West Valley City should give us the records for the Powell case — someday

Published: Thursday, Aug. 30 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

This undated picture made available by Hardman Photography shows Susan Powell. Powell.

Hardman Photography, Associated Press

Police work is difficult. The public, we suspect, appreciates this. But officers, detectives and police chiefs also work for the public, and their actions must be open for scrutiny and accountability.

There is some comfort in the knowledge that the City Council in West Valley City took time to investigate and deliberate before deciding this week not to release documents related to the investigation into Susan Cox Powell's disappearance. The stated reason for their unanimous decision was that releasing the records would jeopardize an ongoing investigation. We trust they understand that if their reluctance was instead based on a desire not to release embarrassing information, that eventually will come to light. There is understandable confusion as to why the case is considered active.

Judging by what is known, the department needs to account for why it never arrested Josh Powell in connection with his wife's disappearance. Pierce County, Wash., prosecutor Mark Lindquist has said he knew of enough evidence that he would have charged Powell if it had been up to his office. However, the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office never once sat down with West Valley police to formally screen the case for charges, according to news reports.

Josh Powell ended up murdering his two little boys and killing himself in a fire he deliberately set in his Graham, Wash., home. From what is publicly known, the only other person who may have knowledge of Susan's disappearance, Josh's father Steven Powell, is serving a 30-month prison sentence for voyeurism and has been uncooperative in the case. That is, unless police are pursuing some other suspect that has yet to be revealed.

As the Cox family has noted, the evidence against Josh included blood on the floor next to a couch in her home; evidence that a couch had been cleaned, with fans blowing on it to dry it; the discovery of Susan's cellphone in Josh's car, missing the SIM card; a tarp, gas can, shovel and blanket in Josh's car; statements from one of the boys that he and his brother went camping with their parents but that only his father came home with them; 800 miles on a rental car in two days, with no explanation; and the fact Josh emptied his wife's IRA account shortly after she disappeared, odd behavior for someone who said he knew nothing of her whereabouts.

Add to this Steven Powell's admission of his attraction to Susan, which takes on new significance in light of his conviction.

West Valley police officials say this remains an open case. The public should take them at their word and demand an aggressive investigation that leads to some sort of resolution. The Cox family, meanwhile, appears to be preparing for a lawsuit.

Few cases in recent memory have gripped entire communities in two states as has this one. Few take such tragic turns resulting in the senseless deaths of two small children. The case should not be allowed to linger indefinitely; and once it is closed, the public should be given a full disclosure of the facts.

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