By Stephanie Butzer
CHAFFEE COUNTY, Colo. (KMGH) — Suzanne Morphew was having a two-year affair leading up her 2020 disappearance and alleged murder at the hands of her husband, an investigator said in Monday’s preliminary hearing.
A commander with the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office said Suzanne had purchased a spy pen because she suspected her husband, Barry Morphew, of having an affair. It ended up catching a conversation with a man she had been seeing before her disappearance in May 2020.
Barry was arrested on May 5, 2021, in Chaffee County on multiple charges, including first-degree murder, almost a year after Suzanne was first reported missing. He was also charged with tampering with physical evidence, attempting to influence a public servant, tampering with a deceased human body, and possession of a dangerous weapon. In a separate case, he was also charged with forgery after he allegedly submitted a mail ballot in Suzanne’s name in last year’s election.
Suzanne went missing on May 10, 2020 from the Maysville area in Chaffee County. Her disappearance sparked many searches in the following months, including more than 135 search warrants executed by investigators. They also interviewed more than 400 people in different states and looked into more than 1,400 tips during the course of the investigation. Chaffee County Sheriff John Spezze said in early May that authorities do not believe Suzanne is alive and are not searching for any other suspects.
At Monday’s preliminary hearing in Chaffee County, Barry was joined by his attorneys, Dru Nielsen and Iris Eytan. His mother, his and Suzanne’s two daughters, and Suzanne’s friends from her time in Salida were also present. District Attorneys Jeff Lindsey, Linda Stanley and Mark Hulbert make up the prosecution.
ABC News helped provide some of the details below from Monday’s hearing.
The first witness called was Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office Cmdr. Alexander Walker.
When questioned by 11th Judicial District Attorney Linda Stanley, he said that Suzanne was reported missing on May 10, 2020 at 5:38 p.m. Walker said he was unable to reach Barry. When Walker contacted one of the daughters, she told him she had not received a response after sending her mother a happy Mother’s Day text.
Chaffee County Deputy Brown first spoke with Barry that day at 7:10 p.m.
That day, authorities discovered Suzanne’s bike at County Road 225 and Highway 50. It was found on the south side of 225. There was no damage to the bicycle, Walker said, and no skid marks or blood on the road.
Body camera video from that discovery was played in court and the deputies can be heard yelling Suzanne’s name as they walked through rough terrain at dusk. Her bike was laying sideways on a very steep hill when they found it, surrounded by thick aspen and fir trees. There was not a visible trail in the immediate area.
When authorities reached the Morphew home that day, Miles Harvey, a boyfriend of one of the Morphew daughters, was walking out of the garage. He told deputies that the Morphew daughters were not at the home, and he had searched for Suzanne there, but came up empty. Harvey said she had never gone up the trail where her bike was found because it was a “crazy climb” with a large elevation gain.
In a separate body camera video, a deputy asked Harvey if Suzanne and Barry had problems and he said they had some in the past but called it normal husband-and-wife-type stuff.
Another body camera video shows deputies speaking with Barry, who is emotional and describing how Suzanne bikes every day. He said he left for work at 5 a.m. when she was still sleeping. He’s also heard asking deputies if they’d seen any “cats” in the area — possibly referring to mountain lions — and the deputy says not recently.
Walker said the last activity on Suzanne’s phone was from 4:23 a.m. on May 10, 2020. Her phone pinged from a cell tower in Poncha Springs, which is about 10 miles east of Maysville.
The prosecution then showed a selfie that Suzanne took sometime before the morning of her disappearance. In the photo, she was wearing her turquoise helmet, which was found 0.84 miles from her bike after her disappearance. Walker said the helmet had normal wear and tear, but no damage.
When Walker talked with Barry the following day — May 11 — Barry said the couple had just had a great day and evening on May 9. He called Suzanne “his angel” since they were 17 years old and said they “love each other to death.” He called the relationship “very good.” They had been together 32 years.
Barry’s defense attorney, Dru Nielsen, cross-examined Walker.
Walker confirmed the arrest affidavit for Barry is 129 pages long and took weeks to put together. He said they started writing the document on May 11, 2020.
Nielsen said Barry left for work early on May 10, when his wife was still asleep. He later texted her to wish her a happy Mother’s Day and while he didn’t get a response, Nielsen said this was not unusual as cell service at the home was poor.
Barry became a little more concerned when his daughters said they also hadn’t heard from Suzanne.
Barry told authorities, “There’s not a more special, wonderful person in the world.” He said they did have “spats” about him working too much and he wanted her off a certain medication she was taking, but “it wasn’t like they didn’t make up,” Nielsen said.
Barry did not protest when his house became a crime scene, and his truck was picked up. He mentioned to deputies that Suzanne had been cleaning because the daughters’ friend was visiting, and Suzanne had changed the bed sheets for the friend.
Nielsen asked if Suzanne’s blood was found anywhere in the home, including the bedroom with the changed sheets. Walker said no. Nielsen asked if it was found at any time in the investigation and Walker said no.
Nielsen said there was no evidence found to suggest Barry had returned to the house after he left on the morning of May 10, with the exception of going back in with officers to point out Suzanne’s clothing. For 10 days, he wasn’t allowed back in as investigators searched the home.
Walker said the investigation was the largest coordinated law enforcement effort he has been a part of, with “thousands and thousands” of hours of work put in and involving about 70 law enforcement officers.
In July 2020, Colorado Bureau of Investigation detectives began working again in and around the Morphew home. This search was extensive, with numerous items seized and hundreds of photos taken, Nielsen said. Blood was found on a tampon, but nowhere else in the home.
Nielsen said with all this work — the drones, K9s, aircraft, scuba divers, ground-penetrating radars and more — the body or remains of Suzanne have not been found.
Walker confirmed that Suzanne got a spy pen because she suspected Barry Morphew was having an affair. He said there was no evidence of that.
But when asked, he confirmed Suzanne had been having a two-year affair with a man named Jeff Libler, as investigators found out via the spy pen.
Authorities didn’t learn about this affair until November 2020 — six months after Suzanne went missing. There were hundreds of hours of phone calls, WhatsApp messages and other communication. The two met up at least six times in New Orleans, Michigan, Texas, and Indiana, and she didn’t tell anybody about him, Walker confirmed.
Libler did not voluntarily come forward to help find Suzanne, Walker said. Law enforcement first spoke with him on Nov. 13, 2020. It’s not yet clear what was discussed in that conversation.
After a 30-minute recess, Nielsen returned to cross-examining Walker.
Nielsen read a section of Barry’s arrest affidavit on the prosecution’s theory, which included data from Barry’s Ford 350 truck. The affidavit reads, as read by Nielsen: 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.
There was some talk about the accuracy of this data in the courtroom.
They then moved on to some DVR cords that were missing from the home’s surveillance system, which was not operating on May 9. Barry said he never touched the system. When the cords were found and DNA tested, Barry and his two daughters were excluded and there was strong support for the inclusion of Suzanne.
Nielsen also brought up DNA found in Suzanne’s Range Rover, which was a male profile, but did not match Barry’s. It came back with a partial profile matching three men who were involved in a sexual assault, according to the Combined DNA Index System. No other details were provided on these three men.
In a brief redirect, DA Stanley asked Walker if Barry ever called 911, reported his wife missing to authorities, or helped in any law enforcement-led searches. Walker answered no to each question.
Stanley also asked Walker if he had questioned Barry during their May 11 interview about where he kept his guns. Walker said Barry told him they were in a safe, but Walker found a gun in a closet and a shotgun against a wall in the home.
At the end of his testimony, Stanley asked Walker to confirm Barry claimed he left his home for Broomfield at 5 a.m. on May 10. Walker said this was true. Stanley also confirmed through him that the data in Barry’s truck showed “door activity” at 3:26 a.m.
The defense was denied a recross.
The second witness of the preliminary hearing, Kenneth Harris, was brought to the stand around 11:30 a.m. Monday. He is one of two FBI Special Agents on the case and specializes in behavior analysis.
He was questioned by District Attorney Jeff Lindsey.
Harris said in some conversations picked up on Suzanne’s spy pen, you could hear her and Barry arguing about money. She was heard accusing him of telling her what she can do and what she can wear.
Another recording picked up a five-hour conversation with Jeff Libler, the man Suzanne was having an affair with, Harris said. It was at this point that investigators realized there was an affair involved, he said.
The prosecution then brought up screenshots of texts between Suzanne and her friend of 30 years, Sheila Oliver.
In the texts, Suzanne said her cancer had returned in May 2018 and her health was declining. She worried her marriage was only worsening it. Oliver responded, saying the toll of the couple’s fights was concerning.
Oliver also said while Barry might have called May 9 a “perfect night,” she knew the couple hadn’t had a “perfect night in a year and a half,” Harris said.
Court took a recess at noon for lunch.
After the recess, Special Agent Harris and DA Lindsey restarted the questioning.
Harris said Barry would bring up their two daughters when he and Suzanne were arguing, and then blame Suzanne. She lost respect for him when he did this, Harris said. One of their daughters who saw the fighting even said that a divorce would solve their problems, he said.
He said at one point, Barry put a gun to Suzanne’s head and asked, “Is this what you want?” He had also pinned her to the bed before. She said she’d call police.
Suzanne wanted to leave the marriage in 2019 and 2020, but also wanted to wait until their youngest daughter was out of the house, Harris said. Meanwhile, Barry was worried about how others perceived their marriage and always “wanted to come out looking good,” Harris said.
Text messages between Oliver (Suzanne’s good friend) and Suzanne show that Suzanne was confiding in her friend about the failing marriage. At one point, she said she hoped Barry would find somebody else and leave.
As Harris described Suzanne’s conversations with her daughters about these topics, the young women held each other in court, one sobbing.
By February 2020, Suzanne and Oliver are talking almost every day and the subject of leaving Barry is a frequent topic.
Harris said Suzanne was racked with guilt and wanted forgiveness from God. In texts, she said she wondered what the “young me” was thinking. Her relationship with her daughters was the center of her world, Harris said.
Harris then explained how Suzanne came to know Libler.
The two had gone to high school in Indiana and hooked up during the summer of 1989 at a house party. Barry was not at the party. Twenty years later, they hooked up again, Harris said.
The relationship started platonic — talking about books, movies, Suzanne’s cancer — but by February 2019, the two met up in New Orleans and fooled around in a hotel. Harris said they did not have sex.
They met up a few other times in 2019 as well, he said. They started communicating via WhatsApp and LinkedIn when Barry became suspicious.
After Suzanne’s disappearance and once authorities tracked down Libler to talk, he said Suzanne’s marriage was not good. The couple argued a lot, he said, and she repeatedly said she wanted to leave. However, she also said she couldn’t divorce Barry for “Biblical reasons.”
Upon discovering she may have been abducted, Libler deleted his accounts because he said it’d negatively affect Suzanne’s daughters, Harris said.
Defense attorney Iris Eytan then led a cross-examination of Special Agent Harris.
She started by noting that Harris was “doing a lot of interpretation” of the texts between Suzanne and Oliver. Harris said the interpretation is from what Oliver said they meant.
Eytan said Suzanne seemed to keep lots of secrets, noting that the affair was not a short-term fling.
When Eytan said it lasted two years, Harris corrected the statement, saying it was actually a year and a half. The first witness on Monday, a commander with the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office, said the affair spanned two years, so it’s not clear which is correct.
Suzanne did not tell her sister or best friends about Libler, Eytan said.
Barry claimed not to know about the affair when investigators told him, Harris said. He said he thought she may have been having an emotional affair, but not a physical one.
After a brief afternoon break, Eytan continued cross-examining Special Agent Harris.
Eytan said Oliver got a spy pen — which looks like an everyday black pen — and gave it to Suzanne when they were both in Florida. Officials found multiple audio files on the pen, which activates when it hears a voice, Eytan said.
Eleven files were deleted, two of which were recovered, and 11 were saved.
Some of the messages between Suzanne and Libler were shown in court, such as: “Your heart, that’s what I crave,” “I love how you love me. I love how you think,” and “You’re the sweetest thing I’ve ever known.”
Note: There was a brief technical complication at this point.
The two traveled around the country twice in 2019, Eytan said. They met up again in February 2020. They were calling each other the loves of their lives, Eytan said.
They talked about moving to Ecuador where Suzanne could teach language, Eytan said.
On May 8, 2020, Libler messaged Suzanne saying, “You need to be my wife” and complimented her biking gear. The following morning, May 9, she texted him saying, “We need to be husband & wife.”
Libler said the affair made him nervous and he didn’t want to lose his job or his family. He said he didn’t want Suzanne’s legacy to be that she had an affair “with that guy.”
Just before 5 p.m., the hearing ended for the day. It will resume Tuesday morning.
This story was originally published August 9, 2021, by KMGH in Denver.