SALIDAThe missing wife of a Chaffee County man had a two-year extramarital affair before she disappeared in May 2020, a sheriff’s investigator testified Monday.
It was the first day of a preliminary hearing for Barry Morphew, 53, who is accused of killing his wife, 49-year-old Suzanne Morphew. She disappeared from the family’s home near Maysville in May 2020, and was reported missing by a neighbor on Mother’s Day 2020, prompting an extensive, yearlong search. Her body has not been found, and authorities charged her husband in May 2021.
Chaffee County Sheriff’s Commander Alex Walker testified during cross-examination that Suzanne Morphew had a two-year extramarital affair, being in frequent contact with her lover and meeting up with him at least six times in cities across the U.S.
Walker also testified on cross-examination that Suzanne kept a “spy pen” — a voice-activated device that looked like a normal pen but recorded audio — because she feared her husband was having an affair.
Walker said investigators found no evidence that Barry Morphew was having an affair, although the pen did record conversations between Suzanne Morphew and her lover, whom she referred to in the recordings only as “Jeff.” In November 2020, authorities identified the man, who did not come forward on his own after Suzanne disappeared but spoke willingly with investigators after he was identified, Walker testified on cross-examination.
The affair was one of several pieces of testimony that painted the Morphew’s marriage as troubled, despite Barry Morphew describing his wife as “his angel since she was 17 years old.” The “spy pen” recorded one hard-to-hear conversation in which the couple seemed to be arguing about money, FBI special agent Kenneth Harris testified. And in text messages to a friend, Suzanne Morphew complained that her husband was picking fights and putting their children in the middle.
“He’s not stable,” she wrote in one message shown in court. “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.”
In court Monday, Barry Morphew wore a gray striped suit and blue medical mask. He sat quietly, occasionally whispering with his attorneys, passing notes or pointing to papers in front of him. When his attorney, Dru Nielsen, talked about him describing Suzanne as his “angel” and a “special, wonderful person,” he appeared to become emotional and dabbed his eyes with a tissue.
Monday’s preliminary hearing is offering the first look at the evidence against Barry Morphew, which has been kept secret since he was arrested. Investigators filed a 130-page affidavit detailing the case, but it was sealed by 11th Judicial District Chief Judge Patrick Murphy, who in June denied a request from The Denver Post and a group of media outlets to make the document public, citing concerns about Morphew’s right to a fair trial.
Murphy ruled the affidavit would be released seven days after Morphew’s four-day preliminary hearing, which is set for Monday, Tuesday, and Aug. 23 and 24.
In addition to first-degree murder, Morphew is accused of destroying, mutilating, concealing, removing or altering his wife’s body in an attempt to avoid arrest, as well as possessing an illegal short rifle and attempting to influence public servants. In the 2020 presidential election, Morphew filled out his wife’s mail-in ballot, voting for Donald Trump. He is charged with forgery in that case, which is separate from the murder case.
Morphew told investigators that he last saw his wife at about 5 a.m. on May 10, 2020, when he left their home to go to Broomfield for a landscaping job. He said she was sleeping and he did not wake her, Walker testified. He later said he texted her around 7:30 a.m. to wish her a happy Mother’s Day, and became concerned when she did not respond to that text or others throughout the day.
He never called 911 or reported his wife missing, Walker testified. A neighbor took those steps. Walker testified that Suzanne’s cellphone was last active at 4:23 a.m. May 10. He also testified that investigators did not find any of Suzanne’s blood inside the family’s home or inside Morphew’s truck, and that the surveillance system at the family’s home wasn’t working when Suzanne disappeared.
Suzanne’s mountain bike was found the day she went missing, in rough terrain at the bottom of a steep ditch off County Road 225. In body camera video shown in court, officers walk around the bike through rugged terrain, calling Suzanne’s name. Her helmet was found about .84 miles away a few days later.
Morphew drove back from his job in Broomfield on the night his wife disappeared and went to the spot where the bike had been found. He asked if it appeared she had crashed.
When a deputy said it didn’t look that way because the bike wasn’t damaged and there was no blood, Morphew suggested she may have been attacked by a mountain lion, video shows. He would later tell investigators his worst fear was that she’d be picked up by a stranger.
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