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Associated Press
Susan Cox Powell

Nothing like a punch to the gut on an anniversary you never wanted to observe.

It was a year ago yesterday that 28-year-old mom and housewife Susan Powell disappeared from her home in West Valley City and a year ago this coming Monday that 30-year-old Steven Koecher, a resident of St. George at the time, was last seen walking away from his car in Henderson, Nev.

For the 12 longest months of their lives, the families of these two Utahns, gone without a trace in the prime of life, have had to endure despair followed by repeated disappointment as exhaustive law enforcement investigations and massive volunteer searches have yielded no credible leads in either case.

Now, as the cold of December returns, a new twist has emerged about what happened to them.

Susan Powell and Steven Koecher ran off together, it is being speculated. They're alive and well and living most likely in Brazil, where Koecher was once a missionary.

It's a scenario that transforms Susan and Steven from victims into cheats and crooks.

The sole source for this conjecture comes from a website, SusanPowell.org, maintained by Susan's husband, Josh, and Josh's father, Steve Powell.

The website points out that Susan and Steven are about the same age, both are members of the LDS Church and, according to a timeline generated by Steve Powell, Koecher was in West Valley City a year ago.

Under that criteria, tens of thousands more who fit the above description — around 30, LDS and who passed through West Valley City in late 2009 — would qualify instantly as suspects.

The supposition is 100 percent innuendo, originating from the only person who has come under suspicion in either case — that would be Susan's husband Josh, whose alibi the night his wife disappeared (he said he went camping with the couple's two young sons, in December, at midnight) is suspect and whose behavior ever since (he moved out of state and to this day has not talked to police) could best be described as unusual.

And yet, as the one-year mark approached, the media, both print and broadcast, somehow saw fit this past weekend to publicly air the speculation.

You wonder what's next: breaking news on O.J.'s latest theories on who killed Nicole?

For obvious reasons, both Susan Powell's and Steven Koecher's families have expressed dismay at the National Enquirer-like headlines generated by the Josh Powell rumor mill. It would be excusable if there were a scintilla of tangible evidence to support the claims of Josh and his father that Susan and Steven dumped their lives and families — including the children Susan adored — to escape to a love nest in the rain forest.

But there isn't one scintilla of tangible evidence.

All the story succeeds in doing — for those who don't consider the source — is disparage the missing and add grief for their loved ones.

Not only has the good character of both Susan Powell and Steven Koecher stood up for an entire year under the closest of police scrutiny, but there has never been anything to even remotely suggest they ever crossed paths.

Phone records were checked and cross-checked. Neither person called the other or called anyone the other called.

Best friends and family — the closest confidants of the missing persons — were interviewed and re-interviewed. No one suggested either Susan or Steven was seeing anyone else.

The only verifiable time Steven Koecher was anywhere near the Powell's home was for a volleyball game in West Valley City with friends on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 26, 2009, a week and a half before Susan Powell disappeared, after which he returned to his parents' home in Bountiful.

The police departments in the respective jurisdictions have met and shared all their evidence and found nothing.

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"Everything they say is not founded in truth or reality, it's just scenarios," says Rolf Koecher, Steven's father, of the website conjecture. "Their assertions have opened up wounds that were healing.

"It sounds strange," Rolf adds, "but we'd be happy to know they're alive and safe — to know Steven is safe and not hurting, needing a rescue from somewhere."

He pauses, a dad dealing with a year's worth of unimaginable grief.

"But this isn't even on our radar that it's a possibility. We don't give it 10 seconds of thought. This is all innuendo and no evidence."

And incredibly cruel.

Lee Benson's column runs Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com.