Puyallup, Wash. • As Joshua Powell steadfastly refused to discuss his wife Susan's disappearance with police, law enforcement profilers enlisted help from the missing Utah woman's parents, their attorney said Tuesday.
Chuck and Judy Cox were asked to do certain things on particular dates and specific locations, said Steve Downing.
Among those actions: a honk-and-wave staged at a shopping center near the home where Powell lived with his father Steve, two siblings and his young sons.
"They were extraordinary in how they sort of set the Powells up to explode and do these bizarre things," said Downing, a Tacoma attorney. "You could see the pressure build. . . . It drew him out and it never seemed to stop after that."
The event infuriated Powell, who confronted Chuck Cox in the shopping center parking lot and later sought a restraining order against him. Powell and his father, Steve, began to talk about the missing woman again, threatened to publish her teenage journals online and castigated her parents.
All that led ultimately to the search warrant at the Powell home in Puyallup, Steve Powell's arrest and placement of Charlie, 7, and Braden, 5, with the Coxes, Downing said.
But Downing also felt law enforcement bumbled aspects of the investigation in particular, a search held in August near Ely, Nev.
At the time, West Valley City police said the search was based on new "information received." Downing said that information was Powell's reportedly "unusual interest" in a bag of rocks gathered in Ely and raffled off during a fundraising auction at the Gem and Mineral Club in Puyallup.
Another club member described Powell and one son as "obsessively preoccupied" with the rocks from Ely.
"How that gets transformed their unusual interest in this bag of rocks from Ely, Nevada, into some national news story about there being a search in Ely, Nevada is beyond me," Downing said. "If you're trying to pressure them, if you're trying to get under their skin, you know, is that how you do it? To me, you need to be a little bit more careful."
At the time, Powell laughed off the Ely search, saying he'd never been there and didn't even know how to pronounce its name correctly.
Downing said he had not been allowed to see new images introduced at a custody hearing last week that were alleged to be sexually explicit. He wondered why Utah authorities would have supplied the images found on a computer during a 2009 search of Powell's West Valley City home now, three years later, in a custody dispute over the Powell children.
"If I had the opportunity to question the West Valley City Police Department that would certainly be one of the questions," Downing said.
West Valley City Police Chief Thayle "Buzz" Nielsen on Tuesday declined to comment on any of Downing's assertions.
"I've got a judge's order that I can't talk about stuff like that," he said. "Evidence and stuff we have on the case."
Downing said it was "stunning" to hear Powell claim he knew nothing about his father's interest in pornography, since his parents' divorce records detail that as a major factor in the breakup of the marriage. In those filings, Steve Powell is reported to have felt there was nothing wrong with sharing such images with his then-teenage sons.
Steve Powell had a "controlling and strong relationship" with his sons, Downing said, and created a home environment in which they were taught that disrespect of women was the norm.
"That came back around and became the philosophy of Josh Powell, but that shouldn't be a surprise because that is obviously what he was taught," Downing said.
Downing said he "firmly" believed Powell was responsible for his wife's disappearance a view he adopted from the start and never shook. And there was "substantial circumstantial" evidence to support that conclusion, he said.
Powell acted after his wife said she planned to leave and take their sons if their relationship she described Powell as emotionally abusive and manipulative to friends and family did not improve, Downing asserted.
He believes Powell may have drugged his wife on the last night she was seen alive. That evening, Powell prepared a pancake dinner and served each person individually, Downing said. Susan Powell began getting very tired shortly afterward, he added.
Downing said he believes Powell planned out his wife's disappearance but "got caught short" and, upon finding police at his home when he returned, came up with the story about an overnight camping trip to Utah's west desert.
"Josh was a very articulate individual," Downing said. "He could in fact cry on cue. He was able to deceive a lot of people."
Downing believes Powell took his sons' lives to "destroy two witnesses" to Susan's disappearance.
"Chuck and Judy Cox are incredibly warm, loving people and they have always, always been deeply concerned about their grandsons," he said. "This has been exceedingly difficult, very painful."