On May 27, Barry Morphew, who was arrested on suspicion of first-degree murder earlier this month — just shy of a year after his wife, Suzanne Morphew, vanished after going on a bike ride near Maysville — made his latest court appearance. And even though the hearing was merely a status conference, it still made headlines as the latest Colorado crime to become a national obsession.
Coast-to-coast interest in Colorado crimes is hardly a new phenomenon. Many tragedies over the years have received enormous media attention well beyond state lines, and continue to attract eyeballs as a result of numerous films, documentaries and TV news magazine segments.
Here are five examples, accompanied by information on where to find the footage, as well as links to Westword coverage:
In August 2018, Frederick's Chris Watts killed his pregnant wife, Shanann, before taking the lives of Celeste and Bella, their two young daughters. The shocking acts quickly resulted in wall-to-wall cable-news coverage, and in the years since, multiple documentarians and filmmakers have explored the subject.
Arguably the worst of these projects was Chris Watts: Confessions of a Killer, a 2020 Lifetime movie that essentially blamed Shanann for her own murder. Far better is American Murder: The Family Next Door, which launched on Netflix last September. The documentary is assembled almost entirely of video or images shared online by Shanann or footage from the investigation into her disappearance, including body-camera clips that seem to capture every inch of the living space the couple shared. The house is practically another character in a film that chillingly transforms the roomy, tastefully appointed suburban spread into a backdrop for evil at its purest.
Here's a trailer for American Murder: The Family Next Door:
Henthorn was accused of killing his wife, Dr. Toni Henthorn, by pushing her off Deer Mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park in 2012. He was later found guilty of murder, and his appeal was rejected in 2018.
In the months that followed, the Henthorn story became the subject of numerous national TV programs, including a 48 Hours investigation, owing to the shocking nature of his alleged crime and the suspicion that he'd committed a similar act before: His first wife, Lynn Henthorn, also died under questionable circumstances.
Click to view the Dateline NBC episode devoted to Henthorn.
Six-year-old JonBenét Ramsey was murdered at her Boulder home in December 1996, and nearly a quarter-century later, the still-unsolved crime continues to resonate. Dozens upon dozens of films and TV shows have either taken on the slaying directly or fictionalized what happened in thinly veiled fashion. Take the 2016 Lifetime offering, Who Killed JonBenét — please. And then there was 2017's Netflix Casting JonBenét, a bizarre fantasia in which actors are seen auditioning for reenactment scenes for a documentary about the case.
Among the strangest of these offerings is The Case of: JonBenét Ramsey, a CBS effort that assembled a team of so-called experts who determined that Burke Ramsey, the girl's then-school-age brother, killed her with a blow to the head. The program spawned multiple lawsuits, including one filed by Burke that CBS settled in 2019. But the twisted artifact remains available via Amazon and other online purveyors; part one can be screened at this link.
In January 2014, Pam Candelario was found bludgeoned to death in Walsenburg, and her husband, Ralph Candelario, with whom she owned a local antique store, maintained that she'd been slain by an intruder. But this tissue of lies soon fell apart, and Ralph, whose first wife vanished under mysterious circumstances, was subsequently sentenced to life in prison.
Since then, the Dateline NBC investigation into Candelario has aired many times. It can also be viewed on YouTube.
Like the death of JonBenét Ramsey, the April 20, 1999, attack on Columbine High School, during which two seniors killed twelve students and a teacher before taking their own lives, has been depicted on film and television in a wide variety of ways — sometimes factually, sometimes fictitiously, and sometimes a blend of both approaches. And the projects just keep coming.
The 2018 doc We Are Columbine focuses on four survivors and how the massacre impacted their lives; it can be accessed on Amazon Prime, Apple TV and multiple other streaming services. Hulu's Generation Columbine, from 2019, uses the Colorado crime as a jumping-off point to examine the phenomenon of school shootings generally. Watch the trailer here:
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