DENVER (AP) — The discovery of Suzanne Morphew's remains three years after the Colorado woman went missing on Mother's Day is raising new questions about what happened and whether her husband remains a suspect since murder charges were dropped against him.
Barry Morphew issued a statement through his attorney reasserting his innocence and saying he and the couple’s two grown daughters had held out hope his wife would return alive. He previously filed a $15 million lawsuit against county officials, accusing them of violating his constitutional rights.
Authorities are not answering questions about how last week's discovery of the remains impacts the case, saying only that the investigation continues.
Here's what to know about the case:
WHAT HAPPENED TO SUZANNE MORPHEW?
Morphew, originally from Alexandria, Indiana, was 49 when she was reported missing by a neighbor near the small city of Salida, Colorado, on May 10, 2020 — Mother's Day.
Her disappearance launched searches of the mountainous area by local and state authorities, aided by the FBI.
Dive teams searched waterways and more than 400 people were interviewed in multiple states as investigators sought clues. Suzanne Morphew’s brother said months later that the family was organizing its own search.
HOW WAS THE BODY FOUND?
State investigators working on an unrelated case discovered the remains Sept. 22 in the Moffat area — about 40 miles (65 kilometers) south of where Suzanne Morphew was reported missing.
Her bones were located in a remote field of sagebrush and grasses, Saguache County Coroner Tom Perrin told the Denver Gazette. It appeared the remains had been buried in a shallow grave before being scattered, he said.
Authorities identified the remains Wednesday.
She had been among more than 23,000 unresolved missing persons cases nationwide, according to federal data. That includes 367 open cases in Colorado. People who are Native American or Black account for a disproportionately high number of missing persons in the U.S. compared to the overall population, the statistics show.
WHY WAS THE HUSBAND PREVIOUSLY CHARGED?
Barry Morphew was arrested in May of 2021 on suspicion of first-degree murder, tampering with a human body and other offenses.
He also was charged with possessing a banned short rifle and trying to influence public servants after his wife disappeared.
Investigators alleged the couple had a troubled marriage. Since Barry Morphew could not control her, the avid hunter and sportsman “resorted to something he has done his entire life — hunt and control Suzanne like he had hunted and controlled animals,” investigators said in an affidavit.
Prosecutors alleged that Morphew killed his wife on the evening of May 9, 2020, before leaving for work in the Denver area the following day.
He did not initially tell investigators he went out of his way as he left, driving toward the place where his wife’s bicycle helmet was eventually found. Later, he said he went that way because he had seen an elk cross the road, the affidavit said.
Authorities also alleged that Morphew submitted a fraudulent vote on his wife’s behalf for Donald Trump in the 2020 November presidential election. Morphew told investigators he mailed in the ballot on behalf of Suzanne Morphew to help Trump win and he thought his wife would have voted for Trump anyway, according to court documents.
He pleaded guilty to fraud and was fined and assessed court costs of $600.
IS BARRY MORPHEW STILL A SUSPECT?
Prosecutors dropped the charges over Suzanne Morphew's death in April 2022 after a judge barred them from calling key witnesses for repeatedly failing to follow rules for turning over evidence in his favor. That included DNA from an unknown male found in Suzanne Morphew’s SUV.
At the time, prosecutors said they wanted more time to find her body.
The charges against Morphew were dismissed without prejudice, leaving the door open should prosecutors later decide to pursue a case against him.
Barry Morphew’s lawyers in April filed a complaint asking that the prosecutors be disciplined for allegedly intentionally withholding evidence in the case. He filed a $15 million lawsuit in May against prosecutors and investigators, accusing them of violating his constitutional rights.
WHAT DOES BARRY MORPHEW SAY ABOUT ALL THIS?
His attorney said in a statement Wednesday that the family was mourning her death.
“They had faith that their wife and mom would walk back into their lives again. The news is heartbreaking,“ said the statement from the Eytan Law provided to KCNC-TV.
The couple’s two adult daughters said in an interview last year that they stood behind their father and did not believe he had anything to do with her disappearance.
Suzanne Morphew’s brother, David Moorman, thanked law enforcement Thursday for their efforts on behalf of the family.
“We look forward to finding long awaited justice for Suzanne in the successful prosecutions of those involved in her disappearance,” Moorman said in a statement provided to The Associated Press. “The memories of her gentle spirit and wonderful smile have been a constant presence since her disappearance to all who knew and loved her.”
ARE THERE OTHER SUSPECTS?
About three months after Barry Morphew's arrest, investigators revealed they had DNA that corresponded with three unsolved sexual assault cases — raising the possibility of another suspect. The DNA found on the glovebox in Suzanne Morphew's car matched profiles developed in sexual assault cases in Chicago, Phoenix and Tempe, Arizona, a Colorado Board of Investigation agent said.
The 12th District Attorney’s Office, which covers the area where the remains were found, declined comment on whether it would handle any prosecution in her death. Prosecutors for the 11th District Attorney’s Office, which covers the area where Morphew lived with her husband and which had prosecuted Barry Morphew before dropping the charges against him, declined comment.
Barry Morphew's attorney urged officials to find Suzanne Morphew's killer and admit it wasn't the husband.
“We hope the authorities will quickly admit their wrongful persecution of Barry, an innocent man, to treat the Morphew’s like the victims they are, and charge the person(s) responsible for Suzanne’s killing,” the attorney's statement said.
Brown reported from Billings, Montana.