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Crime News Dateline

Josh Powell Said He Loved His Two Sons “More Than Anything" Months Before Killing Them, Blowing Up Home

"I put my family first," Josh Powell insisted in a final eerie interview with Dateline: Secrets Uncovered before investigators say he killed his two young sons during a court-ordered visitation.

By Jill Sederstrom
What Happened to Susan Cox Powell?

Josh Powell swore he was a father who always put his children first. 

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“I love my sons more than anything. I put them first. I put my family first,” Powell told Dateline: Secrets Uncovered in a December 2011 interview. In just a couple of months, it became clear just how eerie those words would be. 

At the time, Powell was a suspect in his wife Susan Cox Powell’s mysterious disappearance two years earlier. He denied having anything to do with it. On Feb. 5, 2012, however, his family's story took another tragic turn: he locked his two children inside the house he'd been renting and, as an anguished social worker was trapped outside, blew up the home, killing himself and his two young sons.

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“He just exploded the house,” the frantic social worker told a 911 dispatcher. 

It was a shocking and heartbreaking end to a disturbing case filled with obsession, deception and lingering unanswered questions about what happened to a devoted Utah mom.

Susan Cox Powell

What was Susan Cox and Josh Powell's Relationship like?

Outgoing Susan believed she had met the perfect complement when she began dating the much quieter Josh. But Susan’s parents, Chuck and Judy Cox, never liked the pairing and Judy admitted she got a “very bad feeling” every time Josh was around.

“I think she felt sorry for him. He didn’t have many friends and I think she felt she could make him happy and that he would change,” Judy said of her daughter. 

Despite her mother’s concerns, Susan remained committed to the relationship and officially tied the knot with Josh in the Mormon church before the newlyweds moved in with Josh’s sister and brother-in-law, Jennifer and Kirk Graves.

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From the start, Jennifer told Dateline’s Keith Morrison the marriage seemed “a little rough.” 

“She would kind of order him around a little bit and he wanted to control her and not let her go to some activities with me,” she recalled.

Who is Josh Powell's father, Steven?

According to Jennifer, there was also another element at play as the couple settled in their own Utah home. Josh was growing increasingly close to his father, Steven Powell, a man she described as “wacko” and not on a “good” trajectory in life.

Susan Cox Powell

“Josh started talking on the phone with my dad a lot, he would spend multiple hours, multiple times a week on the phone with him and Susan would complain to me about how Josh would just become unbearable to live with,” Jennifer said.

Although Steven would later claim that Susan had been the one who was “aggressive” with men and seemed to flirt with him, investigators would later discover a disturbing set of videos Steven had secretly captured where he appeared to be lusting after his daughter-in-law.

“There are some videos and pictures of Susan that were obviously taken without her consent or her knowledge. Somebody was hiding and taking or shooting through curtains and doors and taking pictures of her,” said Ed Troyer of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office. “We know even though he said that she was interested in him, we believe that’s all one big fantasy and she absolutely despised him.”

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Susan told Jennifer and her friends before she disappeared that she had been unsettled by her father-in-law’s creepy behavior.

Trouble also continued to brew in her marriage. When Susan went into labor with the couple’s first son, Charlie, Josh was too busy to take her to the hospital and her parents said they drove her instead. The couple had their second son Braden two years later, but the marriage continued to struggle.

Susan lamented about the state of her relationship in an email to Jennifer, writing that she had “tried the dates thing with him” but that it “goes negative” or fails to produce any conversation.

Susan Cox Powell

“Or its (sic) an obligation to him that he seems to hate,” she wrote. 

In another email, Susan hinted that she felt trapped in the spiraling relationship.

“Every moment I step back and take stock of what I’m dealing with, it feels like a never ending cycle but I’m too afraid of the consequences, losing my kids, him kidnapping, divorce or actions worse on his part,” she wrote in what now seems like a disturbing premonition.

How did Susan Cox Powell disappear?

Then on Dec. 7, 2009, neither Josh nor Susan showed up to work and their children never arrived at daycare. Jennifer was immediately concerned and drove to the couple’s house but found no sign of either one,

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“The feeling hit me really strong that Josh had done something to her,” she told Morrison. 

That feeling of dread only deepened when Josh returned later that afternoon with a bizarre claim that he had spontaneously decided to take his two young sons camping around midnight the night before, driving almost 100 miles, despite the frigid temperatures. He told the family he came home that next afternoon to find that Susan had vanished. 

“When he came up with that story about going camping, I says no, and got a really sick feeling that no, this is not good,” her dad Chuck recalled. 

It didn’t take long for Josh to be named a person of interest in his wife’s disappearance by police. But as her family was frantically searching for her, Josh moved to Washington with his sons to live with his father.

A photo of Susan Cox Powell and her sons Charlie Powell (R) and Braden Powell (L) displayed at Charlie and Braden's funeral

Steven Powell insisted to Dateline in 2011 that he interrogated his son after he arrived, telling him things like “you know the most abusive thing that a father could ever do is murder his wife,” but after talking to his son he concluded that Josh played no role in her disappearance.

“I wanted to see his reaction to this kind of stuff and it was good,” Steven said. “I was totally satisfied with it. I mean, to me, he passed with flying colors.” 

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Steven once again referred to his unfounded claims that Susan had been “open” with men and guessed she may have simply run off with someone else. It’s a theory Josh seemingly embraced himself, telling Morrison in his final interview that his wife had been “flirtatious” and may have just given up on the marriage the day she disappeared. 

“I think that Susan simply left,” an emotionless Josh said. “I don’t know what’s happened to her. I don’t know where she is.” 

He insisted that he “never hurt” his wife. 

But as Josh was giving his final interview, the world began to close in on the Powell family. Investigators searched his father’s home and found those videos of Susan, along with something else disturbing.

“There was some child pornography in there and some voyeuristic videos,” Troyer said. “Pictures and video that were taken from his house into the neighbors house of little girls using bathroom showers shot right from his own window.” 

Steven was arrested and charged with possession of child pornography and investigators removed Josh’s children from the home while the investigation continued. The boys went to live with Susan’s parents and although Josh tried to fight the temporary decision, he continued to lose the battles in court. In his final court appearance, the judge ordered that Josh undergo a lie detector test and psychosexual evaluation. 

Investigators were also still looking into Susan’s disappearance and her sons had allegedly made some disturbing comments to their grandparents, telling them they hoped “mommy knew how to camp” because she was somewhere she’d need to camp.

How did Josh Powell kill his two sons?

Feeling trapped, on February 5, 2012 Josh made a desperate decision. During what was supposed to be a court ordered visit with his children, Josh grabbed his sons and pulled them into the rental home, pushing the social worker out and locking the door.

At 12:08 p.m. the social worker made her first call to 911 but it was labeled a routine call and authorities wouldn’t arrive until the house had already exploded. Investigators now believe Josh killed his children with an ax and then lit the place on fire.

“I am not able to live without my sons and I’m not able to go on anymore,” Josh said in a final voice message to his sister Alina. “I’m sorry to everyone I’ve hurt. Goodbye.”

Years later, what happened to Susan all those years ago remains a mystery.

While Steven may have held some answers, he died of a heart attack in 2018 after being paroled from his child pornography conviction a year earlier, taking whatever secrets he may have known to his grave.

The case remains unsolved.