CHAFFEE COUNTY, Colo. — Four months have passed since anyone has seen or heard from a Chaffee County wife and mother of two. Suzanne Morphew, 49, was reported missing on May 10, 2020 – Mother’s Day. And the process of the investigation in the days and months following Morphew’s disappearance has been carefully protected by the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office, which is the lead agency on the case.
Sheriff John Spezze has issued a few written updates, but has refused to speak with FOX21, to offer clarification, or to confirm or deny any posts put forth by people close to Suzanne or her husband, Barry Morphew.
FOX21 News has also filed open records requests in an effort to learn more about the case, but each of those was quickly denied.
In an exclusive interview with FOX21’s Lauren Scharf, Barry Morphew described answering the phone, on Mother’s Day Weekend, to a neighbor’s call.
“She said, ‘Barry, Suzanne is not at the house. Her car is here, but her bike is missing.’ And I said, ‘that doesn’t sound good because she’s not answering me either. I’m coming home right now,” He said. “That was at 5 p.m. Sunday evening.”
Barry told FOX21 that at the time he was about 160 miles away from the Morphew family home, which is in Maysville. He says he was working at a job in Broomfield. The neighbor had been alerted by one of the Morphews’ daughters, who’d been trying to text Suzanne to wish her a Happy Mother’s Day.
“Suzanne went on a bike ride every day, Lauren. She was an avid biker. If she did not bike around the subdivision, she biked on trails. I don’t remember how the conversation went, but I probably said something like, ‘is her bike there?’ Because her car was there and she’s gone,” Barry said.
That same night, according to a Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office press release on May 11, the county’s communication center received a report of a missing woman at 5:46 p.m. on May 10.
Barry said at that point, he was already on his way back to Salida.
“I rushed home, left all my tools at the hotel, called my workers and said, ‘I’ve got a family emergency. You’re gonna have to figure this out on your own,’ and went directly to the site where the bike was,” said Barry Morphew.
At that point, the desperate search for Suzanne Morphew had begun.
Chaffee County Sheriff John Spezze made one public appearance following Suzanne’s disappearance on May 15.
“Her investigation remains the top priority of the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office,” he said, days into the investigation. That day, it seemed he understood the toll the case was taking on Suzanne’s family and their community.
“It has a big impact on our community, we’re small, pretty tight nit and there’s a lot of people concerned about this,” Spezze said. “But you know, it’s not just locally. I’ve seen a lot of concern nationwide.”
Some people in Salida expressed concern about the lack of information from Sheriff Spezze.
“We are such a small town where everyone knows everything. You would be amazed by the secrets the mountains hold regarding this case,” a business owner said.
Another store owner added, “people that have money can do dangerous things, if you get too close to the fire you can get burned.”
And, as the gaps of time between the Sheriff’s official updates on the case grew longer, FOX21’s Lauren Scharf and other staff members went to great lengths to track down answers – first by email and phone, later with in-person visits.
And the FOX21 crew, expecting to find flyers or posters with information about the Morphew case at the Sheriff’s office, was surprised to find none.
“I think that’s crazy. I didn’t know that,” Barry Morphew said. “And I know for a fact that the sheriffs are embarrassed at how they handled the investigation and they just want to crawl under a rock about it.”
Other members of Suzanne’s family, who live out-of-state, say they have run into roadblocks as well.
“Sheriff John’s gone completely silent. Can’t get any responses back from him at all,” Suzanne’s older brother, Andrew Moorman, told FOX21.
Moorman said he is so frustrated, he’s coordinating his own search, which is set to begin in Salida on September 24.
“If I get 1000 volunteers to help – I believe we can cover a lot of ground and maybe turn up some evidence of Suzanne,” he said.
FOX21 News has confirmed the Sheriff’s Office asked people in Salida to save any video surveillance they may have captured between May 8 and May 12. However, a manager at Poncha Market said they did collect video surveillance, but law enforcement didn’t stop by their shop in time.
“We don’t have the video anymore because it deleted after two weeks – so we don’t have that, but I did talk with CBI, though, about the story,” Manager Tiffany Butala said.
That story, she said, included seeing Barry leave a handwritten note at her shop, which he said he was doing to raise awareness about his missing wife. But the store manager said the description he wrote lacked important details.
“It is so much woods out there, and it is so dense,” she told FOX21 at the time.
On September 24 a volunteer search will begin in Salida. The Chaffee County Sheriff has not responded to questions regarding his department’s participation in that event.
“The sheriff has a lot of explaining to do on what they’re doing now, what they did then, and – I don’t understand this whole thing,” Barry Morphew said.
Beth Helmke works with Chaffee County Search and North, which, she says, is part of the Sheriff’s Office.
“We assist them with the incidents that they need help with,” Helmke said. “One of those was the Suzanne Morphew case.”
Helmke confirmed the organization’s skilled volunteers were called out three different times for a total of four days to search in the general area in Maysville where Suzanne’s bike was allegedly recovered.
“The last of those calls was made in early June,” Helmke said.
Although he doesn’t know much about any official searches, Barry says he’s still looking for Suzanne.
“I have been searching trails, trails after trails on that dirt bike for my wife,” he said.
The Sheriff’s Office has not named any suspects or persons of interest in this case, but Barry thinks he knows why they aren’t responding to him.
“I know they’re investigating me, because they’ve destroyed my family and my life,” he said.
And he told FOX21 the Sheriff’s Office had mishandled the investigation and evidence all along the way.
In the meantime, the only new insight regarding the Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office, was published in a Mountain Mail article on August 28. That day, the Sheriff told the paper his “department was over-budget this year, mainly due to overtime from the Suzanne Morphew case. This was something that could not be anticipated.”
That paper said it, too, is not able to easily obtain information from Sheriff Spezze.
But Suzzane’s husband says he’s not about to give up. He agreed to sit down with FOX21 during the volunteer search at the end of this month.
Information into the official search was finally released, following a two month silence, from the Sheriff’s office, which stated 100 personnel was searching for the missing woman, including by air, water, and dogs.
Here are the dates that Chaffee County Sheriff’s Office posted press releases about Suzanne Morphew:
- MAY 11, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 26, 27, 29
- JUNE 10
- JULY 9
- SEPTEMBER 3
The public is asked to continue to report any information about this case to the tipline by calling (719) 312-7530.
According to CBI, there are currently 1,340 missing person cases in Colorado. Of those, 579 have been missing for a year or more.