Timeline: The Powell Family’s Tragic Two Years

What began as a case of a missing Washington woman led, two years later, to the murder-suicide of her two sons and husband. A look back at Josh and Susan Powell's dramatic story

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Cliff Despeaux / Reuters

A Pierce County Sheriff's deputy cordons off the front of a house which was destroyed by a gas explosion in Graham, Washington February 5, 2012. The house explosion on Sunday killed the father and two boys involved a bitter custody dispute near Tacoma, Washington, authorities said.

A family’s mysterious and tragic story ended with a father allegedly murdering his two young sons and committing suicide by blowing up his Graham, Wash., rental home in the few moments he had before a social worker could help the boys.

Josh Powell, father to Charles, 7, and Braden, 5, reportedly blew up his home outside of Tacoma, Wash., just a few miles south of Seattle, within minutes of his sons’ running from a caseworker’s car to his front door on Sunday, Feb. 5. He pulled the children inside and locked the door. By the time the contract caseworker reached the door, she smelled gasoline and started pounding on the door and windows. An explosion ripped through the house. Three minutes later, when firefighters arrived on the scene, the residence was fully engulfed in flames. An autopsy revealed the father also actually tried to chop his sons with a hatchet before setting the fire.

That end, while sudden, wasn’t a stand-alone event for the Powell family. Josh Powell had been in the national spotlight ever since his wife Susan, 28, went missing from their home in West Valley City, Utah, over two years ago. Here’s a look at the events that started with a mystery on Dec. 7, 2009, in Utah and ended in tragedy on Feb. 5, 2012.

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Dec. 7, 2009: Josh and Susan Powell failed to drop off their two sons at a day care in Utah, and Susan failed to show up for work that day, sparking family members to start a search for her. Josh later told police that he left with his sons, then ages 4 and 2, in the middle of the night (a 12:30 a.m. departure, he said) and didn’t return until late in that day, well after Susan had gone missing. He said he took the boys camping at Simpson Springs Recreation Area, leaving his wife at home, where she was busily working to remove a red stain from the carpet. Temperatures reached freezing that night.

Dec. 9, 2009: Police started searching the Powell residence in West Valley City, Utah, about 10 miles (16 km) outside Salt Lake City, for any clues into Susan’s disappearance; Josh wasn’t yet named a suspect.

Dec. 10, 2009: Police searched the area where Josh said he was camping and failed to find any signs of his campsite.

(MORE: Autopsies for Kids of Missing Utah Woman)

Dec. 15, 2009: As officers in Utah struggled to find clues regarding Susan’s whereabouts, Josh, after retaining a defense attorney a day prior, failed to show up for his interview with police. The West Valley City police announced this development, claiming the husband was getting in the way of finding his wife.

Dec. 16, 2009: After questioning Josh yet again, police named him a person of interest in the case, a designation he held — and one that wasn’t slapped on anyone else — until he died.

Dec. 17, 2009: Chuck Cox, Susan’s father, who was living in Puyallup, Wash., spoke to reporters, saying he was saddened but not surprised that Josh was named a person of interest.

Dec. 20, 2009: Josh was seen at a candlelight vigil for his missing wife at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but not in Utah. He was in Puyallup, Wash.

(MORE: Washington Father Kills Sons in Murder-Suicide)

Jan. 8, 2010: Josh officially moved from Utah to Puyallup, where he and Susan had both grown up, taking Charles and Braden with him. While living in a house with his father, he claimed that mental illness and instability led Susan to leave the family.

Feb. 15, 2010: During a press conference, Susan’s family accused Josh of abusing her.

Nov. 8, 2010: Josh told the Salt Lake Tribune that Susan must have left under pressure from her family’s desire for her to be perfect.

Dec. 5, 2010: Josh claimed that Susan ran away with Steven Koecher, a man who disappeared from St. George, Utah, the same week in December 2009. Josh and his father Steven set up a website, susanpowell.org, that discussed this connection in depth.

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