Investigators sifting dirt for clues at site of Susan Cox Powell investigation

Search called off until Saturday because of rain

Published: Friday, Sept. 16 2011 10:00 a.m. MDT

Law enforcement officials look for missing Utah mother Susan Powell on Friday, Sept. 16, 2011, 50 miles northwest of Delta. Powell disappeared from her West Valley City home in December 2009 and hasn't been seen since.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

DELTA — The father of missing West Valley mother Susan Cox Powell says he plans to stay in Utah until investigators can determine what exactly is inside an apparent shallow grave in a remote area near Topaz Mountain.

That's why he purchased a one-way ticket to Salt Lake City.

Chuck Cox was escorted by police Friday to the area where multiple cadaver dogs have indicated human remains are likely buried. West Valley police define "human remains" as anything from drops of blood to bones to tissue.

Although none of those items have been found yet, another cadaver dog who had not been part of earlier searches was brought to the area Friday and reacted in the same way — in the same location — as the seven other dogs previously had, said West Valley Police Lt. Bill Merritt.

Cox believes police are on the right track.

"It's a likely place. It's well worth the time here and the effort," he said of the investigation.

He complimented police efforts and said his father's intuition tells him his daughter is in a place like Topaz Mountain.

While Cox said he still hopes his daughter is alive, the area where police are digging makes sense to him as a place where they might find Susan's body. He thanked police for allowing him to see the dig site and had praise for their investigative efforts, saying they need to go where the leads take them.

"I'm very confident that with or without Josh Powell's help ... the police are going to solve this," Cox said, referring to his son-in-law and the only person of interest in the case.

Friday's search was called off about 2:30 p.m. because of heavy rain and wind. The digging and sifting was scheduled to resume Saturday morning — weather permitting.

In addition to the weather, Cox's visit to the dig area on Friday came as investigators announced yet another delay that will likely result in them not finishing at the site until Sunday or possibly later. Merritt said the excavation process slowed as investigators worked to sift through what they've already dug up.

"We've got to sift through what we've got first before we can continue to excavate, so there's been no excavation today," he said. 

The process of sifting through what has been dug up from the apparent gravesite has been extremely slow, Merritt said. He estimated that only about 15 percent of the dirt that was dug up Thursday had been sifted through on Friday.

He admits the pace of the investigation has been disappointing and frustrating.

"We all want to know what's going on. We all want to know what's down there," he said. "But that's just not the way it works." 

To try and speed up the process, Merritt said some of the crews that continued searching the remote desert would instead be used to help sift through the pile of dirt that's now approximately 1 foot deep and 1 foot wide. The police department's forensics unit also arrived at the scene Friday to look through the dirt before any further digging.

Thus far, police don't believe they've found anything of interest. 

"They all appear to be rock but we just don't want to miss anything," he said. "We haven't held anything up that looks promising yet."

The police department said they were hoping to get a forensic anthropologist from the Utah State Medical Examiner's Office to respond to the scene to help distinguish rock fragments from possible bone fragments.

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