Josh Powell: What they knew, when they knew it

The News Tribune The News TribuneJune 10, 2014 

Josh Powell killed his sons Charlie, 7, and Braden, 5, in this house near Graham in February 2012 before setting the house on fire and killing himself.

STAFF FILE PHOTO, 2012

It’s been more than two years since Josh Powell incinerated his two small boys, and the aftershocks of that horror keep on coming.

Now The Salt Lake Tribune reports that the FBI had opened an investigation of Powell in September 2010 based on suspicion that he possessed child pornography. That early, investigators reportedly had found that the killer collected cartoon images of children being subjected to sexual acts, and they were working to open encrypted data on his computer.

The FBI – like police in West Valley City, Utah – was also investigating Powell’s role in the disappearance of his wife, Susan, in December 2009. Both investigations were wide open on Feb. 5, the day he pulled their two sons, Charlie and Braden, into a Graham-area house and ignited the gasoline fire that killed him and them.

The tragedy here is missed opportunity.

Prior to the killings, the state Children’s Administration had plucked the two boys from the house of Josh Powell’s father – Steven Powell – after a trove of pornography had been found there.

Yet Josh Powell was still allowed supervised visits with the boys. It was common knowledge in Pierce County that he was a “person of interest” in Susan’s disappearance. But neither the West Valley police nor the FBI had officially uttered the word “suspect,” which could have given the Children’s Administration the opening it needed to keep him away from the children.

Nor had the FBI and West Valley police shared the fact that Josh Powell was a connoisseur of incest images. When police in Utah finally dribbled out that piece of information, Powell apparently sensed the game was up and quickly set up the arson trap for his sons.

In other words, a whole lot of people weren’t talking to each other.

The investigators knew that Powell was walking around free in Pierce County, and they must have known that he had access to his children. They also believed, based on a tall stack of circumstantial evidence, that he was a murderer: Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist, after all, later said he would have filed charges.

What if they hadn’t taken such an incredibly long time to share what they knew of his sexual proclivities with authorities in this state? In fact, it’s still unclear how the disclosure of those cartoons would have compromised a murder investigation.

No doubt there are arcane rules that restrict what investigators elsewhere share with Washington’s courts or the Children’s Administration. But with so many red flags fluttering around the name of Josh Powell, you’d think someone would have found a way to bend them.

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