ELY, Nev. – Utah police on Friday searched abandoned mine shafts dotting the rugged mountains of eastern Nevada, a renewed attempt to find evidence that would lead them to a young mother who disappeared two years ago.
Susan Cox Powell was reported missing December 2009 after she failed to show up for her stockbroker job in West Valley City, Utah. She had been seen by friends at church and at dinner the day before.
Her husband, Joshua Powell, told police he left his wife at home about 12:30 a.m. that day to go camping in freezing temperatures with their young sons — then ages 4 and 2 — on the Pony Express Trail, about 80 miles west of Salt Lake City. The 4-year-old confirmed the trip to police.
Police have called Joshua Powell a person of interest in the missing person case, although he's never been arrested or charged.
Police had rarely publicly discussed leads in the case until this week, when investigators turned their attention to the steep juniper and pinion pine-covered mountains five miles west of Ely.
Citing a gag order imposed early in the investigation, West Valley City Sgt. Mike Powell, who is not related to the missing woman, wouldn't detail the information that led investigators to the mine shafts, but said it was gleaned from evidence obtained through a search warrant.
The search is expected to continue into Saturday.
Using a high-powered spotlight, four West Valley City detectives on ATVs spent the day clearing, searching, photographing and logging the abandoned shafts that typically follow the path of mineral veins and range in depth from 20 to 100 feet or more.
The area being searched is Bureau of Land Management land and a place where mining for garnets, copper, ore and other minerals has occurred since the late 1800s, BLM public affairs officer Chris Hanefeld said.
"We've got thousands of them," said Hanefeld.
Investigators spent nearly seven hours in the mountains Friday and cleared a dozen mines. Powell called the effort a success but said no physical evidence was recovered from the mines.
Ely is about 235 miles southwest of Susan Cox Powell's home in West Valley City.
Mike Powell said investigators recently made an initial visit to the area and determined that a more intensive search was worth pursuing.
It's also not a place where Susan Cox Powell or her husband had any known ties, her father, Chuck Cox has said.
On Friday, Joshua Powell's family said they support police efforts to look for Susan in Ely, or anywhere.
"Where ever they have a valid lead, they should pursue it," Alina Powell, Joshua Powell's sister said in a telephone interview. "The problem we have had is that (the Cox family and their supporters) want to make the only valid lead my brother."
Investigators have said Joshua Powell has not cooperated with their investigation, although his Salt Lake City attorney, Scott Williams, disputes that characterization.
Police repeated those assertions on Friday, suggesting they might have come to Ely months ago if they had received the information from the search warrant sooner.
"That information was delayed in time as a direct result of the lack of cooperation of Josh Powell," Mike Powell said.
On Thursday, Joshua Powell told Seattle's KING-TV he was "overjoyed" by news of the Nevada search. He has rarely spoken publicly about the case. He and his father have said they believe Susan might have run off with another man.
"It's been a hard two years. It's been lonely," Joshua Powell said. "I will always love her."
Susan Cox Powell's disappearance has strained the relationship between her husband and her family, which for nearly two years has publicly pleaded with Joshua Powell to cooperate with police.
Court papers from Washington's Pierce County Superior Court in Tacoma, Wash., show Joshua Powell filed a restraining order against Susan's father, Chuck Cox. A court hearing is set for Aug. 23 in Tacoma.
In his petition, Joshua Powell claims Cox has used the news media to "inflict me and my children with emotional insecurity and fear."
The petition also states that Joshua Powell believes Cox's behavior is increasingly threatening because he believes Joshua Powell is responsible for his daughter's disappearance.
On Thursday, Cox claimed he didn't understand why Joshua Powell wants to restrict Susan's family from seeing her children.