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In a set of 17 spiral-bound notebooks, Steve Powell detailed a disturbing sexual obsession with his daughter-in-law Susan Cox Powell, a 28-year-old mother of two who went missing from West Valley City, Utah, in 2009.
The Pierce County Sheriff's Department released more than 2,330 pages from the journals to the media in 2012, some of which highlight his disturbing fixation. During one entry, Steve admitted that he often secretly recorded Susan and later watched the video clips while he masturbated. He also described how he spied on Susan in the bathroom by placing a handheld mirror underneath the door.
"The fact is, I can hardly control myself when it comes to her," wrote Steve, wondering if his obsession "might be considered sociopathic. I mean, who looks under the bathroom door with a mirror?"
Steve explained he had “never lusted for a woman as I have for Susan” and fantasized about how he “would love to kiss those lips.” He said his love for Susan was his "greatest problem" and "greatest pleasure.”
In conversation with Oxygen.com, Dr. Chitra Raghavan, a professor of psychology and expert in abuse at John Jay College, said that although she cannot definitively classify Steve’s behavior, she believes he had “a multitude of sexual addictions.”
“He’s exhibiting … a wide variety of different paraphilias or different sexually deviant behaviors,” said Dr. Raghavan.
Throughout other journal entries, Steve pondered if their 31-year age difference would be an issue, and he cut out several newspaper articles that discussed age gap relationships. Still, Steve seemed to take steps that hinted he believed he could somehow have a future with Susan, who was married to his son, Josh Powell.
Steve wrote about selling his home after he learned she thought it was too dark. If Susan one day agreed to marry him, he explained, he would be able to buy a different home.
“He truly appears to believe that he is in love with her. [He thinks] his love is wholesome and pure, that he has a right to express his love, and that the erotic interest that he’s having … is normal and healthy and beautiful,” Dr. Raghavan told Oxygen.com. “[S]o, [it is] very delusional. He is a predator. He … invades her, he exploits her. And he has no difficulty with this.”
Police used the diaries as evidence for a separate voyeurism case, for which Steve was sentenced to two and a half years in prison, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.
“I enjoy taking video shots of pretty girls in shorts and skirts, beautiful women of every age,” Steve wrote in one entry about videotaping women, including Susan. “I sometimes use these images for self-stimulation."
Gary Sanders, a Pierce County Detective who searched Steve’s home, spoke with “The Disappearance of Susan Cox Powell,” premiering May 4 and 5 at 7/6c on Oxygen, about other items investigators uncovered: “There were cotton balls where Susan had maybe taken the fingernail polish off. They were dated and had her name on it. There were pairs of panties that were in Ziploc bags. Feminine hygiene products that were in bags. Toenail clippings, hair clippings, things that should not be kept. We were all in awe of basically the house of horrors we were looking at.”
Police located hours’ worth of inappropriate — and some illegal — home movies in which Steve taped dozens of females, including two neighbor girls aged 8 and 10, without their knowledge. They also discovered an audio tape that had captured Steve confronting Susan about his obsession eight years before she disappeared, which will air as part of “The Disappearance of Susan Cox Powell.”
Though Susan clearly rebuffed his advances, Steve believed she had a romantic interest in him. “I am still convinced she loves me and is sexually attracted to me,” wrote Steve.
Susan and Josh moved from Washington to Utah shortly after Steve’s confession of love, and Steve continued to journal about Susan, his infatuation and, later, her disappearance. He wrote in one of his last entries that he would be “devastated” if he found out Susan was dead, and that he was “so in love with her” that he could “barely function.”
While Steve was never arrested in connection with Susan’s case, he was sentenced to an additional five years in prison for possession of child pornography, according to The News Tribune. He was released from prison in July 2017 and died after a heart attack in 2018.
To this day, Susan remains missing. Police officially closed their active investigation into her disappearance in 2013, but the case is still assigned to a Utah detective.
Watch “The Disappearance of Susan Cox Powell” on Oxygen to learn more about the case.
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