Crime

Affidavit: Barry Morphew Blamed God for Death of Wife

A family photo of Suzanne Morphew, and Barry Morphew's booking photo.
A family photo of Suzanne Morphew, and Barry Morphew's booking photo. Family photo via CBS/Chaffee County Sheriff's Office
America loves a crime story in which terrible things happen involving beautiful people in gorgeous places — which helps explain why the arrest of Salida's Barry Morphew for allegedly killing his wife, Suzanne, who was said to have vanished after taking a bike ride, became a national obsession in May. And while the case has been shouldered out of the spotlight in recent days by the tragic death of Gabby Petito, whose body was found in Wyoming (unlike Suzanne's, which has yet to be discovered), the Morphew matter has taken on bizarre new dimensions with the release of a massive affidavit.

The 129-page document reveals specifics about Suzanne's unhappiness with her marriage; Barry's obsession over her affair with an old friend; his tortured explanations regarding his activities on the day in May 2020 when investigators believe she was slain, touching on both a bull elk and a chipmunk; and his highly problematic view that her death was punishment for her unfaithfulness as meted out by God.

Not that Barry appears to have been the model husband. On January 25, 2020, his cell phone is said to have accessed "LocalSnapSext.com, Find a Cute Girl Near Salida and Come Get Dirty [deleted]." And that April, Suzanne texted Barry this message: "Oh I'm sure your mistress has you all happy now so you can say you love me but bully me when you're with me...yeah, that's love."

When the charges against Morphew were announced at a May 5 press conference, the arrest affidavit was still sealed. But Chaffee County Sheriff John Spezze and 11th Judicial District District Attorney Linda Stanley lauded the efforts of more than seventy investigators from several law enforcement agencies who issued 135-plus search warrants, conducted in excess of 400 interviews and chased at least 1,400 tips.


The scope of these efforts are clear from the affidavit, which contends that "Suzanne took clear, articulable steps in January 2020 in attempts to separate from and divorce her husband, Barry. She told her family and close friends about her intentions, secretly recorded her notes of abuse in her phone because Barry monitored it, confronted Barry in arguments that she secretly recorded with help from a friend and, finally, sent him a text four days before she disappeared saying that she was 'done, let's handle this civilly.'"

Nonetheless, the affidavit stresses that after Suzanne disappeared, Barry "initially represented to investigators from CBI [Colorado Bureau of Investigation], FBI and CCSO [Chaffee County Sheriff's Office] that his marriage with Suzanne was 'perfect,' and she had no intention of leaving him. Barry's statements about his actions on the days before and after Suzanne's disappearance have been proven to be false and misleading by this investigation."
click to enlarge Photos of dedicated cyclist Suzanne Morphew included in the affidavit. - CHAFFEE COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
Photos of dedicated cyclist Suzanne Morphew included in the affidavit.
Chaffee County Sheriff's Office
The affidavit states that "Barry knowingly destroyed evidence that his relationship with Suzanne was deteriorating and that he was involved in her disappearance and homicide. Suzanne's bicycle and helmet were recovered close to the Morphew residence, discarded before Barry left town in the early morning hours of May 10, 2020. The investigation to date indicates that these items were not indicative of an accident, an animal attack, Suzanne being a runaway, Suzanne committing suicide, or Suzanne being the victim of a stranger abduction. All records checks available to the FBI and local law enforcement indicate as of April 30, 2021, that Suzanne has not used a credit card, nor her social security number, nor has she been contacted by law enforcement, nor flown in an airplane, nor crossed a national border, nor established utilities or housing, nor otherwise continued in her normal pattern of life for over 355 days."

Hence, "based upon legal supposition, Suzanne Morphew, based on this lack of proof of life, is deceased."

According to the affidavit, Suzanne reconnected with high school friend Jeff Libler "within a month or so of Barry moving Suzanne and their daughter from Indiana to Colorado in April 2018." After sending him a Facebook message that began "Howdy stranger," Suzanne communicated regularly with Libler for the rest of that year, and in 2019, she "traveled to meet him in New Orleans, Indianapolis, Dallas, Michigan and Florida, where they eventually had consensual sex."

In September 2019, the report continues, "Barry took clear steps to determine if Suzanne was having an affair by stalking her at their own residence in Salida, Colorado, as witnessed by Suzanne's closest friend, Sheila Oliver." He also allegedly "took Suzanne's phone from her when they were in a resort in Mexico while she was talking to Libler, but he was unable to determine Libler's identity. Then, on May 8, 2020, "Suzanne saved in the 'Notes' section of her phone that Barry accused her of having a boyfriend on May 6, 2020." The next day, May 9, "Suzanne's last proof-of-life occurred in the 2 p.m. hour when she was messaging Libler with a 'selfie' while Barry returned to the residence. Suzanne did not respond to Libler's return messages at 2:44 p.m. and 2:46 p.m., the same time Barry admitted to running around their property with a gun and placing his phone in airplane mode at 2:47 p.m."

Barry's admitted possession of a gun and the suspicious timing of his phone settings switch immediately seized the attention of law enforcement officers, and over time, he provided them with explanations for these and other actions that they considered problematic, as spelled out in this excerpt from the affidavit: "The computer activity (telematics) from Barry's Ford F-350, the activity of his cell phone and statements he made to law enforcement in multiple interviews confirm that from 2:47 p.m. on May 9, 2020 until 5:37 a.m. on May 10, 2020, he took steps to dispose of Suzanne's disappearance and death, create a false alibi for himself and stage a crime scene."

Furthermore, "in recent months, following the presentation of evidence by FBI agents to Barry, he has changed critical details about his activities in the 2 p.m. hour on May 9th in attempts to match the evidence. Since January 2021, Barry has admitted to: chasing a chipmunk with a gun around the house while Suzanne was sunbathing, shooting a deer with a tranquilizer dart to explain a dart or needle cap in the dryer, disposing of the tranquilizer solution during his trip to Broomfield, followed a bull elk down Highway 50 at the 4 a.m. hour on May 10th to explain why his truck would be headed west (where the helmet was discarded), and finally stating to the FBI on April 22, 2021 that he looks guilty from the evidence and God allowed these things to happen."

The affidavit's efforts to back up these assertions are broken into six parts: "Barry's involvement in Suzanne's disappearance and death can be organized into the initial scene and interviews (Section 1); Suzanne's affair and her attempts to leave him (Section 2); Barry's early statements to CBI from May through June 2020 (Section 3); the evidence recovered by law enforcement (Section 4); witness statements (Section 5); and Barry's statements to the FBI in 2021, wherein he tangentially describes to Suzanne when he is shown evidence in the case (Section 6)."
click to enlarge (From left) May 10 surveillance photos of Barry Morphew walking to his room at a Holiday Inn Express, walking away nineteen minutes later wearing a different shirt and carrying a trash can containing unidentified items. - CHAFFEE COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
(From left) May 10 surveillance photos of Barry Morphew walking to his room at a Holiday Inn Express, walking away nineteen minutes later wearing a different shirt and carrying a trash can containing unidentified items.
Chaffee County Sheriff's Office
Section 4, which tracks Barry's movements on May 10, 2020, gets quite granular: "From 12:28 p.m. to 12:29 p.m., the location of Barry's phone was at the Holiday Inn Express (Telematics of F-350 also registered the driver door opening and closing multiple times in the hotel lot). At 12:36 p.m., Barry arrived at the hotel parking lot in his truck. He got out of the truck and carried one white trash bag, larger in size than the previous bags, in one hand; in the other hand, he carried a black container, along with a green item, possibly a piece of clothing. At 12:38 p.m., Barry placed bags, a black container and clothing from his truck beside the curb near the hotel lobby (see photos below). He then walked to his truck, appeared to pick up a small item from inside, picked up the trash bag, coat and container and walked towards the dumpsters at the end of the lot. At 12:41 p.m., Barry walked back across the lot towards the hotel lobby with nothing in his hands. At 12:42 p.m., Barry entered his hotel room. Barry does not leave his room, per the film, until 6:03 p.m."

The findings of investigators are summarized with this: "Barry cannot provide a last sighting of Suzanne, only labored breathing similar to a snore, which is consistent with her being tranquilized. Barry describes her as being drunk that afternoon, which matches the effects of the tranquilizer after a few minutes. He says he is running around the house, most likely chasing Suzanne while she is conscious. Barry has admitted that he had taken Suzanne's phone from her at least twice in the past to try to monitor or control what she was doing. There is no phone activity for Suzanne after 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, which is out of the norm for her typical behavior and an abrupt end following her 59 communications with Jeff Libler that morning and afternoon. By around 2:30 p.m. on Saturday May 9th, it had become clear that Barry could not control Suzanne's insistence on leaving him and he resorted to something he had done his entire life — hunt and control Suzanne like he had hunted and controlled animals."

Barry contended that "Suzanne's change of behavior" and "distant unlovingness to him" were fueled by alcohol ("She was not a heavy drinker," the investigators write) and the effects of chemotherapy; she battled Hodgkin's lymphoma on multiple occasions. In the end, though, the affidavit concludes, he "blamed God for Suzanne's death after being informed of the affair as a form of judgment on her and has stated repeatedly that God allowed this to happen."

On Monday, September 20, a court found probable cause for Barry Morphew to be tried on multiple charges, including first-degree murder, and set a trial date for May 3-June 1, 2022. No doubt America will be tuning in.

Click to read the Barry Morphew arrest affidavit.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts