Richard Forsberg won’t take the stand in his murder trial, but jurors on Thursday heard the Rancho Santa Margarita man describe in detail how he killed his wife and got rid of her body nearly three years ago.
Forsberg was heard on a covert recording of an interview at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs after waking from a failed suicide attempt on Aug. 27, 2010, as investigators began to close in on his coverup of wife Marcia Ann’s disappearance six months earlier.
Forsberg, 63, touched on a number of items and the jury didn’t get through all of the five-hour interview before breaking until Monday morning at Orange County Superior Court.
The video, introduced by Sgt. Michael Thompson of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, wasn’t the only evidence or testimony presented. Computer forensics expert Craig Goldsmith, under questioning from prosecutor Ebrahim Baytieh, said computer and flash drive files showed an internet search for “strangulation,” as well as massage parlors and prostitutes that Forsberg used to quench his sexual appetite over the last three years of his wife’s life.
Also found was a confession, saved twice under two different files on the laptop, titled “Steve Swiderski” and “Camping.” Swiderski is the investigator whose questioning on Aug. 24 began to unravel Forsberg’s charade that his wife had been visiting a friend for six months while the couple experienced marital discord.
Defense attorney Calvin Schneider III drew out that no date could be attached to the strangulation search and that it was in relation to suicide, or self-strangulation; it was also on a shared computer and couldn’t be determined if Forsberg or his wife—beset by ill health for years—made the search.
Schneider also gleaned there weren’t searches or files about divorce, homicide, marital problems, dismemberment, murder, the differentiation in law between murder and manslaughter, the allocation of assets in a divorce, how to dress or clean an animal after hunting it, or how to remove blood from a carpet.
There was a search for Soma overdose on the laptop Forsberg had with him at the Spa Resort Casino in Palm Springs, where he had attempted suicide by overdose.
A security guard at the resort indicated that Forsberg, sitting in Judge William Froeberg’s court, appeared to be the man he saw in apparent distress in his hotel room on Aug. 27, 2010, two days after checking in—which the jury saw on video from resort cameras.
Baytieh also shared with the jury that Annie Peyton had not seen Marcia Ann in 20 years and the last time she spoke to her former work colleague was 2008. Peyton was the mysterious “Annie” that Forsberg built his coverup around; he told police Marcia had left for Phoenix with Annie on March 13, 2010 to begin a separation and to clear her head.
However, the highlight of the trial’s second day was the candid voluntary confession by Forsberg. It came about five minutes into a conversation he began with Thompson and Orange County Sheriff investigator Steven Swiderski.
Forsberg had ingested what he had hoped was a lethal combination of sleeping pills and muscle relaxants—“180 milligrams of Ambien, about 15 Soma tablets and a dozen Flexeril.”
“I feel like the world’s most colossal failure,” Forsberg said. “I tried my best to commit suicide and I screwed it up.”
His awakening, perhaps a sign of providence, he said, was a surprise and made him decide to accept his fate. When doctors cleared him from the overdose, he asked to speak to Swiderski.
“Why did you do that, Richard,” Swiderski asked.
“Because I didn’t want to be here anymore …” he said. “I killed my wife. I’ve been hiding that fact since February 9th.”
Swiderski: Have you come to grips with what’s going on around you?
“I’ve come to grips. I was very surprised to wake up and I think this next chapter in my life is going to be very different from what I thought. …,” Forsberg responded. “We’ll see what happens next. I’m not going to try to jump off the building or run away from you.”
After that, Forsberg explained what happened the night of Feb. 8 and early morning of Feb. 9, when he made the decision he had enough of his 39-year marriage to Marcia Ann. He had come home agitated from a homeowners association meeting between 10:30 and 11 p.m., and the two argued. She later went to bed and he took a shower, then returned to the bedroom and was standing on her side of the bed.
“I don’t even know what exactly we said but I said we were going to have to split, I was going to have to leave, I was too frustrated being with her,” Forsberg explained. “She said something like, ‘I’d rather be dead than alone.’ I seemed to trigger into a rage and I hit her in the head with a statue. … As soon as I did it I flipped the switch and thought, ‘What the hell have I done?’ And I turned on the lights and looked around and the blood had splattered here and there on the wall and on the bed and on the carpet.”
He had struck her in the right temple up to five times, he said, though not with all his force but close to it, and she was unresponsive “certainly after the second” blow. The statue he grabbed from the nightstand was a bronze Hindu goddess with six arms on each side weighing 16 to 24 ounces, he said.
He explained checking her carotid artery and not feeling a pulse, how he grappled with not knowing what to do—whether to call authorities or get rid of the body. He knew he didn’t want to go to jail. Within 30 minutes to an hour he had wrapped her head in a towel and her body in a sheet and carried it to the tub in a spare upstairs bathroom and filled it with ice.
He did not sleep but “stayed up all night thinking and cleaning things off and trying to figure out what to do next. … I want to hide this. … What do you do with a dead body?”
His first thought was to dump it in the ocean but “I couldn’t think of a way to make that work.” After that, “I thought of taking her to Lake Piru and burn her up.”
He told investigators he called El Monte RV Rental that morning, but conceded that he lost track of time when they told him a rental agreement showed a phone call on Feb. 17 and that he rented the vehicle from Feb. 19-23.
He did purchase a chest freezer from Lowe’s on Feb. 9, as well as a “50-gallon plastic tub” he used as a sled to move Marcia Ann’s wrapped body from upstairs to the garage.
By midnight, he put down a plastic tarp and, with his 5-foot 9 1/2-inch wife’s body still in the tub, “I took a hacksaw and cut off her legs and arms and put them in (30-gallon) baggies … and put her body pieces in the freezer.”
“I was surprised at how easy it was” to cut up the body,” he said.
Over the next 10 days, Forsberg said, “I was a cleaning dervish.” He used an Exacto knife to cut up the mattress, which he dropped in various dumpsters from Rancho Santa Margarita to Costa Mesa, where he worked as an administrator for the Coast Community College District.
He rid himself of all of Marcia Ann’s belongings so the separation looked real. He shredded her driver’s license and passport. He made a couple of phone calls using Marcia’s phone to create the appearance of her still being alive.
Forsberg explained his retrieval of the RV 10 days after killing his wife, purchasing a second freezer and having Lowe’s employees load it into the RV and parking it on Arroyo Vista Road so it wouldn’t be in his driveway. He used his PT Cruiser to drive the body parts from his home on Cascada to the RV, where he loaded them into the newly-purchased freezer.
He threw some things together for several nights’ worth of camping and drove to Lake Piru in Ventura County. There, he considered sinking Marcia’s body into the lake but “realized that was probably a silly thing.” About 9:30 or 10, he put one of his wife’s forearms into the fire “to see what happens when you burn something like that.”
He says he “burned another piece” on Saturday, Feb. 20. It was on that day that he hurled Marcia’s wedding ring into Lake Piru.
Figuring he was too close to lighting, and about 250 feet from a bathroom and the inherent foot traffic, he scouted more secluded sites in the campground and moved to a new new location.
On Sunday morning, after much of the campsite had cleared out he “bought a whole bunch of fire wood and over the course of five or six hours burned her body” in the fire pit. It included the rest of her limbs and her head.
“It was a very time-consuming process” and Forsberg said he was “becoming so tired and disgusted and nauseated at myself that I drove back home” on Monday instead of finishing the job. He returned to Rancho Santa Margarita late at night and then went through the reverse process of transferring Marcia’s torso back to the freezer in the garage.
He returned the RV on Feb. 23 but not before making a stop and donating the four-day-old freezer to a thrift store.
The following weekend of Feb. 27, he again rented the RV and purchased a large ice chest and put Marcia’s remaining torso in it. He returned to Lake Piru to a third site where he finished the cremation.
At each site, “I had a little shovel and stirred through it to make sure there weren’t any” bones or “body residual. Not only that, I scooped up the top layer of ash and took it to the dumpster that was in the campground.”
He saved some of the ashes, though, and later scattered a handful at the base of a tree in Ojai, where Marcia grew up, in the parking lot of a restaurant named Papa Tony’s. On a fishing boat, he threw other ashes into the sea.
“As far as I know, there’s no more evidence,” Forsberg said.
Although the body parts were double- and triple wrapped in the 30-gallon plastic trash bags, he didn’t burn the plastic.
“The odor is one of the things that I was concerned about and it didn’t seem too strong, but it was one of the reasons I wanted to be more remote,” Forsberg explained. “I didn’t burn the plastic up—that would have really smelled bad.”