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

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

Cox recalled that during Josh and Susan's wedding reception, Steven kept to himself and his own family members. "He was kind of there almost like a media person, on the outside of the event," he said.

"He was openly anti-Mormon, against the church, all that, and clearly was a person who was difficult to talk to without being very opinionated and tell you why you're wrong," Cox said. "He was kind of not capable of normal conversation."

But Cox said he doesn't believe he was necessarily opposed to his son Josh having an LDS wedding. Cox said he believes Steven thought if his son found a Mormon woman to marry, she would be easier to manipulate.

Like his father, Josh and Susan were married in an LDS temple, their ceremony conducted in Portland in April 2001. Friends said they were both active in the LDS Church when they were first married.

After the couple moved to Utah — prompted in part because of Susan's desire to get away from her father-in-law — Josh stopped going to church.

Tim Petersen, a former neighbor of the Powells in West Valley City, told the Deseret News in 2009 that Susan's marriage counselor had told her to set specific goals. Susan's goals included convincing Josh to become active in the church again by the end of 2009 and have his temple recommend renewed by their anniversary in the spring. Otherwise, she was going to divorce him and take the children, he said.

In emails Susan sent to friends in 2008, she expressed her growing frustration with her husband, her desire that they both go to counseling, her thoughts on divorce and her desire to get Josh active in the church again.

"My bottom line/breaking point is HE WILL GO TO COUNSELING FOR HIMSELF AND/OR MEDS to deal with his mental issues and if he refuses I will not ruin mine and my boys' lives further and we will divorce and I hope it's not as ugly as he claims it will be when we've talked about it in the past," Susan wrote in an email on July 11, 2008.

"I want him in counseling, on meds, I want my husband, friend, lover BACK no more crazy, outrageous, outlandish beliefs/opinions."

Despite indications in those emails that Josh may have been bipolar, Josh was never diagnosed with mental illness, Graves said. A psychological evaluation conducted on Josh Powell during his custody battle with the Coxes suggested he "possibly had adjustment disorder with anxiety and traits of narcissistic personality disorder."

The last time Cox ever talked to his daughter Susan was on Dec. 4, 2009, two days before she disappeared. She told him Josh was attending church "and seemed to be headed in the right direction," Cox said in court documents.

But weeks later, after Josh had moved back to Washington with his sons, signs of the contempt for the LDS Church first expressed by Steven Powell and then his son, Josh, began appearing in statements by the grandsons.

"The Mormons killed my brother and my mom," Charlie Powell, 6, told students at Carson Elementary School in 2011. He told another student, "I hate Mormons."

Charlie told a counselor he could not see his mother because her parents "are Mormon and they abuse her," and later told a counselor, "Mormons are trying to steal me."

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

Religion played a key role in the custody battle over Charlie and Braden. After the Coxes gained temporary custody of the children, Josh Powell asked a judge to place restrictions on them, including forbidding the grandparents from taking the children to LDS church services or even stepping foot on church property for any reason.

Years earlier, Steven Powell had made complaints about his son Josh being part of an LDS-organized Boy Scout troop, according to court documents.

Family ties

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