UNITED STATES NEWS

‘Cold’: Police plotted to introduce Josh Powell to woman undercover

Jan 16, 2019, 4:45 PM

This photo of Puyallup Station was included in West Valley City operational plans for a Nov. 2010 u...

This photo of Puyallup Station was included in West Valley City operational plans for a Nov. 2010 undercover operation. Police intended for the female undercover officer to strike up a relationship with Josh Powell on a commuter train. (Photo: West Valley City, Utah police)

(Photo: West Valley City, Utah police)

Editor’s note: This is the ninth of a weekly series featuring highlights from a KSL investigative podcast series titled “Cold” that reports new information about the case of missing Utah woman Susan Powell.

PUYALLUP, Wash. — West Valley police planned to facilitate a meeting between Josh Powell and a woman on a Washington commuter train in November 2010, in the hopes of learning new information about the disappearance of Powell’s wife nearly a year earlier.

The woman was an undercover officer. She intended to gain Powell’s trust and use friendship or possibly even romance to gain new information about the presumed murder of Susan Powell.

This photo of Puyallup Station was included in West Valley City operational plans for a Nov. 2010 undercover operation. Police intended for the female undercover officer to strike up a relationship with Josh Powell on a commuter train. (Photo: West Valley City, Utah police)

Details of the plan were never made public. They are coming to light for the first time in Episode 10 of the investigative podcast series “Cold.”

Unemployment

Powell had struggled to maintain employment in the months following his wife’s disappearance on Dec. 7, 2009. He’d lost his job at Aspen Logistics, where he’d worked as a computer programmer, for repeatedly failing to show up for shifts or check in with his manager.

At the start of 2010, Powell relocated from West Valley City to his father Steve Powell’s home in South Hill, Washington. He discussed his unemployment situation in a conversation with his estranged older sister, Jennifer Graves, when she visited the home on Jan. 22, 2010.

Graves, unbeknownst to her brother, was wearing a hidden microphone as part of an operation with police designed to draw a confession from Josh Powell.

“My only thought right now is it would be pretty stupid to take a pay cut, to go to work for a pay cut, compared to unemployment,” Josh Powell said on the recording. “I figure I’ll look for IT jobs.”

Steve Powell wrote this journal entry on Sept. 2, 2010, describing his son Josh Powell’s new job working for Microsoft in Bellevue. West Valley police seized Steve Powell’s journals while serving a search warrant at his house on Aug. 25, 2011. (Photo: West Valley City, Utah police)

On Sept. 8, 2010, Steve Powell wrote in his journal that his son had at last secured work.

“This is Josh’s second week at Microsoft,” Steve Powell wrote. “He is quite happy there, but incessantly worries that someone will confront him on his wife’s disappearance and he will be let go. He lost the first job that hired him the day before he started, after signing contracts and passing their background check.”

The Microsoft job required Josh Powell to commute between South Hill and Bellevue. He took the Sounder train from Puyallup to Seattle, then used a shuttle to get between Seattle and Bellevue.

Detectives soon learned of his new job but became more interested in the question of how Powell spent his free time. Their surveillance suggested that he had not become romantically involved with anyone since his wife’s disappearance.

Josh Powell briefly worked for Microsoft in 2010. His commute required him to take a train from Puyallup to Seattle, then transfer to a bus for the ride between Seattle and Bellevue. (Photo: Dave Cawley, KSL)

Tammy Forman taught Powell’s oldest son Charlie in kindergarten at Carson Elementary.

“I didn’t feel like Josh was interested in me romantically. I guess our administrative assistant felt that from him and was creeped out,” Forman said. “She started wearing a fake wedding ring because she didn’t want him to be interested in her.”

Undercover operation

Retired West Valley police detective Ellis Maxwell, who served as lead investigator on the case, believed Powell might respond to an advance from a sympathetic woman.

“We had to be creative and try to get Josh to disclose and give us some information,” Maxwell said. “Obviously you’re going to get more intel, get more information, he’s going to be more open and receptive to a female.”

Maxwell and two other detectives, as well as a West Valley police lieutenant, traveled from Utah to Washington in early November 2010 to carry out the undercover operation. Their plan immediately went awry.

Powell had not said much to the media since December 2009. On Nov. 3, 2010, he broke his silence in an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune. He said that his wife was “extremely unstable” and would be “chewed up like hamburger” when she returned.

The Tribune published a story including those quotes days later. Powell lost his job a short time later and stopped making the commute to Bellevue.

Detective Ellis Maxwell wrote this report about the failed Washington undercover operation in November of 2010 without specifically mentioning West Valley City police intentions to introduce Josh Powell to a female undercover officer.

“Josh basically got himself fired from his job because they learned who he was and he’s in front of the media,” Maxwell said. “That happened literally, like the day before our operation.”

Powell went into seclusion upon losing his job. In a formal report, Maxwell wrote that Powell’s behavior was “lower key” and that he “didn’t move around much.”

Powell ultimately killed himself and his sons, Charlie and Braden, on Feb. 5, 2012. He was never arrested or charged with a crime in connection with Susan Powell’s disappearance.

Maxwell believes the undercover operation could have helped avoid that outcome, if not for a stroke of bad luck.

“It was a great plan,” Maxwell said. “I think it would’ve gave us some information. Who knows how much Josh would’ve disclosed over the period of time?”

United States News

Associated Press

Arrests follow barricades and encampments as college students nationwide protest Gaza war

NEW YORK (AP) — Standoffs between pro-Palestinian student protesters and universities grew increasingly tense on both coasts Wednesday as hundreds encamped at Columbia University faced a deadline from the administration to clear out while dozens remained barricaded inside two buildings on a Northern California college campus. Both are part of intensifying demonstrations over schools cut […]

6 hours ago

Associated Press

What to listen for during Supreme Court arguments on Donald Trump and presidential immunity

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court hears arguments Thursday over whether Donald Trump is immune from prosecution in a case charging him with plotting to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. It’s a historic day for the court, with the justices having an opportunity to decide once and for all whether former presidents […]

7 hours ago

Associated Press

USPS commits to rerouting Reno-area mail despite bipartisan pushback and mail ballot concerns

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The USPS announced on Tuesday it will follow through with its plan to reroute Reno-area mail processing to Sacramento, a move that drew bipartisan ire from Nevada lawmakers while raising questions about the rate at which mail ballots can be processed in a populous part of a crucial swing state. Postmaster […]

10 hours ago

The American and Ukrainian flags wave in the wind outside of the Capitol on Tuesday, April 23, 2024...

Associated Press

Senate overwhelmingly passes aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan with big bipartisan vote

The Senate has passed $95 billion in war aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, sending the legislation to Biden after months of delays.

10 hours ago

The logo for the Tesla Supercharger station is seen in Buford, Ga, April 22, 2021. Faced with falli...

Associated Press

Tesla 1Q profit falls 55%, but stock jumps as company moves to speed production of cheaper vehicles

Tesla’s stock price surged in after-hours trading Tuesday as the company said it would prioritize production of more affordable vehicles.

11 hours ago

Pages from the United Healthcare website are displayed on a computer screen, Feb. 29, 2024, in New ...

Associated Press

UnitedHealth says wide swath of patient files may have been taken in Change cyberattack

The company said after markets closed that it sees no signs that doctor charts or full medical histories were released after the attack.

12 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines can get you smoothly from Phoenix to Frankfurt on new A330-900neo airplane

Adventure Awaits! And there's no better way to experience the vacation of your dreams than traveling with Condor Airlines.

...

DESERT INSTITUTE FOR SPINE CARE

Desert Institute for Spine Care is the place for weekend warriors to fix their back pain

Spring has sprung and nothing is better than March in Arizona. The temperatures are perfect and with the beautiful weather, Arizona has become a hotbed for hikers, runners, golfers, pickleball players and all types of weekend warriors.

...

Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinics: transforming health care in the valley

Midwestern University, long a fixture of comprehensive health care education in the West Valley, is also a recognized leader in community health care.

‘Cold’: Police plotted to introduce Josh Powell to woman undercover