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Missing mom's diary foreshadows family tragedy

Sunday - 5/26/2013, 5:00pm  ET

This undated photo provided by Kiirsi Hellewell shows Susan Powell. The West Valley City Police Department on Monday opened its books on the investigation of Susan Powell's 2009 disappearance. The tens of thousands of pages of documents, photographs and video, and interview notes and voice mail messages the department released depict an investigation that focused from its earliest days on Josh Powell. (AP Photo/Kiirsi Hellewell)

BRADY McCOMBS
Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Susan Powell had been married about a year when she started writing a journal. She was a love-struck, 20-year-old newlywed, dreaming of the future she would build with her husband.

"I just feel incredibly lucky to have Josh," she wrote in 2002.

Before long, however, she found herself torn. A growing sense of danger was telling her to grab her kids and flee, but her strong religious faith led her to believe she could save her young family. The journal entries turned grim.

"If I die, it may not be an accident even if it looks like one," she wrote in 2008. "Take care of my boys."

She went missing the following year and hasn't been seen since. Her husband later killed their sons and himself. No one was ever charged in her disappearance, and the people at the center of the police investigation -- her husband, his brother and their father -- are all either dead or in prison.

As leads have gone cold, the chief agency in the investigation, the West Valley City Police Department, has closed the case saying for the first time they believe Josh Powell played a role in killing his wife and that his brother Michael Powell helped get rid of her body. Both men denied involvement in her disappearance before committing suicide about a year apart.

With the investigation over, police released thousands of pages of documents, providing new details about a scandal that made national headlines with each development.

Susan Powell's story first gained attention when she vanished from her suburban Salt Lake City home in the middle of the night in December 2009. The documents released May 20 show that police focused on her husband, doubting his alibi from the outset.

Josh Powell said his wife went missing shortly after he left to go camping in the high desert with their sons, who were 2 and 4 years old at the time, despite a snowstorm that blanketed the area.

The police investigation led to searches of abandoned mines in Utah and neighboring Nevada, and authorities kept their attention on Josh Powell even as he moved from West Valley City, Utah, to Puyallup, Wash., where he ultimately attacked his boys with a hatchet last year after saying he "had a big surprise" for them. He then set his home on fire, causing an explosion that killed them all as a social worker watched in horror.

It was the sum of the missing woman's fears, and her journal entries show the downward spiral.

Susan Cox and Josh Powell married in spring 2001 at a Mormon temple in Portland, Ore., about four months after meeting at a Latter-day Saints singles dance. They didn't have much money. But they had their faith and each other.

They were regulars at church and sang together in the choir. One Sunday morning they overslept and missed service, so instead they walked together in the fresh snow.

"Some kids with a snow fort threw some snow balls at us and Josh did the same," she wrote in 2002. "He's just a big kid."

The newlyweds bounced from job to job and from apartment to apartment, sometimes living with Josh's father, Steve Powell. Susan Powell wrote that her husband was "computer smart," but she worried that he couldn't keep a regular job.

Money was a constant problem. They disagreed over whether to tithe 10 percent of their income to the church, with Josh Powell considering it a waste of money, according to the journal. He also wanted to spend as little as possible on food, proclaiming, she wrote, "The food we eat will only be from our garden and if we don't grow it, we will not eat it. We will only buy dairy products and meat."

Eventually, Susan Powell found steady work at a call center to support the family financially. Her husband's behavior, meanwhile, grew increasingly controlling, according to both the handwritten journal and police records.

Josh Powell tried to cut his wife off from the world, limiting her computer and phone access. He had calls to their home forwarded to his cell and would decide which messages she received. He refused to let her have a cellphone of her own.

According to a police interview, Susan Powell's sister, who is not identified by name, stated, "He wouldn't let me talk to Susan a lot, and he monitored my conversations with her." The sister said she began calling Susan Powell at work so Josh Powell couldn't eavesdrop.

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