KSL reporter Dave Cawley gives ‘voice to the vanished’

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KSL reporter Dave Cawley hosts the investigative podcast “Cold.” (Graphic courtesy of Dave Cawley)

Dave Cawley remembered exactly what he was doing when he heard the news.

“I was changing jobs when this horrible cataclysmic event took place in Washington State,” Cawley said.

The event Cawley referred to was the unresolved conclusion of the Susan Powell case. Susan went missing on Dec. 6, 2009. Two years later on Feb. 5, 2012, Susan’s husband Joshua Powell killed their children and himself.

Susan has never been found.

The state of Utah is home to more than 400 unsolved murders, disappearances and unidentified bodies. In an effort to dig into some of the biggest unsolved cold cases, Dave Cawley launched an investigative podcast titled “Cold.”

Journalism beginnings

Cawley joined KSL in 2012 with nearly 10 years of work as a journalist under his belt. He graduated from the University of Utah’s Department of Communication in 2003. Cawley began his transition into investigative journalism in 2013 when the 2009 Susan Powell case went cold.

“When Susan’s case went cold in 2013, the West Valley City Police Department released the redacted copy of their entire case file,” Cawley said. “It had tens of thousands of pages of documentation.”

Cawley began digging into the file. His main focus was to look for anything previously undisclosed or unfollowed. However, he still had his regular reporting to cover.

“Gradually over the next couple of years from 2013 to about 2017, I was working on that in the background,” Cawley said.

Cawley compiled interviews, journal entries, records and other sources to create a collection well beyond the scope of a traditional news story. It was then that KSL decided to have Cawley put all of his investigative reporting efforts into a podcast.

“The world was changed by technology and continues to be changed by technology in the way that we do journalism and we share stories,” Cawley said. He cited this as being one of the reasons for creating the “Cold” podcast.

The findings

However, making a podcast isn’t easy, Cawley said. For “Cold,” Cawley shared his findings mixed in with interviews, original recordings and other features to make an engaging and informative podcast.

BYU student Jackie Durfey agreed podcasts need to be engaging, saying she finds true crime podcasts to be entertaining while bringing important issues like domestic violence, racism and poverty to light.

Some of Cawley’s investigations went beyond interviews. Cawley recounted a handwritten legal pad with a redacted name from the police department in West Valley. However, the name had been written in cursive. Cawley was able to deduce the letters from loops above and below the redacted section. This led him to a potential source who was in prison.

“Clearly, the justice system had broken down in this case,” Cawley said. “We still don’t know where Susan is. We still can’t say specifically what happened to her, and the people who are most likely responsible were never held accountable for it.”

As Cawley investigated Susan’s case, he made a disturbing discovery.

“We consulted with the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition because that investigation and research had turned up some real stunning indicators of domestic violence in this relationship that really hadn’t been talked about before,” Cawley said.

Chilling comparisons

Cawley said working with this coalition brought depth and understanding to Susan’s case and presented red flags in other cold cases.

“What kind of became the bigger focus for me as time went on was seeing that this specific story was a really powerful example of some of the red flags of domestic abuse, especially when it’s not overt, physical domestic abuse,” Cawley said.

The first season of “Cold” covered Powell’s case. The second season of the podcast followed the story of Joyce Yost, who was sexually assaulted by Douglas Lovell in 1985. She then disappeared just 10 days before she was set to testify against Lovell in his trial.

Cawley noticed that both cases, although different in time periods and outcomes, had similar characteristics.

“The kind of narcissistic manipulative behaviors that were revealed in ‘Cold’ Season 1 about the way Josh Powell was controlling, how he manipulated the people around him and how he refused to tell the truth to law enforcement are things similar to the kinds of behaviors in ‘Cold’ Season 2,” Cawley said.

Utah Domestic Violence Coalition spokesperson Liz Sollis clarified the definition of domestic violence.

“Sometimes if people aren’t being physically abused then they think, ‘Well, I’m not a victim of domestic violence,’” Sollis said. “And that’s not true. Even gaslighting is abuse. Again, it’s not physical violence. It’s not sexual violence, but it’s a way to manipulate and exert power and control.”

Lovell received a death sentence but appealed the decision in 2010. The jury upheld the death penalty in 2015. Lovell’s second appeal awaits the Utah Supreme Court.

Goals for “Cold”

For Cawley, the most difficult part of the podcast-making process was the interviews as it forced his sources to relive the worst days of their lives.

However, Cawley said he sees the good that has come out of his efforts with “Cold.”

Dave Cawley discusses the rewards of investigative journalism. He has been able to link information together to uncover stories. (Abby Tanner)

“For the podcast to highlight Joyce’s story gives her a voice that she never had an opportunity to share, and then also to talk not only about domestic violence, but in Joyce’s case, about sexual assault and how we publicly talk about victims of sexual assault,” Cawley said.

One of Cawley’s goals with “Cold” is to drive meaningful conversations about topics like domestic abuse and sexual assault. He offered advice for helping victims of domestic abuse.

“There’s no ‘one size fits all’ to dealing with abuse in an interpersonal relationship,” Cawley said. “Be willing to hear somebody who is relating with this deeply emotional, stigmatizing experience of being victimized by somebody who’s supposed to love them, and let them know that they are heard and not judged.”

Sollis also offered additional helpful measures for those dealing with domestic violence and abuse.

“Stay close with your loved ones who are in an abusive relationship,” Sollis said. “Again, one of the main things an abuser does is reduce that contact, so staying connected is important.”

Sollis recommended calling the coalition’s trained advocates at 800-897-LINK for additional support and resources or visiting the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition website.

Both Sollis and Cawley said education, awareness and empathy were vital in helping prevent domestic violence and support victims. “I have learned that there’s great power in calling it out for what it is and also for listening to survivors when they tell their stories, listening from a position of belief,” Cawley said.

Cawley considered four different stories to follow up “Cold” Season 1 before settling on investigating Yost’s case as Season 2. He hopes to at least have one more season in the future.

“I personally am very interested in seeing the ‘Cold’ podcast continue to be a platform that gives voice to the vanished,” Cawley said.

In Cawley’s mind, the purpose of “Cold” is to bring answers to unanswered questions while also preventing domestic abuse.

“The most important thing is that there’s somebody out there who I will never meet who listens to that podcast, and it changes their life in a meaningful way,” Cawley said.

Visit the “Cold” website for information about the podcast, Cawley and the disappearances of Susan Powell and Joyce Yost.

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