Police: Powell Planned Deadly Fire For Some Time

Published February 6, 2012 11:45PM (EST)

GRAHAM, Wash. (AP) — Josh Powell planned the house fire that killed him and his young sons for some time, dropping toys at a charity over the weekend and sending final emails to several acquaintances in the minutes before the blaze, authorities said Monday.

But nowhere does he appear to have revealed what happened to his wife, Susan Powell, who vanished from their Utah home two years ago.

Powell had been named a person of interest in her disappearance and just last week was denied custody of his children, who had been living with Susan's parents. When a social worker arrived at his home with the boys Sunday, he barred her from the house and ignited the fire.

The three bodies were found in the central part of the house, which is about 45 miles south of Seattle, authorities said.

Pierce County sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Ed Troyer said police found two 5-gallon gasoline cans inside. One was used to spread gas throughout the house. The other was found near the bodies.

Troyer said Josh Powell sent emails to several people saying, "I'm sorry. Goodbye." To others, including his cousins and pastor, he sent longer emails, with instructions such as where to find his money and how to shut off his utilities.

In at least one email, he wrote that he couldn't live without his boys, Troyer said.

But, he added, "There's no indication about Susan in anything that we've found so far."

"He had taken boxes of toys and books and donated them to the goodwill sometime over the weekend," Troyer said. "So this was definitely a deliberate, planned-out event."

Autopsy results could be available later Monday, but Troyer said "there were no gunshot wounds."

Josh Powell had always claimed that on the night his wife disappeared, he had taken the boys on a midnight camping trip in freezing temperatures.

Police who arrived at the Utah home to look for the family found two fans pointed at a damp spot on the floor, but no trace of Susan. Her body has never been found, despite intensive searches in Utah and Nevada.

Less than a month after the disappearance, Powell moved the boys to his father Steve Powell's home in Puyallup, south of Seattle. He maintained custody of the boys as the scrutiny upon him intensified over the years.

Last fall, when the elder Powell was arrested in a voyeurism and child pornography case, the state turned the boys, Charlie, 7, and Braden, 5, over to Susan Powell's parents, Charles and Judy Cox.

On Monday, they said the boys played happily and didn't want to visit their father when the time came for their weekly Sunday visit. But Judy Cox said she talked them into the visit — and she now regrets it.

Charles Cox said he didn't necessarily think there was any more the court could have done legally to protect his grandchildren. However, he said he didn't like that there was only one supervisor during their visits with their father.

"We suspected that if he had the boys in his control, with him, and he felt the police were closing in, he was capable (of hurting them)," Cox said. "We didn't like that there was only one supervisor. Frankly, she couldn't have stopped him if he wanted to do something."

The boys were emotionally distant when they first arrived at the home, Charles Cox said, but recently they had become warmer. And that gave the grandparents hope that maybe someday they would be able to relate what happened to their mother.

"They were like little robots. If you asked them about mommy, they would run away," he said. But "in the last week, I could not sit down without them climbing up on my lap."

Charles Cox said that the summer after she disappeared, Braden drew a picture at day care of a van with three people in it, and told caregivers who asked him about it that it was a picture of his family going camping: "Mommy's in the trunk," the boy reportedly said.

But the boys had not recently made more comments to that effect, Charles Cox said contradicting earlier remarks by his lawyer, Steve Downing.


Associated Press writers Brian Skoloff and Martin Griffith contributed from Salt Lake City, Utah. Johnson reported from Seattle.

By Salon Staff

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