'Faith and hope' will lead to answers, investigator in Susan Cox Powell case says

Published: Monday, Sept. 19 2011 7:24 p.m. MDT

Officials search near Topaz Mountain, Sept. 15, 2011, in connection with the Susan Powell missing person investigation. The search in the area is expected to continue through Wednesday.

Pat Reavy, Deseret News

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DELTA — For eight days, West Valley police have searched dozens of square miles near Topaz Mountain looking for clues in the case of missing mother Susan Cox Powell.

Nothing of significance was found Monday, but searchers planned to continue to scour the desert again Tuesday.

"We may not find the answers we are looking for, but faith and hope tell us that we will and that is why we keep moving forward," West Valley Police Lt. Bill Merritt said.

An "extensive increase" of searchers joined Monday's effort, including deputies from sheriff's offices in Iron, Sevier, Beaver, Millard and Juab counties, as well as a helicopter and crew from the Utah Department of Public Safety. Between 100 and 125 searchers participated.

"Common sense would tell us if we are looking for a body, it's not going to be this far from the road," Merritt said. "But common sense doesn't always play a role in all of the cases we investigate."

Investigators were walking through the area, riding ATVs and searching by air, looking for anything out of the ordinary.

"We find clues and evidence all the time, things that don't always make a lot of sense," he said. "That's why we are out here, and that's why we are out here so far away from the road, and that's why we are taking a look at everything."

Searchers covered a lot of ground Monday, but they still have a lot more to cover, Merritt said.

"Some of the things we look for out here, we look for any large or natural structures, boulders, trees, perhaps a ravine, anything that would be easy to conceal yourself as you're carrying out your crime or conceal the body or evidence," he said.

Searchers were also asked to report if they found bones that they couldn't determine to be animal bones, or if they found blankets, clothing, a tarp or any "impression in the ground that looks a little bit odd." A cadaver dog was dispatched to sites reported by searchers to see if there was anything of significance.

West Valley police say while a few searches like this have been known to the public, detectives have searched in this region of Utah many times since Susan Cox Powell disappeared. Dozens of searches have been carried out near Simpson Springs, where Josh Powell told police he went camping on the night his wife went missing.

"Common sense tells us we are off the road and there isn't going to be anything out here, but if we have got the manpower to take a look at it, by all means, (we'll) look at it and that way we can confirm this area is cleared."

The search is expected to continue at least through Wednesday. Merritt said police will make a determination every day as to how much longer they'll be searching the area.

"So long as we've got these people coming, these are fresh volunteers from the search and rescue, we figure there is no point in wrapping things up yet," Merritt said. "We've got a lot more ground to cover, and we can get it done with these people."

Investigators have been searching the Topaz Mountain area since last Monday. For several days, investigators focused on what they initially believed was a disturbed gravesite. Nearly a dozen cadaver dogs indicated that there was human decomposition in the pile.

But after carefully digging and sifting through the soil, investigators discovered about 100 pieces of what appeared to be charred wood. The dogs continued to indicate some kind of human decomposition was present on the pieces, which were sent to a laboratory for analysis.

Susan Cox Powell, a 28-year-old mother of two, has been missing since Dec. 6, 2009. The night before she was reported missing, her husband, Josh Powell, said he took their two young children camping in single-digit temperatures in a remote part of Tooele County in the middle of the night. When he returned a day and a half later, he said his wife was gone.

Topaz Mountain is less than 30 miles from Simpson Springs, the area Josh Powell told investigators he went camping that night.

Josh Powell has been called a person of interest in the case because West Valley police say he has been very uncooperative.

Email: spenrod@desnews.com

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