Update February 6th: Media sources are now reporting that the CPS caseworker smelled gasoline rather than natural gas at the Powell home; this post has been re-titled and updated to reflect this new information.
The story of the missing Susan Powell took a fatal turn on February 5th, 2012 with the report that her husband Josh Powell and their two sons, five-year-old Braden and seven-year-old Charles, have died in an explosion and fire which took place at their house in Graham, Washington. Police are awaiting formal verification of the victims' identity from the Medical Examiner’s Office. And on the Salt Lake Tribune discussion boards, there's rampant speculation that it could have been a murder-suicide. CNN has now published a report, and KOMO Channel 4 and KIRO Channel 7 in Seattle also have the stories and photos of the scene. KING Channel 5 news video below:
KSL news video:
A case worker from Child Protective Services had just dropped off Powell’s sons at the home located in the 8100 block of 189th Street Court East in Graham for a supervised visit. Powell then immediately shut the door on the caseworker and locked it. However, the caseworker reported detecting the smell of gasoline emanating from the house. About three minutes later, at approximately 12:30 P.M PST., the house exploded.
It is because Powell shut and locked the door on the caseworker that some people believe it was a murder-suicide. If the caseworker could smell gasoline emanating from home during the brief time the door was open, how could Josh Powell not have smelled it? Of course, it is entirely possible that Powell could have slowly become acclimated to the gas smell where he may not have noticed anything different. But why would he close the door on the caseworker so abruptly? The Pierce County Sheriff's Office believes this explosion was intentional, and investigators have found evidence of accelerants spread throughout the residence. The Tacoma News-Tribune reported that Powell’s attorney Jeffrey Bassett received an e-mail time-stamped 12:05 P.M., less than 30 minutes before the explosion, which read “I’m sorry, goodbye.” Unfortunately, Bassett wasn't prompted to check his e-mail account until after he learned of the explosion.
The fact is, many Utahns have already tried and convicted Josh Powell in their hearts because of the unusual circumstances surrounding the disappearance of Susan Powell. On the same night of her disappearance, Josh took his two sons on a spur of the moment "camping trip" out in the west desert of Utah despite an approaching winter storm and temperatures hovering near freezing. Susan Powell was still at home when they left, but was gone upon their return. Upon their return, Josh Powell seemed initially reluctant to cooperate fully with police. Many people also criticized Josh for his lack of visible emotional reaction, but there are people who simply are not wired to react emotionally to tragedy. Josh Powell then took his two sons and moved back to Washington State, after which he tried to claim that Susan Powell ran off with another man. Stories of difficulty in the Powell marriage surfaced, with reports that Susan Powell felt that Josh was too controlling. All these factors combined turned many Utahns against him.
You can review all previous posts on this case HERE, with the most recent post displayed first, to get more background on this case. The Salt Lake Tribune has a more abridged timeline of the case HERE.
Josh Powell has been coming under increased legal pressure lately. On February 1st, Pierce County Superior Court Judge Kathryn J. Nelson rejected a request by Josh Powell that custody of his two sons be transferred to him, and ruled that the boys should remain in the custody of Susan Powell's parents. Judge Nelson also ruled that Josh Powell must undergo a psychosexual evaluation and polygraph test because of alleged extreme child porn found in the Puyallup home where Josh was living with the two boys and his parents after Susan's disappearance. Attorney Jeffrey Bassett said Powell was quite upset by this development.
Powell's brother-in law Kirk Graves of West Jordan, Utah, said the family was stunned by the news, and never contemplated Josh would do something like this. He told the Salt Lake Tribune that he takes the explosion as an admission of guilt in Susan's case. "In my personal opinion this is Josh's admission, that he did it. I know others won't interpret it that way". Watch Graves' reaction on the video below:
Steve Downing, who represented Susan Powell’s parents in the custody fight, made a rather chilling disclosure. He said the children had started talking to their grandparents about things they remembered from the night their mother vanished, and seven-year-old Charles reportedly talked about their camping trip, saying that "...Mommy was in the trunk. Mom and Dad got out of the car and Mom disappeared..."
Investigators will be able to determine whether or not this is a murder-suicide, but they won't be able to determine where Susan Powell is. Additional reaction is posted on the Friends and Family of Susan Powell Facebook page.