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In our opinion: Susan Cox Powell's case is now a cold case

Published: Wednesday, May 22 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

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

Hardman Photography, Associated Press

As usual, there is no good news to share in the case of Susan Cox Powell's disappearance. The only glimmer is that the West Valley City Police Department finally has decided to release tens of thousands of pages of reports and related documents, while declaring that the investigation now will be considered a cold case.

Police work is difficult. It involves more than accusations based on hunches or circumstantial evidence. Investigators need to assemble evidence that will give prosecutors a reasonable chance to win a court conviction. Police deserve the benefit of the doubt, but this was not a satisfying conclusion.

West Valley City police and the Salt Lake County district attorney's office never felt they had enough evidence against Josh Powell, Susan's husband, despite his odd behavior after her disappearance and statements from one of the couple's children that the family went on a camping trip the night Susan disappeared but that she didn't come home again with the family. We now learn that during his first encounter with police, Josh was more concerned about whether he should have an attorney than about helping to find his wife. Two women later came forward to say they had an affair with Josh, but police apparently never pursued them after they declined to talk. Some communications between Josh and his brother were in encrypted computer files police never were able to decode. These and other troubling details will continue to haunt this case.

A prosecutor in Pierce County, Washington, has said the evidence in this case would have been enough for him to press charges. The debate over not arresting Josh likely will continue for all involved, but the question no longer means much. Josh murdered his two sons and killed himself in a fire he deliberately set in his Graham, Wash., home more than a year ago. His brother, Michael, who we've now learned also was considered a suspect, also killed himself earlier this year. His alleged involvement apparently explains why police were so reluctant to release information immediately after Josh's death.

At a press conference Tuesday, Susan's parents said a federal investigation into her disappearance is underway. The family also has hired a private investigator. Their priority is to locate Susan's remains.

We feel for this family, which has had to endure unspeakable tragedies from the apparent loss of their daughter to the murder of their two grandsons to suicides by their son-in-law and his brother and the conviction and imprisonment of Josh Powell's father on charges of voyeurism and child pornography, which appears to be unrelated to Susan's disappearance. They are understandably angry that justice has not been served.

But while the Cox family suffered most acutely, this tragedy has gripped broader communities in Utah and Washington state, as well. Not only has it turned a spotlight on the problem of domestic violence which, as in this case, often causes women and children to suffer most, it has taxed the public's faith in its law enforcement.

We hope federal investigators succeed in bringing closure to this case. No one who may be considering a similar crime should take comfort in the apparent ability to get away with something so awful.

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