PUYALLUP, Wash. — West Valley police officers arrived in Washington Thursday to serve search warrants at the home of the father-in-law of missing Utahn Susan Cox Powell.
About a dozen investigators from West Valley and 10 forensics experts and detectives from the Pierce County Sheriff's Office in Washington arrived about 2:45 p.m. Thursday and searched until just before 10 p.m. at the home of Steven Powell, where Susan's husband, Josh Powell, also lives with their two boys.
A large group of residents arrived near the property to watch and police were seen taking computer equipment from the home.
"This warrant stems from information that detectives have developed during the investigation and there is probable cause to believe that there is evidence inside their home and/or vehicles that will help further the case," West Valley Police Sgt. Mike Powell said.
West Valley police have previously conducted searches at the Puyallup home, but those were conducted with consent from Steven Powell. "This is the first time we've come in here with a search warrant," West Valley Police Lt. Bill Merritt said.
Merritt confirmed he and his team were looking for specific items, but would not elaborate.
In order to serve a search warrant, he said, "We have to have probable cause that they (items of evidentiary value) exist and they are in the Powell home or their vehicles."
No one was detained or arrested Thursday.
"They were told up front, 'You're free to go. ... We're not detaining you,'" Merritt said of Josh Powell and others in the home. Steve Powell was not home and was reportedly out of town on business when police arrived.
Merritt said the family did not know beforehand that police would serve the warrants.
Thursday's activity came during a week of renewed interest in the Susan Powell case, first sparked by a highly-publicized police search in Ely, Nev., and further fueled by an intensifying battle of words between Josh and Steve Powell and Chuck Cox, Susan's father.
Susan Powell, a 28-year-old mother of two, has been missing since Dec. 6, 2009. The night before she was reported missing, Josh Powell said he took their two young children camping in single-digit temperatures in a remote part of Tooele County in the middle of the night. When he returned a day and a half later, he said his wife was gone.
Josh Powell has been called a person of interest in the case because West Valley police say he has been uncooperative.
The search warrants were not connected to last weekend's search outside of Ely.
"This has been something that has been in the works before the search in Ely took place. They are not connected," Merritt said.
The warrants permitted investigators to search the Powell home and other vehicles. After officers searched Josh Powell's minivan, it was cleared. Josh Powell was at the house for about an hour before he left in that van.
News helicopters followed Josh Powell and his two boys as he drove to a McDonald's drive-thru, then to a park where the children played.
Kirk Graves, who is married to Josh Powell's sister, Jennifer, said news of the warrants took him by surprise Thursday.
"There's a certain amount of excitement knowing there's something the police have something to act on," he said.
The case has been difficult for him and his wife, who is estranged from her father and brother — particularly since the recent search in Ely and the war of words that has escalated since.
"I don't think I can describe the roller coaster that goes with something like this," he said, adding that news of the search warrants was "an upper" on the coaster ride.
"I hope this will lead to some new information and closure at some point," Jennifer Graves said.
Debbie Caldwell, a friend of Susan Powell who often watched the couple's two boys, said she doesn't know what police may be searching for, but is glad someone went to the home.
Sunday night, she and five other women who knew Susan well compared notes and hoped for further action in the case.
"We all shared our brief snippets of what we knew about Steve (Powell) and I was hoping they would at least go in and check things out," Caldwell said. "(Susan's) private journals, all those things, who does that kind of stuff?"
Still, Caldwell said her primary concern is for the couple's children, ages 4 and 6.
"We'll just have to wait and see," Caldwell said. "I'm just worried about the boys. We’ll be praying."
The ongoing feud between Cox and Steve and Josh Powell has also captured the attention of the national media. The three men appeared on national news shows Wednesday and Thursday, including ABC News and the "Today" show.
A Washington judge recently ordered Cox and Josh Powell to stay at least 500 feet away from each other.
Thursday, Josh Powell repeated claims on the "Today" show that Cox has "just been going out of his way to bring craziness into our lives." In court documents, Josh Powell said he feared his father-in-law was going to kill him because he blames him for the disappearance of his daughter.
Cox told the morning TV program that he has never threatened Josh Powell and that the focus right now should be on finding his daughter. He also noted that the attacks from the Powells have been increasing.
Perhaps the most eye-raising comments came from Steve Powell, who claimed he was in love with his son's wife.
"Susan was very sexual with me. She was very flirtatious," Steve Powell told ABC News. "We interacted in a lot of sexual ways because Susan enjoys doing that."
When asked if he was in love with Susan Powell, he said: "That's pretty likely, yeah, I think so, and there's no question in my mind that the feelings were mutual."
Steve Powell made similar statements on the "Today" show. "She was very flirtatious and very sexual with people," he said. "Frankly, sometimes I wish we had done a little more than we did."
"I see these attacks as outrageous, cowardly, despicable and not believable in any way and I trust that the media and the public can see right through this," Cox told the "Today" show. "Basically he's trying to blame the victim and my daughter is the victim here."
Friends and family of Susan Powell have recently come forward to say Susan had told them that it was the father-in-law who made inappropriate advances on her. She insisted on moving to Utah because she "despised" her father-in-law and had forbidden him from entering her West Valley home.
Jennifer Graves said her father's behavior was something she directly discussed with Susan Powell before her disappearance. Steven Powell made his daughter-in-law feel uncomfortable and possibly afraid.
"There was a certain amount of fear, so she wanted to put distance between her and my dad," Jennifer Graves said.
Many commenters on the Friends and Family of Susan Cox Powell Facebook page had strong reactions to the interviews.
"I'm sorry to say but Josh Powell and his father are sick! How can they do this to the Cox family and even to Susan's and Josh's boys?" one person posted. "I really hope the West Valley police are checking into Steven Powell. He is one strange and sick man."
Another person posted the comment, "I thought I had ill feelings for Josh, but his father is a disgusting PIG! Shame on BOTH of them for their accusation."
"I am sorry, but I have an overwhelming feeling to puke right now after reading such lies!!!" wrote another person.
Cox also said he will fight efforts by Steven and Josh Powell to publish Susan's teenage diaries. The Powells say the diaries show she was unstable and "sexually open," which they believe supports their theory that she left on her own with another man.
Theories and feuds aside, friends and family of the missing woman agree that what matters is finding answers. Jennifer Graves said she is relieved to see the investigation is still moving forward and hopes the search yields results.
"I would hope that she's still alive. The longer it goes, though, the less hope there is," she said. "Regardless, I want to know what happened."
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company