SALT LAKE CITY – Josh Powell says he packed up the family van in the middle of a freezing night on Dec. 7 and took his two young boys on an impromptu camping trip in the snow-covered wilderness. He said his wife stayed home and went to bed.
She has not been heard from since. Susan Powell never showed up at her stockbroker job the next morning — her keys, purse and cell phone all left at home. The husband was a no-show at work as well, saying he lost track of what day it was during the camping excursion.
Police are mystified by Josh Powell's story and have named him as the sole person of interest in his wife's disappearance. Authorities suspect foul play, and they say the husband's reluctance to provide basic information about his whereabouts that night has only fueled their suspicion.
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"Usually something will surface within a few hours or a day, and everybody goes home happy and singing Kumbaya," said Tom McLachlan, a police captain in West Valley City, a suburb of Salt Lake City. "On this one, that's not happening, and we're very concerned about that."
Police have twice searched the Powell home and the family van, but have not said what they found. They also took DNA samples from Josh Powell and other unidentified family members. Susan Powell's father said police found a wet spot in the home being dried by two fans, but investigators have declined to comment on that.
Susan Powell's family has spent days giving interviews to media outlets around the country to keep her face in front of the public. Josh Powell, 33, has barely spoken publicly and has hired a criminal defense attorney who often defends high-profile clients. And when he has appeared in public, he often looks haggard and downcast.
"I didn't do anything. I mean I, I don't know where she's at. I, I don't even know where to start looking," Josh Powell told KUTV in Salt Lake City on Dec. 10.
Powell's story for the timeline of events the evening of Dec. 7 has baffled authorities.
He said he took the boys, ages 2 and 4, on the camping trip after midnight, even though he had to be at work a few hours later at his trucking company job. He said he forgot what day it was when he went camping because he did not go to church the day before.
Powell said the campsite was in a vast, mountainous area on the Pony Express Trail, making it difficult for authorities to search the area. Police say Powell has not said exactly where on the trail he spent the night in his van, although his attorney said Friday he's never been asked to take police to the site.
His kids never made it to day care that day, prompting workers at the center to call family members asking where the children were.
When he returned home on the evening of Dec. 7, he found his window broken in by police and his 28-year-old wife missing.
Authorities feared the Powells might have been poisoned by carbon monoxide after they all vanished on the same day.
Police have said the couple's 4-year-old told investigators the three did go camping, but police have been unable to verify the trip because the campsite area has been covered in snow.
Family and friends say it would be completely out of character for Susan Powell to wander off without contacting anyone, particularly without her purse, cell phone and keys. Each of those items was found in the Powells' locked home when police entered.
Charles Cox, Susan Powell's father, says it's not uncommon for his daughter and her husband to go to bed late. He also says Josh is known to lose track of time and show up hours late to events.
"He gets lost in what he's doing," he said. "And he would think nothing of, 'Oh, let's go get something.' If he could do something in the middle of the night and thought he'd wanted to do it, he'd do it. Does it sound totally out there? No, not based on his personality."
However, family and friends have said Susan Powell never would have let her children go camping at that hour.
"We know that Susan is an excellent mother and would not have tolerated her children being taken out of the home after midnight to go camping in dangerously cold conditions," said Shelby Gifford, a family friend who is acting as spokeswoman for Susan Powell's parents.
Gifford's comments about the late-night camping trip hint at what other friends have said — that Susan and Josh's marriage was strained.
Court records show that the family filed for bankruptcy in 2007. Police have reportedly obtained a notebook or journal from Susan Powell's office that describes an alleged threat made by her husband about a year ago.
"I just know that every family and every couple has stress. I do know that there have been points where she has felt controlled, but I know in the last year, she has kind of freed herself from some of that," said Mindy Guzman, a friend who took some of the last known photos of Susan and Josh at a church breakfast on Dec 5.
Susan Powell went to Mormon services the next day without her husband. That night, she had dinner with family friend JoVonna Owings at the house. Powell disappeared the next day.
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