OLYMPIA, Wash. — Utah investigators handling the case of missing mother Susan Cox Powell examined her father-in-law's cellphone, calendar and emails earlier this year — more than two years after she disappeared.
Records obtained by The Associated Press under Washington state public records laws indicate that authorities made little effort to explore Steven Powell's activities after Susan Powell disappeared in December 2009, even though her family has long suggested that he might know something about where she is. They only began the more intensive effort in April of this year after a former co-worker of Steven Powell's said he had talked about traveling to Utah in the weeks close to when she was reported missing.
Investigators had largely focused their time on Susan Powell's husband, Josh, who killed himself and the couple's two young children earlier this year. Utah investigators said they can't discuss details of the case, but Washington state officials have said they believe Josh Powell killed his wife. They also say his father may know more about the disappearance than he's letting on.
Anne Bremner, an attorney for Susan Powell's parents, said they had expressed those concerns from the beginning about Steven Powell.
The family's concerns were exacerbated by how Steven Powell had acted around Susan Cox Powell. And they escalated to a new level in the summer of 2011, when a search warrant at the home where Steven and Josh Powell lived found journals and photos suggesting that Steven Powell had an extremely sexual and emotional draw to his daughter-in-law.
The Associated Press reported Thursday that about 4,500 images in a folder dedicated to Susan Powell included shots of her out in public, apparently unaware that a camera was focused on her. Steven Powell wrote in journals that he took sexual pleasure in looking at videos and images he captured of her.
"Those journals. I couldn't read them all," Bremner said. "The fact that Steven had that amazingly bizarre obsession with Susan — chronicled page after page — that alone would make him somebody you'd want to look that."
Sgt. Mike Powell, a spokesman for the West Valley Police Department, said he can't discuss details of the investigation but noted that the agency has spent countless hours on the case. The investigation remains active, though Powell said investigators have reduced their focus on the case.
Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist, who oversaw the voyeurism case against Steven Powell in Washington state, said Powell likely knows more than he's telling but that he's not a reliable person even if he did speak. Powell is serving his voyeurism sentence in prison and could be released as early as May.
"Barring new evidence emerging, we're done with Mr. Powell," Lindquist said.
Utah investigators say that Steven Powell has not cooperated with the Susan Cox Powell investigation, but that still didn't initially trigger a more thorough assessment of him. In fact, an investigator said in one email obtained by AP that they did not take Steven Powell's cellphone or mobile Internet card during the 2011 search at his home.
In early April 2012, a co-worker of Steven Powell's went public with her recollection that he talked about going on a snowy camping trip with his son and grandchildren in Utah around the time Susan Powell disappeared. She had previously emailed authorities about that conversation.
The day after Jennifer Silva told her story to the AP, detectives in Utah began checking with officials at the Washington state Department of Corrections, where Powell had worked around the time Susan Powell disappeared. They began asking where Steven Powell was assigned and what clients he was working with in December 2009.
Susan Powell was last seen on Sunday, Dec. 6, 2009. Steven Powell's work calendar is blank the following day, and he took sick leave the two days after.
Investigators also expanded their assessment of Steven Powell in April 2012, analyzing his phone and SIM card. Investigators also explicitly asked for his emails from 2009.
The AP first requested those emails, which are public record, in 2011.