According to the Associated Press (printed in the Washington Post), Josh Powell’s note was…”a farewell to the world after two years of being scrutinized in the media, hammered by police and questioned by judges, prosecutors and social workers, living his life under a microscope since the day his wife vanished.” Really? Life was so hard for him he blew up his two young children? Poor guy.
According to another Associate Press article, writers Brian Skoloff, Gene Johnson, and Mike Baker called the case a “salacious saga of finger-pointing and accusations of sex and lies.” So did the tawdry circumstances lead him to kill his children?
Worse yet, q13fox.com quotes a prosecutor that believes it was the psycho-sexual evaluation that led Powell to murder the kids:
Just last week, the court ordered the boys’ dad, Josh, to undergo a psycho-sexual evaluation.
Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist thinks that may have been what triggered Sunday’s fire.
“Those tests are highly intrusive, highly thorough,” Lindquist said. “They cover a person’s entire life history, sexual history and there’s a polygraph involved. That was a good choice to get at information. Clearly it was something Mr. Powell feared and wasn’t about to go through.”
Are you kidding me?
Apparently, the only adults who recognized that Josh Powell, the only suspect in his wife’s disappearance, was dangerous were Susan Powell’s parents. They feared something like this would happen – if only we allowed fear-based suspicions to be used, we’d avert a lot of murders. At a conference on femicide at John Jay College in New York a few years ago, an expert indicated fear was the best indicator for a woman’s murder. Couldn’t there be a fear test just as there is a psycho-sexual test? Couldn’t we put trust into people’s knowledge of the suspect and their instinct? These murders are not unpredictable.
Nor are they an “extreme anomaly” as Carol Gage was quoted saying in an article (“Powell case raises questions about custody laws”) by John Hollenhorst.
Actually, the Leadership Council on Child Abuse and Interpersonal Violence estimates 58,000 children a year go into unsupervised visitation or sole or joint custody with a physically or sexually abusive parent. Although Powell, the primary suspect in his wife’s disappearance, had supervised visitation, it was at his father’s home — in Washington state (although the children had previously lived in Utah). I’m sure his pro bono lawyer helped him achieve that – quite a feat since many battered women don’t even have legal counsel when they go into court. This is one reason women who allege abuse can lose custody; another is the current climate that stresses contact with both parents. Parental rights shouldn’t – but often enough they do – trump children’s safety, as this case clearly illustrates. For more examples of custody-related homicides like these, the blog Dastardly Dads is one of the few sources keeping track of these tragedies: http://dastardlydads.blogspot.com/ They occur far more often than the media will admit .
Aside from context, headlines should also correctly place the blame and read something like this – Josh Powell, suspect in wife’s disappearance, sets fire to home, kills self, two sons. It should include his name and perhaps his status in the case. It should identify him as the person who set the fire, in an active voice (not “Fire kills husband of missing Utah woman , 2 boys” ). And, he should be identified as the father of the children. I’ve noted several cases of “father absent” headlines on my blog in the past.
The media can help raise awareness of custody-related cases of murder by providing accurate headlines and basic context — and most importantly, by correctly identifying the cause of murder – in this case, a dangerous father with malicious intent.