On the first day of the trial for the man accused of killing her, Marcia Ann Forsberg was painted as a wonderful woman undeserving of her fate.
Richard Gustav Forsberg, her husband of 39 years, is accused of bludgeoning Marcia Ann, dismembering her, burning the body and then telling concerned friends that she had left him for some alone time.
Prosecuting attorney Ebrahim Baytieh, who along with defense attorney Calvin Schneider III delivered opening statements on Wednesday in Orange County Superior Court, called the first six witnesses of 19 or 20 that he expects to take the stand on the state’s behalf.
The most compelling testimony came from Forsberg himself in an audiotape interview conducted by late detective Steve Swiderski and Sgt. Martin Ramirez, who was called to the stand to introduce the tape toward the end of the day.
Ramirez indicated that the interview taped without Forsberg’s knowledge.
The bulk of the interview that was played centered on Marcia Ann’s wherabouts, and whether Forsberg was—or should be—worried about her. He said she left him on March 13, 2010, with a former colleague and friend in Phoenix named Annie whose last name he didn’t know. Nor did Forsberg know how to reach her. She would use the opportunity, he said, to “go ostrich,” a term Marcia used to indicate sticking her head in the sand and avoiding everything.
Forsberg told the investigators that she would make up her mind about their marriage by the time their anniversary arrived on Sept. 26. If she didn’t return by then, then their separation would become permanent.
He also discussed her various health issues, including breast cancer in 2001, a thyroid condition and possible fibromyalgia. He also indicated they had separated twice earlier, the case of the “seven-year itch.”
Forsberg said on the audio their marriage didn’t involve sexual intercourse for the last 11 years and prior to that, because of her health, it had been infrequent and painful for her. When pressed by Ramirez, Forsberg said there was no sexual gratification for he or his wife, but that for three years before her disappearance he had taken up with women in massage parlors who would provide him “happy endings,” and for two years Marcia had been aware of the infidelity.
The couple had no children, and though they had many arguments, Forsberg said, they were always verbal. “I wouldn’t slap her,” he said. “That would be repugnant.”
Swiderski, who died in January of this year from natural causes, asked Forsberg what he would do if he absolutely positively had to reach her, and asked him to make that effort to reach her.
When court stopped, there was about an hour remaining.
Prior to the presentation of the audio, one law enforcement officer, three friends of Marcia’s and one colleague of Forsberg’s was called to the witness stand. The latter detailed how he ran a charter fishing boat and that their relationship became personal and friendly—rather than professional—after Marcia’s disappearance as “Rick” began ocean fishing with more regularity.
The three women called to the stand included a childhood friend, a neighbor and a fellow book group member.
Following Sgt. Anthony Grayson, who made the initial welfare check at 19 Cascada in Rancho Santa Margarita and found nothing unusual but no one home on Aug. 15, 2010, Cathleen De Remer took the stand. She knew Marcia since 1961 when they met in seventh grade. For 42 years, she testified, she received a birthday card from her friend on her May birthday or the day before—but never a day late.
It was with De Remer, an Oxnard resident who saw her friend a couple times a year, that the jury began getting an impression of Marcia, a woman who was one of the Friends of the Library in Rancho Santa Margarita, who loved to read, belonged to two book groups, who loved people, made friends and was “very loyal.” She became more reclusive in recent years, “where maybe she wouldn’t talk to people … she called it going ostrich, bury her head in the sand for a couple of days to take a break.”
Although two witnesses were aware of Marcia’s “going ostrich,” they were in agreement that anything more than several days would be unusual. De Remer, who last spoke with Marcia on Jan. 28, 2010, said her friend had not told her of marital problems between herself and Forsberg.
After not receiving a birthday card, De Remer began to worry and eventually reached Forsberg by email. “He emailed me and said they were having marital problems and she was away and would be back in July,” De Remer said.
She reached out to Forsberg again in August but didn’t receive a response. She described the relationship between the couple as loving and affectionate.
A friend of 10 yars, Nancy Eckert, knew Marcia through the book groups at the library.
“Marcia was a gentle soul, a beautiful spirit and probably one of the most intellecual, brilliant people I’ve known,” she said.
Eckert and a couple of other women belonged to a splinter reading group about Shakespeare, and they were in contact often making arrangements about where to meetand what to bring, but Marcia stopped contacting them without notice. Eckert attempted to find other friends of Marcia’s through an alumni group—she was active with the Nordhoff High class of 1967, often helping in reunions—and Googling her name.
Eckert eventually sent a “fairly forcefully worded letter” to Forsberg.
“I insisted that I have some way of contacting Marcia,” Eckert said. “I needed assurance from her vocally that she was all right and I was asking Rick to give us some sort of contact info because so many months had gone by.”
At the request of Baytieh, Eckert read a response from Forsberg dated Aug. 3, 2010: “I’ll pass your concern and request on to Marcia when I talk to her next. … She has wanted to be alone and I am honoring that wish.”
Less than two weeks later, the dominoes began to fall. Grayson made his welfare check at the Forsberg residence, and before the month was over, police would have a confession.