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Family member's book tells of disappearance of Susan Cox Powell

SOUTH JORDAN, Salt Lake County (ABC 4 Utah) - Jennifer Graves was the first to enter Susan and Josh's house in West Valley on day one of the disappearance. At first, she feared the whole family was inside, overcome by carbon monoxide. That fear quickly gave way to panic that Josh had done something terrible.
SOUTH JORDAN, Salt Lake County (ABC 4 Utah) - The story about the December 2009 disappearance of Susan Cox Powell, a West Valley mother of two, is now a book.

Jennifer Graves, Susan's sister-in-law, and her co-author Emily Clawson released, "A Light in Dark Places" for sale Monday.

The Call

Jennifer said the book was a "calling" that she felt not long after Susan vanished.

That it was a calling did not make it any easier to write. In fact, she stopped and started several times.

Then despair took hold in early February 2012. Her brother Josh Powell burned down his rental home in Graham, Washington killing himself and his two young boys.

Suddenly the hope that had kept Jennifer going for more than two years was gone. Charlie and Braden were gone. One day, when Josh would be brought to justice, Jennifer planned to adopt them. In her eyes, Josh had taken Susan and now he had taken even her two boys in an inferno.

The fire seemed to suck the atmosphere from Jennifer's world. "There was too much... too much... it was just too much," she told me fighting back tears.

Her writing came to a halt. And she knew the book -- her calling -- would never be completed without help. That help came from a friend, Emily Clawson, who was already an established fiction writer. She agreed to get Jennifer back on track and craft her story.

"I would not have been able to tell it so eloquently if it weren't for Emily," Jennifer readily admitted.

Together, they finished Jennifer's narrative. Of the process and the final product she said, "I believe Susan is watching over this whole thing. And I've been convinced that she's been pleased with my efforts."

Fear and Loathing

As in-laws, Jennifer and Susan were first brought together by a mutual loathing and perhaps fear of Steven Powell. Steven maintained a suffocating grip on his family. Of the five adult children, Jennifer was the only one to escape Steven's orbit.

Susan desperately wanted to help her husband Josh escape as well. Together the sisters-in-law came up with the plan to get the young couple out of Washington state.

Josh and Susan moved to Utah in 2005, and their first home was with Jennifer Graves and her family.

What started as a plan to break free ended in heartbreak. Jennifer said Josh continued to be controlling and self-obsessed. And when he talked on the phone with his dad, things went from bad to worse. She said Susan started to consider getting out of the abusive marriage, but felt trapped by a desire to make things work for the sake of her two young sons.

Day One

Along with West Valley Police officers, Jennifer was the first to enter Susan and Josh's house in West Valley on day one of the disappearance.

At first, she feared the whole family was inside, overcome by carbon monoxide - an accident. That fear quickly gave way to panic that Josh had done something terrible.

She saw that the family's only transportation, a mini-van, was gone. The garage was empty. Then she found Susan's purse on the bed -- car keys, identification and credit card still inside. Jennifer remembered, "This is puzzling me, concerning me and still it's not coming to me until I hear from the other room, from the officer, he says 'The carpet has been cleaned. That's why there are fans.' And then suddenly it hits me. He's done something to her! And my stomach just dropped and I'm freaked out."

Everything Josh said and did in the days, weeks and months that followed only proved her impression from that first day.

Unfortunately, Jennifer admitted that what was proof to her would not hold up in court. "No, unfortunately not."


Jennifer has regrets. Who wouldn't given Josh's final solution?

She wonders if things would have ended better had they pressured Josh early, instead of treating him gently and, at least in public, giving him the benefit of the doubt.

"You just don't know what's going to work. We did what we thought we were supposed to." Their main concern? "We were afraid he would run."


Still, such regrets are no longer debilitating in part because of the book. Jennifer called it therapeutic. "It has helped me a great deal to clean out a lot of mental garbage."

The book reignited in her a hope -- a faith that there is light even in dark places.
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