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Wiretap warrants reveal new details in Susan Cox Powell disappearance

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Posted at 9:24 PM, May 24, 2013
and last updated 2013-05-25 00:37:47-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Desperate to prove their case that Josh Powell kidnapped and killed his wife, Susan, police asked a judge for permission to wiretap his phones.

A judge on Friday released the sealed affidavits filed by police in the Susan Cox Powell investigation after FOX 13 filed a motion in Salt Lake City's 3rd District Court to have remaining records in the now-suspended case unsealed. Earlier this week, West Valley City police released more than 30,000 pages of their investigative files.

The 2011 documents given to FOX 13 on Friday reveal the steps police took to try to link Josh Powell to his wife's disappearance, alongside his father, Steven.

"There is probable cause to believe that (Josh) Powell was instrumental in the facilitating of the aggravated kidnapping of his wife, Susan Powell, her probable murder, and in the obstruction of the criminal law enforcement investigation into her disappearance," a Drug Enforcement Administration agent wrote, adding that "there is probable cause to believe that (Steven) Powell was and is instrumental in the obstruction of the criminal law enforcement investigation into Susan Powell's disappearance."

In explaining to the judge why they were seeking to tap the phones of Josh Powell and his father (and later his sister, Alina), police explained that they had exhausted all other avenues in the missing persons case. They had conducted numerous searches, interviewed 849 people, kept the family under surveillance, and tried to utilize informants and undercover work -- to no avail.

The documents reveal many new details about their investigation:

  • After Susan vanished on Dec. 7, 2009, police said family members were trying to reach Josh. His sister, Jennifer Graves, finally reached him and asked why he didn't go to work. The affidavit said Josh Powell initially told her he did go to work, then said he went camping with the boys and got caught in a snowstorm. "What else do you know?" the affidavit said he asked her.
  • Josh Powell cooked a pancake dinner on Dec. 6, "but shortly after Susan became suddenly tired and said she was going to lie down."
  • Josh Powell changed his story in interviews with West Valley City police and had "difficulty answering in any sensible manner."
  • A search of Josh Powell's minivan revealed metal, wires and sheetrock that had been burned and stuffed into a trash bag. Police believed "this was an attempt to destroy something using high heat by (Josh) Powell, in between the time he was first interviewed after returning from the camping trip, and when he was asked to respond for a second interview."
  • In an interview with police on Dec. 8, 4-year-old Charlie Powell said he had "gone camping" with his "dad, mom and little brother."
  • Josh Powell's cell phone records reveal no use at all for 27 hours from the time of the supposed camping trip and the 18 hour time period that he rented a car and put more than 800 miles on it.
  • Police put a GPS tracker on Josh Powell's minivan four days after Susan disappeared. They followed him from West Valley City to a Wendover, Nev., strip club. During the return trip, detectives claim he took evasive action to try to avoid surveillance. DEA agents had an airplane in the sky tailing him, too.
  • Josh Powell canceled all of his wife's health care appointments, daycare and retirement accounts.
  • Police could not decrypt a lot of information on Josh Powell's computers, but found some information about her benefits from a previous employer, a reference to obtaining a storage computer, maps of Ely, Nev., as well as other places.
  • Police claim they also found "cartoon altered child pornography" on a laptop found in the master bedroom.
  • Police were contacted by a woman who claimed she had a sexual relationship with Josh Powell (they later said she was not cooperative). Police also said they had a tip that Josh Powell had hired an escort, but could not corroborate it.
  • Detectives declared Steven Powell's interview with police "disturbing," and believed he could be "complicit in assisting (Josh) Powell thwart or obstruct the police investigation of the disappearance of Susan Powell." In that interview, he detailed his sexual obsession with Susan Cox Powell, police write in the affidavit.

Police believed Josh Powell was evasive and likely responsible for his wife's disappearance and covering it up.

"During police interaction with (Josh) Powell for the first 36 hours after his wife has disappeared, (Josh) Powell never inquires about her welfare, never asks what police are doing to locate her, never offers any help or assistance with law enforcement," police wrote.

"And the first night after her disappearance instead of doing anything to find or help find her himself, his neighbors observe him thoroughly cleaning his van for most of the night."

Adding to their suspicions were comments Josh Powell allegedly made to Susan's friends and co-workers.

"(Josh) Powell was obsessed with getting away with murder and had expressed so directly" to one woman, police wrote in the affidavit. "(Josh) Powell commented to her about how Mark Hacking screwed up in disposing of his wife's body, and the suspect needs to stick as close to the truth as possible and not tell too many lies."

Another friend of Susan's said that Powell said at a Christmas party that "the way to get rid of a body was to put it in a mineshaft, as police would be unwilling to search an unstable mine."

Ultimately, police said they needed the wiretaps because they had exhausted other means of extracting information. The DEA agent who wrote the affidavit said they had decided against seeking a grand jury.

"To call one of the target subjects as a witness would require a grant of immunity which would foreclose prosecution of the most culpable persons involved in these serious crimes," he wrote. "Without a grant of immunity, the target would invoke his Fifth Amendment privileges and regardless would most likely not produce truthful or reliable testimony."

The documents reveal that police focused heavily on Josh Powell's father, Steven, and whether he had a role in helping cover up Susan's disappearance. In suspending their case earlier this week, West Valley City police said it did not appear that Steven Powell had a role.

They revealed on Monday they believed Michael Powell had a role in Susan's disappearance, perhaps in helping his brother dispose of her body. Detectives conducted a search in Oregon for any sign of Susan, coming up empty-handed. Michael Powell committed suicide earlier this year, five days after police inquired about that Oregon property.

Susan Cox Powell's father, Chuck Cox, told FOX 13 on Friday night that he was planning to hand out fliers next week along I-84 from Pendleton, Ore., to Tremonton, Utah. Pendleton is where police said Michael Powell had a car destroyed shortly after Susan vanished; Tremonton is where police claim Josh Powell activated a new cell phone in the days after his wife disappeared.

"He met Michael somewhere up there and transferred the car, and I believe he found a place to dump her body," Cox said.