‘Cold’: Theory of Susan Powell in Nutty Putty Cave debunked

Apr 4, 2019, 11:00 AM

The entrance of Nutty Putty Cave on Blowhole Hill in Utah County on March 7, 2019. (Photo: Dave Caw...

The entrance of Nutty Putty Cave on Blowhole Hill in Utah County on March 7, 2019. (Photo: Dave Cawley, KSL Newsradio)

(Photo: Dave Cawley, KSL Newsradio)

EUREKA, Utah — West Valley City police were just one week into their search for Susan Powell when they received their first tip suggesting her body might be entombed in Nutty Putty Cave.

A second tip suggesting the same arrived one day later. Others followed in the months and years that police spent investigating the Powell case.

A perception has persisted in some circles that Susan Powell’s husband, Josh Powell, might have managed to slip her body into the narrow subterranean passageway to the west of Utah Lake on Blowhole Hill.

The entrance of Nutty Putty Cave on Blowhole Hill in Utah County on March 7, 2019. (Photo: Dave Cawley, KSL Newsradio)

In a new bonus episode, the podcast Cold investigated that theory to determine if it was plausible.

Hole in the ground with maze

Josh Powell was, at the least, aware of the cave.

Computer files recovered from Powell’s digital devices by police and obtained by Cold through an open records request included a scanned copy of a postcard showing the interior of Timpanogos Cave National Monument in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains.

This scanned image of a postcard was located among thousands of Josh Powell’s computer files seized by West Valley City police during the investigation into Susan Powell’s disappearance. A handwritten note references Nutty Putty Cave. (Photo: West Valley City, Utah police)

The back side of the postcard, which was also scanned, included a note in Josh Powell’s handwriting that read “Nutty Putty Caves in Eureka (south of Spanish Fork). Hole in the ground with maze.”

Police also located thumbnail images on Josh Powell’s computer that had been retrieved from the internet late on the afternoon of Dec. 6, 2009, the last day Susan Powell was seen alive.

One of those images showed the opening of Nutty Putty Cave. Another showed John Edward Jones, a man who died in the cave less than two weeks before Susan Powell disappeared.

John Jones

Jones, 26, had grown up in Utah but was attending medical school at the University of Virginia in 2009 when he returned home with his pregnant wife and 14-month-old daughter for Thanksgiving.

John Jones and his wife, Emily Dawn Jones. John Jones died in Nutty Putty Cave on Nov. 25, 2009. (Photo: Jones family)

Two days before Thanksgiving, on Nov. 24, 2009, Jones entered Nutty Putty Cave with 11 other people. While wriggling forward through one particularly tight passageway in a far reach of the cave, Jones became stuck.

“He was originally described to have been in an area called Bob’s Push which is just near the Birth Canal area, both restricted physical features inside the cave that are challenging,” Utah County Sheriff’s Sgt. Spencer Cannon said. “He was actually beyond that in an unnamed, really unexplored part of the cave.”

Members of Jones’ party worked their way back out of Nutty Putty to the top of Blowhole Hill, where they were able to use a cell phone to call for help.

Utah County Sheriff’s Sgt. Spencer Cannon stands near the former opening of Nutty Putty Cave on March 7, 2019. (Photo: Dave Cawley, KSL Newsradio)

“They told us that John got stuck about 8:45 p.m. We got the notification sometime I believe just before 9:30,” Cannon said.

Utah County called out its search and rescue team, which had prior experience working to extract stuck spelunkers from Nutty Putty’s depths.

“We had two rescues within about a week of each other about four years earlier. One was, I don’t know, maybe 6 or 7 hours long. The other one was about 11 hours long,” Cannon said.

In fact, Nutty Putty had been closed to public access for years after those earlier rescues. It had only reopened under an online reservation system managed by a local caving organization in early 2009.

The rescuers worked through Tuesday night and into the day on Wednesday attempting to free Jones. They struggled to free him in part because of the angle and position of his body.

Jones had been descending head-first when he became pinned in place. His head pointed downward at an angle of 70 to 80 degrees. The rescuers had little room to move and very little grip with which to pull.

A rescuer working near John Jones in Nutty Putty Cave on Nov. 26, 2009. (Photo: Utah County Sheriff’s Office)

To further complicate the situation, Jones’ ribcage would catch on a lip of rock when the rescuers attempted to pull him back up and over the crux. They succeeded in rigging a rope and pulley system to help lift him past the obstacle. It worked to get Jones past the “fishhook” of the rock lip, creating some relief on the afternoon of Nov. 25.

That relief evaporated when the rigging failed and Jones dropped back into the same trap from which he’d been freed. Jones stopped responding to the rescue team late that night. At 11:56 p.m. on the night before Thanksgiving, the search and rescue team determined Jones had died.

Closing Nutty Putty

In the wake of Jones’ death, the Utah County Sheriff floated the idea of permanently sealing the cave.

“Once John had been declared dead, there were discussions about ‘How do we get him out?’ There were some rather distasteful discussions as well, things that nobody really wanted to do,” Cannon said. “Ultimately the decision was made that it was too much risk for the rescuers to remain there in an effort to get him out and the decision was made to leave him in place.”

Uniformed deputies remained at the opening of the cave 24-hours a day from the night of Jones’ death until Nutty Putty’s permanent closure the following week.

A memorial plaque located near the former entrance to Nutty Putty Cave, placed in remembrance of John Jones. (Photo: Dave Cawley, KSL Newsradio)

On Dec. 1, 2009 the county’s bomb squad entered Nutty Putty to place explosive charges around the opening of the passageway in which Jones remained trapped. The next day, on Dec. 2, 2009, contractors poured concrete into the main opening of the cave.

“I believe it was about 30 yards that poured down into the main opening to give it as permanent of closure as you could get for it.”

Cannon said given the fact Susan Powell was seen alive after the concrete plug was poured, it is not possible for her body to also be entombed with John Jones.

“The probability of Susan Powell or anybody else being placed in Nutty Putty Cave after John Jones died inside Nutty Putty Cave is zero,” Cannon said.

Bonus episodes of the KSL podcast Cold are available through the subscription service Wondery Plus, along with the entire first season of Cold ad-free. For more information visit www.wondery.com/plus

United States News

Run by a private firm hired by the city, migrants stay in a makeshift shelter at O'Hare Internation...

Associated Press

Chicago is keeping hundreds of migrants at airports while waiting on shelters and tents

CHICAGO (AP) — Hidden behind a heavy black curtain in one of the nation’s busiest airports is Chicago’s unsettling response to a growing population of asylum-seekers arriving by plane. Hundreds of migrants, from babies to the elderly, live inside a shuttle bus center at O’Hare International Airport’s Terminal 1. They sleep on cardboard pads on […]

4 hours ago

FILE - A sign is displayed on May 27, 2021, at a memorial in Tacoma, Wash., where Manuel "Manny" El...

Associated Press

Washington officers on trial in deadly arrest of Manny Ellis, a case reminiscent of George Floyd

TACOMA, Wash. (AP) — Police wrestle the unarmed Black man to the sidewalk. One officer pushes his face into the pavement as he pleads in vain: “Can’t breathe.” Witnesses capture the scene at a dark intersection on their cellphones — one yells, “Hey! Stop! Oh my God, stop hitting him!” — and the medical examiner […]

4 hours ago

The ruins of a home destroyed by a deadly August wildfire lay outside the boundary of a Hawaiian ho...

Associated Press

Native Hawaiian neighborhood survived Maui fire. Lahaina locals praise its cultural significance

LAHAINA, Hawaii (AP) — Shaun “Buge” Saribay felt like giving up. Hours of makeshift firefighting with garden hoses and buckets of water across Lahaina didn’t stop flames from consuming his house, his rental properties and thousands of other structures in his beloved hometown. Drained, dirty and delirious, he continued anyway, pedaling a bicycle he found […]

4 hours ago

A family spends time on the beach as scuba divers, Tanasia Swift, second right, and Sarah Sears fir...

Associated Press

In New York City, scuba divers’ passion for the sport becomes a mission to collect undersea litter

NEW YORK (AP) — On a recent Sunday afternoon, the divers arrived on a thin strip of sand at the furthest, watery edge of New York City. Oxygen tanks strapped to their backs, they waded into the sea and descended into an environment far different from their usual terrestrial surroundings of concrete, traffic and trash-strewn […]

5 hours ago

Judge Arthur Engoron poses for a picture in his courtroom in New York, Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023. St...

Associated Press

Who is Arthur Engoron? Judge weighing future of Donald Trump empire is Ivy League-educated ex-cabbie

NEW YORK (AP) — He’s driven a taxi cab, played in a band and protested the Vietnam War. As a New York City judge, Arthur Engoron has resolved hundreds of disputes, deciding everything from zoning and free speech issues to a custody fight over a dog named “Stevie.” Now, in the twilight of a distinguished […]

5 hours ago

Associated Press

Powerball jackpot rises to $1.04 billion after another drawing without a big winner

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The Powerball jackpot climbed to an estimated $1.04 billion after no players hit it big Saturday night, continuing a stretch of lottery futility lasting for more than two months. The numbers drawn were: 19, 30, 37, 44, 46 and red Powerball 22. The jackpot for the next drawing Monday night […]

6 hours ago

Sponsored Articles



Importance of AC maintenance after Arizona’s excruciating heat wave

An air conditioning unit in Phoenix is vital to living a comfortable life inside, away from triple-digit heat.

Home moving relocation in Arizona 2023...

BMS Moving

Tips for making your move in Arizona easier

If you're moving to a new home in Arizona, use this to-do list to alleviate some stress and ensure a smoother transition to your new home.

Sanderson Ford...

Sanderson Ford

Sanderson Ford congratulates D-backs’ on drive to great first half of 2023

The Arizona Diamondbacks just completed a red-hot first half of the major league season, and Sanderson Ford wants to send its congratulations to the ballclub.

‘Cold’: Theory of Susan Powell in Nutty Putty Cave debunked