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Exploring where all is lost

When married mother of two Suzanne Morphew went missing from her Colorado home on Mother’s Day 2020, it appeared as if she had simply vanished off the face of the earth. Together with her anxious family, Mike King mobilised an army of 700 volunteers, all equipped with cutting-edge tracking technology, to scour and map more than 6,500 linear miles of remote and rugged terrain surrounding the Morphew’s Salida property.

In this episode, Mike and Tory take a closer look at the mysterious disappearance of Suzanne Morphew. They explore the four theories of her fate – as offered by her husband – and examine whether this loving mother of two young girls fell afoul of one of nature’s wildest and most merciless predators… or one closer to home.

Tory then invites Mike to consider how he would approach the enduring mystery surrounding the disappearance of Adelaide’s Beaumont children, who – like Suzanne Morphew – simply vanished on Australia Day, 55 years earlier. Listen as the ever-so-cool King holds true to his training, to push aside the notoriety of the Beaumont children case, and the decades of supposition, innuendo and rumour – to offer investigators a technology-led lifeline to better understand the 1966 crime scene.

…sometimes that's all we have in these kinds of investigations – the victimology and what a normal day was like for them, what they would have generally done. We have to build our theories upon evidence.

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  • Click to view the Mapping Predator Hunting Grounds transcript

    Tory: The following podcast contains content of a highly graphic nature. Listener discretion is advised. The material covered is based on firsthand accounts and publicly available information. In producing this podcast, every effort has been made to show respect to the victims and their families.

    Support for this episode comes from the country's leading mapping technology and services provider, Esri Australia. To learn more about how Esri tech is making a difference in crime analysis and public safety, head to esriaustralia.com.au/crime.

    Mike (voiceover): Suzanne's husband left to do a job unexpectedly, and in the time that he was gone, she disappeared off the face of the earth.

    Tory: I'm Tory Shepherd. And this is Mapping Evil with Mike King.

    Mike (voiceover): We used GIS to really map out everything because as we do that, it helps bring more questions to the table that hopefully we can answer.

    Tory: The podcast that looks at the geography of crimes.

    Mike (voiceover): Time is really not the enemy, when a case becomes cold, time could be our friend because someone might get the courage to step forward today that didn't have it 20 years ago.

    Tory: Episode five: Mapping Predator Hunting Grounds.

    I'm here with Mike King, a world-renowned investigator and criminal profiler who uses smart mapping technology to track and catch criminals around the world, and is a bonafide cold case expert.

    Mike, we're going to talk about some of those cold cases and specifically the search for a missing person shortly. People go missing all the time and some are never found, including the Beaumont children – a case that still fascinates Australians. But first we're talking about a cold case you've been working on in the United States that really isn't that cold. Mike, when is the case declared cold?

    Mike: A case is considered cold whenever the investigators simply run out of leads Tory. There's really no specific timeframe involved in this criteria. The beauty of a cold case is that as long as there's something to follow up on, the case can remain alive.

    Something that really has become interesting to me over the last 20 years is that, cold cases aren't necessarily that bad of a thing. We see that relationships change over time. People that were afraid to come forward and share information they have years earlier, might have the courage to do so today. Technology has improved dramatically, and we see in forensics, how forensics have changed the game in cold cases.

    And then of course public support can change over time. So, all of these can help us in determining when it becomes cold.

    Tory: And I guess you can tell how these patterns emerge. If you see the same pattern of a person moving in a particular way or not going that far from home before striking a victim, then maybe you can use that new information to reinvestigate the cold case.

    But this one is far from cold, today. We're going to talk about Suzanne Morphew. So, I spent a lot of time going down a rabbit hole on this specific case because there's a lot of information out there – there's a lot of theories. Possibly a lot of misinformation and we are going to dive right into it.

    Mike has actually put together a StoryMap and a whole lot of information. You can find that on mappingevil.com.au

    Mike, are you ready to go?

    Mike: I am. Let's go for it.

    Tory: So Suzanne Morphew, she's living in Colorado, she's married, she’s got two kids. She's got plans to go to a friend's wedding. Everything seems hunky-dory. There are conflicting reports about the health of her marriage. I was having a look at some of the husband's very loving letters and some really smoochy photos of them together – he also told the press that they were happy. And then her brother painted a completely different story saying that maybe they were struggling in that marriage.

    Suzanne has been missing since Mother’s Day 2020 – a specific date that lends a real poignancy to this tale. Mike, what do we know about the day Suzanne disappeared?

    Mike: Well, we know that it was Mother’s Day – which is so significant in many lives. Now we don't know how this particular family really celebrated Mother’s Day or other events. But for most of us, this is a day when you really are focused on staying at home and putting all of your efforts into recognising these efforts that are put forward by mums all around the world.

    In this case, it was a little different. Early that morning, Suzanne's husband left to do a job unexpectedly some 150 miles away. And in the time that he was gone, somehow, she disappeared off the face of the earth.

    Only now, we're starting to see more and more bits of information come forward. The other interesting thing was, the family had decided to send their daughters on a church camping trip. So they were actually away as well. And all of that becomes kind of peculiar, but again, we have to go back to what was normal for that particular family – versus what you or I may think is normal on a Mother’s Day.

    Tory: That's right, because you could start to sort of think ‘why was everybody out of the house when they should have been bringing toast and orange juice in bed?’ But we're not talking about a suburban landscape here are we? It's quite a rocky, mountainous terrain. Can you describe for us where she was in Colorado? Like she would have walked out, maybe wheeled her bike out of the house. What's she looking at?

    Mike: They actually lived in an area called Salida, Colorado – it's in the Eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains in the Western side of the United States.

    It's really rugged and remote countryside. Mobile phone coverage in this area is really spotty. The winters can be incredibly harsh because of the elevation there and the deep snows. Not only are there deep snows, but there are deep canyons that create such caches of snow that in the springtime or the runoff time – when this happened – the rivers are just chock full of runoff from the snow as it's starting to melt.

    The rivers become treacherous, the roads can become treacherous in the daytime. It can be warm enough that you have a lot of melting snow but at night it can be subfreezing temperatures when people can really get into trouble. So we might see a 50 degree Fahrenheit temperature swing between day and night in this part of the country.

    Tory: So there's a bit of scope there for misadventures for somebody with no sense of direction. I feel fairly sure I'd walk out the door and get lost straight away but that's probably not true for Suzanne.

    Mike: You bring up an interesting thing because they were also new to the area. Now, her husband was an avid hunter so he spent a great amount of time out in the woods and in the back country, in that area. In fact, what led them from their native Indiana – which is very flat country – into Colorado, was the fact that he had hunted in those areas many times.

    But I don't know if that's the case for Suzanne. She was one who started mountain biking earlier but from all reports she was still learning her way around the area and getting used to people and getting to know people in the area.

    Tory: So, what are the theories? I mean, what does her husband say? What are the speculations about what might have happened to Suzanne?

    Mike: Something really intriguing happened in this particular case. Within a few days of her disappearance, while family members were coming out from Indiana to help in the search, law enforcement was conducting searches around the home and in the general area.

    A YouTuber happened to be in the area, wandering around and came across Suzanne's husband and videoed him talking about what he believed the theories were – and he gave four theories at that time. Each of them seemed to have some interesting aspects to it.

    The first theory was that a mountain lion attacked his wife and carried her off and consumed her. You know, we looked at that and we actually brought in a number of mountain lion experts from the Mountain Lion Foundation – an actual foundation that tracks cougars all across North America.

    We learned a couple of really interesting things. First and foremost, when a mountain lion attacks someone, the farthest it will carry something like a hundred-pound deer would be about 150 meters away. So, it's just really a relatively short distance that they would carry the prey off.

    If they do consume the prey, it's going to take them days. Now, this is talking a hundred-pound deer on average, and Suzanne was a little over a hundred pounds. So, it makes pretty interesting sense. The other thing that's so interesting about a mountain lion is that it will only drag its prey downhill toward a river or a water source, and then it will cache it or bury the prey so that other predators don't come and feed on that. This is such a terrible thing to be talking about when we're theorising about a human being, but that was the basic theory.

    Now, in North America, there is considered to be about one mountain lion for every 30 miles – so they're really rare. For that animal to be coming down and doing this just really didn't make sense and raised an incredibly huge flag. If a mountain lion attacked someone, there would be so much physical evidence on the ground and in the area – and none of that was discovered in this particular case.

    Tory: So should we sort of put that away in the ‘it's possible, but it'd be a freakish thing to have happened’.

    Mike: I would say, based on the evidence that we've uncovered in looking at this particular case and what the experts say, it not only is improbable, but I would say it's almost impossible that that would have happened without evidence being recovered.

    Imagine killing someone, just the blood, or the debris on the ground, if that were to happen. And then, dragging someone would also leave some kind of evidence – torn clothing, drag marks. None of that was there. So I'm having a real hard time even giving it a possibility.

    Tory: So, then her bike was found, right? Her mountain bike?

    Mike: Yeah, that posed some really interesting things too, because when the girls – Suzanne's daughters – called during the day on Mother's Day to wish their mother happy Mother's Day and she didn't respond, they – according to public reports – reached out to their father, who then called the neighbour and asked them to go over and see if she was home.

    The neighbour returned and reported that she was not at home. And the husband said “oh, well go back again and check for her bicycle because she might be out for a bike ride.” Now that was kind of intriguing to us and a little bit of a red flag – and yet if he knew the nature of her, that probably was a pretty smart question to ask.

    Incidentally, because of that, law enforcement, when they searched the area, discovered her bike about a quarter of a mile away from their home – down in a ravine, up against a tree. So the second theory that the husband presented to this YouTuber who recorded him was that she crashed her bicycle, must have become disoriented from the crash, and fell into the river – which was very close to where the bike was discovered – and then swept away in the river.

    It is certainly a possibility that she could have been swept away in that river and still not recovered – although the water has dropped dramatically and we're now in the fall. There have been divers out on the river and the rivers have been searched, but Tory, the thing that bothered me so much about that was, again, there was no physical evidence to support that her bike crashed.

    When you lack these artifacts, you have to start saying no, that's another red flag for me in this particular incident.

    Tory: Alrighty. Well, let's shelve that one as well for now. He had a theory that maybe she was abducted.

    Mike: Yeah, and I think that's really an intriguing one. This idea that perhaps the bogeyman was driving down the road, pulled her off of her bike, put her in a car and has taken her away – that is a really difficult one to prove or disprove. Again, I go back to the physical evidence around the bike that if somebody had run her off the road or forced her into a vehicle, there would have been artifacts in the gravel road – other things that might be suggestive of something like that going on. To say how far they may travel or may not travel is really speculative, but there has not been anything to either prove or disprove that particular thought process.

    Tory: Okay. In any case, this YouTuber got to hear the fourth theory, which was that Susanne might've run away, leaving her two girls at the church camp – just skedaddled.

    Mike: Yeah, and that troubled me from the beginning, because this mum the night before was talking to her best friend about her best friend's daughter's wedding that she was going to attend virtually. They were talking about it enthusiastically. There was nothing in her life to suggest that she was going to run away. And most importantly to me now, six months later, that mother hasn't reached out to her most prized possessions – her daughters.

    Even if there was something going on between the husband and wife and that their relationship was in jeopardy, like the brother suggested, her prized possession wouldn't have gone seven months without contact. Nor would there not have been something turn up – like a credit card being used – to suggest that she was still alive.

    Tory: The obvious thing that you do when somebody goes missing is you put on a search party for them. I feel like what we normally see with search parties is people with flashlights wandering around and eventually stumbling over something. But that's not what you got involved with. You coordinated a much more sophisticated search looking for Suzanne.

    Mike: It's interesting because the local Sheriff's office is a rather small agency with a limited budget. They placed in media alerts that they've had as many as a hundred people over the course of four months searching for her off and on. That was troubling to Suzanne's brother who decided that he wanted to mount his own search. He reached out to us and asked if we could help him. We leaned upon Geographic Information Systems technology – or GIS as it’s commonly known – and thought this would be the perfect way to arm this band of citizens that he's going to bring together, and track them in real-time. Not only did we have to worry about the safety of the searchers, but we had to worry about the integrity of the search and being able to show exactly what areas were covered.

    And so, we put together a couple of things using technology. We used GIS to ascertain and to understand where the volunteers were coming from – and there were hundreds and hundreds. Some reports are as high as 700 volunteers who showed up over the course of that five days to search. Using GIS technology on their mobile devices, we're able to put those applications on their phones and track them in real-time so that we could have a true understanding of what was covered. It was incredible the amount of coverage that they had – this group of people in five days covered 6,500 linear miles of countryside as they searched for this woman.

    Tory: Well, Mike, I'm so impressed with that search effort that you put in. I think you call it public CSI – crowdsourced intelligence –  and I am thrilled that could well be the future of how these searches work and maybe we'll have fewer missing people in the future.

    I would have thought of Suzanne as being a fairly safe person. What do we know about the victimology then? Are women more at risk when they're in a geographical location like the mountains of Colorado or when they're in a more of an urban setting?

    Mike: Well, Suzanne was raised in Indiana in farmland. She was an all-around good citizen. But interestingly, she also is an individual who survived cancer at a very young age when she was 14 – she lost all of her hair and she went through terrible cancer treatments, but she survived it.

    She was told she would never be a mother but she was blessed with two beautiful daughters. Then she had just gone through another bout of cancer and beat it again Tory – this was an incredible woman who was a fighter but she had a heart that was so good.

    Tory: You've really captured people's imagination talking about Suzanne. What we usually do at this point is go from an American crime to an Australian crime. In this particular case we're actually going to talk about a mystery from my hometown of Adelaide. So Mike, is it okay if I introduce our listeners to the Beaumont children?

    Mike: I'm looking forward to this.

    Tory: Everyone in Adelaide –  and I would say South Australia, if not the whole of Australia – grew up hearing about the Beaumonts: Jane, who is nine, Arnna, who was seven and Grant, who was four. On Australia Day – which is January 26th, Mike – in 1966, they left home for a trip to the beach. They went to Glenelg and they never came home.

    Now that was a normal thing – even for me, a little bit later than that – kids were allowed to do, even at a very young age, catch a bus or ride a bike quite a long way. We know quite a bit about what they did that day. They got on a bus at 10:00 AM. They went to Glenelg Beach, -- which is probably our busiest beach Mike, particularly on Australia Day – it's probably a very busy day there as it's a national holiday. There's a lot of people there, but quite a lot of people notice them.

    They were seen at Colley Reserve, which is a park right next to the beach where there's lots of sports and people kicking balls around and so on. And Wenzel's Cake Shop, which is again, quite near the beach. So we know quite a lot about what these three kids did that day. Every year, I feel like we get another new lead in the Beaumont case. We still don't know what happened in the end, but is it helpful to be able to see their movements in the lead up to the disappearance?

    Mike: Oh, I think it absolutely helps. I mean, sometimes all we have in these kinds of investigations is this victimology – what a normal day was like for them, what they would have generally done. You know, we have to build our theories upon evidence. What we know, but it's important that we remain flexible enough that as information comes in, we can really adjust to it.

    It is so important to understand, how did these kids get to the beach? What kind of a system was it? If they rode the bus, what did they do when they were there? Was it normal for a kid to walk up and order their own food and go off somewhere? Did these children talk to strangers? All of that becomes really important as we look at the victimology and then we consider these crime scenes.

    Because when we look at crime scenes, we have to consider, where the initial contact occurs, where a suspect in a crime and a victim come together. That's called the initial crime scene. Then we have the actual site where some form of crime occurs in the case of this, you know, the abduction and assaults or whatever may have happened.

    Then we have a third crime scene, this idea of a disposal site, where the child is left behind. We have to look at each of them individually and bring all this information together into one place as we theorise.

    Tory: So there is a suspect in the Beaumont case. He's described as tall, blonde thin-faced and wearing bathers – which is what we call swimming costumes or trunks or cozies. So we've got this suspect, and I can tell you that journalists get calls all the time from people saying that they know what happened. Even quite recently, there've been digs at a place called North Plympton, which is not too far from Glenelg. So how do you work that, like new information and new technology, and then you can start to reassess a case?

    Mike: Yeah, I think first and foremost, it's going through that victimology. What did they do day in, day out? What was the normal course of action for them? What were the things that were going on in the community and what kind of people were they coming in contact with? Were they coming in contact with people that were complete strangers or were they people from the community that some may know them or not?

    Then we have to start really mapping it out. This is where GIS can become so important in these kinds of cases – start understanding what each of those locations look like, what the environment's like, who the people are, what views people may have. Today, we would take advantage of that and use it for understanding things like where cameras are or other kinds of things.

    It's really important that we start to really map out everything, because as we do that, it helps bring more questions to the table that hopefully we can answer.

    Tory: It's really extraordinary to compare Suzanne Morphew and how you've been able to get 700 people out there with apps on their phone mapping everything – even when there wouldn't have been witnesses around. Then compare it to Glenelg, which was full of people, but with no way of recording what was going on. And that mapping technology, I mean, it does throw out patterns – it sees these patterns emerge. If you start to see patterns emerge, can it then also use that to spark the memories of more potential witnesses.

    If we look at some of the maps on the website that you've put together, if people are in Glenelg on that day could maybe see something like that, it might just spark something.

    Mike: Absolutely. So going back to this idea of maps, being used to track where the searchers go. Imagine at the end of a day, with a hundred searchers, to be able to say ‘here are the places we covered’. But here's the location we didn't search. All of a sudden we can become much more microscopic in the searching process.

    Then as we're walking along or seeing things we can bring up ‘I came across the body of water that was too deep for me to just walk in and look around’. That becomes an investigative lead that needs to be resolved – ‘I found a piece of clothing or a chewing gum wrapper that is consistent with what kind of gum this child ate’.

    That becomes really significant. The location of everything, including these little things that seem somewhat inconsequential, become really important. They cause us to ask questions – and when we have a question, then we can go out and try to resolve the question.

    Tory: You can start to feed that data in and go ‘well, there's only two places that sell your favorite chocolate ice cream’. Then it's quite likely that they might've gone here and then you could start to rule out some more things and maybe rule some other things in.

    Mike: Exactly. It is so important. Even things like that become so important from a GIS perspective because now we say okay, these kids always would get ice cream. Well, where's the ice cream stand located? What time would they generally get ice cream? If they did get ice cream, who would have been in the area? What would have led us to get more or information about whether they ever showed up in that location? You know, I wonder if these kids were regulars at the beach. They must have been for their mum and dad to just turn them loose to go down to the beach.

    Does that mean that somebody working at these ice cream stand or a place where they got candy, came to know and recognise them when they came through and could say ‘no, they never came on that day’ or ‘yes, I remember seeing them’.

    Tory: Hmm. It's so strange and interesting, Mike, because the Beaumont children, like I said, we think about them all the time, even though it was so long ago. But Suzanne, this is such a fresh and new thing. Like we might find out what happened to her, talking to you about the way that new patterns can emerge. I do feel this sort of hope that maybe we'll find out what happened to the Beaumont kids. I suspect it won't be a happy ending. But most people find it really hard to sit with just not knowing the ending.

    And one of the things that we've talked about is maybe one day getting you down here to have a look at things. If we brought you down to Adelaide, if you were assigned the Beaumonts as a cold case now, is there something that you think you could do to open up new leads?

    Mike: First and foremost, I'd want to go to the crime scenes and try to understand that. In profiling, we kind of refer to it as ‘vicariously rolling in the dirt’ – trying to understand what someone may have felt. I'd want to interview people. Even though they might be now in their seventies and eighties, or they may be children who are now in their sixties. I would want to interview them and learn as much as I could.

    I'll go to a scene of a murder or a serious criminal case, and I'll spend 20, 30, 40 minutes just staring at a wall in a room and then I'll turn and look at the next wall. I'll move to a doorway and just stare and think ‘what could be going on here’ and try to visualise and understand what happens.

    It would be for me, really important to go to that beach and see all of these artifacts. Look at old photographs again – 55 years ago, a lot's changed. But that's one of those beauties of GIS – we have aerial imagery that goes back and covers many of those time periods. We can look and see how the topography and the geography have changed over time.

    And again, Tory, it goes back to this idea that time is really not the enemy, when a case becomes cold, time could be our friend because someone might get the courage to step forward today that didn't have it 20 years ago.

    Tory: I have this very strong image Mike of you walking through modern Glenelg as it is now, but with a virtual reality overlay of how it was then where you've fed in all the information about what it used to look like, so you can kind of literally walk in their shoes the way that it was back then.

    Mike: You know, that's really exciting to think about. If you think about how GIS has evolved over time, we now can look at geography, not in a two-dimensional way, but in a three-dimensional way. And immersive technology is the next step where we can actually step in.

    We can now have virtual holla pads – like we watched on Star Trek and other shows – where we can have imagery pop up from thick sheets of film, about a quarter of an inch thick, and with a flashlight, have the imagery pop-up in a three-dimensional view so that we can turn and see what an area would look like if we were there.

    It's so accurate that our minds have a difficult time being able to understand that. As we look at 3D technology, I think we're going to be able to do exactly what you're talking about soon.

    Tory: Mike, you stay such a decent guy, even though you deal with so much horror. How do you stay sane?

    Mike: Holy cow. I oftentimes find myself reflecting back on counsel I received when I was in college Tory. I was working in a psychiatric unit at a hospital. I was a 19 or 20-year-old kid. I had been told to give a patient a razor so that he could shave himself because he had been discharged from the psychiatric unit and he was going home.

    So that was kind of an exciting time to see someone that was finally being able to head home. This fellow went into the shower and after about 20 minutes he hadn't come out. I went to check on him – I was an orderly at the hospital – and he was dead in the corner of the shower and he'd used the razor to slit his own throat.

    It really shook me up. I sat with one of the psychiatrists there and I said “you know, this guy was released from the hospital”. He taught me two things that were really important. One was, he said “imagine being so unhappy that making a decision to take your own life is finally a relief that you've made the decision and you've got control. And even though he had been released, he had decided that that was what he was going to do is, is take his own life.”
     
    He said “More importantly, the second thing, Mike, is never allow the behaviour of someone else or the situation that you didn't create to affect your behaviour. Never allow their difficult life circumstance to dictate yours.”

    That really resonated with me. So as I've looked at unsolved murders and I've looked at the tragedy of child sexual assault and victimisation, I have to remind myself that I'm there for one purpose. And that is to be an advocate for that individual – to do everything I can to try to help bring justice for them and in their behalf. But I don't own their pain. That's their pain. It's theirs to work through. It's theirs to get help for and not mine. So I've always been able to just kind of separate myself by one level, by thinking back on that experience.

    Tory: Oh Mike, that is such an intense story but thank you so much for sharing it and sharing how you cope with such a traumatic situation. And if this has brought anything up for anyone listening, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

    Mike, I leave you with us not knowing what's happened to Suzanne Morphew or to the Beaumont children, and I sincerely hope that we find out about both of them one of these days.

    But for now, thank you to today's sponsor Esri Australia – whose mapping solutions, help public safety agencies across the country predict and fight crime, track the crims, keep us safe, and also start those amazing maps done by the volunteers in the search for Suzanne.

    To download a free trial of Esri software go to mappingevil.com.au – that's where you can find all those story maps as well that we talked about today.

    If you found the content covered in this podcast distressing, support is available from Lifeline on 13 11 14.  And, if you have information about any unsolved crime, please contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000, or go to crimestoppers.com.au.

    And don’t forget, you can access other resources including interactive maps and a free trial of Esri’s mapping software at mappingevil.com.au.

    If you enjoyed Mapping Evil with Mike King, leave us a review and follow us wherever you get your podcasts.

    This is a Boustead Geospatial Technologies Production. This episode was narrated by me, Tory Shepherd and Mike King. Sound design by Fig Media with editing support from Kim Douglas, Gabi Paterson, Circa3 and Podbooth Studios.  Artwork by Superscript, and our Executive Producers are Raquel Jackson and Alicia Kouparitsas.

    And finally, this production would not be possible without the support of Esri Australia.

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