The mysterious Sunday explosion that killed Josh Powell and his two sons near Puyallup, Washington, was the violent end to a two-year long saga. Investigators say Powell deliberately set his house on fire in a murder-suicide.
"This was something that was done deliberately and intentionally, and the plan was carried out very quickly," said Pierce County, Washington sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer.
The Powell family troubles started with wife Susan Powell’s disappearance two years ago.
December 6-7, 2009:
CNN reported: Josh Powell claimed he took his two sons on a spontaneous midnight camping trip in blizzard conditions. Powell said when he returned from camping, his wife Susan was gone. This was the same weekend that she was last reported to be seen alive at the Powell’s home in West City, Utah. She did not show up for work at Wells Fargo Financial on the following Monday morning.
HLN's Nancy Grace reported that police named Josh a person of interest in his wife’s disappearance. Reports began to surface that Powell left his home in Utah and went to live with his father, Steve, in Washington state. Jim Kirkwood from KTKK told Grace that police searched Josh's home shortly after her disappearance and found a peculiar wet spot on the carpet with a couple of fans blowing on it.
HLN’s Nancy Grace reported that the search for Susan took a dark turn when her then-four-year-old boy reportedly said, "Mommy's in the mine, looking for crystals." Search teams scoured an abandoned mine shaft near the family’s Utah home with no success.
Powell told the Salt Lake Tribune that his wife left the family because she was mentally ill.
Her father, Chuck Cox, told HLN’s Jane Velez-Mitchell, “I really have no idea what he’s talking about. It’s ridiculous. We could not believe any of this stuff. It was just so far out there we couldn’t believe he would even say it. I just -- it is beyond belief. And we certainly deny all of the allegations, every one with of them.”
Josh and his father also claim that Susan ran off with her boyfriend and was too scared to come back. “It's a blatant attack against our daughter and against us and with absolutely no basis in fact anywhere. It's very disturbing," Cox told Velez-Mitchell.
Chris Jacobs, filling in for Dr. Drew on HLN, reported a shocking twist in the case. Appearing on ABC's "Good Morning America," Steve claimed to have had sexual interactions with his daughter-in-law. He threatened to publish journal entries from Susan that support his story. Cox said his accusations were false.
“I think his telling words is in his mind there was -- that is he thinks Susan liked him. Nothing could be further from the truth. As she explained to us, they actually moved to Utah to get away from Steve. And I think it`s disturbing that his mind is that way. Does he have anything to do with her disappearance? I don't know. I haven't pointed the finger at Steve or Josh. I let the police do the police work. But it is very disturbing,” said Cox.
Jacobs also reports that police searched Steve's Puyallup, Washington, home, which is the same house Josh moved into after his wife went missing.
People magazine reported that Steve is arrested for 14 counts of voyeurism and one count of possession of child pornography. Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said that he photographed and videotaped subjects without their knowledge, and that the subjects were as young as eight and 10. He pleaded not guilty to the charges, and Josh also denied any involvement with his father’s alleged crimes.
Authorities placed Josh’s two sons in the custody of Susan’s parents after their grandfather’s arrest. The Cox’s attorney, Steven Downing, said that the children were at risk living in Steve’s home with child pornography. However, the judge did grant Josh supervised visitation rights with his son.
In a separate issue, a judge issued an injunction forbidding Josh or Steve from publishing the missing woman's journals.
February 1, 2012:
The Salt Lake Tribune reports a judge denies Josh's request to regain custody of his two boys, despite him not being charged with anything related to his father’s alleged criminal sexual behavior. The judge also rules that for Josh to regain custody of his children he must undergo a pyschosexual evaluation and polygraph test.
The Salt Lake Tribune asked University of Washington law professor Mary Fan what that kind of test involves. “It’s kind of like a sexual profile of the individual. It’s a risk-assessment tool,” said Fan. “In Washington state, you see it in a number of decision points in the court process.”
In an sworn declaration to the court, Josh pleaded with the court to be granted custody of his two sons. "I have proven myself as a fit and loving father who provides a stable home even in the face of great adversity … It is time for my sons to come home," wrote Powell.
February 5, 2012:
On Sunday, Josh had a scheduled visit that was to be supervised by a social worker. KUTV reports that when the social worker showed up at his house, he blocked the social worker from entering the house, took the boys inside and locked the social worker outside. The social worker reportedly smelled gas and began "pounding the doors, trying to get in," Gary Franz, a deputy chief with Graham Fire and Rescue, told HLN. She called her supervisor, and while she was on the phone, the house exploded, he said.
The explosion was so powerful it rattled windows on neighbors' houses.
Susan's brother Kirk Graves told KUTV, "I think this is his admission of guilt, and he just couldn't handle it anymore."
The Pierce County Medical Examiner released the cause and manner of deaths regarding the three people in the explosion.
Josh Powell's immediate cause of death was carbon monoxide poisoning, and the manner of death was suicide.
For Powell's two sons the immediate cause of death was carbon monoxide poisoning with other significant causes including chop injuries to the head and neck. The manner of death for both boys was homicide.
The Pierce County Sheriff spokesperson Ed Troyer says a hatchet was recovered from the the Powell residence after the fire. Troyer says investigators believe Powell used the hatch to create the chop injuries the boys sustained before the fire was set.