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Josh And Susan Powell Case: New Clues, Details Emerge In Search For Missing Mom

PAUL FOY and GENE JOHNSON   02/14/12 09:41 PM ET  AP

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — A hotel worker in Utah said Tuesday she saw Josh Powell and his boys the morning his wife was reported missing in 2009 – and when the older child asked a question about his mom, they left immediately.

"He didn't even give the kids time to eat their sweet rolls – each had a small bite on them," said the worker, Robin Leanne Snyder.

Powell, long a suspect in his wife's disappearance, killed the boys, 7-year-old Charlie and 5-year-old Braden, as well as himself in a gas-fueled fire in a rental home near Puyallup, Wash., this month.

Powell did not leave any obvious hints about what happened to his wife. He had always maintained that she vanished after he took the boys, then 2 and 4, on a midnight camping trip in freezing weather in Utah's west desert.

Since the fire, authorities in Washington have discovered a comforter – apparently stained with blood – Josh Powell left at a storage locker. They found books and an unmarked map of Utah that Powell dumped at a landfill. And Utah detectives say tips have been flooding in.

Nevertheless, it's not clear they're any closer to finding Susan Powell.

Snyder, 53, said she oversaw the free continental breakfast for guests at the Comfort Inn in Sandy, about 16 miles south of where the Powells lived in West Valley City. When she showed up for work at 6:30 that morning, she said, Josh Powell and the boys were there.

"Charlie looked right up at me and he says, `Do you know what happened to my mom?' So I say, `No, what happened to your mom?'" Snyder said.

She never got an answer. She was called away to fetch coffee for guests, and when she came back, Powell and the boys were gone, she said.

Josh Powell kept his face down as his older boy spoke up unexpectedly, she said.

Snyder recalled the encounter days later, after Susan Powell's disappearance began to make news. She said she called a tip line set up by police, but didn't hear back at the time.

Last summer, she posted a note about the encounter on Facebook – and it was somehow relayed to West Valley City police. A detective interviewed her about two weeks ago, just before the fire, she said.

The hotel in Sandy would have been generally on the way back from the area where Josh Powell said he took the boys camping to West Valley City. If Powell was at the hotel at 6:30 a.m. on Dec. 7, 2009, it's not clear what he might have done for the rest of the day. He didn't return to his home until 5 p.m. – two hours after friends called him to say that police were at the house and that his wife was missing.

West Valley City police Sgt. Mike Powell, who is not related to the family, declined to discuss any of the recent tips, but said a team of detectives has been assigned to evaluate them.

"We do have a fairly good number of tips coming in," Powell said Tuesday. "It can be challenging, but it's fairly well-organized."

On Sunday, volunteers combed through more than 10 tons of paper at a Puyallup recycling center after detectives received a tip that Powell might have dumped papers there before the killings.

They found paperback books with his wife's name on them and a Utah map. An item described by detectives as a "testament" with Powell's name on it turned out to be a Mormon religious book, said Pierce County, Wash., sheriff's detective Ed Troyer.

The comforter at the storage unit tested positive for the presence of blood in a field test, but further lab results are pending.

More than 1,000 people mourned the boys at a public funeral Saturday in Tacoma.

___

Associated Press writer Brian Skoloff contributed to this report.

Johnson reported from Seattle and can be reached at . https://twitter.com/GeneAPseattle

Loading Slideshow...
  • Father Kills Sons And Self

    Pierce County sheriff's deputies and Graham firefighters work through the wreckage of a home in Graham, Wash. where the bodies of Josh Powell and his two sons were found on Feb. 5, 2012 in a double-homicide suicide. The boys had just been brought by a Child Protective Services worker to Powell's home for a supervised visit when police say the dad deliberately blew up the house. A judge had denied the previous week a request by Powell to regain custody of his sons, who had been living with the parents of his missing wife, Susan.

  • Pierce County sheriff's officials said it appears Josh Powell used an accelerant to increase the power of a gas fire that he intentionally set to kill himself and his two sons inside his Graham, Wash., home on Feb. 5, 2012. The saga of the Powell family began in 2009 when Josh Powell reported that his wife, Susan, had gone missing. That night he claimed he took his sons on an overnight camping trip in freezing temperatures.

  • Aerial View Of Josh Powell's Home

    The explosion at Josh Powell's home left smoldering remains in Graham, Wash. Police say Powell deliberately detonated the home moments after a Child Protective Services worker brought his sons Braden, 5, and Charles, 7, for a supervised visit.

  • Braden And Charlie Powell

    This undated photo provided by Chuck and Judy Cox shows their grandsons Braden, left, and Charlie Powell. (AP Photo/Courtesy Chuck and Judy Cox)

  • Chuck Cox, Braden Powell, Charlie Powell

    This undated photo provided by Chuck and Judy Cox shows them with their grandsons, Charlie, left, and Braden, right. Charlie and Braden were killed along with their father, Josh Powell, on Sunday in what police said was an intentional fire set by Powell. The Coxes are the parents of Powell's wife, Susan, who has been missing since 2009. (AP Photo/Courtesy Chuck and Judy Cox)

  • Braden And Charlie Powell

    This undated photo provided by Chuck and Judy Cox shows Braden, left, and Charlie Powell. (AP Photo/Courtesy Chuck and Judy Cox)

  • Police and other officials from Washington state and Utah view charred rubble, Monday, Feb. 6, 2012, at of the home where Josh Powell and his two sons were killed in the fire Powell set Sunday. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

  • In this pool photo provided by the Pierce County Sheriff's Dept., a melted gas can is marked with an evidence flag, Monday, Feb. 6, 2012, in the rubble of the home in Graham, Wash., where Josh Powell and his two sons were killed. (AP Photo/Pierce County Sheriff's Dept., Ed Troyer, Pool)

  • Susan Cox Powell

    This image from<a href="https://www.facebook.com/pages/Friends-and-Family-of-Susan-Cox-Powell/158207040909324" target="_hplink"> Friends and Family of Susan Cox Powell</a> Facebook page shows missing Utah mother Susan Cox Powell. Powell has been missing since December 6, 2009. Her husband Josh Powell was a person of interest in her disappearance before he killed himself and their two sons on Feb. 5, 2012.

  • Chuck And Judy Cox

    Chuck and Judy Cox, the parents of missing Utah mother Susan Cox, talk to reporters at their home in Puyallup, Wash., Monday, Feb. 6, 2012. They had custody of their grandchildren, Charlie and Braden Powell, who were killed by their father Josh Powell during a supervised visit to his house on Sunday. Their daughter Susan Cox Powell went missing in December 2009 from the West Valley City, Utah home where she lived with her husband and sons. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

  • Candlelight Vigil

    Supporters held an impromptu candlelight vigil for Braden and Charlie Powell, who were killed by their father Josh when he deliberately torched his Graham, Wash. home on Feb. 5, 2012. The brothers had been living with their maternal grandparents in a simmering custody dispute stemming from their mother's disappearance in Utah in 2009.

  • Flowers and two stuffed animals are left near crime-scene tape, Monday, Feb. 6, 2012, near the home where Josh Powell and his two sons were killed Sunday, in Graham, Wash., in what police said appeared to be a deliberately set fire. Powell's wife Susan went mysteriously missing from their West Valley City, Utah, home in December 2009. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

  • Mourners posted signs and lit candles at Carson Elementary School in Puyallup, Wash. where Braden and Charles Powell attended school. The brothers were killed in an explosion caused by their father Josh Powell at his home on Feb. 5, 2012 -- days after a judge denied his request to regain custody of them.

  • A Pierce County fire investigator works his way through charred rubble, Monday, Feb. 6, 2012, at the home where Josh Powell and his two sons were killed Sunday, in Graham, Wash., in what police said appeared to be a deliberately set fire. Powell's wife Susan went mysteriously missing from their West Valley City, Utah, home in December 2009. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

  • Josh And Braden Powell

    In this Aug. 19, 2011 photo, Josh Powell plays with his son Braden in a park near his home, in Puyallup, Wash. Powell had long been a person of interest in his wife. (Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Friday, August 19, 2011)

  • This photo from Facebook shows Susan Cox Powell in December of 2008.

  • A flier seeking information on the whereabouts of Susan Powell, who was reported missing Dec. 7, 2009, in Utah, is shown, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2009, at a press conference in Puyallup, Wash. Powell's family said Thursday they are saddened but not surprised that her husband Josh Powell has been named a person of interest in the investigation.

  • Josh Powell

    Josh Powell, the husband of Susan Powell, stands with supporters after a candle light vigil for his wife at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Puyallup, Wash., Sunday Dec. 20, 2009.

  • Judy Cox, the mother of Susan Powell, who was reported missing Dec. 7, 2009, in Utah, becomes emotional during a press conference, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2009, in Puyallup, Wash. Powell's family said Thursday they are saddened but not surprised that her husband Josh Powell has been named a person of interest in the investigation.

  • Charlie Powell

    This undated photo provided by Chuck and Judy Cox shows Charlie Powell, who was killed along with his brother Braden by their father Josh Powell in a double-murder suicide. (AP Photo/Courtesy Chuck and Judy Cox)

  • Braden Powell With HIs Grandmother Judy Cox

    In this undated photo provided by Chuck and Judy Cox, Judy Cox, right, sits at a table with her grandson Braden. (AP Photo/Courtesy Chuck and Judy Cox)

  • Braden Powell

    This undated photo provided by Chuck and Judy Cox shows Braden Powell. (AP Photo/Courtesy Chuck and Judy Cox)

  • Chuck Cox With Grandsons Charlie And Braden Powell

    In this undated photo provided by Chuck and Judy Cox, Chuck Cox sits with his grandsons, Charlie, left, and Braden, right, at the Coxes home in Pullayup, Wash. (AP Photo/Courtesy Chuck and Judy Cox)

  • Chuck Cox With Braden And Charlie Powell

    In this undated photo provided by Chuck and Judy Cox, Chuck Cox plays with his grandsons, Charlie, right, and Braden, left. (AP Photo/Courtesy Chuck and Judy Cox)

FOLLOW HUFFPOST CRIME

Filed by Andy Campbell  |