Sins of the father: Steven Powell's behavior leaves a legacy of harm

Published: Saturday, May 5 2012 12:00 p.m. MDT

Several times in divorce papers, Terri Powell accused her husband of manipulating the children and turning them against her.

"Steve is deliberately teaching them that I don't love or want them. This is cruel and untrue. What is true is that I cannot live with their interference in my care of the younger children, or their bullying behavior towards me," she said in court documents. "He won't control his mouth. … He won't leave us alone when it is our time together. This has become an unbelievable nightmare."

That influence over Josh continued into his adult years and into his marriage to Susan. Graves said that was especially true in the years leading up to Susan's disappearance. Susan told her that Josh and his father would often talk for hours over the phone several times each week. After the phone calls, Graves said Susan felt that Josh would typically be mean or angry with her.

Steven's influence over his son is one of the reasons the Cox family believes Steven had something to do with Susan's disappearance.

"Josh planned all kinds of stuff and researched lots of stuff, but he never did anything. That was his problem. He very seldom took action without being motivated or directed or coaxed into actually physically taking action on anything," Chuck Cox said.

Graves said the divorce of her parents was particularly difficult on her sister Alina, who was 7 at the time.

"It was so hard on her. She became a fearful child … fearful even of my mother that she had always loved and felt completely safe with, up until that time," Graves said.

Alina has repeatedly refused interview requests and could not be reached in connection with this report. During recent court hearings for Steven Powell in Washington, Alina continued to support her father and brother. She said the evidence against her father in his voyeurism case was fabricated by police.

During the funeral for Charlie and Braden in February, Graves said she tried to approach her sister, Alina, but she still refused to talk to her.

Controlling behavior by Steven Powell was also evident in his son Michael, Terri Powell wrote in divorce documents.

"This is a little boy who was very close to me and LOVED to be with his grandparents or cousins before Steve's brainwashing intensified so out of control," she wrote in 1992.

Years later in 2008, echoes of the father's behavior appeared in Josh. Susan Powell wrote in emails to friends that she was worried about Josh's manipulation over their children.

"My 3 yr old told me for the first time yesterday, 'mommy I can't, I'm too busy working' which is verbatim what his father tells me," she said in her emails.


In his own divorce papers, Steven Powell said he had serious questions about the LDS Church.

"I do not deny that I am quick to correct the misconceptions Mormons have about their religion. This is a habit I gained as a Mormon missionary in Argentina," he said. 

Steven considered himself a more "traditional" and "relaxed" Mormon as opposed to his wife whom he called a "religion freak" in court documents. He said he wanted to keep custody of his three sons because they had been severely affected by his wife's "bizarre perversion of religion, both Mormon and religion generally."

Graves said she believes her father's fall from faith was due to his growing porn addiction.

"It's that slow decline where you begin rejecting some of it, then it's harder to come back. And so he began rejecting it and embracing pornography," she said.

Others said Steven's anti-Mormon platform, his ability to manipulate his family,  his desire to express strong opinions at any opportunity, and a general belief that he could never be wrong, were a bad mix.

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