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Documents reveal disturbing influence Josh Powell had on his children

Young boys reflect father's anti-Mormon views

Published: Saturday, Feb. 18 2012 9:21 a.m. MST

In this undated photo provided by Chuck and Judy Cox, Chuck Cox sits with his grandsons, Charlie, left, and Braden, right, at the Coxes home in Pullayup, Wash. Charlie and Braden were killed along with their father, Josh Powell, on Sunday in what police said was an intentional fire set by Powell. Chuck Cox is the father of Powell's wife, Susan, who has been missing since 2009.

Courtesy Chuck and Judy Cox, Associated Press

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PUYALLUP, Wash. — New documents released Friday reveal much more about Josh Powell, what he had on his computer, and shed light on the disturbing and negative influences he was having on his young children.

They also reveal for the first time Powell's own detailed description of the camping trip he said he took on the night his wife, Susan, disappeared in December 2009.

The Department of Social and Health Services in Washington released nearly 1,000 pages of documents of child welfare records related to the Powell family. The records include court documents, case notes, visitation reports, examinations and intake referrals concerning young Charlie and Braden Powell.

The documents reveal details about 400 computer-generated sexual images found on Powell's computer that were turned over to Washington child welfare officials during the custody battle between Powell and his missing wife's parents, Chuck and Judy Cox. Because of the way a Utah judge had released the images, only a limited number of people were on an approved list to view them, according to the records.

Many depicted well-known cartoon characters such as the Simpsons, the Flintstones, Jungle Book, Superman, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Rugrats, SpongeBob SquarePants and others engaging in sexual activity, including incest, group sex, sodomy and more.

"While drawings may not be illegal, per se, they were very suggestive of a global approval of sex between and adult and a minor," Dr. James Manley wrote.

The psychologist said the number of images suggested Powell likely had a high degree of interest in such activities and said Powell may not be "a stable and appropriate resource for his children." He recommended Josh Powell undergo a psychosexual evaluation to obtain more information about him.

The boys were killed Feb. 5 by their father who struck the boys with a hatchet before dousing the inside of his house with gasoline and igniting a fireball.

During his custody battle with his in-laws, Josh Powell forbade any Mormon influence on his sons, details strongly supported in the newly released documents. After the Coxes were awarded temporary custody of Charlie and Braden, Josh Powell's supervised visits with the children were scheduled for Wednesday evenings and on Sundays during the time when the Coxes attended LDS services.

Susan Powell's disappearance

During a psychological evaluation, conducted Dec. 9, 2011, Powell described his actions on the night his wife disappeared.

He said he decided to go camping with the boys around midnight. He said he went to the Pony Express Trail in the desert about 40 miles away from his West Valley home and built a fire and let the fire smolder while the children played. He also brought a small generator to power the electric heater he brought along "to keep everybody warm," the documents state.

In a followup phone call between Powell and Manley, the psychologist, Powell clarified that his wife was "OK with it," referring to taking the boys camping. He said her biggest concern was that the boys stay warm.

He said prior to leaving home, he "washed" the couch and placed a fan nearby to dry it.

"We made an agreement that I would wash the couch and she would shovel the walkway," he said.

Powell's claims of a midnight camping trip in winter immediately placed him under suspicion, but no charges were forthcoming in the disappearance of his wife.

Mormon comments

In February 2011, then 6-year-old Charlie Powell told a group of students at Carson Elementary School that he did not have a younger brother.

"The Mormons killed my brother and my mom," he told them, according to the welfare report.

In June, Charlie told a student who wanted to sit next to him and be his friend that he was "going to come to your house at night and kill you." He also said, "I hate Mormons."

Charlie was taken to a counselor's office where he said his mom lives a mile away. But he said he couldn't see her because her parents "are Mormon and they abuse her."

He also told the counselor that he "wanted to kill the boy because he is Mormon and they kill people; they are ordered to kill people and all scientists who believe in Jesus," according to welfare documents.

On Sept. 22, 2011, the children were taken into protective state custody after Steven Powell, Josh Powell's father, was arrested and charged with voyeurism and possession of child pornography. Six days later, the Coxes were granted temporary custody of the children.

Child welfare officials noted at that time from police reports that pornography was found lying openly in Steven Powell's room, another relative "runs around the home nude and in a diaper" and has greeted police at the door naked.

In a November report, a welfare worker noted that "Josh and his siblings appear to be circling the wagons around his father."

During continual visits by social workers after the boys were removed from Josh Powell's house, they noted in their reports negative comments by the boys against religion and particularly members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"Do you know what I hate? I hate Jesus. He is made up and fake," Charlie Powell, the older boy, said at one point. The boys explained to the social worker that these were sentiments shared by their father.

The next day, Charlie told the social worker that the "Mormons are trying to steal me" and that they moved to Washington from Utah because a Mormon in Utah was trying to take him to the desert.

In another visit while at the Cox home, the Coxes noted that Charlie was making comments like, "some police are bad" and "my daddy is a little bad."

During the first supervised visit at Josh Powell's rented residence in October, Charlie asked his father if "he was going to get lost too," according to the child welfare report. When Braden asked Josh if he lived with his mom, Powell told him that house was in Colorado.

During another visitation at the Cox home, Charlie told a social worker that the Coxes were abusing him and had "abused my dad." The social worker noted it was clear that Charlie was saying things his father had told him. Charlie also indicated that his father was being abused by comments Chuck Cox made about him in the media, and by abusing his father, he was also being abused, according to the report.

During another hearing, the boy told the social worker that his missing mother, Susan Cox Powell, was "hiding from everyone so that his grandparents don't abuse her."

In one report, the social worker noted that Chuck Cox was having trouble getting the boys to bed because "they like to sleep without any PJs or underwear on" and that they "insist their dad lets them sleep without any clothes and walk around their house without clothes and they want to go by their dad's rules."

The Coxes also noted that the boys were making sexualized comments.

On Feb. 1, four days before he killed himself and his two boys, Josh Powell was ordered by a judge to undergo a psychosexual examination and submit to a lie detector test. The judge also ruled that the Coxes would continue to have custody of the boys until at least July.

Documents released Friday indicate that those involved with Powell's case considered hiring a Vancouver psychologist to conduct the psychosexual exam until they learned the doctor was an active member of the LDS Church.

Josh Powell "will not allow us to use a provider at all affiliated with the Mormon religion," a report states.

When Josh and Susan Powell were first married in an LDS temple, both were active in the church, former neighbors said. But once the couple moved from Washington to Utah, Josh Powell stopped attending church.

His lack of involvement in the church was a point of contention in their marriage. One friend and neighbor told the Deseret News that Susan Powell had threatened to divorce him and take the children if he didn't become active in the church by the end of 2009 and obtain a temple recommend by their anniversary the next spring.

On Sept. 23, 2011, the day after Steven Powell was arrested, Josh Powell asked to file a dependency action regarding his boys, calling their maternal grandparents "the most dangerous people on the planet to my sons."

Just days before Powell's Feb. 1 court appearance, his brother Michael Powell launched a website criticizing the Coxes, police and child protective service workers. Yet despite the bad blood between Josh Powell and the Cox family, Josh Powell told a social worker he was making efforts to mend fences with his in-laws.

Josh Powell wrote in a Feb. 2 email that he'd told his family to shut down the website. "I re-emphasized to them that I am working hard to build bridges with the Coxes for my sons' sake and they should help me do that," Powell wrote.

Final home visit

Just two days before the boys were killed, a social worker visited the children at the Cox home in Puyallup, Wash., and described how excited the boys were to show off their new bedroom. Construction on an addition to the home had just been completed.

"They both ran up the stairs and into the new room which had only their beds set up at the moment with their toy box and dressers still in the adjacent room," a social worker reported. "The boys ran around their room very excitedly talking about how they have fancy lights and lots of room to play in. Charlie and Braden showed this worker toys/items they had received for their birthday presents last month. Charlie and Braden fought over a couple of the toys, typical behavior for siblings and their age.

"The boys stated they were happy living there and felt good with the Cox family. Neither boy mentioned returning home to dad at this visit. However, Braden did ask this worker to take him to see his dad."

In the same report, a social worker said the Cox family expressed concern that Josh Powell "didn't seem to make the most" of his supervised visitation with his two boys. The Coxes said that information came from Powell's pastor, Timothy Atkins, who until recently had been allowing Josh Powell to have some supervised visits with the children at his home.

"They stated (the) Atkins had said Josh doesn't seem to interact with them as much as he would have expected and let them play with the Atkins' kids more than anything," a report states. Earlier reports from the Atkins family, however, indicate they felt Josh was engaged with his children during visits at their house.

Atkins had just days earlier told social workers his family no longer wanted to help with supervised visits. "As more information has been made available to us through this process, we have realized how much we did not know and have still to learn about the status of the Susan Powell case and its relationship with the custody case for Josh Powell," Atkins said in an email dated Feb. 2.

Other reports indicated that Josh Powell no longer wanted to have visits at Atkins' home.

Imminent arrest?

Following the Feb. 1 court hearing, Chuck and Judy Cox "expressed concern" that another review hearing wouldn't be held until July "because it was another six months of Josh being able to interfere with things and attempt to cause trouble in their home."

But the Coxes expressed hope that Josh Powell would be arrested before then in connection with their daughter's disappearance. The Coxes said Utah investigators had told them "arrests would be made as early as March and probably before July," a report states.

On Feb. 5, the day of the fire, reports indicate that Chuck Cox called a social worker to see if he could confirm that the bodies inside the house were really his grandsons and son-in-law. The worker confirmed that it appeared to be true.

"Mr. Cox stated that the state and visit supervisor did everything they could do within the law but the law is not set up to deal with people like Josh," the social worker wrote.

Chuck Cox also said that both boys that morning had indicated they didn't want to go see their father, adding that it was the first time Charlie had ever said anything like that.

The next day, one of the boys' counselors said "she was so regretful about this tragic incident as both boys seemed to be doing so much better now (with their grandparents)." She planned to conduct a final counseling session with the Cox family.

'Mommy's house'

In early November, when the boys visited Josh Powell's new home in Graham, Wash., for the first time, they walked around with their dad, who had placed throughout the home photos of their mother, photos from the couple's wedding and photos of them with the boys as babies. An accompanying social worker said the boys and Josh Powell kept referring to it as being "just like Mommy's house."

The social worker noted the home seemed very "staged," as if for his approval. Police later confirmed they believe Josh Powell did not live in that home and had staged it for visitation purposes.

A month later, the kids were with a social worker and their father at a McDonald's restaurant. Braden asked when they'd be moving back to "Mommy's house" and Josh Powell said that would never happen, a report states. Then he responded again, "Well, maybe not for a very long time."

It wasn't until January that counselors working with the boys noted they were starting to get along and making reference to their mother. Charlie said, "I miss my mom," but added that she was lost and wouldn't be found "until we go camping again."

In November, a counselor reported that the boys "shut down" whenever their mother was brought up, likely because "no one has addressed mom being gone in a healthy way."

Other new details from the documents include:

• From Sept. 23, 2011: Josh Powell told a child protective services worker that he takes pictures of other peoples' legs in public places, "but is careful that they are not too close or show any faces," a report states. "He stated that he is only an amateur but he likes to take pictures of legs when he sees something that is nice."

• In the same report, an investigative social worker asked Josh Powell if anything else would come to light that he was aware of once all the evidence taken from his father's home during a search warrant was analyzed. "Joshua Powell stated that he had copied one of his father's thumb drives onto his own computer but stated he was not particularly worried about it as it was only information related to Susan's disappearance."

• From Nov. 10, 2011: In an email correspondence, a supervisor mentioned to another social worker to tell Josh Powell and his attorney that the boys would be going home with him at the latest on Jan. 19, 2012, but "more than likely sooner." He said the only thing standing in the way of it happening would be West Valley police "doing something or giving us more that relates to the boys' safety."

• From Nov. 11, 2011: A counselor said Charlie has been "programmed to hate" the Cox family, and that "he has been completely brainwashed" about Mormons and other things.

• From Nov. 17, 2011: Josh Powell wrote a detailed "child safety plan" to satisfy one of the qualifications of getting his children back full-time. It mentions how he will handle his and the boys' relationships with his father, Steven Powell, who was in jail. It was because of safety reasons involved with an investigation regarding Steven Powell that the boys were removed from the home.

• From Nov. 29, 2011: Authorities in Washington received an email from West Valley police detective Ellis Maxwell saying that a Utah judge had released several images (five to six) that were found on Josh Powell's computer during a 2009 search of his Utah home. The images, he said, depicted computer generated (avatar) images of "incestual caricature, or morphed child pornography."

• From Nov. 29, 2011: It was mentioned in messages between various social workers that Braden had told his father (out of the blue) that "they found Mommy's body in the desert."

In the same correspondence, Chuck Cox told social workers that Charlie was talking on the phone to a friend in Utah and had said they would only be coming back to Utah "if Mommy came back," but said that "Mommy might be dead."

• Around the same time, Josh Powell's attorney mentioned that his client would consent to a polygraph test regarding the pornographic images found on his computer in 2009. The images were not discovered in a 2011 raid on Steven Powell's home, where two of Josh Powell's computers were also seized.

• From Dec. 1, 2011: Chuck Cox said he believes Utah law enforcement are planning to arrest Josh Powell soon, but said police have plenty of time to work on the case now that the boys are out of his custody.

• From Dec. 3, 2011: A social worker took the kids to McDonald's to wait for their dad, who was in a counseling session. Many people at the restaurant started talking about the boys as "the kids with the missing Utah mom." Some even addressed Charlie, saying, "Hi Charlie."

• From Dec. 9, 2011: A counselor asked Charlie to talk about a picture he had drawn of children playing in a circle. There was a big "X" drawn over it. Charlie said he doesn't have any friends or want any friends and he likes to "do stuff alone when he is at school." He said kids at school don't like him or can't be friends with him because of the situation at home and things going on with his mom.

• Sometime between Dec. 29, 2011, and Jan. 5, 2012: While staying at the Cox home, the boys shoved mud into an electrical socket. Several outlets were covered before the Coxes realized what was happening and when Josh Powell found out about it, he was very upset. He sent an email to the department saying the kids shouldn't be in the Cox home. He said that as their father, he would have noticed them doing something so dangerous.

• From Feb. 3, 2012: Chuck Cox said Braden had recently told his great aunt that he wanted to live with the Coxes "and all the people he sees there."

More documents from Washington in the Powell case are expected to be released early next month.

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com, wleonard@desnews.com Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam, wendyleonards

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