Jennifer Graves has been through more than most of us can possibly imagine. Her late brother, Josh Powell, was long suspected in the 2009 disappearance of his wife, Puyallup native Susan Cox Powell.
Graves loved her sister-in-law and early on hoped she’d be found alive. Susan has never been found.
In 2012, during a custody battle with Susan’s parents for custody of Josh and Susan’s two young sons, 7-year-old Charlie and 5-year-old Braden, her brother Josh killed himself and the boys — Graves’ nephews — in a horrific attack that ended with Josh setting his Graham home on fire with himself and the boys inside.
About a year later, Graves’ brother, Michael, who cops believed may have helped Josh dispose of Susan’s body, killed himself.
And she had long been estranged from her father, Steven Powell, who investigators — and Graves — believed knew what had happened to Susan.
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Graves was a witness against her father, Steven Powell, in his 2012 voyeurism trial, testifying about the layout of his Puyallup home and where his room was to provide evidence that it was her dad — not someone else in the home — who had photographed two young neighbor girls bathing and using the bathroom.
Powell served 30 months in prison for that voyeurism conviction and later about two years for child pornography.
Graves, who lives in Utah, says she felt a sense of relief when Chuck Cox, Susan’s father, called her Monday night to tell her that her dad had died in a Tacoma hospital.
“There is definitely relief,” Graves said, “Ever since my dad got out from the first prison sentence, I’ve just kind of lived in a little bit of fear wondering, is he gonna come here? Does he have a vengeful enough spirit that he’s going to show up here on my doorstep at some point and hurt me or my children or my husband?”
Graves didn’t know.
It wasn’t just fear of revenge for her testifying against him. Graves, who believed her brother was behind Susan’s disappearance, also worked with police in 2010, six weeks after Susan vanished. Graves wore a wire and confronted her brother, Josh, about Susan’s disappearance, and her dad about having propositioned his daughter-in-law several years earlier. Neither incriminated themselves on tape, and Steven ended up screaming vulgarities at his daughter and tossing her out of his house.
That was the last time Graves remembers speaking to her dad.
Graves says there is a lot to work through with her dad’s death.
“There’s some emotion there,” Graves said, “Mostly it’s … it’s not sadness at his passing, but sadness at the unfortunate choices that he made throughout his life.”
Graves says those poor choices started early in her childhood when she says her dad, pretty early on in his marriage to her mother, started with the pornography addiction.
“Always if there’s a pornography addiction left unchecked that is going to lead to additional things … additional vices and problems,” Graves said, “and it did, of course it did.”
Graves says her dad progressed to being mentally unfaithful to her mother, to being physically unfaithful, and eventually to videotaping the young neighbor girls in the bathroom that led to his conviction.
Graves is also certain her dad was involved with Susan’s disappearance.
“I don’t know if that was intentional, if there was like planning things ahead, or if Josh just told him afterward, but I know he had something … some knowledge there,” Graves said.
Investigators and Susan’s parents believed Steven Powell was likely the last person alive who knew what happened to Susan and now that he’s dead are doubtful there will ever be answers.
Graves agrees the chances of somebody else knowing any details about it are pretty slim at this point.
“I have two siblings that are still alive, but I don’t think … I really just don’t think that Josh would have got them intimately involved,” Graves said, “They were loyal, they wanted to have that family loyalty and defend posturing, that was definitely there, but I don’t think they knew all the details.”
That loyalty her siblings had for Josh and Steven, and Graves’ alignment with Susan’s family led to a massive divide among the siblings in the years since Susan disappeared and Graves says that has not gotten any better.
“There’s not really any mending, there’s still resentment, there’s still blame,” Graves said. “My sister especially feels like all that stuff that went on was our fault and that Josh really had nothing to do with Susan’s disappearance.”
“I’m not sure how she justifies Josh killing the boys,” Graves added, “but apparently that’s our fault, too.”
Graves says it is doubtful her father left any final letter with details about where Susan is, but that there is still a chance investigators could find some sort of evidence among his belongings or as they continue trying to access Josh Powell’s computer hard drives, which were still being decrypted late last year.
But Graves says she doesn’t need that to be OK.
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