SALIDA, Colo. — The deeply troubled marriage of Barry and Suzanne Morphew took center stage this week as the Colorado husband and father appeared in court in connection with his wife’s Mother’s Day 2020 disappearance.
Investigators with the FBI and the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office testified that Suzanne Morphew, 49, of Salida, had been having a two-year-long affair and was “done” with her marriage. In text messages with a friend, she described Barry Morphew as an abusive and manipulative “Jekyll and Hyde” who pulled their two daughters into the middle of the couple’s arguments.
She also said he used her history as a cancer survivor to intimidate her into staying with him. Suzanne Morphew overcame Hodgkin’s lymphoma multiple times.
“How would you pay for things, like your medical bills for cancer?” Barry Morphew allegedly told his wife.
Morphew, 53, is charged with first-degree murder, tampering with physical evidence and attempting to influence a public servant, according to court records. He was arrested on May 5, 360 days after his wife went missing.
Suzanne Morphew’s body has yet to be found.
Details of the case came out for the first time Monday, as Barry Morphew’s preliminary hearing began in a Chaffee County courtroom. A judge has kept Morphew’s 130-page arrest warrant affidavit sealed, despite opposition from multiple media outlets.
District Judge Patrick Murphy wrote that he was concerned about the amount of information contained in the document, which he described as “the lengthiest and most detailed affidavit the court has ever seen in almost 30 years of experience with criminal cases.” He ruled that it would be time-consuming to redact such a lengthy document for public view.
Murphy was also concerned about protecting the couple’s two daughters, Mallory and Macy Morphew, from harassment and undue pain. Both girls were out of town when their mother disappeared.
“These young women are in an unimaginable situation and should be given time to process what has occurred and the time to review, or decide not to review, the evidence alleged against their father,” the judge wrote.
The preliminary hearing, which is expected to last four days, continued Tuesday and is scheduled to resume later this month.
A mysterious Mother’s Day disappearance
Suzanne Morphew was reported missing by a neighbor May 10, 2020, after she reportedly failed to return from a bicycle ride. Mallory Morphew reached out to the neighbor after she couldn’t reach her mother, according to a Twitter feed from Colorado Springs reporter Lauren Scharf, who attended the hearing.
Mallory Morphew was hoping to wish her mother a happy Mother’s Day.
Suzanne Morphew’s abandoned bike was found a short time later, in the brush of a steep slope less than a half-mile from the family’s home on Puma Path near Salida.
Scharf’s station, Fox 21 in Colorado Springs, reported that body-worn camera footage shown in court Monday showed the moment deputies found the bike. Investigators said the bike was undamaged, and the scene had no blood, skid marks or signs of a struggle.
The Morphews’ daughters cried and held hands while watching the bodycam footage, the news station said.
“The deputy…moved the bike off the hillside and laid the bike back down,” Scharf tweeted. “Deputies are chatting on the video about how close the bike is to the house. They are also talking about scenarios as to what might have happened.”
Barry Morphew was heard on the video telling deputies he feared “someone picking her up,” ABC News reported. He also pondered if a mountain lion had grabbed his wife.
Suzanne Morphew’s bike helmet was discovered May 14, about a mile from where her bike had been found. Like the bike, the helmet had no damage or blood on it, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette.
Authorities never found blood at the couple’s home either, Scharf tweeted.
ABC News reported that Barry Morphew, in early interviews with authorities, described his wife of 32 years as his “angel.” The couple “love(d) each other to death,” Morphew told detectives.
Further investigation into Suzanne Morphew’s disappearance suggested otherwise.
A ‘spy pen’ and revealing text messages
Alex Walker, a commander with the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office, testified Monday that prior to her disappearance, Suzanne Morphew suspected her husband was having an affair.
Investigators searching for Suzanne Morphew found no evidence of an affair on Barry Morphew’s part. The pen did reveal, however, that Suzanne had been having an affair of her own for about two years.
FBI Special Agent Ken Harris testified that the lovers had spent hundreds of hours communicating through secret phone calls, WhatsApp and LinkedIn, ABC News reported.
Jeff Libler, Suzanne Morphew’s boyfriend, did not come forward when she disappeared, Harris said. When detectives tracked the married father of six down in Michigan, he admitted to the long-distance affair.
Though he denied knowledge of the affair, detectives believe that Barry Morphew learned of his wife’s infidelity and killed her in a rage, according to ABC News.
Suzanne Morphew’s final text message was to Libler, whom she’d known since high school in Alexandria, Indiana. The network reported that she was at her home, sunbathing, on Saturday, May 9, when she sent the man a photo of herself.
It was the last time he heard from her. She failed to respond to messages on Mother’s Day and the day after, when she was due for a cancer treatment, ABC News reported.
Several months of text messages between Suzanne Morphew and her best friend, Sheila Oliver, offered a glimpse into the breakdown of the Morphew marriage. Harris testified that Suzanne Morphew once told Oliver that Barry had pushed her into a closet.
He also put a gun to his own head during an argument.
“Is this what you want?” Suzanne said her husband had asked.
“He’s not stable,” Suzanne Morphew wrote in another message, according to The Associated Press. “It’s guilt and desperate measures he’s taking. I can’t win with him. He’s too good at the manipulation. I feel stuck.”
Another of the missing woman’s friends, Holly Wilson, told detectives about a conversation she’d had at one point with Barry Morphew in which he’d accused his wife of having sex with another man.
“If I find him, I will shoot off his balls and shove them down his throat,” Morphew allegedly said, according to Harris.
Suzanne Morphew had told her friend she wanted to marry Libler. She was trying to remain in her marriage until both of her daughters were out of the house.
Days before she vanished, she sent her husband a text stating that the marriage was over.
“I’m done. I could care less what you’ve been up to for years. We just need to figure this out civilly,” she texted her husband on May 8, according to ABC News.
That same day, the couple was fighting about money, according to text records. By that afternoon, Barry Morphew was making suicidal statements.
“I promise you are wrong about all the crazy thoughts about me,” he texted that afternoon. “Only a fool would stray from an angel like you. When I’m dead, which won’t be long, you guys will be taken care of.”
Where is Suzanne?
Barry Morphew told authorities he left for work around 5 a.m. the Sunday his wife vanished. According to the sealed affidavit, which came up several times in court, data from Morphew’s truck indicates that, “from 2:47 p.m. May 9 until 5:37 a.m. May 10, he took steps to dispose of evidence of Suzanne’s disappearance and death.”
Former FBI Special Agent Jonathan Grusing testified Tuesday that data from his cellphone also poked holes in Barry Morphew’s alibi. The data shows that he drove home at 2:44 p.m. on May 9, ABC News reported.
A few minutes later, Morphew’s phone went into “airplane mode” and stayed that way for seven hours, Grusing said. A phone in airplane mode does not communicate with cell towers, which can pinpoint the phone’s location.
Shortly after 5:30 a.m. on May 10, Morphew’s phone indicated he drove three hours away to Broomfield, where he told investigators he was working on a construction project.
In Broomfield, his truck data, which includes GPS and sensors, indicated he made five “trash runs,” Grusing testified, according to the Denver Post. The first stop was at a bus station trash can.
Morphew then disposed of trash behind a Holiday Inn, where he checked in and changed his shirt, Grusing testified. He then went to a McDonald’s and a Men’s Wearhouse.
He spent about 40 minutes in the clothing store parking lot, the Post reported.
That afternoon, Morphew was back at the hotel, where he was seen dumping a large trash bag, a camouflage jacket and what appeared to be an empty tree planter.
The sensors on his truck indicated the driver’s side and passenger’s side doors opened at each stop, according to Grusing.
Morphew initially told detectives he threw out some food wrappers at one location. He later said he couldn’t remember what he’d tossed, the Post said.
Morphew’s truck was used again shortly before 4 a.m. the day his wife disappeared. His cellphone data indicated he went to the area where Suzanne Morphew’s bike was later found.
Grusing conceded, however, that the phone data was inconclusive because the cell reception is so spotty in the rugged rural area where the couple lived.
The last ping on Suzanne Morphew’s cellphone was at 4:23 a.m., the Post reported. Her phone has never been found.
Barry Morphew told authorities he did not wake his sleeping wife when he left for work around 5 a.m. that day. He also said he was at the job site in Broomfield when he learned from his neighbor that Suzanne was missing.
Surveillance footage from the Holiday Inn showed he was in his hotel room when he got that call, Grusing testified. Morphew spent little time at work the day his wife vanished.
The preliminary hearing will continue Aug. 23.
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