‘Cold’: Police questioned Josh Powell’s uncle in Susan Powell case
Editor’s note: This is the 17th 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.
WEST VALLEY CITY — The FBI conducted a 10-hour interview with Josh Powell’s uncle on May 15, 2013, just days before West Valley police declared the investigation into Susan Powell’s Dec. 7, 2009, disappearance a cold case.
Previously unreleased police case files indicate detectives at the time considered Maurice Leach a person of interest in Susan Powell’s disappearance.
The interview occurred in Silverton, Oregon, at the same time police were scouring a heavily wooded 176-acre property in nearby Scotts Mills, Oregon, with cadaver dogs.
Retired West Valley police detective Ellis Maxwell said police at the time theorized Josh Powell or one of his family members might have disposed of Susan Powell’s body in Scotts Mills. Josh Powell had traveled 807 miles in a rental car in the days immediately following his wife’s disappearance.
“The information that we’d received is that it was possible that, because Josh traveled several hundred miles and if he was to relocate this body, it is probable that he could have made it to this area and disposed of her, buried her body there,” Maxwell said.
That distance would not have allowed him to reach Scotts Mills and return to Salt Lake City, leading police to speculate Powell might have met his father or brother, Michael Powell, midway.
Maurice Leach and his wife Patti Leach were living at the Scotts Mills property at the time of Susan Powell’s disappearance. Patti Leach was Steve Powell’s sister.
“There was a little bit of time, like a day maybe that we couldn’t really account for Steve. Not a whole day but maybe 12 hours or six hours or something like that,” Maxwell said.
West Valley police enlisted the help of the King County Sheriff’s Office in Washington to conduct a cadaver dog search of the sprawling property along Butte Creek Road from May 14-16, 2013.
Police records indicate Maurice Leach was unhappy when he learned of the search and approached Silverton police on May 15, 2013, with his complaints.
FBI special agent Jeff Ross encountered Leach while he was at the Silverton police headquarters. Ross asked Leach to take a polygraph and Leach agreed. Ross then asked to have an FBI polygrapher travel from Portland to Silverton to conduct the lie detector exam.
Police records said the polygraph results were inconclusive, showing neither signs of deception nor honesty.
West Valley police detective Alva Davis joined the interrogation after the completion of the polygraph. In a later report, Davis wrote that Leach “believed Charlie and Braden were still alive. He indicated that Steve Powell told him the pictures he saw of the children were unrecognizable.”
Ross informed Leach that he was the person who had showed photographs of Josh and Susan Powell’s deceased sons to Steve Powell after Josh Powell killed the boys and himself by setting fire to his rented home in Graham, Washington, on Feb. 5, 2012.
Davis also told Leach that he had seen Charlie and Braden Powell after the fire and that they were “clearly recognizable.”
Ross and Davis asked Leach about his past conversations with Josh and Michael Powell.
West Valley police had intercepted telephone calls between Maurice Leach and his nephews, Josh and Michael Powell, using a court-authorized wiretap between Aug. 16 and Oct. 14 of 2011. In those calls, Leach had explained to the Powells how they could use the software Tor to protect their internet traffic from surveillance.
Leach told the investigators the Powells had become paranoid about the possibility of their online activity being monitored by law enforcement. He also said Steve Powell had told him police had not actually found any incriminating images during a search warrant raid of the Powell family home in South Hill, Washington, on Aug. 25, 2011.
Ross and Davis informed Leach that was a lie, at which point police records indicate Leach became upset. Davis wrote that Leach was angry “at Josh and Michael, because it appears that they lied to him about anything related to Susan. He was upset and felt used.”
The investigators concluded their interview with Leach by telling him they no longer considered him a person of interest.
Leach did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.
Police records indicated the cadaver dogs showed interest in one spot at the Scotts Mills property, however further examination ruled out the possibility of human remains at the location.
“There was a lot of digging and a lot of searching of this ground,” Maxwell said.
The search of the Scotts Mills property and the interrogation of Maurice Leach exhausted the final active leads in the Powell investigation.
“At this point, a lot of us are just tired,” Maxwell said. “I think we were all hopeful, I was hopeful. But again, at the end of the day, just tons of resources and no results. But we were able to say that she wasn’t there.”