Suzanne Morphew’s cause of death revealed four years after her disappearance in Colorado

Remains of the mother of two were found in September 2023, more than three years after she went missing after setting out on a Mother’s Day bike ride

Mike Bedigan
Monday 29 April 2024 22:48 BST
Related video: Barry Morphew re-affirms his innocence on anniversary of wife’s disappearance
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Suzanne Morphew’s cause of death has finally been revealed almost four years after she vanished without a trace when she supposedly set off on a bike ride on Mother’s Day 2020.

Following a dramatic case involving a missing mother-of-two, accusations of extra-marital affairs, the high-profile arrest and charging of her husband Barry Morphew with murder – before the charges were suddenly dropped – and the discovery of human remains three years on, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has now ruled Morphew’s death a homicide.

The 49-year-old’s death was caused by “homicide by undetermined means in the setting of butorphanol, azaperone, and medetomidine intoxication,” the autopsy from the El Paso County coroner found.

This cocktail of drugs is often used to tranquilise animals including bears.

During the investigation into Morphew’s disappearance, authorities had found a tranquiliser dart cap inside the dryer in the Morphew family’s home, an FBI agent revealed at a preliminary hearing in 2021.

Mr Morphew told investigators at the time that he used tranquiliser darts while hunting deer bucks so that he could subdue them and cut off their horns. After the charges against Mr Morphew were dropped, he filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking $15m in damages over his arrest and first-degree murder charge.

According to the autopsy, the drugs found in Morphew’s system “are marketed as a compounded injectable chemical immobilizer for wildlife”.

The remains of Suzanne Morphew were found in September 2023, more than three years after she went missing
The remains of Suzanne Morphew were found in September 2023, more than three years after she went missing

The National Institutes of Health describes Butorphanol as “a synthetic opioid which is used as a nasal spray for treatment of migraine headaches and parenterally as a narcotic analgesic for moderate-to-severe pain or as an adjunct to general anesthesia”.

The NIH states that a combination of butorphanol, azaperone, and medetomidine is an “effective, safe, and easy-to-use protocol” when immobilising bears.

“The Colorado Bureau of Investigation and our law enforcement partners understand and appreciate the public interest surrounding this case,” said CBI Director Chris Schaefer in a statement.

“The investigative team assembled to work this case continues to follow the evidence and only the evidence as we seek justice for Suzanne’s death.”

Morphew disappeared back on 10 May 2020 after her husband said she left their home in Salida, Colorado, to go on a bike ride.

Mr Morphew told police he left his wife at their home early that morning to travel to a construction job in Denver.

She was reported missing by a neighbour when the couple’s two daughters were unable to get in contact with her while they were on an out-of-state trip.

Her bike was found at the bottom of a steep ravine off Chaffee County Road 225 later that day. Police said the bicycle didn’t appear to have been in a crash, and there was no blood on the scene.

At the time, Mr Morphew posted a tearful video on social media pleading for his wife’s safe return.

Morphew’s husband Barry Morphew and the couple’s two daughters leave court after the charges were dropped
Morphew’s husband Barry Morphew and the couple’s two daughters leave court after the charges were dropped (AP)

Authorities conducted 135 searches across the state and more than 400 interviews across multiple states as part of the investigation.

In May 2021, one year on from when she was last seen alive, Mr Morphew was arrested and charged with murder.

It had previously emerged that all was not well in the Morphew’s marriage, with the couple frequently clashing about their finances. According to prosecutors, in February 2020, Suzanne bought a spy pen to see if she could capture Barry in what she believed was an extra-marital affair.

“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… yea that’s love,” she told Barry in a message later released by officials.

However, in March 2020, Morphew herself had written a message to an old flame from high school that seemed to reference an affair of her own. “Nobody loves you ... like the way I do,” she wrote. “I crave time with you. I crave the feeling I get when we connect. Physically or emotionally. You’re my guy. Always.”

On 9 May 2020, the day before Morphew disappeared, she sent a photo of herself sunbathing to the man, the last official proof of life police say they had of her.

Barry Morphew pictured in his mug shot
Barry Morphew pictured in his mug shot (Chaffee County Sheriffs Office)

As well as the tranquiliser dart cap found in the Morphews’ dryer, a preliminary hearing revealed a trove of other evidence that law enforcement alleged tied him to the crime including cellphone location data and Mr Morphew’s truck GPS.

The data showed him opening and closing his truck’s door multiple times on the day his wife had disappeared between 3 and 4am without leaving the driveway, all while his phone was in airplane mode, investigators alleged.

The charges against Mr Morphew were dropped in April 2022 as the prosecution’s case fell apart when they were barred from presenting crucial evidence at trial – after a judge found the state had held back substantial evidence that could have helped Mr Morphew’s case of innocence.

This included DNA evidence that linked her disappearance to sexual assault cases in other states and which in turn suggested a different person might have been involved. Mr Morphew subsequently filed a $15m lawsuit against county officials, accusing them of violating his constitutional rights.

Because they were dropped without prejudice, the door remains open for prosecutors to pursue a new case against him in the future.

The Morphews’ two daughters have stood by their father throughout.

In September 2023, the mother-of-two’s remains were found in Saguache County, about 40 miles south of the Salida area. The tragic discovery was made by agents from the CBI during a search for Edna Quintana, 55, a mother-of-five who disappeared in May 2023 after she went hiking with a boyfriend.

Following the tragic discovery, Mr Morphew’s attorney released a statement saying that he and the couple’s daughters were in grief.

“They had faith that their wife and mom would walk back into their lives again. The news is heartbreaking,” a statement from Mr Morphew’s lawyers said.

“From what we know, Barry is as innocent as he was from Day 1. ...We hope the authorities will quickly admit their wrongful persecution of Barry, an innocent man, to treat the Morphews like the victims they are, and charge the person(s) responsible for Suzanne’s killing.”

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