Image: Police investigate an abandoned mine shaft
Jeffrey D. Allred  /  AP
Police investigate an abandoned mine shaft near in Ely, Nev., on Friday in the search for for Susan Powell staff and news service reports
updated 8/19/2011 9:38:08 PM ET 2011-08-20T01:38:08

Utah police on Friday searched abandoned mine shafts dotting the rugged mountains of eastern Nevada, a renewed attempt to find evidence that would lead them to a young mother who disappeared two years ago.

Police ended their day's activity at 6 p.m. and said they planned to continue searching Saturday, NBC station KSL reported.

Susan Cox Powell was reported missing December 2009 after she failed to show up for her stockbroker job in West Valley City, Utah. She had been seen by friends at church and at dinner the day before.

Her husband, Joshua Powell, told police he left his wife at home about 12:30 a.m. that day to go camping in freezing temperatures with their young sons — then ages 4 and 2 — on the Pony Express Trail, about 80 miles west of Salt Lake City. The 4-year-old confirmed the trip to police.

Police have called Joshua Powell a person of interest in the missing person case, although he's never been arrested or charged.

Video: Police expand search for missing mom (on this page)

There were few leads on the case until this week, when investigators turned their attention to the steep juniper and pinion pine-covered mountains five miles west of Ely.

Citing a gag order imposed early in the investigation, West Valley City Sgt. Mike Powell, who is not related to the missing woman, couldn't say what led investigators to the mine shafts.

"I'm anticipating … a long, hot day tomorrow," Powell said earlier Friday.

Using high-powered spotlights, four West Valley City detectives on ATVS spent the day clearing, searching, photographing and logging the abandoned shafts that typically follow the path of mineral veins and range in depth from 20 to 100 feet.

The area being searched is Bureau of Land Management land and a place where mining for garnets, copper, ore and other minerals has occurred since the late 1800s, BLM public affairs officer Chris Hanefeld said.

Video: Missing Utah mom ran off with man, father-in-law says (on this page)

"We've got thousands of them," said Hanefeld.

Ely is about 235 miles southwest of Susan Cox Powell's home in West Valley City, Utah.

Mike Powell said investigators recently made an initial visit to the area and determined that a more intensive search was worth pursuing.

It's also not a place where Susan Cox Powell or her husband had any known ties, her father, Chuck Cox has said.

On Friday, Joshua Powell's family said they support police efforts to look for Susan in Ely, or anywhere.

"Where ever they have a valid lead, they should pursue it," Alina Powell, Joshua Powell's sister said in a telephone interview. "The problem we have had is that (the Cox family and their supporters) want to make the only valid lead my brother."

Investigators have said Joshua Powell has not cooperated with their investigation, although his Salt Lake City attorney, Scott Williams, disputes that characterization.

On Thursday, Joshua Powell told Seattle's KING-TV he was "overjoyed" by news of the Nevada search. He has rarely spoken publicly about the case. He and his father have said they believe Susan might have run off with another man.

"It's been a hard two years. It's been lonely," Joshua Powell said. "I will always love her."

Susan Cox Powell's disappearance has strained the relationship between her husband and her family, which for nearly two years has publicly pleaded with Joshua Powell to cooperate with police.

Court papers from Washington's Pierce County Superior Court in Tacoma, Wash., show Joshua Powell filed a restraining order against Susan's father, Chuck Cox. A court hearing is set for Aug. 23 in Tacoma.

In his petition, Joshua Powell claims Cox has used the news media to "inflict me and my children with emotional insecurity and fear."

The petition also states that Joshua Powell believes Cox's behavior is increasingly threatening because he believes Joshua Powell is responsible for his daughter's disappearance.

On Thursday, Cox claimed he didn't understand why Joshua Powell wants to restrict Susan's family from seeing her children.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: Police expand search for missing mom

  1. Closed captioning of: Police expand search for missing mom

    >>> on a cold, winter day back in 2009 that susan powell sl vanished from her home in utah. her husband said he took their two young children on a camping trip and when they returned home she was gone. the case has gone cold for months until now. nbc's miguel almaguer is here with more on that.

    >> amy , good morning to you. it's been two years since susan powell was last seen alive. but detectives insist the case hasn't gone cold. in fact, now, armed with new information from a search warrant , they've returned to a remote area hoping investigators get the break they need. from the skies above the back country of ely, nevada, to the grounds where investigators combed through steep, rugged terrain, the search for missing mom susan powell , winds through forgotten dirt roads, focusing on hundreds of abandoned mine shafts, that pock mark this unforgiving landscape.

    >> they were able to clear numerous mines and they were able to document and photograph each and every single one of those that they were able to clear.

    >> reporter: though police wouldn't discuss the new clues that brought them here, they did not appear to be looking for anyone that could be alive. this is a place where human bodies have been found before.

    >> but you can be walking alonged edge, and you want to peer over, the ground will go out right from underneath your feet.

    >> reporter: the search for susan comes 235 miles away from the utah home where she disappeared. december, 2009 . on a frigid winter day, josh powell , susan 's husband, tells police he loaded up the family van for a camping trip . it was 12:30 a.m ., in a snowstorm, when josh says he took their boys camping. police believe he was the last person to see susan alive. investigators soon named josh a person of interest . even said he stopped cooperating with police. it's a claim josh has always denied. a husband who was never charged in this case.

    >> luckily, the police have a credible lead. i can't say that -- i can't that doesn't cross my mind, that this will be vindication, as well.

    >> reporter: josh suspects susan ran away with another man. not so, says susan 's father. he believes susan would never leave her children, and says friday's search has done little to help close his daughter's case.

    >> we have no idea what possibly connection that she could have to ely, nevada.

    >> reporter: a missing mom, gone two years. a search that has taken investigators to the middle of the nevada desert . investigators say they're working credible leads, but have shared no information with susan 's family. amy ?

    >> all right, miguel , thank you. clint van zandt is an nbc analyst and former profiler for the fbi. good morning, clint .

    >> hi, amy . good morning.

    >> and we know that the case has been going on for two years now, and there's been so few developments along the way. what do you make of this potentially new break in the case?

    >> well, i think there is, perhaps, two reasons that they're looking. number one, amy , right after susan went missing, her 4-year-old son is alleged to have said, mommy's looking for crystals in the mine. and then a law enforcement came up with a friend of josh powell 's who at a christmas party allegedly said, in a conversation with josh, josh told him, if you want to get rid of a human being or a body, you drop them in a mine. if you take those two things together, i think that gives law enforcement another reason to be looking in areas like this.

    >> and we should mention, susan 's husband josh still remains a person of interest in the case. the only person of interest in the case. what does this search, and we should mention this is 200 miles away from their home in salt lake city , mean for his potential role in her disappearance?

    >> well, i think law enforcement , amy , is going to have to look at the time line . we know, as miguel reported, he left the house at 12:30 at night. then he gets back the next day and reports susan missing when he allegedly can't find her in the house. i think you have to lay out the time line and say, is that consistent? can we show him gone for that many hours? and would he have had the time to have driven these 200-plus miles, you know, one way and another, come back again, and make the report. if that fits, he's still a person of interest . if it doesn't, law enforcement still has to consider who else might be a suspect in her disappearance.

    >> and speaking to that, josh powell has always said from the beginning he believes susan ran away with a boyfriend. and when they asked him about the search on friday, josh said he feels this could finally vindicate him. is that theory that susan ran away still on the table?

    >> well, i think the challenge is, she's a young mother. she had a 2-year-old, a 4-year-old. i think that behavior would be inconsistent. although, there is a plan who went missing around this same time who's not been accounted for. some have suggested, perhaps, the two of them have run off. but, amy , you know, this starts to sound like the drew peterson , you know the police sergeant whose wife stacy disappeared. he also said she ran off with another woman. i'm not sure that everybody's running off like this.

    >> all right, clint van zandt , we always appreciate it. thank you.


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