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FILE - This undated picture made available by Hardman Photography shows missing Utah woman Susan Powell.

Anonymous, Associated Press - Ap

The faces of Braden and Charlie Powell are light by candle light during a memorial at Life Center Church in Tacoma, Washington, on Saturday, February 11, 2012. Braden, 5, and Charlie, 7, were killed by their father, Josh Powell, February 5, 2012.

Lui Kit Wong, MCT

Steven Powell, the father-in-law of missing Utah woman Susan Powell, appears in Pierce County courtroom, Friday, Sept. 23, 2011, in Tacoma, Wash. Powell was convicted on 14 counts of voyeurism after police found in his home large numbers of suggestive pictures of two young neighbor girls.

Ted S. Warren, Associated Press - Ap

Minneapolis suicide linked to case of Utah woman's disappearance

  • Article by: KIM MURPHY
  • Los Angeles Times
  • February 13, 2013 - 9:06 PM

Michael Powell, a University of Minnesota graduate student, jumped to his death from a downtown Minneapolis parking ramp this week, concluding the latest twist in an operatic family tragedy.

Powell's brother, Josh, had killed his two young sons and committed suicide one year earlier, locking a social worker out of his home in Washington state, attacking the boys with a hatchet and setting fire to the house.

Josh Powell also had been the prime suspect in the disappearance of his wife, Susan Cox Powell, who vanished in Utah in 2009. The sensational case took an even more bizarre turn as his father, Steve Powell, went on national television and claimed he and Susan had been falling in love. He's now serving a prison term for his conviction in Washington on 14 counts of voyeurism after police found in his home large numbers of suggestive pictures of two young neighbor girls. Photographs of Susan Powell, some apparently taken surreptitiously while she undressed, also were found in her father-in-law's possession.

Michael Powell, a doctoral student in cognitive science, had been engaged in a legal battle with the parents of his missing sister-in-law over the proceeds of as much as $3.5 million in life insurance.

Josh Powell had designated his brother Michael and his sister Alina as beneficiaries on the life insurance policies in October 2011, four months before he died.

Michael and Alina Powell tried to collect on the policies after their brother's death, but Susan Powell's parents, Chuck and Judy Cox, moved to block the distribution.

Susan Powell's parents have long believed their son-in-law was involved in their daughter's disappearance.

"The authorities believe Susan is dead, that Josh Powell killed her and her children," the Coxes' attorney, Anne Bremner, wrote in a declaration filed with the court in July. "They further believe that one of Josh Powell's motives for murder was to collect the life insurance policies."

Michael Powell had ardently defended his brother and started a website before the fatal fire, accusing the police of harassing his brother and alleging that the Coxes were not properly caring for the Powell children, then 7 and 5, after they had been removed from Josh Powell's custody.

In a long statement posted about the case, Michael Powell said the police were guilty of "malice" and "incompetence" and failed to pursue other leads that might have explained Susan Powell's disappearance.

The website was taken down not long after its launch and Michael Powell had not been heard from publicly since Josh Powell and his sons died.

On Monday afternoon, Michael Powell, 30, jumped from a seven-story parking ramp in downtown Minneapolis, plunging to the pavement near the intersection of 7th Street and Fifth Avenue S. The Hennepin County medical examiner ruled the death a suicide.

According to the University of Minnesota website, Powell had received a bachelor's degree in international sciences/Asia from the University of Washington and was a graduate of the Defense Language Institute's Korean language program.

He was studying acquisition of structured information, such as language using neuroimaging techniques.

Staff writer Mary Lynn Smith contributed to this report.

© 2014 Star Tribune