Chuck Cox is hoping his daughter’s story will encourage other women to leave their abusive spouses for good.
The heartbroken patriarch is participating in a two-night docuseries on Oxygen titled “The Disappearance of Susan Cox Powell,” which explores the devastating final years of the 28-year-old Utah mother when she vanished from her home in 2009. It features shocking never-before-seen videos and rare interviews with family members — and footage of her two young boys, who died in a fire started by their own dad.
Powell still remains missing.
“I must have received about 100 calls from people saying, ‘Because of Susan, we got our daughter out of this situation,’” Cox told Fox News. “[These women are in] uncomfortable situations and think maybe they should leave… but then they feel things are going to get better. And they believe their abuser. They’ll start a divorce proceeding and go, ‘I don’t want to be mean to him.’ So they start and stop. If you’re going to leave, you have to make up your mind and leave.”
Powell was last seen at her West Valley City home on Dec. 6, 2009, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. Her husband, Josh Powell, said he decided to take their sons, 4-year-old Charlie and 2-year-old Braden, on a camping trip in the west desert despite a snowstorm that same night. Josh claimed he left his wife at home. While investigators suspected Josh of being behind Powell’s disappearance, there was no evidence to pin him down.
According to the publication, the couple met at a Mormon singles ward in Puyallup, Wash. Powell, who yearned to have a family of her own, married Josh at age 19 in 2001.
“When they announced they were getting married, it just didn’t feel very good to us,” Cox reflected. “At the reception, I remember he and his father were talking and said something like, ‘She’s not a doctor or a lawyer, but she’ll do.’ She was just an asset. She wasn’t seen as the love of Josh’s life. It was like he was out shopping for somebody. It didn’t feel like love.”
Cox said after the couple tied the knot, Josh didn’t allow his wife to have a phone or access to computers. Powell’s younger sister Mary had also suspected her sister was being abused.
“I thought she was being isolated so I bought her a phone,” said Cox. “I told her if she had to get out, take the phone… and get out. We would find a way to get the kids. We had several discussions about going to a neighbor or safe area and then getting in touch so we can deal with things. I didn’t trust Josh, but she had to make that decision.”
Cox said that the summer before she went missing, Powell was making plans to leave her marriage.
“She had spent all these years supporting Josh, taking care of him, and doing everything she possibly could to try to make the marriage work,” said Cox. “Josh was just not willing to do anything to be supportive of them together… But she was just hanging on like maybe he’ll change.”
The Salt Lake Tribune reported Powell told friends in dozens of emails Josh was growing increasingly moody and controlling, causing her to believe he could harm her. She feared so much for her life or her children being kidnap by Josh, Powell wrote about leaving a makeshift will in her desk at work.
The documentary shared that in 2008, Powell shot a video saying: “If something happens to me, or my family or all of us, that our assets are documented.” It also revealed she felt uncomfortable around her father-in-law, Steve Powell, who developed a sexual obsession over her.
The patriarch made hundreds of hours’ worth of homemade videos, frequently taken without her knowledge, documenting his infatuation with her. At one point he secretly filmed Powell at public parking lots through the window of his van and would focus the camera lens on her genitalia while narrating his desires.
“God I worship her,” he once said. “She just turns me on. I’m in a perpetual state of turned on when she’s around.”
Cox said he last spoke to his daughter just days before she vanished.
“I talked to her on a Friday or Saturday,” he recalled. She went missing on Sunday night. I learned about it Monday morning. Our phone calls were always the same to some degree. My first question would always be, ‘How are things with Josh?’ Because I knew they were having issues. She said they were better. Better to her meant Josh had said he would be coming to church with her and he wasn’t as confrontational with her as he had been in the past. In other words, he was putting on a show. It was all an act.”
While being investigated by police, Josh proclaimed his innocence and insisted she ran off. Cox said his daughter would have never left behind her two sons, to whom she was devoted. Police also found no evidence Steve might have been involved. In 2011, Steve went on television and read Powell’s journals, trying to show how emotionally unstable she was.
Cox was outraged that his daughter’s privacy was violated publicly. He also believed she was never capable of walking out on her children.
“She was encouraged to have journals through our church,” he explained. “The intent was that you can document for future generations that you went through trials in your life and what you did to overcome them. The journal is meant to pass onto your future generations. But when you’re 12, 14, 16…. it becomes like a diary… Josh had those journals and he gave them to his dad. Then they decided they were going to use these writings of a teenager to say this is the kind of person she is… I didn’t think they had the right to read them… When I read the things they claimed were so terrible, it wasn’t anything harmful.”
The Salt Lake City Tribune shared West Valley City police obtained a search warrant to seize those journals as evidence. During the search, they discovered Steve had photographed neighbor girls as young as 8 through a bathroom window. He was charged with counts of voyeurism and child pornography. Because Josh and his sons had moved in with Steve after Powell’s disappearance, Washington’s child welfare agency removed the boys from the home and eventually placed them in the custody of his maternal grandparents. A state judge allowed Josh to have supervised visits.
It was during one of those visits in 2012 when he let his children inside his rental home and locked out the social worker assigned to supervise the visits. He hit his children with an ax, poured gasoline and ignited the house. All three perished.
A year later, in 2013, Josh’s brother Michael, who was suspected by some of participating in Powell’s disappearance, committed suicide. Steve, considered to be the last, most-likely person to know what happened to Powell, died in 2018 from a heart attack.
Cox admitted that chances are he may never find out what really happened to his daughter.
“Assuming she’s gone, I don’t think anybody knows the story well enough or knows what really happened,” he said. “I think all of those people are gone. But we may find where the body was put to rest, I suppose… or her bones. I don’t think we’ll know beyond what we already know… I just don’t think I’m going to know any more until we find her remains. Unless she is captured somewhere and manages to show up somehow.”
Still, Cox hopes his daughter’s story will continue to inspire other women to get out of menacing situations.
“Josh never treated her like how a wife or loved one should be treated,” he said. “And that was at the beginning of the relationship — the time where everyone is on their best behavior. If you’re not going to be treated right in the beginning, then how do you think it’s going to get after the novelty’s worn off and the honeymoon is over? … If something doesn’t feel right, there’s probably a good reason for that.”
"The Disappearance of Susan Cox Powell" airs Saturday, May 4 at 7 p.m. on Oxygen.