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Did Steven Powell help plot Susan's disappearance?

Published: Friday, April 6 2012 4:22 p.m. MDT

Steven Powell, Josh Powell's father, seen on Aug. 18, 2011. Corrections officials in Washington confirm he called in sick from work the day after his daughter-in-law, Susan Cox Powell, was reported missing. He took two sick leave days during the same time Josh Powell rented a vehicle and put 800 miles on it in less than 48 hours. () Steven Powell, Josh Powell's father, seen on Aug. 18, 2011. Corrections officials in Washington confirm he called in sick from work the day after his daughter-in-law, Susan Cox Powell, was reported missing. He took two sick leave days during the same time Josh Powell rented a vehicle and put 800 miles on it in less than 48 hours. ()

WEST VALLEY CITY — A Seattle attorney who has been corresponding with a former co-worker of Steven Powell now believes the father of Josh Powell may have gone camping in Utah just before Susan Cox Powell disappeared and she's trying to determine exactly the date of the trip.

Anne Bremner, the attorney for Chuck and Judy Cox, received an email Thursday from a woman who worked at the Washington Department of Corrections with Steven Powell. The woman claimed that Powell had talked to her about a camping trip he took with Josh, Charlie and Braden Powell on a cold day in Utah about the same time that Susan Powell disappeared.

Powell told the woman that they had a campfire, roasted marshmallows and sang songs, Bremner said. It was information the woman said she also gave to law enforcement, possibly as early as 2010.

In this Aug. 19, 2011, photo, Steven Powell, the father-in-law of missing Utah woman Susan Powell, talks in Puyallup, Wash., about the search for Susan Powell. (File, Associated Press) In this Aug. 19, 2011, photo, Steven Powell, the father-in-law of missing Utah woman Susan Powell, talks in Puyallup, Wash., about the search for Susan Powell. (File, Associated Press)

The co-worker does not want to be named, Bremner said. She said she sent the information to authorities in Pierce County, asking them to forward the details to Utah investigators. The Associated Press was able to review her email correspondence and verify that she did work with Steven Powell and is among the Department of Corrections workers copied on work emails with Powell.

An attorney for Steven Powell did not return a call seeking comment.

Police in West Valley City also did not return calls seeking comment.

Bremner's announcement Thursday connected Josh Powell's father with the son prior to the disappearance of Susan Powell. Friday she said she was working out a timeline on when it was believed Steven Powell went camping.

Susan Cox Powell () Susan Cox Powell ()

"It appears it more likely was in late November," Bremner said. Susan Powell went missing in December.

Detective Ed Troyer, with the Pierce County Sheriff's Office, said the camping trip Steven Powell was a part of was prior to Susan Powell disappearing, possibly a month earlier. He said the co-worker did not report the information initially to his office, but may have called to get the number for West Valley police. Troyer said the woman wanted to remain anonymous.

Chuck Cox said Friday he would not be surprised to learn that Steven Powell was in Utah before his daughter disappeared and the weekend of her disappearance.

"I think he may have been out there that weekend and I think he may have been out there possibly before that. I would go further than 'scoping things out,' I think he might have been out there setting things up," Cox said when asked whether any inferences could be made into Powell's alleged camping trip.

Josh Powell, the husband of missing Utah woman Susan Powell, speaks during a court hearing Sept. 28, 2011, in Tacoma, Wash. (Associated Press) Josh Powell, the husband of missing Utah woman Susan Powell, speaks during a court hearing Sept. 28, 2011, in Tacoma, Wash. (Associated Press)

Asked whether he believed Josh Powell was capable of planning something like the murder of his wife and an alleged camping trip as a cover-up on his own, Cox said Powell could plan something like that, but he would have needed someone to push him along.

"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," he said. "If Steve was there that night, or the week leading up to it — I suspect that night — that would make a whole lot of sense to me."

Cox added that the information that has come to light in the past week is "revealing and it appears they're a step closer to closure and finding out what really happened, and it basically confirms our suspicions."

Susan Powell with her two boys Charlie and Braden. () Susan Powell with her two boys Charlie and Braden. ()

Josh Powell told authorities he left to go camping on Dec. 7, 2009, at approximately 12:30 a.m. In court documents filed by the Cox family in 2011 while trying to gain custody of Charlie and Braden, Chuck Cox said he last talked to his daughter on the phone on Dec. 4, 2009.

At 12:14 p.m. on Dec. 6, 2009, Josh Powell called his father on his cellphone. It was the last call made or received on Josh's phone before his wife disappeared.

The last activity recorded on Susan's cellphone was when she called her friend Jovanna Owings, at 2:29 p.m. on Dec. 6, 2009.

Josh Powell made pancakes for dinner that night for his family and Owings. Susan Powell reported feeling tired after the meal and went to lie down. This has prompted speculation by some, including the Cox family, whether Susan Powell may have been drugged at dinner.

Owings was the last person known to have seen Susan, leaving the Powell house at 5 p.m. Josh Powell claims he took his sons sledding at 5:30 p.m. He arrived back home at 8 p.m.

At 11:45 p.m., several neighbors reported hearing the car alarm to the Powells' vehicle, according to court records.

According to statements made by Josh Powell, he left between midnight and 12:30 a.m. on Dec. 7, 2009, to take his sons — who were 2 and 4 years old at the time — camping in the Simpson Springs area of Tooele County, approximately a two-hour drive from his house. It means he wouldn't have arrived until about 2:30 a.m.

Powell said he and the boys slept in the van that night. Temperatures were below freezing and a snowstorm was in the forecast. Chuck Cox noted in court documents that when police went to the Powells' West Valley house about 10 a.m. on Dec. 7, there was four inches of new snow, untouched, in the driveway.

The next cellphone contact with Josh Powell was just after 3 p.m. on Dec. 7, 2009, when Owings' son called him. By that time, Susan had been reported missing and police were involved. Josh Powell told Jovanna Owings at that time, he was driving around West Valley City, according to a search warrant released in Washington.

Just before 5:30 p.m., Josh Powell's sister, Jennifer Graves, called and asked him where he had been.

"Joshua Powell responded by saying he was at work. When Jennifer Graves told Joshua Powell she knew he was lying, Joshua Powell then changed his story telling her he was camping," according to court records.

It wasn't until 6:40 p.m. that Powell returned to his home, 6254 W. Sarah Circle (3945 South). When police asked why Powell didn't answer his cellphone, he told them he didn't have a phone charger and needed to preserve his battery, according to a recently released search warrant.

The detective, however, "clearly saw Joshua Powell's mobile phone sitting on the center consul plugged into a cigarette lighter phone charger," according to court documents.

Investigators also found Susan Powell's cellphone in the center consul, turned off, with the SIM card missing.

The next day, when police attempted to question Powell about his camping trip, "Josh refused to answer and said, 'I'm in over my head,'" according to court records filed in 2011.

Authorities also interviewed 4-year-old Charlie Powell on Dec. 8, according to court records. He said during the interview, "that his mommy went camping with them although she did not come back home with them and he did not know why."

At no point after their mother disappeared did either of her sons mention Steven Powell being on the camping trip with them. But Cox questions whether that was simply because no one ever asked them.

"They might have (known if Steven was there), but I don't know that question was asked," he said.

Also on Dec. 8 at 10:30 p.m. Josh Powell rented a Ford Focus at the Salt Lake City International Airport while his car was being searched by West Valley police. Powell had originally waited in the police department lobby for the search to be completed. But an officer noted in court papers that by the time the search of the vehicle was completed, Powell was already gone.

Powell also purchased a new cellphone that was activated in Tremonton about 4:20 p.m. on Dec. 9. By 7 p.m. on Dec. 10, Powell returned the rental car, compiling more than 800 miles in less than 48 hours.

It was also on that day that Powell voluntarily surrendered his cellphone to police, but the SIM card was missing.

On Dec. 8 and 9, Steven Powell submitted a "leave slip" to the Washington Department of Corrections. A copy of the slip obtained by the Deseret News through a Washington Public Records Request shows Powell requested two days off as sick leave, citing a "family emergency."

It was the recent report of Powell calling in sick on Dec. 8 and 9 that Bremner said prompted the former co-worker to contact her.

Cox said he has no idea where Steven Powell was at the time his daughter disappeared.

"That's been a question on our mind forever. We've always asked that," he said.

Cox said police have hinted to him that they know something about Steven Powell's whereabouts on Dec. 7, but were "cryptic" about telling him. Kirk Graves has said his wife was talking to her sister, Alina Powell, on Dec. 7 at her home in Puyallup, Wash., and Steve was reportedly also at home at the time.

Steven Powell worked for the Washington Department of Corrections from March 1, 2006, until his arrest on Sept. 22, 2011. He sold furniture made by inmates to school districts and nonprofit agencies in Washington. His job reportedly included a lot of traveling.

He has been in jail in Washington since his arrest on multiple charges of voyeurism and child pornography.

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

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