truly erotic experience with Jenny back to the phone call between Josh and his dad, Steve vaguely characterized these journal entries, telling Josh his sister had titillated him.
Steve said he had felt similar feelings while reading through Susan's childhood journals. If the police published Steve's journals, he said, it could jeopardize everything.
At this, Josh became angry, not so much at what his father had thought or said in the past, but at the damage disclosure of those facts could do to Josh's reputation in the present.
It's an invasion of privacy, he fumed before reiterating that he really hoped Steve had not written anything sexual about Jennifer.
I may have described some things about immodesty.
Steve said he wasn't sure and couldn't check now because police had the only copy. Josh said Steve again said they shouldn't talk about this on the phone, but Josh was too irate to let it go. He asked his dad if he had detailed anything illegal. Steve said he didn't think so. Well, there you go again, Josh replied before calling his dad a, quote, dirty old man.
Susan started it, Steve said, but I couldn't stop.
Steve said maybe he should get a restraining order to block the Pierce County Sheriff's Office from publishing his journals. Josh called this a bad idea. It would make it look like they were trying to hide something.
Josh said the better approach was to try and get the journals invalidated as evidence they can go themselves. Josh said, referencing the police. He told Steve he shouldn't have written all of that stuff, and he said had he known about the dirty journals, he would have approached things differently. But he didn't hold a grudge against his dad. With that, Josh told Steve he and the boys had arrived home.
That's right. The boys, in case you forgot, Charlie and Braden were in the minivan with Josh. They had overheard it all. Minutes later, Steve received a call from his son, Michael. The audio blipped leading Steve to joke. Police were probably recording their calls.
Michael said, if so, the cops should stop wasting their time and instead work on trying to find Susan. Of course, police were listening for just that very reason.
Steve put the phone on speaker, allowing Michael to hear both Josh and Olina. The four of them then discussed the search warrant raid. Michael said it had its positives, for one, it had prompted him to organize and back up all of his data. But Josh wasn't interested in silver linings. He griped over losing all of his photos and videos of the boys.
Do your little dance brain is a happy dance. That's your happy the cute boy. Give me kids. Charlie, Charlie, is that you're happy dance good. You are my special boy and I love you.
Then there was the issue of Dad's journals. Josh had spent a few minutes thinking this over and had come around on the topic, the journals, he said, would actually help ruin the public perception of Susan. He called her a, quote, deviant, but blamed that on her dad, Chuck Cox. Josh said Susan was a victim at this. Steve chimed in. He, too, was a victim.
Let's blame it all on the Mormons, Josh said. Then Josh asked his dad if he had ever written anything about raping Susan. No, Steve said, just some touching. Josh and Allena agreed this was fine. They talked about pornography, the issue raised by Cursi Halliwell's blog with Alina saying she had had issues about seeing male nudity until she was in her 20s. Josh, too, said it had taken him years to appreciate porn.
Remember, this conversation was happening within earshot of Charlie and Braden as Steve went about shredding documents, Michael told his dad and brother they needed to stop talking to reporters. I have to sit here hundred miles away and listen to what you guys are going to say next. Michael said they had overplayed their hand, telegraphing their moves to the police through the media. Now, their argument that the investigation was a hit job by the Mormons was worthless.
The story was now about Steve and an affair.
Susan Powell's parents kept their emotions in check when told of these latest claims made by Steven Powell. Still, they are very disturbed by Powell's comments and say their daughter told them her father in law made unwanted advances.
Josh chimed in, voicing his frustration with Steve, saying he shouldn't have talked publicly about his feelings for Susan.
Doing so had put Charlie and Braden at risk.
Susan's friend and daycare provider, Debbie Caldwell, thinks about Susan's two sons as police again search a place they're calling home.
Michael told Josh he was just as much to blame. In fact, even more so than Steve. They had both, quote, got their asses kicked in the media. It's an unusual case.
Then Medwed, a former public defender, now University of Utah law professor, says he's never seen a case like it. A woman missing for months, her husband mostly silent. Then both the husband, a person of interest, and his father start making comments alleging the woman was promiscuous.
If you lose on one battleground, you can lose the war. It's now a lost cause, Michael said.
Medwed says he's baffled by the comments, which he says lower credibility and raise suspicions about both men potentially turning scrutiny away from Josh Powell to his father.
So what should they do from here? Josh asked. Michael said not to say or do anything until they could take their fight into the courtroom. This was advice Steve was not sure he could take. He told Michael he wanted to get out in front of the journals in the media. Maybe he suggested they could spin it into some kind of attack on the Mormons. Michael told his dad the police had conned him into violating himself. He couldn't spin it when Steve insisted he could, Michael became frustrated.
I don't want to keep cleaning up for you and Josh, he said. So instead of worrying about this, let's focus on the legal battles. Michael said as upset as they all were over the search warrant, they would feel even more angry if they lost in court. The media, Michael said. And you and Josh both. Within a year and a half of that phone call, Steve Powell would be in prison and Michael Josh Charlie and Braden Powell.
In February of 2003, I flew from Utah to Washington to attend the opening of the civil trial between Chuck and Judy Cox and the Washington Department of Social and Health Services, the Coxes had received instructions from their attorneys not to talk to the media. We made eye contact across the hall as I entered Pierce County Superior Court, but did not speak.
They are lawsuit centered on claims of negligence on the part of the DHS caseworkers who had taken Charlie and Braden into protective custody in September of 2011, just a few weeks after the phone calls I've just described. In opening arguments, Cox family attorney Ted Buck told the jury of 11 men and one woman that the social workers had ignored their policies and training by failing to perform domestic violence screening.
The state utterly failed to do that assessment. Instead, when they got to the point where there was a question, is there any domestic violence question here, they should know.
The attorneys for the state, Lori Nikolayevna and Joseph Diaz, disputed this, arguing Josh Powell's murder of his children could not have been foreseen or prevented.
Phospholipid had no evidence that would support that Josh would harm his boys. And that's the question we're looking at.
The trial was scheduled to run for a month. The state was partway through its defense when in mid-March, a pandemic put the whole thing on pause. And so Susan's parents went back to waiting for months, passed before. In mid-July, the Washington Supreme Court cleared the way for the trial to resume.
Judge Stanley Rumbaugh called the jurors back into service game on Monday, nine o'clock, room 100, at a time when millions of Americans were facing uncertainty over their jobs, housing and health.
These jurors answered the call. They came back with masks. They sat socially distanced. They picked up their legal pads full of months old notes and once again listened. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Hey, got a shout out.
OK, while working on Cold a couple of years back, I had reached out to Washington's Child Protective Services Agency in the hopes of interviewing the myriad of social workers who had touched Charlie and Braden's case. An agency spokeswoman asked me to submit written questions, which I did.
Then radio silence, she never responded, I never was able to interview the social workers, so I found it fascinating to hear from people like Rocky Stephenson, the CPS investigator who had been tasked with looking into claims of negligence leveled against Josh.
Just a statement that he was a person of interest in a missing persons. That's relevant and relevant to the safety of the children. But Mr. Powell still had all of his rights intact. He hadn't been charged. He wasn't even really a suspect in a murder investigation that we know was incorrect.
Josh was at that time the sole suspect.
Just because a person is a person of interest doesn't necessarily mean that we're not going to treat them with all fairness and respect like we would everybody else.
And Paula Strickland, a social worker contracted by the state after CPS placed Charlie and Braden with Susan's parents. Her job was to help Chuck and Judy Cox adjust to parenting two rambunctious little boys, regardless of what everyone thinks.
These kids loved their dad and particularly Charlie, was very verbal about wanting to be with his dad. And they were angry and they were scared. And we had sent them to the grandparents who they had heard a lot of negative things about.
Paula had had repeated interactions with both Charlie and Braden during the months between their seizure by the state and their deaths at the hands of their father. She described how, in her view, the boys had been programmed by Josh to hate and fear their maternal grandparents.
Their dad had told them that grandma and grandpa were bad people, that they had abused their mother, that they had stolen her journal, that Mormons are bad people. They destroyed families. So there had been a lot of this sort of programming of these negative thoughts.
And as Paula was sharing these insights with the jurors, I was reading the secret wiretap transcripts that revealed just how right she was. In one conversation between Josh and Michael, Josh had bragged about how then four year old Braden had told him, quote, Daddy, the Mormons.
In another recording, Josh told six year old Charlie that Chuck and Judy just wanted to control him when Chuck Cox is out of our lives. Josh had said you'll make more friends because Chuck Cox is abusive. In yet another call, Josh explained how he had taught his sons that the Coxes were, quote, predators. I have coached them, Josh said.
So a lot of the work that grandma and grandpa had to do was regain these kids trust and help them feel safe. So they could settle down and, you know, that's really when I say adjustment, what I mean is helping these kids find safety again when we had rocked their world.
I'm not going to go through a blow by blow of the trial here. But I will mention Assistant Washington Attorney General Joseph Diaz, in closing arguments, reiterated the state's view that at the time of Charlie and Braden being taken into protective custody, it was not a case of domestic violence.
This was not a domestic violence case. And as much as the plaintiffs want to make it so it's not Mr. Powell is the sole cause of the murder of his sons. It was not just the state of Washington, the jurors began their deliberations on the morning of July 30th, 2020, the following afternoon, Judge Rumbaugh announced they had reached a verdict.
Question one, was the state of Washington negligent? Answer yes. Question two, was such negligence a possible cause of injury to the plaintiffs?
The jurors calculated damages at fifty seven point five million dollars for each child. They assigned Josh responsibility for eight million two hundred forty five thousand dollars of that. Again, for each child doing the math, the jury's judgment against the state worked out to roughly ninety eight point five million. Chuck Cox sounded relieved when I spoke to him over Zoome a couple of hours later. Yeah, well, I'm still in shock, so well, like I say, I'm just kind of wait for the next thing.
The testimony during the trial had included hours of detailed descriptions of Charlie and Braden's injuries. The big question was how long had each suffered between the start of the attack and the actual moment of death?
It was very hard. It was very I left the room at times. I was just and they had their expert and said, oh, yeah, as soon as you're unconscious, then you don't feel anything. Our Dr. Wick said, absolutely not. There's been studies on it. They're saying, well, if you're conscious, you know how well this boy swallowed gasoline. And that meant they must have been conscious because you cannot swallow if you're unconscious.
Chuck offered thanks to his legal team attorneys Anne Bremner, Ted Buck and Evan Barfield for their handling of the difficult material. This fight, however, is not. Over weeks after the jury's verdict, the state attorneys asked Judge Rumbaugh to overrule the high dollar award or grant a new trial. At a hearing on that motion. On the very day of this episode's release, Rumbaugh said the jury's verdict had shocked the conscience of the court. He slashed the damages by two thirds from nearly 100 million dollars to just under 33 million dollars.
Chuck told me afterward it was an insult to the jury and he intends to continue fighting for the safety of children. We've done all that we can to help other people with children in care of DHS. That's that's a positive outcome out of the tragedy. There's not much else you can do with it because you can't bring them back.
If Susan's story sounds familiar in your own life, in other words, if you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse in any form, please get immediate help in the U.S. support. As a phone call away at the National Domestic Violence Hotline at one 800 799 1733 or online at W-W at the Hotline Dog. If you would like to support cold, please subscribe and 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 Von Miller composed the music for Cold except for the guitar stuff that was me. Cold is a production of KCL podcasts. Thank you for listening.