Evidence in the Suzanne Morphew case
Bizarre clues and evidence in the Colorado mother's disappearance include a spy pen, plastic needle cap, and a chipmunk alibi. "48 Hours" investigates in "The Susanne Morphew Case: Nothing Is What It Seems."
In a dramatic turn of events, on April 19, 2022, just nine days before Barry Morphew was set to stand trial for his wife, Suzanne Morphew's murder, Judge Ramsey Lama granted the DA's motion to dismiss the charges against him, without prejudice, meaning the prosecution can re-file charges in the future.
Morphew, alongside his daughters, walked out of the Fremont County courthouse a free man after all charges against him were dismissed.
Morphew's murder trial, which was moved from Chaffee to Fremont County, Colorado, was scheduled to begin on April 28, 2022.
A 25-year marriage
Suzanne and Barry Morphew grew up in the same hometown of Alexandria, Indiana, and met in high school. Suzanne was popular and well-liked. Barry was a star baseball player who was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays.
The couple, who began dating after Barry graduated high school, married in 1994. Barry started a landscaping business and Suzanne was a schoolteacher before leaving the job to raise their two daughters, Mallory and Macy.
Suzanne and her daughters
According to friends, the Morphews moved from Indiana to a home just outside of Salida, Colorado, to be closer to their older daughter, Mallory, pictured right, who was attending college nearby. But there were also rumors that the move was an attempt at a fresh start for Suzanne and Barry's troubled marriage.
Missing on Mother's Day
Early in the morning on May 10, 2020, Barry left his home just outside of Salida, Colorado, to drive to a job site 150 miles away in Broomfield, Colorado. The couple's daughters, who were away on a camping trip and making their way home, text their mother, wishing her a Happy Mother's Day. She does not respond.
Mallory informs her father that they are unable to reach Suzanne. Barry eventually speaks to one of their neighbors and asks them to check on Suzanne and to see if her mountain bike is at the house. When they find no sign of her or her bike, Barry asks them to call the police.
Instead of heading home immediately, Barry drops off a shovel and some other tools for his co-workers at a hotel where he had booked rooms for them and himself. He begins driving home a few minutes past 6 p.m.
Investigators wonder: staged scene?
This photo taken from police body cam footage shows Suzanne Morphew's mountain bike after being discovered by sheriff's deputies on the side of a cliff off a road near the family home.
No clothing, blood or evidence of a struggle were found near the bike and Suzanne's helmet was discovered about one mile away off the side of Highway 50. Her sunglasses and hydration backpack were found inside her car, leading investigators to surmise the scene may have been staged and that Suzanne never really went for a bike ride that Mother's Day morning.
Mountain bike recovered
Suzanne Morphew's bike after investigators removed it from the cliff. Suzanne was relatively new at mountain biking. A few days after finding her bike, investigators recovered her helmet, roughly a mile away.
An extensive search effort
A scuba diver searches a local waterway as news of Suzanne Morphew's disappearance shook the community and eventually the entire nation.
Local and state authorities along with the FBI, CBI and civilian volunteers conducted a large search effort across vast and rugged terrain.
To this day, Suzanne's body has not been found, and authorities assume she's dead.
Spy pen leads to shocking discovery
Ten days after Suzanne Morphew was reported missing, investigators found this "spy" pen in a walk-in closet in the Morphew's master bedroom.
They learn that Suzanne got the pen, which is voice-activated and records conversations, hoping to catch her husband Barry in an affair. Instead, she inadvertently recorded conversations she had with her secret lover.
It took six months for investigators to identify the man. It turned out, he had a wife and six children in Michigan where he lived. He never came forward on his own after Suzanne vanished and took steps to hide their affair. But once agents came knocking, he cooperated and provided access to his DNA, phone records and passwords for deleted accounts.
Investigators were able to verify his alibi and he was cleared.
Love affair provides clues
On May 9, the day before Mother's Day, records show Suzanne Morphew and her lover messaged each other 59 times leading up to the moment investigators believe Barry Morphew murdered his wife. At one point, Suzanne messaged her lover this selfie, which investigators dubbed her last "proof of life" photo.
Barry, who was out running errands, sent Suzanne a text at 2:26 p.m. telling her he was on his way home. With no response from Suzanne, Barry texts her again, "Did you leave?" and again is met with silence. Investigators believe Barry returned home soon after, killed Suzanne and cleaned up the crime scene.
But if Barry knew nothing about Suzanne's affair, what motive would he have to kill her? One clue may be a deleted text that investigators found on Barry's phone, sent by Suzanne just days before. "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."
Sign of a struggle?
This photo shows a dark, vertical crack along the door frame of the couple's master bedroom.
Investigators showed Barry Morphew a photo of the damaged door frame, explaining the prior owners said it wasn't there when they sold the house to the Morphews. Barry was asked if that was the result of an argument or him being locked out. He said, "I have no idea what that's from."
Investigators believe Barry may have damaged the door as he tried to get to Suzanne after shooting her with a tranquilizer gun.
Cell phone records lead to chipmunk alibi
Cell phone records appear to show Barry Morphew's phone pinging all around the house on May 9. When asked about this unusual phone activity, Barry told investigators he was running around the property shooting chipmunks, which Barry says were a constant nuisance.
However, investigators believe this unusual phone activity could be Barry chasing Suzanne around the house after shooting her with the tranquilizer gun.
This satellite image of the Morphew home shows some of those ping locations from Barry's cell phone.
Digital vehicle forensics reveal suspicious activity
Authorities say Barry Morphew told them he went to bed around 8 p.m. on May 9, but his truck's computer shows the truck, seen here in this evidence photo, was put in reverse and backed up towards the house around 9:30 p.m.
A pivotal piece of evidence?
Investigators discovered this clear plastic needle cap in the Morphew family's dryer.
Prosecutors contend it's an important piece of evidence. They believe that when Barry Morphew arrived home the afternoon of May 9, he went into the garage, took this cap off a syringe used to load a tranquilizer dart, injected the dart with a chemical, and shot Suzanne, though they failed to find a working tranquilizer gun or tranquilizer chemicals in the couple's home.
Barry told investigators he had no idea how the cap got in the dryer, but admitted he was an experienced tranquilizer dart gun shooter and knows how to load darts with paralyzing chemicals, having used them to illegally sedate deer and remove their antlers to sell.
Barry's defense lawyers counter this cap means nothing because no one could say how long it had been there. Furthermore, they say there is no evidence tying the cap to their client.
Texts reveal a struggling marriage
A slew of text messages between Suzanne Morphew and a close friend in the months and days leading up to her disappearance reveal the Morphews' marriage remained rocky. These are just a few of the texts showing Suzanne's anguish and concerns about her husband, Barry. In one text, she writes, "I feel no peace when he's here" and "I would not feel safe alone with him."
On March 25, 2020, Suzanne texted her friend, "He won't speak of divorce" and on May 6, 2020, just days before she disappeared, Suzanne texted Barry, "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."
An avid hunter and outdoorsman
This photo shows some deer heads displayed inside the Morphews' home.
When investigators told Barry Morphew that a tranquilizer dart had been fired "in or around the house," and they could not explain it, he responded: "...The first thing I thought of when I came here and saw deer in my yard with big horns, I'm like, 'I'm getting them horns...And I'll tell you exactly what I did...I shoot 'em. They go to sleep, I cut their horns off....It's totally illegal…But you're gonna find tranq darts around my property because I've done that."
Multiple trash runs
On May 10, the day Suzanne Morphew is reported missing, investigators discovered Barry Morphew threw out trash at multiple locations around Broomfield, Colorado, while in town for work. This photo, taken from hotel surveillance footage, shows Barry throwing out trash in a dumpster.
Barry told investigators he often dropped trash in accessible bins to avoid paying to have it disposed of at a landfill. Investigators, however, believe Barry was disposing of evidence.
Adding to the prosecution theory that there was a physical altercation leading up to Suzanne Morphew's murder are these apparent scratch marks on Barry Morphew's arm in a photo taken by investigators three days after Suzanne went missing.
Arrested and jailed
This booking photo was taken after Barry Morphew's arrest, nearly a year after Suzanne's disappearance. Despite not having found his wife's body, he was charged with first-degree murder and tampering with physical evidence and other charges.
In their arrest affidavit, prosecutors spelled out what they believe happened to Suzanne: "It had become clear that Barry could not control Suzanne's insistence on leaving him and he resorted to something he has done his entire life - hunt and control Suzanne like he had hunted and controlled animals."
Standing by their father
Barry Morphew pleaded not guilty to all charges and on September 20, 2021, he was released from jail on bond with his daughters by his side. They steadfastly support their father, attending most of his court hearings like this one in December of 2021.
A new twist: Mystery DNA
Investigators discovered mysterious male DNA in this Range Rover belonging to Suzanne Morphew. In October 2020, DNA testing revealed at least a partial match to an unnamed man connected to three unsolved sexual assault cases in Tempe, Phoenix and Chicago.
Barry Morphew's legal team says it intends to file a civil lawsuit, claiming prosecutors withheld more specific exculpatory DNA evidence until after Barry's preliminary hearing in August 2021 -- which decided the case against Barry is strong enough to go to trial.
In a series of pre-trial motions, Barry Morphew's defense team pressed judges to impose severe sanctions on the prosecution for failing to turn over potentially exculpatory evidence ahead of trial. And Judge Lama did, imposing damaging sanctions, including barring 11 of their 16 endorsed expert witnesses among others, experts in DNA, vehicle data and a cell phone data analyst, as punishment for violating discovery rules. In all, the Court excluded 14 of the prosecution's expert witnesses.
The judge found that DA Stanley and her team repeatedly missed deadlines and failed to turn over important information, and wrote, "It is clear to this Court there is a pattern of discovery violations in this case attributable to the People…their actions amount to negligent and arguably, reckless disregard ..."
In earlier filings, prosecutors said that the Court did not find willful misconduct associated with any discovery violations, noting "ultimately the sanctions imposed greatly damage the People's case, tantamount to dismissal, for late disclosures That were not greatly prejudicial, but rather technical in nature."