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Book from Josh Powell's sister details family saga

Published: Monday, June 24 2013 3:45 p.m. MDT

Jennifer Graves, left, Josh Powell's sister, and co-author Emily Clawson talk about their new book, "A Light In Dark Places," on Monday, June 24, 2013, in South Jordan. Graves is well-known in Utah and Washington as being an advocate for her missing sister-in-law, Susan Cox Powell, as well as for Susan’s sons, Charlie and Braden. In her book, she shares her struggles to have a healthy, normal life despite her tumultuous upbringing.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

SOUTH JORDAN — As Jennifer Graves and her husband sped away from her father's house in January of 2010, she could hear him yell his latest rant at her.

"Never come back here. You're not welcome here again," Steven Powell angrily told Jennifer Graves.

Graves had just confronted her brother Josh at the Powell family home in Puyallup, Wash., about whether he had anything to do with the disappearance of his wife, Susan Cox Powell, the month before. What her father and siblings Josh, Michael and Alina Powell didn't know at the time was that Graves was voluntarily wearing a hidden microphone and West Valley police detectives were listening to the confrontation unfold at a nearby police station.

When Graves returned to the station, she was overcome with emotion and in tears. The officers, however, met her with cheers.

Because of that incident, Graves said she was able to "hold my head high and have a clear conscience, knowing that I was firmly entrenched on the right side of this case."

In her new book, "A Light in Dark Places: A Story of Heartbreak, Survival and Redemption," Graves recounts the incident in detail. Monday night, a release party will be held to mark the arrival of the book she co-wrote with Emily Clawson to talk about the family saga from her perspective.

Almost from the beginning, Graves had suspicions about whether her brother was involved in his wife's disappearance.

The first part of the 187-page book starts with the murders of Josh and Susan's sons, Charlie and Braden, who were killed by their father in 2012. Graves then recounts what was happening in her house from the time Susan Powell was reported missing to the time she confronted her brother a month later.

In the second part of the book, Graves writes about what it was like growing up in the Powell family and the struggles her family faced from her parents' bitter divorce, her father's short temper and his interest in pornography. In the third section, Graves talks about Charlie and Braden's final days and how she wanted the boys to live with her.

Writing the book was, in a way, somewhat healing, she said.

"Definitely it was very helpful for me. But it wasn't the only reason (I wrote it). I really felt like I needed to do this to help other people to recognize abuse in either their own relationships or relationships around them, because it's not always completely apparent," she said. "A black eye is going to be really obvious. But there are more subtle types of abuse — the belittling, the controlling behaviors, isolation, and things that are also forms of abuse as well."

Graves said writing the book was also very difficult. "I was dredging up the past, running through the muck again. And that wasn't an easy thing to deal with."

In addition to her relationship with her father and brothers, Graves talks in her book about her relationship with her mother, Terri Powell, during the past four years. Terri Powell went to great lengths to stay out of the media eye after Susan Powell disappeared and public sentiment grew that Josh Powell was somehow responsible.

But behind the scenes, Terri Powell felt the need to continue to defend her son, sometimes to the dismay of Graves.

"She really didn't want to believe Josh had anything to do with it, from the very beginning right up until the boys were murdered. She just wouldn't accept that he would have anything to do with it," she said.

Graves eventually asked her mother to move out of her house after Terri Powell wrote an affidavit in support of Josh Powell to retain full custody of his sons after they had been temporarily removed, saying she believed he was a good father.

"She wasn't protecting the ones that really needed protecting, and that was Charlie and Braden. There's a point where you have to say, 'Adults are going to make their choices. It's now time to protect the children,'" Graves said.

Graves also talks in the book about her relationship with the media, which she said was mostly positive except in the beginning when the tripods of news photographers seemed to be lined up like a firing squad.

"At the very, very beginning, that was just completely freaky," she said. "My world was rocked! Susan had disappeared and I was a mess. And I wasn't ready to talk to anybody, but they were pretty relentless in the very beginning. They were not very delicate or, they just wanted their story. I understand that they're told to come and stalk you. But it feels like you're being stalked. So at the very beginning, it wasn't a happy thing for me."

Graves said she kept several journals over the past 3 ½ years, which helped her write the book. "A Light in Dark Places" is currently available at Amazon.com.

Email: preavy@deseretnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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