The summer after Susan Powell disappeared, her father said, her young son Braden drew a picture at day care of a van with three people in it and told caregivers it showed his family going camping: "Mommy's in the trunk," the boy said.
That could strike some as a clue. But was young Braden's statement something that investigators could seize on, or just the ramblings of a toddler, who was then just 2?
Susan Powell went missing in December 2009. Her husband, Josh Powell, claimed the night she vanished he took sons Charlie and Braden from their home in West Valley City, Utah, on a late-night camping trip. Authorities searched the central Utah desert, but found nothing.
When Utah authorities travelled to Washington following the fatal Sunday blaze set by Josh Powell that killed 7-year-old Charlie and 5-year-old Braden, they didn't specifically address what may have been said by the boys. But West Valley, Utah, Police Chief Buzz Nielsen said authorities needed concrete evidence to move forward.
"When you charge on criminal cases, especially if it ends up being a homicide ... without a body, it's just more difficult. You have to have a stronger case to make those arguments in court," Nielsen said Monday. We have circumstantial evidence that I'm not allowed to talk about it ... On a criminal case of this nature you've got one shot, beyond a reasonable doubt in court."
Charlie and Braden Powell were sent to live with Susan Powell's parents after their grandfather Steve Powell was jailed on voyeurism and child porn charges last fall after authorities found explicit images on his computers during a search of his home in the case of his missing daughter-in-law.
Speaking to reporters Monday after the two boys perished, their grandfather Charles Cox said the boys were emotionally distant when they first arrived at their home, but recently had begun to open up. That gave Charles Cox hope that someday they would be able say what happened to their mom.
"They were like little robots. If you asked them about mommy, they would run away," he said. But "in the last week, I could not sit down without them climbing up on my lap."
The boys had not recently made more comments about what may have happened to their mother, Charles Cox said, though he related what Braden said nearly two years ago.
"The four ladies that were supervising that activity said, `well, what's this?' `That's us going camping.' `Who's in the car?' And Braden said, `that's Daddy, that's Charlie, that's me'. Then he said, `well mommy's in the trunk.' Well if Mommy's in the trunk, why is she in the trunk?' He didn't know, he didn't say, I guess. Then, he said we stopped somewhere and mommy and daddy got out and mommy didn't come back."
Nielsen said despite the death of the young boys and Josh Powell, who was a "person of interest" in his wife's disappearance, the probe would continue.
"Our case is not closed," the police chief said.
Associated Press Writer Gene Johnson contributed to this report