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‘Cold’ host Dave Cawley’s theory on what happened to Susan Powell

Mar 13, 2019, 8:01 AM
josh powell, susan powell...
This undated still image taken from video shows a young Josh and Susan Powell having dinner together. Metadata shows the image came from Steve Powell's Sony Hi8 camcorder. (Photo: Steve Powell)
(Photo: Steve Powell)

What happened to Susan Powell? More than nine years after she disappeared, we still don’t know the answer.

For the last four months, followers of the podcast Cold have heard investigative reporter Dave Cawley pour over every detail of the case. They’ve delved into every moment of the case, from the players’ childhoods to the heartbreaking conclusion.

But after all this time, we still have no answer to those burning questions every listener has been struggling with since the case began: what happened to Susan, and where is her body now?

Cawley has his own theory, though he’s kept it to himself until now. Today, however, in the final episode of the series, Cawley shared it for the first time.

Dave Cawley’s theory

Dave-Cawley
Cold host Dave Cawley believes that Susan Powell’s death was a premeditated murder. (Photo: Cold)

“I will stress, this is a theory,” Cawley says. “It’s based on evidence and inference, but is ultimately nothing more than an educated guess.”

Like most, Cawley believes that Susan was killed by her husband, Josh Powell. He does not believe, however, that it was a crime of passion; instead, he thinks that Josh spent as much as two years planning it.

In 2007, Cawley points out, Josh took out a million-dollar life insurance policy on his wife, naming himself as the beneficiary.

With that act, after years of debts and financial struggles, Josh had set up a way to make himself rich. All he had to do was make sure something happened to his wife.

By 2008, according to Steven Powell’s journals, Josh had openly expressed a wish that Susan would have an accident. It’s likely that he expressed that sentiment around his wife, as well; that year, she wrote up a will, warning that she feared Josh would kill her and try to make it look like an accident.

powell-letter
A portion of Susan Powell’s will, warning that, if she dies, it might not be an accident. (Photo: West Valley City Police)

He chose to act in December 2009, likely because he feared that Susan was getting ready to leave him. Susan had set April 2010 as her deadline before she filed for divorce. Cawley believes that Josh must have feared that she was going to take the kids and run out on him.

It’s certainly an idea that had been going through her mind. In November 2008, she wrote in a Facebook message to a friend: “I have friends he would never think of if I need to leave in the middle of the night.”

How did Susan Powell die?

powell-house
The Powell family living room, where Dave Cawley believes Susan Powell was killed, as it appeared on Dec. 8, 2009. (Photo: West Valley City Police)

On Dec. 6, 2009, Cawley believes Josh drugged his wife to incapacitate her, likely mixing up pills in the pancakes he uncharacteristically made for her.

Cawley then theorizes Josh used a power tool to kill Susan, before wrapping her body and moving it into the minivan.

Next, Cawley believes Josh likely cleaned up the couch with the Rug Doctor he had recently purchased, overlooking, in his haste, a few splatters of blood that were left on the tile next to the couch.

powell-couch
Blood splatters found on the tile near the Powell family’s couch. (Photo: West Valley City Police)

Cawley believes that, originally, Josh probably wanted Susan’s body to be found so that he could collect the insurance payment. He suspects that, on the first night, he left her somewhere near her workplace. His plan, Cawley suspects, was to call and report her missing himself, hoping that, when the police found her, they would assume she’d been attacked and killed on her way to work.

All that changed, however, when their neighbor, JoVanna Owings, called Josh and told him that the police were looking for Susan. At that point, Cawley theorizes, Josh had to adjust: no matter where they found her now, he would be a suspect. He had to improvise.

Cawley thinks Josh may have used the oxyacetylene torch, purchased just a short time before, to destroy whatever that murder weapon was. Then, shortly after his second interview with the police, rented a car, picked up Susan’s body, and moved it somewhere else.

So where is Susan? Cawley’s answer, unfortunately, is the same as ours: “I don’t know.”

Cold: The final episode

Hear Cawley’s theory in detail, along with his plea for us to learn from Susan’s death, in the final episode of Cold.

By Mark Oliver, KSL Radio

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‘Cold’ host Dave Cawley’s theory on what happened to Susan Powell