Quantcast

Investigators sifting dirt for clues at site of Susan Cox Powell investigation

Search called off until Saturday because of rain

Published: Friday, Sept. 16 2011 5:29 p.m. MDT

Law enforcement officials look for missing Utah mother Susan Powell on Friday, Sept. 16, 2011, 50 miles northwest of Delta. Powell disappeared from her West Valley City home in December 2009 and hasn't been seen since. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Law enforcement officials look for missing Utah mother Susan Powell on Friday, Sept. 16, 2011, 50 miles northwest of Delta. Powell disappeared from her West Valley City home in December 2009 and hasn't been seen since. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

DELTA — The father of missing West Valley mother Susan Cox Powell says he plans to stay in Utah until investigators can determine what exactly is inside an apparent shallow grave in a remote area near Topaz Mountain.

That's why he purchased a one-way ticket to Salt Lake City.

Chuck Cox was escorted by police Friday to the area where multiple cadaver dogs have indicated human remains are likely buried. West Valley police define "human remains" as anything from drops of blood to bones to tissue.

Although none of those items have been found yet, another cadaver dog who had not been part of earlier searches was brought to the area Friday and reacted in the same way — in the same location — as the seven other dogs previously had, said West Valley Police Lt. Bill Merritt.

An aerial view of the Susan Powell excavation site near Topaz Mountain. (KSL-TV chopper 5) An aerial view of the Susan Powell excavation site near Topaz Mountain. (KSL-TV chopper 5)

Cox believes police are on the right track.

"It's a likely place. It's well worth the time here and the effort," he said of the investigation.

He complimented police efforts and said his father's intuition tells him his daughter is in a place like Topaz Mountain.

While Cox said he still hopes his daughter is alive, the area where police are digging makes sense to him as a place where they might find Susan's body. He thanked police for allowing him to see the dig site and had praise for their investigative efforts, saying they need to go where the leads take them.

"I'm very confident that with or without Josh Powell's help ... the police are going to solve this," Cox said, referring to his son-in-law and the only person of interest in the case.

Police officers start a new day near Topaz Mountain where they are looking for missing Utah mother Susan Powell, on Friday, Sept. 16, 2011, 50 miles northwest of Delta. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Police officers start a new day near Topaz Mountain where they are looking for missing Utah mother Susan Powell, on Friday, Sept. 16, 2011, 50 miles northwest of Delta. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Friday's search was called off about 2:30 p.m. because of heavy rain and wind. The digging and sifting was scheduled to resume Saturday morning — weather permitting.

In addition to the weather, Cox's visit to the dig area on Friday came as investigators announced yet another delay that will likely result in them not finishing at the site until Sunday or possibly later. Merritt said the excavation process slowed as investigators worked to sift through what they've already dug up.

"We've got to sift through what we've got first before we can continue to excavate, so there's been no excavation today," he said. 

The process of sifting through what has been dug up from the apparent gravesite has been extremely slow, Merritt said. He estimated that only about 15 percent of the dirt that was dug up Thursday had been sifted through on Friday.

In this photo taken Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011, officials search in the area of Topaz Mountain, Juab County as they follow up on information regarding the Susan Powell missing person investigation. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) In this photo taken Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011, officials search in the area of Topaz Mountain, Juab County as they follow up on information regarding the Susan Powell missing person investigation. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

He admits the pace of the investigation has been disappointing and frustrating.

"We all want to know what's going on. We all want to know what's down there," he said. "But that's just not the way it works." 

To try and speed up the process, Merritt said some of the crews that continued searching the remote desert would instead be used to help sift through the pile of dirt that's now approximately 1 foot deep and 1 foot wide. The police department's forensics unit also arrived at the scene Friday to look through the dirt before any further digging.

An officer and a dog work the area around the grave scene near Topaz Mountain where they are looking for missing Utah mother Susan Powell, on Friday, Sept. 16, 2011, 50 miles northwest of Delta. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) An officer and a dog work the area around the grave scene near Topaz Mountain where they are looking for missing Utah mother Susan Powell, on Friday, Sept. 16, 2011, 50 miles northwest of Delta. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Thus far, police don't believe they've found anything of interest. 

"They all appear to be rock but we just don't want to miss anything," he said. "We haven't held anything up that looks promising yet."

The police department said they were hoping to get a forensic anthropologist from the Utah State Medical Examiner's Office to respond to the scene to help distinguish rock fragments from possible bone fragments.

"We need that trained eye to come out and confirm that what we're looking at isn't anything," Merritt said. "We don't believe it is, we just want to confirm it isn't. And they have the eye and the knowledge to be able to sift through it probably 15, 20 times faster that what you or I could do." 

Although no actual remains have yet been found, Merritt said because at least seven cadaver dogs have all made positive "hits" on the area, that prompts detectives to say they continue to be "confident there are some type of human remains in the soil."

Police officers tell the media to leave an area near Topaz Mountain where they are looking for missing Utah mother Susan Powell, on Friday, Sept. 16, 2011, 50 miles northwest of Delta.  (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Police officers tell the media to leave an area near Topaz Mountain where they are looking for missing Utah mother Susan Powell, on Friday, Sept. 16, 2011, 50 miles northwest of Delta. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Cox said as long as he didn't get in the way, he wants to stay in the area of the dig until it is over. He said the fact he traveled from his home in Puyallup, Wash., only to, so far, see a pile a dirt did not give him false hope.

"It's just another part of the investigation," he said. "Everyday is hard on us. I will stay here until we're confident this area has been adequately searched."

Even though it's difficult to wait and wonder what happened to his daughter, Cox said he has no option but to keep looking for some concrete answers, no matter how painful.

"You have no choice. As many of the people with missing children know, you can't leave your house. You don't move in case they come back. You have no choice. You have to keep going."

Even still, he said he prepared himself for the wait. 

A police officer rides his ATV down a mountain near Topaz Mountain where they are looking for missing Utah mother Susan Powell, on Friday, Sept. 16, 2011, 50 miles northwest of Delta. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) A police officer rides his ATV down a mountain near Topaz Mountain where they are looking for missing Utah mother Susan Powell, on Friday, Sept. 16, 2011, 50 miles northwest of Delta. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

"I've always known this is going to take a lot longer than people are going to give it credit for," Cox said. "If you let emotion take over, you go off the wrong direction."

Susan Powell, a 28-year-old mother of two, has been missing since Dec. 6, 2009. The night before she was reported missing, her husband, 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.

Topaz Mountain is less than 30 miles from Simpson Springs, the area where Josh Powell told investigators he went camping that night. Josh Powell has been named a person of interest in the case because West Valley police say he has been very uncooperative.

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

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company