More than four years after Susan Powell vanished from her quiet Utah town— and two years after her husband, the case’s prime suspect Josh Powell, killed himself and their two young sons in a horrific house explosion — a new book reveals the unspeakable abuse the young mom and her children suffered at the hands of her controlling husband.
Though Susan, a broker for Wells Fargo Financial, was the family’s breadwinner, her unemployed computer programmer husband insisted he completely control their finances, friends told authors Gregg Olsen and Rebecca Morris in If I Can’t Have You: Susan Powell, Her Mysterious Disappearance, and the Murder of Her Children.
“Susan had to research what was on sale at what store. Then she had to come home and put it into the computer, what she spent on every item. Josh was really ticked off because the week before she had spent two cents more on a can of peas than he found at another store,” said Michele Oreno, a close friend of Susan, who was just 29 when she went missing. “He was serious. It got so he wouldn’t give her money for food or anything.”
Soon, Josh only allowed Susan and sons Charlie and Braden (who were 4 and 2 respectively when their mother disappeared) to eat out of a small garden in the backyard of their modest West Valley City home. Susan began calling friends to ask if she could sneak hot dogs because the boys were so hungry.
When he was a year old, the book alleges, a doctor diagnosed Charlie with malnutrition.
“He gets one meal a day at day care. That’s all he needs,” Josh told Susan, according to the perpetually smiley brunette’s pal Rachel Marini. “You can give him formula and that’s it. You’re not wasting my food on him because he’s just going to poop it out!”
While he starved his wife and children, friends say Josh hoarded thousands of dollars worth of furniture, remote-controlled cars and expensive tools in the couple’s garage.
In addition to depriving her of food, insiders tell Olsen and Morris that friends began to suspect Josh was poisoning his wife in October 2009— just two months before Susan vanished.
Susan began to feel so nauseous, “she thought she was pregnant,” friend Amber Hardman said. She wasn’t. Hardman began to believe Josh could have poisoned her. “He made a lot of organic products for her to drink, a lot of thick yogurt stuff and fermented drinks with kefir,” she explained.
Josh began poisoning his sons— in a different way.
“Mommy is evil,” Josh told Charlie and Braden, according to Hardman, in an attempt to turn his own children against their mother.
While Susan often told friends her husband punished her by refusing sex for months, police discovered 400 images of pornography involving cartoon characters— including SpongeBob SquarePants and the children from 90s show Rugrats— involved in depictions of incest or children molestation during a search of Josh’s computer in December 2009.
A case psychologist said the images gave “rise to great concern.”
Susan’s remains were never discovered, though her family and friends still continue to search. In a shocking twist, Josh, 36, attacked his sons with a hatchet before setting his Washington home on fire on February 5, 2012. All three died.
May 2013 police documents reveal that Utah officials believe Josh killed his wife and his brother, Michael, helped dispose of her body. Michael, 30, committed suicide in February 2013.
For more secrets into the Powell investigation, pick up If I Can’t Have You: Susan Powell, Her Mysterious Disappearance, and the Murder of Her Children, on bookshelves May 20.