Exploring where all is lost

When 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 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 vanished on Australia Day, 55 years ago. Listen as the ever-so-cool King holds true to his training, to push aside the notoriety of the Beaumont children case 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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Locating the truth

In a special case update from Mapping Evil, Mike and Tory investigate how the sad story of a missing Colorado mum morphed into a high-stakes, circumstantial murder trial – plagued by rumour and innuendo.

Suzanne Morphew – a vibrant mother-of-two – disappeared from her home on Mother’s Day 2020. One year later, her high school sweetheart and husband of 32 years was arrested on a charge of first-degree murder. The case has gripped the entire world and captured the unrelenting attention of internet sleuths desperate to know what happened.

Mike employs criminal profiling tactics to separate the clues from the conspiracies and shares how he rallied community support in the tireless search for Suzanne.

“We used high-tech GIS tracking software to monitor the search... And in the end, we provided tracking and analysis for nearly 700 citizen volunteers and all of that information was immediately made available to law enforcement.”

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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.

  • Click to view the disappearance of Suzanne Morphew transcript

    Tory Shepherd: 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 Esri Australia, that's E S R I australia.com.au/crime.

    Case update: The disappearance of Suzanne Morphew - locating the truth.

    Mike King: Think about this, in the Morphew case the daughters have lost their mother. Now, as the criminal proceedings continue, they risk the loss of their father to jail.

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

    And it's a Mapping Evil bonus episode so please do head to wherever you get your podcasts and check out the previous episodes, particularly episode five, where we first investigated the case of missing mother of two, Suzanne Morphew.

    Mike King: From day one, I was troubled with Barry Morphew's video plea for his wife.

    Tory Shepherd: Mapping Evil explores how geography plays a role in horrific crimes, from mass murders to predators, to cults.

    And I am here with Mike King. He's a cold case investigator who’s spent more than four decades working with law enforcement to solve these crimes.

    Mike King: But I was more troubled by the lack of outward searching for his wife, including his lack of participation when her brother Andy organised a five-day search.

    Tory Shepherd: And in a world full of wanna be true crime detectives, Mike is the real deal. And I think this episode will showcase just how insightful he can be. Mike, welcome back.

    Mike King: Well, it is so good to be working with you again, Tory. I'm really looking forward to this exploration of the Suzanne Morphew missing person case, which has turned into a murder trial. The case has gripped the entire world, and it's grabbed the attention of the true crime community with things that have been happening, and they're crazy at times. I mean, I don't know about you, but I am continually scratching my head over this one.

    Tory Shepherd: It's always really extraordinary when we talk about a case and I'm thinking, it's in the United States, but you know, it's really interesting cause Mike's involved. And next thing I know we see it here and it's in our media and that, that happened quite a lot. And it certainly happened with this distressing case of Suzanne Morphew.

    So she was, married to her high school sweetheart Barry. Together they had daughters, Macy and Mallory, and seemingly just out of the blue she vanished on Mother’s Day in 2020. And there was this huge hunt, this huge, well, maybe we don't say man hunt anymore, but a person hunt was launched for her. And Mike, when we first looked at this case, you had this to say:

    Mike King quote: Within a few days of her disappearance, a YouTuber happened to be in the area wandering around and came across Suzanne's husband, and videotaped him talking about what he believed the theories were. And he gave four theories at that time. And each of them seemed to have some interesting aspects to it.

    And so the second theory that the husband presented to this YouTuber who videoed, was that she crashed on her bicycle, must've 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. But Tory the thing that bothered me so much about that was again, that there was no physical evidence to support that her bike crashed.

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

    Mike King: I mean, from the moment an unsuspecting YouTuber met Suzanne's husband on a dirt road near their Colorado home. Barry Morphew's behaviour has been captivating to me. The conversation then seemed odd, and almost rehearsed as he delivered his theories.

    And for me, I kept reflecting on probabilities. We learned so much more about her personal and private life later on in this case, but it just didn't seem probable that she would walk away from her life, her, her daughters, or her loving brothers, sister, and father.

    You know, I spoke with her father several times about this case and even did so just shortly before he died and joined many people in sorrow, as he passed away without knowing what happened to his daughter, Suzanne.

    Tory Shepherd: Mmm, I feel like there are many decades that in your case mean your gut instinct is not just, you know, your, your magical thoughts. It's actually insight, bred from bred, from all that experience.

    Anyway, a lot has happened since then. So stay tuned, everyone because Mike and I are going to pick forensically through the new evidence that's emerged. But Mike, can I just ask, have you changed your thoughts on this case while you've been tracking it ever since that day Mother’s Day 2020?

    Mike King: Nope. I haven't changed my overall thoughts on this one, Tory. You know, from day one, I was troubled with Barry Morphew's 20-second video plea for his wife. But I was more troubled by the lack of outward searching for his wife, including his lack of participation when her brother Andy organised a five-day search. He was nowhere to be found. Why is that?

    Much of my focus has been on what's not being said or done instead of what is being done. I mean, I didn't see him out searching, I did see go fund me pages that were established and raised literally tens of thousands of dollars. But when Andy needed money for the search, it wasn't available.

    I saw outward expressions that didn't exist or co-exist with the physical efforts that were being put out. It all just seemed ingenuine to me then, and it does today. I find myself pushing all those thoughts aside though. And I focus on one thing that I've never wavered in. That's my belief that Suzanne Morphew wouldn't have walked away from everything she's known for 40 years.

    Tory Shepherd: Let's just back up a little bit just in case people haven't heard the original episode and haven't been kind of watching it as closely as we have.

    Can you talk us through what happened, you know, pretty much as soon as she was reported missing, what did we know back then about what happened?

    Mike King: We have learned so much in the past 18 months. I mean, we heard testimony that suggests that Barry and Suzanne were not as happy as some people made it seem. There were text messages, fights, friends who were confided in, but, you know, before we talk about all that, I want to just retrace that fateful Mother’s Day morning for a moment.

    Think about this. It's Mother’s Day 2020. And instead of spending time with his wife, Barry Morphew says he packed his truck at about five o'clock in the morning and drove two hours north to Denver, Colorado, where he checked into a motel preparing to do some work.

    By mid-morning, his daughters called him on their mobile phones to explain that they hadn't been able to reach their mother. They wanted to wish her happy Mother’s Day. They were on a church sponsored outing and, and they were in the vehicle returning back that day. You know, this was becoming really interesting to me that Barry and Suzanne were home alone that weekend leading up to Mother’s Day.

    Barry told his daughters that he’d check with the neighbour and he hung up and called the neighbour and asked her to go over and check on Suzanne. This became even more interesting to me when the neighbour called him back stating Suzanne wasn't at home.

    It was then that Barry told the neighbour to go see if her bike was in the garage, stating that she might be bike riding. The neighbour confirmed the bike was missing and Barry instructed the neighbour to call police. Well, number one, why does he think about the bike? And number two, why does he have the neighbour call police? Why didn't he call police?

    He returns home hours later and he meets with police, and it would be later revealed in court that the responding officers found his behavior to be really odd, almost inappropriate with someone who had just had his wife mysteriously disappear, especially after police found her bicycle in some trees at the bottom of a small hill near their home.

    Tory Shepherd: So, he threw out this idea of her bike. He seemed to keep throwing out all these different theories. One of my favorite, and I think this is because I listened to you kind of fairly thoroughly debunk it, is the idea that she was dragged away by a mountain lion.

    Now, I think this appeals to me because I'm picturing where she is, she's in Colorado, it's the wilderness, you know, I'm like, maybe there are mountain lions, but Mike, didn't really wash with you, right?

    Mike King: Yeah. I mean, wasn't that interesting how he already had a number of theories in place, almost immediately. He wondered about a mountain lion killing Suzanne.

    He said that she may have crashed on her bicycle and stumbled into the river nearby being swept away and drowned.

    He also thought maybe she could have run away with someone, and he even tossed out the idea that the boogeyman abducted her.

    Tory Shepherd: Yeah.

    Mike King: You know, I was so frustrated by the mountain lion theory that I jumped on it immediately and I called my friends at the mountain lion foundation to chat about lion behaviour. I live in lion country, Tory and I wanted experts who had studied this magnificent animal to weigh in, and holy cow weigh in they did.

    We explored a large 50 plus mile range that, that suggests that about one lion will live within a 50-mile range. It's really rare for them to come around people and more rare for them to attack human beings. Now at the risk of being a little graphic, I want to say that I found many areas where lions have killed their prey.

    These are not pristine sites when a mountain lion kills something. A mountain lion can't pick up 120-pound woman and carry her off without leaving some kind of artifact on the ground. A drag mark, blood droplets, torn clothing, something like this. And there was nothing to support the notion, and frankly, Tory, when a lion kills its prey, the area looks like somebody just walked into an airplane propeller.

    Tory Shepherd: That was very graphic!

    Uh, I apologise. I don't know any other way to be less graphic in my description than that. All of that was just a bunch of malarkey in my opinion.

    Tory Shepherd: So there's something a little off about Barry saying, maybe it was the mountain lions. Is that a common thing for somebody to, you know, let, let's say an innocent man grieving, is it, is it a common thing that they would throw out so many different theories about what might've happened so early?

    Mike King: Yeah. I find myself thinking, how would I respond? Knowing there's some danger in placing my own value system in a victim or suspect's shoes. I mean when I do, I have to go back and reflect on the hundreds of people that I've interviewed in my life. And I find that some behaviours just don't fit the scenario.

    In, in many of these cases, family members, spouses, and survivors might say things like, I could have done more, or I should have done this or that. Then you have those individuals who will just deflect everything away from them, and toward others. That's always a little suspicious to me.

    Tory Shepherd: Okay. So Suzanne has disappeared, we have no idea what's happened. And this is when this big search begins. And Mike, I mentioned before about all these internet sleuths, who, you know, they watch a bit of drone footage, they pull up YouTube, they think they can solve missing persons cases. And, you know, sometimes that avalanche of information maybe can throw up something, but in real life, there's a very, like, there's a massive logistical effort, that's very organised. Tell us about how it's done properly.

    Mike King: Well today, we have a community of internet sleuths who are actively looking for answers when these cases happen. Some of these people go too far in my opinion, and they insert themselves into the investigation. I mean, we've seen what to me are horror stories of them showing up at crime scenes, pounding on victims or alleged perpetrators doors.

    Now, while they might be good meaning, many are more concerned about getting views, likes and clicks. The internet sleuth community can actually hurt criminal case investigations, even though they might think they're actually helping. Now what the internet sleuth brings to the table is absolutely important and beneficial though.

    Social media is a great way to share information about missing person cases. It raises awareness, but these things need to be done with a measure of caution and responsibility.

    I call this valuable information and process that people can provide, public CSI, or I use the term crowdsourced intelligence. Law enforcement needs to hear from people if they've seen or heard something that's related to the crime.

    Now, when people step over the line though, things like banging on doors or harassing people who were involved in a case, it really becomes problematic. Now, in the Morphew case we saw this groundswell of people who wanted to go out and help search for Suzanne.

    But then Suzanne's brother, Andy reached out to me and asked for help. We worked with Andy and his family and, and law enforcement in identifying areas to search. Then we used high-tech GIS tracking software to monitor the search. It was amazing and in the end, we provided tracking and analysis for nearly 700 citizen volunteers. And all of that information was immediately made available to law enforcement.

    So, by doing things in a structured way, these citizen detectives can become a helpful resource to government rather than a whole bunch of folks who don't know anything about preserving evidence. Folks that are just out there galumphing along in the woods, destroying evidence.

    Tory Shepherd: So there's all this unstructured stuff that happens, but you've imposed a structure on that, which makes it so much more useful.

    And look in May, listeners if you hadn't heard Barry was arrested and he was charged with the first-degree murder of Suzanne. But Mike, despite all these efforts, the body has never been found. How important is that to the ongoing trial?

    Mike King: It is so troubling for many people when a body can't be located in a murder case. I mean, heck it's troubling for cops. You know, in the last hundred years in the United States, more than 500 criminal cases have ended up in convictions where the body was never found. So, proceeding without a body isn't new territory. Successfully prosecuted criminal cases really get centered on multiple forms of evidence. And it could be without the body.

    Things like physical and forensic evidence, you know, the things like body fluids, DNA, fingerprints. Then there are eyewitness accounts, and in the Morphew case, there are actually eyewitness accounts of behaviours, not necessarily of murder. Now criminal cases sometimes have confessions or admissions.

    And while we have circumstantial evidence, you know, this thing that says A plus B equals C. In fact, let me give you a better scenario, white milk mixed with chocolate powder will result in chocolate milk. You know, it's the thing that just says, if you put these pieces together, it's going to just make sense.

    Tory Shepherd: And we've had a lot of chocolate milk turn up. I remember when we first spoke about it, you know, people were talking about their happy marriage, Suzanne was talking about looking forward to doing various things that seemed like a pretty happy household, but let's talk about Barry. So he wasn't just, um, saving his love for Suzanne was he?

    Mike King: There were so many allegations that rolled out early on, especially through social media. I mean, it fueled a firestorm that focused particularly on whether or not Suzanne's husband was having an affair

    There were things that suggested Barry was searching troubling websites. And there were allegations that he was seeing women on the side, all while he reportedly was looking for his wife. At the same time information was surfacing that suggested there were other problems in the marriage. These text messages, private conversations with friends all shed light on this less-than-ideal relationship that two people had.

    Now these revelations all pointed to something we often talk about in these kinds of cases, the portions of a person's life.

    For instance, we all have this public persona that we promote in front of other people. This is kind of where we put our best foot forward, attempting to be charming and engaging. It might actually be part of our true personality, or it could be part of a chameleon lifestyle.

    Now, from there we examine the private side of our personality. That's the things that we do in select situations, perhaps only in front of those people whom we have a great deal of trust in. These are the places where we share some of our deeper thoughts, feelings and emotions.

    And then we have the secret persona, the side that we're now seeing revealed in the Morphew case – affairs, internet searches. You know, the frightening part about our secret persona is that sometimes it's only seen by the person who's involved in a violent confrontation.

    Tory Shepherd: Right? So, it wasn't all happy families maybe after all. But Barry maybe wasn't the only one involved in betrayal?

    Mike King: Holy cow, Tory. I mean the revelation by the prosecution during the prelim hearing, that Suzanne was having an affair, rocked the global community. This is a community previously that had rallied around the missing woman. And now all of a sudden, there's this flip side to the frustration and anger that many people held against Barry, adding to confusion and further questioning.

    But with all of this drama, we have to remember something as distasteful as fidelity in a marriage, just plain isn't justification for murder.

    Tory Shepherd: Mmm, and look, we should say, this is all stuff that's being, come out of the trial over there in the United States, cause then it maybe flips a little bit cause the recent reports, accuse Barry of hunting and controlling Suzanne, because he was worried that she was maybe going to leave him. And I wanted to ask you, you know, I think we talk a lot now about coercion and control in relationships.

    How much of a red flag is that in a relationship?

    Mike King: Yeah, that was another bombshell and prosecution hot potato. It was all new information as part of the arrest affidavit, which was finally released. The text messages, the private conversations, the internet searches, and then the prosecution's allegation that mobile phone records showed Barry chasing Suzanne all around the house, were popping up huge red flags left and right.

    Red flags that continued to pop up and confuse the public with short changed answers.

    Tory Shepherd: And then on top of all of that, we've seen this affidavit, which is, I think it's like 130 pages of information. We've heard this big range of evidence. We heard that Barry was spotted doing five trash runs, that Suzanne may have been spying on him.

    And then I'm really interested in this and to hear what you thought about it, there was this suggestion that Barry's mobile phone and the data they collected from the phone towers, showed that he was chasing her through the house before she disappeared, which sounds pretty damning. Mike, and I think we do hear about being tracked by mobile phones, but can you rely on it down to that kind of detail that he was chasing her through the house?

    Mike King: The suspicious stops at trash cans, there were five different locations that Barry allegedly deposited trash in or evidence in. We don't know. Places like a dumpster at a bus terminal, behind a hotel or, or near a fast-food restaurant. What was more interesting was Morphew's explanation that he's cheap and he was trying to find places to dispose of trash from his work sites.

    Well, for investigators searching for evidence and a body, this behaviour became really important as additional information rolls in.

    But the mobile phone discussion is the thing that really blew the minds of a lot of people, especially those in the courtroom on the day the prosecution presented their theory. You know that data that showed Barry's phone moving throughout the inside and outside of the house. The defence argued that the information suggests that that Barry was moving at speeds of up to 40 miles an hour, that he was running through walls.

    Well, they were spot on and in my opinion, the prosecution failed to share the science of mobile phone data. You see mobile phone reception in rural Colorado is really poor. When the location of a phone is determined, it's done through a process called triangulation. I mean, I'd encourage everybody to just stop for a moment, take a look at the map on their mobile phone right now while we're talking.

    If you're in an area where mobile reception is poor, the circle might be larger. Sit patiently and watch the location of your phone as it moves around, making it appear like you're moving, when in reality, your position hasn't changed one iota.

    But Barry wasn't running through walls and he certainly wasn't moving at 40 miles an hour inside his home. The important thing here is the certainty range, that circle, and the calculations which showed him inside the home. That's significant, especially when you see him take overt actions later in this case by going into airplane mode.

    Tory Shepherd: I saw like a squiggle, like a little red squiggle, all, the way through the house. And it looked like, you know, it would've been a mad scramble.

    Mike King: Exactly Tory and in my opinion, the prosecutor didn't think this one through. I mean, the defence challenged the data and rightly so. The science of mobile technology and GIS could have made this so much easier to understand. In fact, it gave me an opportunity to educate the community on what we call mobile drift.

    Tory Shepherd: Right, she was meant to be in the house on her own and on the internet coverage, they're in mountain lion territory. So, you know, maybe their coverage wasn't that good, which makes it look a little more scrappy and like it moves around.

    Mike King: Yeah, that's right, from the very start of this case on Mother’s Day in 2020, there have been complaints about bandwidth in this rural Colorado community. The mountains and the distance between cell phone towers makes obtaining an accurate location really tough.

    Let's personalise this a little folks and think of the areas in Australia where there's little or no known reception. Imagine trying to get an accurate location based on cell phone triangulation in an area like that.

    Tory Shepherd: So I feel like this case has just been kind of breaking news after breaking news, and one of the more recent bits of breaking news is that Barry's now been let out on bail for I think, 500,000 US dollars. One of the things that really struck me watching the footage of him emerging was his teenage daughters, Macy and Mallory, looking so supportive. When it seemed as though most of the coverage was fairly damning of him.

    In all the cases that you've seen, are you surprised when families seem to be so supportive of the person who, you know, in many people's minds, may be a guilty party?

    Mike King: No, not at all. And in fact, I think back to the many cases I've been involved in, I mean, there is a polarising effect that occurs in these criminal cases.

    At times, I've watched as those who are intimately involved in a criminal case, seem to polarise, some toward the victim, others toward the defendant. They might even cut off all relationships with the other side, something like we're seeing in the Morphew case. And think about this, in the Morphew case the daughters have lost their mother.

    Now, as the criminal proceedings continue, they risk the loss of their father to jail. I mean, that's an awful lot of trauma for any child to bear, even if they happen to be as old as the Morphew children, it's an awful lot for them to bear. Now, add the pressure of wondering if your father really did murder your mother.

    Holy cow, trusting and having hope would be difficult at best. Imagine trying to process that piece of information. So to answer your question Tory, I personally hold no ill will against the children in this case for siding with their father. Nor do I judge anyone else's decision on where they lay their allegiance in cases like this.

    Tory Shepherd: Mmm, I think that's a really good point. It's really easy to kind of lose sight of all the humans who are caught up in the, in the ripple effects of this. So look the trial is continuing and Mike, I know a lot of people are following your coverage very closely. What can you expect from here?

    Mike King: We have to figure out how to remain focused on what's really important. In this case, what's really important is Suzanne Morphew is missing. Likely as the result of murder. Her affair, the troubles in her marriage or her financial situation, doesn't change the fact that she didn't deserve to be murdered.

    Suzanne Morphew didn't deserve to die. She didn't deserve to be taken away from her children. She didn't deserve this. And so we have to keep focusing on the crime itself and not all the noise that comes out of these cases. You know, when I look at cases like this, I like to think that there are also lessons that law enforcement can learn.

    Investigators need to become better at how they manage today's internet sleuths, there are ways that they can do this more effectively and they frankly have to evolve. Instead of shutting the door on this, perhaps law enforcement needs to inform the public more proactively of things they need, and also provide a way for people to securely provide feedback.

    Tory Shepherd: I like that cause I do think a lot of these internet sleuths, they might not intend to kind of interfere with an investigation, they're just keen to kind of know more and to help out and they think they're onto things.

    Are you optimistic then, I guess if you can harness the group power, the crowdsourced information of those internet sleuths and put it into that structured kind of format, does that leave you optimistic that they will eventually find a body or something that gives resolution to Suzanne Morphew's family?

    Mike King: Boy that's a tough question to answer Tory I mean, Colorado mountains and it's back country are filled with rugged terrain. There are so many places a body could be hidden or disposed of it's just unbelievable. So, my thoughts go to the predator and the level of organisation that that predator might have.

    In many murders, the actual homicide isn't a planned event. Something goes wrong and people die. Now the killer in those cases is often confused and shaken. In these kinds of cases a body might be quickly hidden behind a tree or a bush. It might be buried in a shallow grave. Those cases make it possible for someone to possibly stumble across the victim and a recovery can be made.

    On the other hand, if the predator's organised and callous, they may have planned out where they're going to put the body, making recovery almost impossible. Out of these scenarios I sense that the latter is the case in the Morphew situation. Suzanne Morphew's body may never be discovered. And that means her family will spend a lifetime wondering what happened.

    Tory Shepherd: Well, look I hope for those two girls that they get all the information they need. And that trial is ongoing, and I look forward to learning more about it and seeing what you think of all of it, Mike.

    So that brings us to the end of today's podcast, but definitely not the end of this intriguing mystery. Stay with us listeners because we have a quick snippet from Mapping Evil Season Two just after this episode.

    But for now, it is thanks to our sponsor Esri Australia, who provide mapping solutions for tracking and solving crimes and finding the missing.

    To download a free trial of Esri software, go to mappingevil.com.au. There's also heaps of bonus stuff there and all those other episodes for you to look at.

    And Mike, I'm just, I'm so glad we have you to keep us up to date on Suzanne Morphew and what happens with her and, of course her husband Barry. What's the best way for people to follow what you're doing next?

    Mike King: You know, I feel so privileged to know Suzanne's family as a result of our interactions on this case, they are good people who are driven with hopes of bringing Suzanne home. I hope that this message of public CSI or crowdsourced intelligence, will resonate with our audience and that all of us will provide information when we have it.

    And for those who would like to learn more, you can follow me at Profiling Evil and Mapping Evil on your favorite podcast platform.

    Tory Shepherd: Mike, I think you're far too humble for all your experience. I look forward to the next time we catch up.

    Mike King: Hey, thanks a lot, Tory.

    It's always fun to be with you. And I love exploring these criminal cases with you. I look forward to the next opportunity.

    Tory Shepherd: And we'll be back soon for Season Two, which you really won't want to miss. Mike has uncovered a new lead in one of Australia's coldest cases, which may finally provide the answer to “who done it”.

    This is going to be big guys. We'll be looking at the coldest of Australian cases. We have brand new information on a case that's been unsolved for more than 50 years. It's not to be missed.

    Anonymous: My dad killed Betty Shanks, who we all know had been brutally bashed, she'd been choked. Her jaw had been broken.

    Mike King: This was this beautiful low-risk woman who is murdered and left on the side of a road, thrown over a fence and into a yard.

    Anonymous: It was the first brutal murder of its kind in a neighbourly city like Brisbane.

    Mike King: We know where the body is, and we have to think about where the people that heard the screams were calling in from.

    Anonymous: Back in 1952, people who lived in Brisbane tended to leave their doors unlocked at night, their windows unlocked. After the murder of Betty Shanks, people locked their windows, locked their doors. So, it ended the age of innocence in Brisbane.

    Mike King: I've been examining the Betty Shanks case since 2019. And the most peculiar thing happened. I was contacted by someone willing to share relevant information about this murder.

    It's my understanding that this is still the longest standing cold case in Queensland. So, let's see whether or not we can finally help the police and the surviving family members get some answers.

    Tory Shepherd: And so, I think we have a plan for Season Two. I am looking forward to taking a closer look at the mystery surrounding the death of Betty Shanks.

    So Mike let's catch up soon and do it all again.

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

    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 Gabi Paterson, Circa3 and Podbooth Studios. Our Supervising Producer is Kim Douglas, and our Executive Producer is Raquel Jackson.

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

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