Criminal Law

Missing Adults: The Susan Powell Disappearance


Susan Powell's case took a lurid turn almost two years after her disappearance. As police executed new search warrants, Susan's father-in-law Steve claimed a romantic relationship with his daughter-in-law. Friends of Susan disputed this, saying she rebuffed several advances from her father-in-law.

Meanwhile, police would not say what they were searching for. They removed a number of items, including computers, from the home Susan's husband Josh shares with his father. In recent days investigators had searched several abandoned mines in Nevada for evidence of crime.

Original Article

Susan Powell, 28, a stockbroker and married mother of two has been missing since early December 2009. Susan's relatives reported her missing to the Utah police after she didn't turn up for work on December 6, 2009. Little is known about the disappearance.

Susan's husband, Joshua Powell, told police he last saw his wife in the late evening, before taking their two sons for a camping trip. Susan didn't join the camping trip because she was sick, according to Joshua. However, the camping trip story seems shady, at the least. The weather that evening was snowy and cold, seemingly uncomfortable temperature for young children to camp in. Also, there have been reports of Susan and Joshua having marital difficulties.

Another strange fact: not even a month passed by since his wife's disappearance and Joshua moved out of the state. However, he's currently not a suspect. The police labeled him simply a "person of interest." Susan's family and friends are worried, and the police remain clueless as to where she could be.

This case, and many other cases of similar disappearances, brings up important issues with missing adults.

Filing a Missing Person's Report

When a person you know goes missing, it's common to panic. However, it's important to remain calm and follow certain procedures. First, call the police. After that, file a missing persons report. While the system of reporting varies from state to state, the report is basically the same.

You should describe the person with as much detail as possible, including:

  • Hair color
  • Eye color
  • Skin tone
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Build
  • Scars and other specific identifying features

The more specific, the better. You should also describe the last thing you saw the person wearing. It's helpful to compile pictures, and most recent ones will be best. Next, explain to the police where the person was and what he or she was doing before going missing.

Give all of this information to the police both verbally and in writing. Then, request the information is given to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) Missing Person File.

Afterwards, continue to follow up with the police.

How Long Before the Police Investigate?

It's common for someone to be reported missing, and then show up shortly thereafter. As a result, the police sometimes require a waiting period before they begin an investigation. This waiting period varies from state to state, sometimes by age as well. Some states, such as California, have no waiting time. It's best to check with your local police force to find out if there's a waiting period before they will get involved.

Just because the police may not start investigating doesn't mean the entire search must be paused. You can still call family and friends, put up posters and notify others of the disappearance.

Factors That May Prompt an Earlier Investigation

Due to expenses, police are also reluctant to search for adults who may have voluntarily left home. The police are likely to get involved quicker when a child is missing. However, for adults, their reaction time is often not as quick. Adults are generally free to roam around as they wish, and unless special circumstances are present, the police are unlikely to get involved.

Before taking a police report, law enforcement guidelines require that a missing person is either a vulnerable adult or will harm himself. A vulnerable adult is typically an adult with diminished mental capacity, very old or has a life threatening physical illness. Also, if the missing person has a mental health issue that may lead him or her to commit suicide, injure himself or another person, the police will also get involved sooner.

Another way the police will get involved sooner is where there are signs of foul play.

Missing Adults and the NCMA

In 1994, the Nation's Missing Children Organization, Inc. (NMCO) was established to help missing adults and their families. They changed their policy in 1995 to search for missing people over 18. However, they too mostly focus on people determined by police to be at risk due to diminished mental capacity, physical disability or suspicion of foul play.

Yet, their services may be helpful. They've established a centralized national clearinghouse for missing adults and resources to assist with missing adults called the National Center for Missing Adults (NCMA). Today, the NCMA and the US Department of Justice serve as the national clearinghouse for missing adults in the United States.

What's Next? The Future for the Susan Powell Search

Susan Powell has been missing for over a month. Her friends and family have contacted the police, put up posters and have held candlelight vigils. The police have no leads to her whereabouts. The Utah police urge anyone with information regarding the case to call West Valley City Police at (801) 840-4000.

In the meanwhile, rather than relying on the police to find her, Susan's family and friends are going a step further and enlisting social media and online technology. They are using Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to help spread awareness of her disappearance.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • My husband has been missing for 5 hours. Will the police begin searching for him?
  • My wife has gone missing, and I am a person of interest. Should I not talk to the police?
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