PUYALLUP, Wash. — Two years after a Utah mother vanished, her case has spiraled into a salacious saga of finger-pointing and accusations of sex and lies between two sparring families.
The bitter back-and-forth comes as investigators have increased their activity, executing a search warrant Thursday at the Puyallup home Susan Cox Powell's husband shares with his father, removing several computers, boxes and brown bags sealed with yellow tape.
A few investigators thoroughly examined a van in the driveway, looking through every CD, flipping through scraps of paper and looking under seats. The search comes just days after authorities combed through abandoned mines in Nevada.
"We came here looking for specific things, and some of those things we've been able to find," West Valley City police Lt. Bill Merritt said Thursday night, about six hours after investigators arrived at the house.
The missing woman was last seen by her husband Dec. 6, 2009, in her West Valley City, Utah, home outside Salt Lake City. She was reported missing the next day when she didn't show up for work. Police say her husband, Josh Powell, is the only person of interest, although he's never been arrested.
Merritt said investigators were able to gather evidence that he believes will be "very, very important" to the investigation. He declined to discuss what pieces of evidence they gathered or say what detectives plan to do next.
"What we have here today will help us draw closer to a conclusion," Merritt said. "Whether it's the conclusion that everybody wants and hopes for, we don't know. It may be a conclusion that nobody wants to admit could happen."
Earlier Thursday, Merritt said the home search was planned before investigators went through the sprawling network of abandoned mines in Nevada last weekend.
"We're not walking in blindly, saying `I wonder what's in here,'" he said.
Authorities would not say what they removed from the home in bags Thursday, nor would they say what, if anything, they discovered in the underground tunnels near Ely, Nev.
Josh Powell appeared calm and cooperative but Merritt said the missing woman's husband has not been responding to phone calls from authorities seeking his help recently.
"We're just not getting any response," Merritt said.
Josh Powell was not detained, and Merritt said he left with his two young sons to run errands.
The search came the same day the Powells separately went on national television to discuss the case, taking the saga to tawdry new levels. The father-in-law says he and the missing woman had a flirtatious relationship and that he believed they were in love.
Josh Powell's family also claims Susan Cox Powell was sexually promiscuous, emotionally unstable and suicidal – offering as proof several diary pages from the missing woman's teenage years. Her family says the entries were written by a young girl still growing up and have no bearing on her disappearance. They say they'll sue if the Powell family publishes them as promised.
Josh Powell has mostly remained quiet throughout the investigation but in a string of national television interviews Thursday, he denied killing his wife or having anything to do with her disappearance.
"I would never even hurt her," a tearful, red-eyed Josh Powell told CBS' Early Show. "People who know me know that I could never hurt Susan."
Josh Powell, who still wears his wedding ring, said he loves his wife. He said she came from an emotionally abusive home with controlling, manipulative parents.
In an interview on ABC's Good Morning America, Steve Powell said he and Susan Cox Powell were falling in love and even implied a sexual relationship had occurred.
"Susan was very sexual with me," Steve Powell said. "We interacted in a lot of sexual ways because Susan enjoys doing that."
Susan's father, Chuck Cox, says all the allegations are false and claims it was Steve Powell who initiated unwanted sexual advances, and that his daughter had no interest in her father-in-law.
Chuck Cox told the AP that his daughter claimed years ago that "something had happened" with Steve Powell that made her uncomfortable. He said she didn't disclose the details.
"She said something about Steve had wanted her to be a common wife for him and Josh," Chuck Cox said. According to him, when Susan discussed the remark with Josh, he dismissed it as part of his father's penchant for saying outrageous things.
Chuck Cox said he believes his daughter's discomfort with her father-in-law was part of what motivated her to move her family to Utah from Washington.
"She wanted as far away from him as possible," Cox said.
Chuck Cox, who also lives in Puyallup, denies allegations in court filings by Josh Powell seeking a protective order that he's harassed or threatened his son-in-law and said he only wants to spend time with his young grandchildren.
A court commissioner in Washington state Tuesday ordered Chuck Cox and Josh Powell to keep 500 feet apart.
Chuck Cox has never said he believes his son-in-law is responsible for Susan's disappearance, but wants him to be more forthcoming with police, who claim Josh Powell hasn't been cooperative.
"If he can get himself cleared, that's fine with me," Chuck Cox said. "But he has obstructed the investigation of the police, he has refused to talk to them and there's enough inconsistencies ... they have to look into it."
Police say Josh Powell has refused to answer questions about a supposed midnight camping trip he said he took with the couple's sons – then ages 4 and 2 – in the mountains west of Salt Lake City the night before Susan Cox Powell was reported missing.
The AP was unable to reach Josh Powell or his father for comment.
Alina Powell, Josh's sister, has said her family has cooperated with the FBI, and will continue to do so, but they have nothing new to contribute. She said the family allowed its Puyallup home to be searched last year without a warrant.
The Powells also have been saying they believe the missing woman may have run off with another man, although Josh Powell said in interviews Thursday he doesn't know if his wife was ever unfaithful.
He said he would like to tell his wife that he loves her and that her children love her, but he vacillates in his beliefs about whether she is still alive.
"It's a rollercoaster," he told ABC News.
Chuck Cox said his family remains hopeful, but they are preparing "for the worst."