The Disturbing Story Of Josh Powell, The Father Who Blew Up His Two Young Sons In A Gruesome Murder-Suicide

Published April 12, 2024
Updated April 15, 2024

Josh Powell killed himself and his two children in a fiery explosion in his Washington home in 2012 — and he may have murdered his wife Susan two years earlier.

Josh Powell

West Valley City Police DepartmentSusan and Josh Powell, a young couple who appeared happy on the outside — but harbored dark secrets behind closed doors.

On Dec. 6, 2009, a young Utah mother named Susan Cox Powell disappeared. Police immediately suspected her husband, Josh Powell, was to blame. His story about taking their sons on a seemingly random camping trip was suspicious at best, and as investigators uncovered more information, a much darker tale began to play out before them.

Josh Powell had not quite been the loving husband he seemed to be from the outside. Unable to control his spending, Powell had racked up more than $200,000 in debt. He had also grown increasingly possessive of his wife, threatening to leave the country should she ever divorce him.

The story came to a horrifying end when, during a supervised visit with a social worker, Powell incapacitated his two sons with an ax, doused them in gasoline, and set the house on fire, killing himself and the two young boys in the explosion.

This is not a love story. It is a story of obsession, betrayal, and tragedy. This is the story of Josh Powell.

How Josh Powell’s Dysfunctional Childhood Shaped Him

Josh Powell was born on Jan. 20, 1976, in Puyallup, Washington, to Steven and Terrica Powell. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), the family was hardly adherent to their religious values.

Steven Powell was a violent and abusive man, and according to divorce documents obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune, his influence wreaked havoc on his family. Steven and Terrica’s divorce papers include allegations of “mental unfitness, pornography, polygamy and even witchcraft,” the newspaper reported in 2012.

Steven had accused Terrica of practicing New Age mysticism alongside her Mormon beliefs, which he attributed to “devil worship,” but Terrica would later say that it had instead been Steven who collected occult books — and even shared pornography with his sons.

Steven Powell

Pierce County Sheriff’s DepartmentSteven Powell was arrested in 2011 on charges of child pornography and voyeurism.

It is especially disturbing, then, that Steven Powell was arrested on charges of child pornography and voyeurism in 2011.

Steven Powell’s behavior had an obvious impact on his children, especially Josh, who, as a teenager, allegedly killed his sister’s gerbils, threatened his mother with a butcher’s knife, and attempted suicide at least once.

But by the time he was in college, Josh Powell had seemingly broken free of his father’s influence. He attended the University of Washington, where he met a woman named Catherine Everett at a local LDS Church activity.

The two even began living together — until Powell started to exhibit signs of possessive behavior. In 2018, Everett told My Northwest, “He would have restrictions and limitations on what I could and couldn’t do when it came to my family. If I was going to visit them, he had to come too. I couldn’t go by myself.”

Everett eventually broke up with Powell over the phone while visiting a friend in Utah. She never returned to Seattle.

Then, Josh Powell met Susan Marie Cox — and proposed within days.

Josh And Susan Powell’s Troubled Relationship

Susan Cox was another member of the LDS Church, born in New Mexico but raised in Puyallup. When she met Josh Powell in November 2000, she was just 18 years old and studying cosmetology. She was hosting a dinner for the church’s Institute of Religion course, and Powell became infatuated with her.

Days later, he proposed, and the couple got married at the LDS Portland, Oregon Temple on April 6, 2001.

The Powells' Wedding

West Valley City Police DepartmentJosh and Susan Cox Powell at their wedding.

For a short time after they wed, the couple moved back in with Josh’s father in South Hill, Washington, which quickly put some cracks in their relationship. Steven Powell developed a disturbing fascination with Susan, following her around the house with a camcorder, spying on her with a mirror when she used the restroom, stealing her underwear, and reading her journals.

In 2003, Steven ultimately confessed his feelings to Susan, who naturally rejected him. Shortly after, she and Josh moved out of state to put some distance between Steven and themselves — though it was clear from Susan’s journals that the two were already experiencing some marital strife.

Susan Powell And Josh Powell

Cox Family HandoutSusan and Josh Powell’s marriage was rife with issues from the beginning.

While she had found work as a broker with Wells Fargo Investments, Josh had trouble holding down jobs, and he began putting more distance between himself and the LDS Church. On top of this, his extravagant spending habits plunged him further into debt. Friends also noted that he was possessive of his wife, and he continued to speak to his father despite Steven’s obsession with Susan.

In 2007, Josh Powell filed for bankruptcy and declared more than $200,000 in debts. A year later, Susan recorded a video of property damage that Josh had allegedly caused and secretly wrote a will in which she stated, “I want it documented that there is extreme turmoil in our marriage.” She also wrote: “If I die, it may not be an accident, even if it looks like one.”

Then, in 2009, the unthinkable happened: Susan Powell vanished.

The Disappearance Of Susan Cox Powell

The last time anyone outside the Powell household saw Susan alive was on Dec. 6, 2009, when a neighbor paid her a quick visit around 5 p.m.

The next morning, Josh Powell failed to show up for his shift at work, and neither of the couple’s two sons, Charlie and Braden, arrived at daycare. Daycare workers alerted Josh’s mother, and the entire Powell family was declared missing on Dec. 7.

Police searched the Powell household, but they found no signs of forced entry or a struggle. Curiously, however, two fans were aimed to blow at a wet spot on the carpet.

Susan Powell

Cox Family HandoutSusan Powell’s body has never been found.

Then, shockingly, Josh, Braden, and Charlie returned home around 5 p.m. – without Susan. Josh told investigators that he had taken his sons camping, forgetting that it was a school night. Why he had opted to randomly take his children on an overnight camping trip was never made clear. Never mind the fact that there had been blizzard conditions that evening. Josh had also failed to inform his boss that he wouldn’t be in.

More alarmingly, though, detectives found Susan’s phone in the family’s minivan, which Josh could not explain. Josh, meanwhile, insisted that Susan had probably run off with another man.

Investigators had plenty of suspicion, but they lacked a crucial piece of evidence: Susan Powell’s body.

The Associated Press later reported that Charlie had told investigators in an interview that Susan had gone on the camping trip with the rest of the family but did not return with him.

A few weeks later, he told a church leader, “My mom is dead.”

The police were ultimately unable to prove that Josh Powell — or anyone else — had murdered Susan, unfortunately, because their lead suspect not only ended his own life but took the lives of his children as well.

The Murder-Suicide That Left The Powell Family Dead

Josh Powell was clearly a person of interest in the investigation into Susan’s disappearance, but he retained custody of his children. He decided to move his family back to Puyallup, where they lived with his father.

While continuing to investigate Josh, police also took a closer look at his family — and it wasn’t long before they learned of Steven Powell’s prior obsession with Susan. They discovered that he had taken more than 4,500 photos and videos of her, according to ABC News. They likewise found that Steven Powell had been videotaping numerous women and young girls, and he was ultimately arrested for child pornography and voyeurism.

Following Steven Powell’s arrest, Susan’s parents were granted custody of Charlie and Braden, with a Washington court ruling that if Josh wanted to get his sons back, he would have to move out of his father’s house.

The Powell Family

Cox Family HandoutSusan and Josh Powell with their sons, Charlie and Braden.

Then, on Feb. 5, 2012, a social worker named Elizabeth Griffin-Hall took seven-year-old Charlie and five-year-old Braden to see their father for a supervised visit. However, as soon as the boys arrived, Josh pulled his sons inside and locked Griffin-Hall out.

Not long after, the house exploded. Josh, Charlie, and Braden Powell died as a result.

Investigators later discovered an ax lying near Josh Powell’s body. They believe that he used it to attack his children before the explosion, as evidenced by injuries on their heads and necks.

Susan Cox Powell remains missing to this day — but considering what happened to her children, many people are certain that Josh Powell killed her as well.

After reading about Josh Powell and the tragic fate of his family, learn about Drew Peterson, the cop who killed his third wife — and whose fourth wife went missing. Or, go inside the crimes of Louise Turpin, the woman who kept her 13 children captive for years.

Austin Harvey
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Austin Harvey has also had work published with Discover Magazine, Giddy, and Lucid covering topics on mental health, sexual health, history, and sociology. He holds a Bachelor's degree from Point Park University.
Cara Johnson
A writer and editor based in Charleston, South Carolina and an assistant editor at All That's Interesting, Cara Johnson holds a B.A. in English and Creative Writing from Washington & Lee University and an M.A. in English from College of Charleston and has written for various publications in her six-year career.
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Harvey, Austin. "The Disturbing Story Of Josh Powell, The Father Who Blew Up His Two Young Sons In A Gruesome Murder-Suicide.", April 12, 2024, Accessed June 21, 2024.