Crucial evidence from Utah showed more than 400 images retrieved from computers seized at Josh Powell's Utah home had bizarre, computer-generated images of child pornography, and that led Child Protective Services (CPS) to ask for a full psychosexual evaluation of Powell.

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Josh Powell spent January peppering state Child Protective Services officials about everything from a proposed guest list to his son’s 7th birthday party to information about his kids’ health-care coverage. But those social workers, as well as police, were impatiently waiting for crucial evidence from Utah to determine if he was a fit parent.

The evidence — more than 400 images retrieved from computers Utah police seized at Powell’s home — arrived during the late January snowstorm, and were so rife with bizarre, computer-generated images of child pornography that Child Protective Services (CPS) quickly asked for a full psychosexual evaluation of Powell.

Those images included cartoon depictions of incest and group sex involving children. Dennis the Menace is featured in some, according to more than 900 pages in a file the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) released Friday under a public-records request.

Until the images arrived, child-welfare officials had cautiously backed visitation between Powell and his sons, Charlie, 7, and Braden, 5, despite Powell’s status as a person of interest in his wife’s December 2009 disappearance.

But the pornography, not murder suspicions, led a state-paid psychologist to write on Jan. 31 that CPS needed more information to weigh Powell’s parenting.

“Given the gaps of information about Mr. Powell there seems reason to conclude he may not presently be a stable and appropriate resource for his children,” wrote Tacoma psychologist James Manley.

On Feb. 5, less than a week later, during a state-supervised visit with his boys, Powell attacked his sons with a hatchet before igniting a gasoline-fueled fire in his rental home in Graham. All three died.

In messages left moments before the fire, Powell indicated he believed he was going to lose custody of his children and could not face that reality.

Images found in 2009

The graphic images were apparently seized from Powell’s computers in 2009, and it is unclear why they were not immediately disclosed to police in Pierce County, where Powell moved weeks after his wife disappeared, or to CPS.

By the time the images were released to Pierce County sheriff’s investigators this winter, there were nearly 400 drawings and photographs featuring sexual themes involving popular cartoon characters like the Flintstones, Captain America, SpongeBob SquarePants and the Simpsons, as well as images of apparent child and parent incest, according to DSHS filings.

Manley, in his report, said Powell only admitted to visiting pornography sites showing models over the age of 18.

“My recommendation is that more information be gathered related to Mr. Powell. As noted, the reviewed images indicate someone’s fantasy-laden view of having sex with children,” Manley wrote. “This is not a healthy parenting perception.”

The boys were removed from Josh Powell’s custody Sept. 22, the same day Powell’s father, Steven Powell, with whom the three were living, was arrested and charged with voyeurism and possessing child pornography. A month earlier, police investigating Susan Powell’s case seized 15 computers from Josh Powell’s Pierce County home.

Temporary custody of the children was awarded by a judge to Susan Powell’s parents, Chuck and Judy Cox, of Puyallup.

Sexually graphic images

The DSHS case file shows that the state took custody of the boys out of concern for Powell’s ability to shield his children from sexually graphic images.

The day police arrested Steven Powell, a CPS social worker noted that hanging on the wall of the home was an image of a woman being raped. Questioned by CPS, Josh Powell said he enjoyed taking photographs of the legs of random people in the park.

After less than a week in foster care, DSHS placed the Powell boys with their maternal grandparents. Josh Powell vehemently opposed it, citing the grandparents’ public statements implicating him in Susan Powell’s disappearance.

Powell’s twice-weekly visits with his boys were supervised by a state-paid observer. In the observer’s notes, Powell appears as a Mary Poppins character, cheerful, patient and eager to play games and make crafts with his boys. There is little hint of anger or violence.

“The children are affectionate with Dad and frequently hug him and stand close to him,” according to the notes of a Jan. 29 visit.

At the end of the visit, “he told them he loved them and would see them as soon as he could,” the worker wrote. That was the last documented visit before Powell killed his sons.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @SeattleSullivan.

Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or jmartin@seattletimes.com