What was the role of Child Pornography in the disappearance of Susan Powell and the Josh Powell Double Murder/Suicide Case?

Two dead toddlers, bludgeoned with a hatchet, and burned alive by their father, Josh Powell, and Utah police still describe the Susan Cox Powell case as a “an active missing-persons investigation.” West Valley City Police Chief Thayle “Buzz” Nielsen, in an interview with KUTV 2, struggled to find words for the horror of what happened.

“This was just evil, this was a terrible thing,” he said. “He wiped out the whole family. So selfish.” Wiped out the whole family…including Susan?

The actual motive underlying Susan’s disappearance and probable death may remain a mystery. If Josh was capable and “evil” enough to carefully plan the murder of his innocent boys, he certainly must be the prime suspect in the disappearance and probable homicide of his wife. The lingering question remains, why and how did Susan go missing?  With the death of Josh Powell, the Court may unseal records and evidence in the Susan Powell missing person case.  A possible motive for her disappearance/murder may be emerging in the aftermath.

Susan Powell, the loving, devoted wife of Josh and mother of Charlie and Braden inexplicably disappeared on one cold December night in Utah. The first questions asked by police are: why did she disappear and who had a motive to get rid of her? Josh Powell claimed that after a midnight camping trip with his toddler sons in the dead of a bitterly cold night, he returned home and Susan was gone. He speculated she ran away with another man, but there was no evidence. After two years, Susan’s body has not been found.

Family members said that Susan and Josh moved to Utah to get away from his father, Steven, who Susan found weird and creepy. 18 months after Susan’s disappearance her creepy father in law was arrested for voyeurism and possession of child pornography. According to Court records, some of the voyeuristic photos on his computer were of an unsuspecting Susan Powell. With his arrest, it appears that we know why Susan found her father in law weird and creepy. She exercised good maternal judgment to move out of state away from Steven Powell.

Three weeks before Josh Powell killed himself and his children in a fiery explosion, Utah law enforcement informed Washington child protection workers that Josh’s computer contained some images of cartoon child sex depicting incest. It appears that Utah Police possessed and sequestered this volatile evidence for two years. Additional information was later shared with the  Washington Court that Powell’s computer stored over 400 images of videos depicting cartoon characters engaged in incest. Nevertheless, despite this disturbing disclosure Josh Powell still maintained his supervised visitation with his boys. The Family Court Judge ordered him to undergo further additional psycho-sexual testing based on the damaging computer forensic evidence.  Powell admitted in emails and phone calls that he was afraid that he would lose his children based on these further psychological examinations and disclosure of problematic behavior.

Why didn’t Utah police share the contents of Josh Powell’s computer with child welfare officials in Washington State immediately? Was it because the forensic examination of his computer held the motive for the Susan’s disappearance?  More importantly, this information was highly relevant to child custody, and the safety and best interest of his two small boys. Utah police held this information for nearly two years and didn’t share it with the Washington child protection officials while the boys resided unsupervised with their father and grandfather until the grandfather was arrested for child pornography possession and voyeurism.

The reluctance to disclose the perverted and disturbing contents on Josh Powell’s computer suggests that Utah law enforcement may have found a motive for Susan’s disappearance.  Did they believe that Susan Powell found the incest cartoons on Josh’s computer and told him that she was going to leave him and take the children? Did Susan tell Josh that no divorce court would give him custody of the boys when they found out that he is a pervert just like his father? Did she tell Josh on that fateful December night that he would never see their boys because he is a danger to them? Did her boys tell her something disturbing about seeing something on Daddy’s computer? Did Susan suddenly realize that Josh was exhibiting the same disturbing and creepy behavior of his father, Steven, and she was not going to subject her children to either man. Was the discovery of child pornography on Josh’s computer the trigger that cost Susan her life? Coincidentally, the discovery and disclosure of child pornography on Josh’s computer by Washington officials was probably the spark that cost Charlie and Braden their lives.

Welcome to the underbelly of the Internet!

Rest assured, Josh Powell wasn’t a fan of the Rugrats cartoons.  Rugrats is a popular Nickelodeon cartoon featuring 8 characters who are babies, yes, babies. Like all toddlers, Charlie and Braden loved Rugrats. Apparently, Josh Powell searched and found Internet sites which manipulate popular cartoons, like Rugrats and Sponge Bob and digitally modify them to depict vile and perverse sexual acts and story lines. Josh Powell stored not one, not ten, but 400 images of these popular cartoon figures depicting sex and incest. Cyber cops know that a person who is amassing such a large collection of child porn images in a cartoon format is very dangerous to children.

The Danger to Children

Child predators use these cartoons to groom child victims. Cartoon characters are a young child’s hero and friend.  Rugrats’ Tommy Pickle is the adored hero who is mimicked by children. Cartoon figures are often used to teach children language, manners, morals and behavior. A predator knows that if he can show a childhood cartoon hero engaged in vile sex, he has begun the process of grooming the child victim for sex.  “This is how Rugrats act and it is ok for you to do this.”

The predator dabbles into a young child’s world of cartoon fantasy, violates it by undermining the child’s sense of safety, distorts their imaginary world of entertainment with the worst form of abusive and disgusting images. A child’s sense of trust and innocence is forever shaken, and the grooming process is well underway. Grooming with cartoons is a powerful and seductive tool to normalize predatory conduct in little and impressionable minds. Predators sadistically comment that showing child pornography to a child is a way to “soften the target.” Sexual abuse is not far behind.

400 Images-no mere surfing glitch

The large cache and type of child porn cartoon collection on Josh Powell’s computer was a huge warning sign that Charlie and Braden were in danger and that contact with Josh should have been immediately suspended. Even during supervised visitation, the father could have been reinforcing grooming techniques by the mere mention of the name, “Rugrats, or Sponge Bob. That innocuous comment would have gone unnoticed by an unsuspecting supervisor.

Attention,  Family Court Judges and Child Welfare Officials Beware

Whether child pornography depicts cartoon characters or real children, child pornography on an adult’s computer presents a very clear and present danger for children in the home, neighborhood or within any vicinity.  Possession of child pornography is a state and federal crime.  If courts or child welfare officials doubt the danger of child pornography, remember Charlie and Braden Powell.  Additionally, the Federal Prison at Butner conducted research on the correlation between the use of child pornography and sexual abuse of children. This study of convicted sex offenders found that 85% of men convicted of only child pornography possession(and no apparent hands on child victims), later admitted under the scrutiny of a polygraph examination to sexually abusing children. The research found that the 132 child molesters conceded to sexual abusing 1,777 young victims. At the time of sentencing of these 132 predators, there was no evidence of any hands-on victims.

The true motive for Susan’s disappearance may never be known. If Susan discovered the child pornography on Josh’s computer and threatened to divorce him and said that she would take the children and keep them away from him, Josh might well have reiterated to her the same words he used in his last voicemail, “I am not able to live without my sons” and then hatched his plan to kill Susan Powell, and as the boys disclosed before their murder, “put her in the trunk” and disposed of her body.

It reminds me of a common quote from Rugrats, ‘You dumb babies, monsters are just frigments of your infactuation.” Yeah, right.

© Elizabeth Yore-2012 All Rights Reserved.

Elizabeth Yore is the former Special Counsel at Harpo, Inc.where she served as Oprah Winfrey’s Child Advocate. She is also the former General Counsel at the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

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