Episode 021: Suzanne Morphew

December 13, 2021

When a Colorado mother goes out for a bike ride and never returns, the investigation into her disappearance uncovers secrets no one expected.

Episode Media
Suzanne Moorman Morphew (Facebook)
Barry and Suzanne Morphew (Facebook)
Search area where Suzanne allegedly went missing (Google Maps)
Episode Sources
Episode Transcript

Welcome back to Bite-Sized Crime. This week I’m bringing you a case of a missing woman whose picture-perfect life turned out to be anything but. This episode discusses sensitive topics, so listener discretion is advised.

Suzanne and Barry Morphew lived in the tiny town of Maysville, Colorado. Originally from Indiana, the couple and their two teenage daughters moved to Colorado in 2018 where they took advantage of the beautiful scenery and abundance of hiking trails.

Barry and Suzanne were well-respected members of the small community, and they were active in their church. Barry worked as a landscaper and was a volunteer firefighter with the Chaffee County Fire Protection District. 

Suzanne, a former middle school teacher, was recovering from her second battle with Hodgkins Lymphoma. She completed her chemotherapy treatments in October of 2019, and she was slowly building back her strength. Suzanne was an avid cyclist, and she loved taking her bike out early in the morning. It was her opportunity to get some alone time and clear her head.

On Sunday, May 10, 2020, Suzanne’s daughters, who were camping that weekend, tried to call their mother to wish her a happy Mother’s Day. But Suzanne didn’t answer her phone or respond to their texts, which was unusual for her. When they couldn’t reach her after multiple attempts, they called a neighbor and asked her to check on Suzanne.

The neighbor discovered that although Suzanne’s car was in the driveway, no one was answering the door. The neighbor called Barry and let him know that Suzanne wasn’t responding to calls or texts. Barry told her that he was in Denver on a job and asked her to check if Suzanne’s bike was in its usual spot – it wasn’t. 

Perhaps Suzanne had just gone out for a bike ride, but it was getting late in the day, and it wasn’t like Suzanne to be gone for that long. Around 6pm, the neighbor called the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office and reported Suzanne missing.

Responding officers talked to the neighbor and began setting up an area search. The Morphew’s house was just a few miles away from the Colorado Trail, a popular spot for hikers and cyclists.

The sheriff’s office requested help from the Chaffee County Search and Rescue and the Department of Corrections, who responded to the scene with search equipment and tracking dogs. Teams searched well into the night, hoping for any sign of Suzanne. But the only thing they found was her bike at the bottom of a ravine.

By this time, Barry had made the three-hour drive home from his job site in Denver. He told investigators that he had last seen Suzanne that morning around 5am; he had left her asleep in bed, not wanting to wake her as he left for work. He had texted her later that morning, but when she hadn’t responded, he assumed she had gone on a bike ride. It wasn’t until his neighbor called that he realized something was wrong and immediately left Denver for home.

Search teams continued to look for Suzanne, but after several days, they called in reinforcements from the FBI and the Colorado Bureau of Investigations. A tip line was set up, and Sheriff John Spezze asked the public to call with any information. He also asked residents to preserve any video footage they may have from their home security cameras. He told reporters that it was an open investigation, and that they were doing all they could to find Suzanne.

Barry was distraught over his wife’s disappearance. He announced a $200,000 reward for any information – no questions asked. On May 17th, he posted an emotional video to Facebook, saying, “Suzanne, if anyone is out there and can hear this, that has you, please, we’ll do whatever it takes to bring you back. We love you, we miss you, your girls need you. No questions asked, however much they want – I will do whatever it takes to get you back. Honey, I love you, I want you back so bad.”

Two days later, the CBI cordoned off the Morphew’s home, stating that it was being held as part of the investigation. Sheriff Spezze said it was just one of many areas of focus at the time, and that it wasn’t unusual for a missing persons investigation to start at the victim’s home. 

On May 22nd, investigators turned their attention to a residential property along the river where Barry had recently been doing construction work. The owner of the property had hired Barry to lay dirt and concrete; now, search teams were using forklifts, K-9 units, and ground penetrating radar to examine every inch. 

News helicopters flew overhead, desperate for any glimpse of law enforcement activity. But investigators were tight-lipped, protecting whatever information they had. After a three-day search, all they would say was that they were unable to connect the construction site to Suzanne’s case.

As the weeks passed, updates from law enforcement became less frequent. A spokesperson with the CBI told reporters that the case was still a high priority. “You may not see a news release on a daily basis but that doesn’t mean that extensive work isn’t happening on a daily basis… Countless hours every day by agents and analysts and investigators to determine where Suzanne is and what happened.”

In early July, investigators searched the Morphew home again. But again, all they would say was that the case was still active and they couldn’t rule out any scenario.

Meanwhile, Barry was taking a beating in the press. He had been largely silent in the months since Suzanne had vanished, and rumors were flying. Suzanne’s family, although not outright accusing him, had indicated that Barry was holding back information.

Finally, in August, Barry gave a phone interview to a local news station, his first time speaking out since the May 17th Facebook video. In the interview, he said that the biased news coverage of Suzanne’s case had made him into a villain, and he had decided to stay silent because of it. He insisted that he had nothing to hide, that he had answered every question thrown at him by investigators. But he knew that the public didn’t believe him. “People don’t know the truth, so they’re gonna think what they’re gonna think.”

Barry also discussed his frustration with the investigation. “The Sheriff’s Department screwed this whole thing up from the beginning and now they are trying to cover it up and blame it on me.” He accused investigators of destroying evidence and trying to frame him.

In early September, there was a new twist in the case. A man who worked with Barry on Mother’s Day weekend gave an interview to a local news outlet, alleging some strange behavior on the day Suzanne disappeared. Jeffrey Puckett told reporters that Barry had hired him for the job in Denver, which involved fixing a damaged wall from a previous build. He said that when he arrived at the motel Barry had booked for the crew, the room reeked of chlorine. It looked like Barry had already been in there, like he had laid on the bed after taking a shower. Jeffrey also found a piece of mail addressed to Barry in the room’s trash can. He didn’t know what to make of it, other than it seemed like Barry was trying to set up an alibi.

But when Barry responded to Jeffrey’s claims, he didn’t deny that the room smelled like chlorine. He said that he had noticed the smell too, and that he had assumed the cleaning staff had used chlorine-based chemicals to sanitize the room. They hadn’t been in the room long, spending most of the day at the job site, and then he had left the minute he heard that Suzanne was missing. “I did nothing wrong in the hotel. There’s cameras all over the hotel, I did nothing wrong.”

Even though investigators were keeping things close to the vest, Suzanne’s family was not. Her brother, Andrew Moorman, had organized an investigation of his own, gathering dozens of volunteers from both Colorado and Indiana to search the mountainous area where Suzanne had vanished. Over a period of six days, they found multiple items that Andrew believed were connected to Suzanne’s case. There were also rumors that cadaver dogs had hit on an area of the Morphew’s property. Law enforcement followed up on each lead, but unfortunately, nothing panned out. Disappointed and heartbroken, Andrew headed back to Indiana.

And for a while, that was it. Vigils were held and flyers were hung, but the only new information coming out of the investigation was from the occasional Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office press release, shutting down rumors and reiterating that the case was still active. 

It wasn’t until May of 2021, a year after Suzanne’s disappearance, that investigators dropped the bomb.

Barry Morphew was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.

Over multiple court hearings, the evidence investigators had collected over the past year was revealed, and a detailed timeline of Suzanne’s disappearance was laid out.

According to court documents, Suzanne and Barry’s marriage was far from perfect. Suzanne told friends that Barry was a controlling narcissist, a bully who treated her and his daughters as objects. She began secretly tracking his abusive behavior in the notes on her phone, which included Barry stalking her and threatening her with a gun. Her best friend Sheila gave her a spy pen which she used to record arguments between herself and Barry. 

Suzanne had suspected Barry of cheating on her for years, and in 2018, she started an affair of her own with an old friend from Indiana named Jeff Libler. At first, Suzanne had managed to keep the affair a secret, but after two years, Barry was starting to suspect. He was becoming increasingly paranoid, and he had started to go through her phone.

By March of 2020, Suzanne was ready to get out. But when she mentioned divorce to Barry, he begged her for another chance, making her feel guilty for leaving. Suzanne later texted Sheila, saying, “I’m so torn. But in my heart, I know who he is.”

On May 6th, Suzanne finally told Barry it was over. A recovered text message from her phone says, “I’m done. I could care less what you’re up to and have been for years. We just need to figure this out civilly.”

Three days later, all communication from Suzanne stopped. 

On Saturday, May 9th, Suzanne and Sheila were messaging each other on Snapchat, when Suzanne suddenly stopped replying. She had also been messaging Jeff on LinkedIn; she sent him a photo of herself lying by the pool before telling him she was switching over to WhatsApp at 2:11pm. After that, nothing.

From here, things get… interesting. Barry claimed that he was at the riverfront job site until 2:30 on Saturday, when he texted Suzanne that he was on his way home. He said that he and Suzanne then had a nice evening together, “one of the best nights we’ve had in a while, actually.” He told investigators that they had sex and went to bed around 8pm. His alarm went off at 4:30am and he was out the door and on his way to Denver by 5.

But data from Barry’s cell phone and truck tell a different story. 

At 2:43pm, Barry’s phone shows him arriving at home. At 2:47pm, the phone goes into airplane mode. Seven hours later, the airplane mode was turned off at 10:17pm. From then until 4:30am, Barry’s phone registers 210 locations near the house – on a normal night, it would only register 1. Around midnight, GPS showed his phone near the river behind the house. He told detectives that he was looking for a turkey that their daughter had shot a while back.

At 3:25am, an hour before Barry’s alarm went off, data from his truck’s computer system showed the doors being opened and shut. The truck and cell phone then began traveling towards the area where Suzanne’s bike was later found.

But Barry’s travels didn’t stop there. On his way to Denver, Barry stopped at six different locations to throw away items from his truck. Surveillance video from a McDonald’s shows him pushing his trash down into a bin with both hands, and hotel surveillance shows him throwing two large trash bags into the hotel dumpster. In between trash runs, Barry took his truck to a car wash.

In addition to the cell phone and truck data, the arrest affidavit laid out physical evidence recovered from the Morphew home.

During a search of the house on May 19, deputies recovered the cap of a tranquilizer dart from the laundry room, mixed in with bedsheets from the dryer. Accessories for a tranquilizer gun were also recovered. In the bedroom, a deputy discovered an unused round from a .22-caliber gun next to Suzanne’s bed. 

In the woods, Suzanne’s bike lay at the bottom of a ravine, unscratched and unbent, no indication of a crash, no skid marks or flattened vegetation. The deputy at the scene said, “It looked as if the bike was purposefully thrown in this location.” 

Barry himself also had evidence in the form of deep scratches on his arms, which deputies photographed just days after Suzanne disappeared. 

There are over 130 pages of evidence, interviews, and photographs in the unsealed arrest affidavit, detailing how investigators put together the case against Barry Morphew. The full document is linked on the podcast website if you’d like to do a deep dive, but be forewarned – the details of Suzanne’s life and death are upsetting. 

To me, the most chilling part is in the summary at the end. Barry blames everything and everyone for Suzanne’s death, from mountain lions to the life-saving chemo she endured. He even blames Suzanne herself, her “distant unlovingness” towards him. Finally, he blames God, saying that her death was a form of judgement against her, that God allowed this to happen because of her affair. Barry takes no responsibility upon himself.

Barry Morphew has been charged with first-degree murder, tampering with a human body, tampering with physical evidence, possession of a dangerous weapon, and attempting to influence a public servant. His next evidentiary hearing is scheduled for December 14th, with his murder trial set to begin in May of 2022.

As of this recording, Suzanne Morphew’s body has not been found. Her family is desperate for answers, and they deserve closure. If you have any information about Suzanne’s case, please contact the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office at 719-539-2596.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or text START to 88788. Help is available 24/7 – it is free and confidential.

Case Updates

Updated January 2023 – As Barry Morphew’s trial was about to begin in May of 2022, the district attorney’s office filed a motion to dismiss the case so that they could have more time to search for Suzanne’s body. According to the court documents, the district attorney’s office believed that they were “close to locating the deceased victim’s body.” The judge dismissed the case without prejudice, which means that prosecutors could still file charges against Barry in the future.

After the case was dismissed, Barry requested that the property seized by police during the investigation be returned to him, but his request was denied; the judge ruled that the property was still considered evidence. However, despite avoiding murder charges, Barry has not managed to stay out of hot water. He is currently on probation after pleading guilty to forgery for using Suzanne’s name to fraudulently vote for Donald Trump in the 2020 election, six months after his wife disappeared. He was sentenced to a year of probation and 32 hours of community service.

Updated February 2024 – On September 22, 2023, a search team from an unrelated investigation stumbled upon human remains in a shallow grave in the desert of Saguache County, 45 miles south of the Morphew home in Maysville and the opposite direction from where Suzanne’s bike was found. Dental records were used to confirm that the remains indeed belonged to Suzanne.

In a statement to the press, Suzanne’s family thanked the detectives and search teams who assisted with the investigation. “Over the last three years, countless hours have been spent looking for Suzanne by a determined group who have never given up hope that she would be found. The memories of her gentle spirit and wonderful smile have been a constant presence since her disappearance to all who knew and loved her… We look forward to finding long-awaited justice for Suzanne in the successful prosecutions of those involved in her disappearance.”

Prosecutors have not refiled any charges against Barry Morphew, nor have charges been filed against any other potential suspects. If you have any information about Suzanne’s case, please contact the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office at 719-539-2596.