The ghastly tale of Susan and Josh Powell, reads like a dense murder-mystery at times, and at others, like a long grocery list. As you peruse the 30,000 investigation documents released by the West Valley City Police Department, it feels like you're watching a television crime thriller, and conversely like you are glancing at a digital clock as it blinks from 3:31 AM to 3:32 AM.
Many of the pages released are redacted, leaving the reader to scan through reams of black pages, and scores of whitewashed names, but the text is rich with information, some of it engrossing, some of it uncomfortably close, some of it banal.
In a section tabbed photos, you see hundreds, if not thousands of evidence photos, snapped by crime scene investigators. Many of the images you would expect a cop to take. Like the out of focus photo of a large bar-b-que tool. "Could this be a murder weapon?" A crime scene tech might ask as he or she opens the aperture of the camera and searches for clues in Susan's disappearance. Or the plastic bag police found hidden in the floor boards of Josh's nondescript Town and Country Mini-van. The van in which he took his kids on a midnight run, to the frozen desert, the night his wife disappeared. Inside the white, 13 gallon garbage bag is a two foot by 1 foot section of burnt dry wall. The frightening possibilities are only outnumbered by the likely, humdrum explanations.
The truth is most of the photos are mundane, a shot of plastic jars of vitamins and supplements from inside the Powell's kitchen cabinets. A snap shot of a can or concentrated orange juice, a photo of a tin of Altoids. The tedious documentation by police that shows just how intricately they investigated the frustrating disappearance
As I flicker through the dearth of images, I remember feeling uncomfortable, as if I am forced to peer inside the home of an unsuspecting neighbor as she prepare dinner, or carelessly watch television on her sofa.
There are photos, of Susan's grass stained running shoes and her jewelry. There are pictures inside her most personal spaces, of her unmade bed, of her toiletries strewn carelessly across her bathroom vanity. These are places that only Susan had been, things only Susan has worn, and now things and places, at which a dozen police officers, and additionally a dozen reporters are now leering.
Also tucked away inside the puzzle of information stored on a 24 Gig hard drive, are all the crevices in which police have peeked during their search. Officers, it appears, spent some time tracking down a tip from an unnamed prison inmate, who, looking for reduced jail time, suggested that Josh had had some sort of relationship with a woman, who may have been a stripper and who could potentially have information about Susan's whereabouts One of the documents includes a list of exotic dancers, their names (redacted) including their stage alias (redacted) and the club at which they danced (redacted). If I'm correct, it looks like that inmate, acting as a confidential informant for police, called one of his associates on a recorded line, looking for the "real," name of "that b**ch." His words, not mine.
That inmate makes references to Josh being involved, "with the wrong people," there is also a letter from someone referring to a potential contract taken out on Josh's life. None of the tips appear to have led to any solid leads, but they are indications of how police walked down every proverbial alley in the labyrinthine tale of Susan Cox Powell.
A transcript of a police interview with one of Susan's co-workers, shows the delicate dance officers did as they attempted to reveal everything about Susan's personality. The officer asks the male co-worker if knew that Susan had told friends she had had dreams about him, and if the man had ever had a "physical" relationship with the missing woman, "me, no, no." He responds with surprise.
As you scroll through all the pages, it appears that police have uncovered just about everything regarding Susan and Josh, from the shoes they fastened to their feet, to the vitamins that they put in their mouths. Everything that is, except the answer to that single, simple, and sadly, it turns out, impossible question.