Oxygen's The Disappearance of Susan Cox Powell reexamines one of the most harrowing missing persons cases of the past decade, promising to uncover new developments, air never-before-seen footage, and feature interviews with family members we've never heard from before. But viewers tuning in may be wondering who Jennifer Powell is. Although the trailer for the docuseries spotlights her sister Alina Powell's involvement, Jennifer has long been fighting on behalf of Susan and her children.
Jennifer Powell, now Jennifer Graves, is Susan Cox Powell's sister-in-law and the oldest of the five Powell children. Her brother Josh Powell, who was married to Susan, was the only person of interest ever named in the case, according to Time, up until his death in 2012. Desert News Utah reported that Jennifer and her mother Terrica were the first ones to call police after they couldn't find Josh, Susan, or their two kids on the morning of Dec. 7, 2009. Josh eventually returned home with his sons, claiming that he had taken them out camping the night before, leaving Susan asleep at home. Given the subzero temperatures, and the fact that he'd taken two small children out shortly after midnight, both friends close to the couple and investigators became suspicious of Josh's story, as the docuseries trailer notes.
Josh's sister Alina continues to defend him and their father Steve Powell, whom police discovered to be in possession of hundreds of hours of lewd home video footage taken of Susan without her consent. But Jennifer helped police gather evidence against Josh and Steve. According to the Salt Lake City Tribune, Jennifer recalls her father viewing pornographic videos in front of her when she was as young as 11.
"Looking back, I wonder if he was willing to do that with a 10-12 year girl — his daughter— in the room, what else would he be willing to do?" she said in a 2011 interview with the paper.
By the time she married Kirk Graves in 1994, Jennifer had become estranged from her family. But she'd later grow close with Susan, who reached out to her with concerns about Steve's inappropriate behavior, according to Oxygen. In 2010, she confronted Josh and Steve about Susan's disappearance while wearing a wire at the request of the West Valley, Utah police detectives.
Jennifer released a book about her experience in 2013 called A Light in Dark Places: A Story of Heartbreak, Survival and Redemption. In it, she recounts the details of the investigation, as well as her own experience growing up in the Powell family. Jennifer told Desert News Utah of writing the book:
I really felt like I needed to do this to help other people to recognize abuse in either their own relationships or relationships around them, because it's not always completely apparent. A black eye is going to be really obvious. But there are more subtle types of abuse — the belittling, the controlling behaviors, isolation, and things that are also forms of abuse as well.
Indeed, The Disappearance Of Susan Cox Powell aims to frame the case as more than just a missing persons story, but one about the insidious nature of domestic violence. The docuseries airs May 4 and 5 on Oxygen.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1(800) 799-SAFE (7233) or visit thehotline.org.