By MARGARET STAFFORD and JOHN HANNA
CASSVILLE, Mo. (AP) — John Forsyth was known as a hard-working doctor who cared deeply for his patients and often teased nurses in the emergency room to ease tension. He was a father of eight and newly engaged. He also co-founded a cryptocurrency business with his brother.
His sudden disappearance from a southwestern Missouri town last month — and the eventual discovery of his body in an Arkansas lake — has led those who knew him to wonder what happened to the man who seemed happier than he’d been for some time. A lack of information from law enforcement has only deepened the mystery, prompting amateur sleuths to espouse theories on Facebook.
“It’s like the world dropped on us; we’re just in shock” said his sister Tiffany Forsyth. “There’s a part of me that’s not quite sure this is real yet. I guess it comes in steps.”
Forsyth, 49, disappeared on May 21 from a parking area at a public swimming pool. His body, which had suffered an apparent gunshot wound, was found nine days later. An autopsy was done, but a report isn’t expected for at least two months. Law enforcement officers have released almost no details, except to say there is no danger to the public.
The doctor’s family is adamant that his death wasn’t a suicide: He had just recently become engaged, and his fiancee was pregnant.
Some true-crime followers on social media have speculated that his death may have been connected to the cryptocurrency company that he co-founded with his brother, Richard Forsyth. Multiple other theories also have surfaced in a Facebook discussion group that has grown to more than 1,000 members. Posts in that group are now closed to public view.
Only 10 days before his disappearance, a judge had finalized Forsyth’s divorce — his second from the same woman. The split was amicable, according to family members and the ex-wife’s attorney, Ryan Ricketts, who said she was “devastated” by the doctor’s death.
Richard Forsyth said his brother was excited about his upcoming marriage and new child and had a plane ticket to go see one of his daughters.
“He said, ‘I can’t wait to introduce her to you. We’re going to have a wonderful life together. We’re all going to spend a lot of time together,’” Richard Forsyth said. ” … I hadn’t seen him that happy for a long time.”
Forsyth even texted his fiancee on the day of his disappearance, saying he would see her soon, according to his brother. The fiancee did not answer a social media request for an interview.
Alongside hopeful comments about his future life, however, John Forsyth had recently made cryptic remarks about possibly being in danger, his brother said, adding, “I think he crossed paths with some bad folks and he didn’t tell me about them.”
There has been some confusion about what happened near the public pool where John Forsyth was last seen in Cassville, 40 miles (64 kilometers) west of the Ozark Mountains tourist destination of Branson and about half a mile from a hospital where he worked. On May 21, the pool had yet to open for the summer season. Beaver Lake, a man-made reservoir used for recreation and where his body was found, is at least an hour’s drive away from Cassville, over twisty highways that snake through the Ozarks.
Initially, Richard Forsyth said security camera footage showed his brother getting into someone else’s vehicle. He now says the footage shows that a few minutes after the doctor parked his car, a white SUV arrived, then left shortly afterward. About 10 or 15 minutes after that, the doctor got out of his car and walked away, never to be seen alive again, Richard Forsyth said. Found inside his unlocked car were two cellphones, a laptop and important documents, he said.
So far, authorities have not publicly indicated whether they believe he was murdered, shot accidentally or took his own life. They have not said whether they found the gun that was used or whether the SUV was related to Forsyth’s disappearance.
Richard Forsyth said family members have been told it could be a long wait for answers, but they have confidence in the investigating officers.
Authorities have also not indicated how deeply they are looking into Forsyth’s connections to crypto.
Online publications covering the industry quickly took note of his death, which was confirmed just seven weeks after authorities in San Francisco charged a tech consultant with the stabbing death of Cash App founder Bob Lee. Prosecutors believe the killing occurred over a dispute involving the suspect’s sister.
John and Richard Forsyth founded Onfo LLC, what they called a “network mining” venture, in 2018. At that time, Onfo’s website said account holders could earn credits without putting up cash, by referring others to the company.
Onfo’s website features a nearly eight-minute video titled, “The U.S. Dollar is Doomed,” which says all governments’ currencies could collapse. The video promoting the launch of Onfo portrayed bankers and political officials as pigs in suits, describing them as, “drunk on expensive liquor, resting in palaces.”
An online Forbes magazine story in 2020 described John Forsyth as a bitcoin millionaire.
But Richard Forsyth said he and his brother were looking to give large numbers of people, including poor people in developing nations, a chance to invest in decentralized, digital currency. He described Onfo as fighting what the brothers believed crypto had become: driven by greed, “about Lamborghinis” and “billionaires and tax evasion.”
Paul Sibenik, lead case manager for CipherBlade, an agency that investigates cybercrimes involving crypto, said Onfo’s business model resembles pyramid schemes, which rely on an ever-growing number of referrals and cannot be sustained.
“There is not a single legitimate cryptocurrency project that operates in this way,” Sibenik said in an email to The Associated Press.
Richard Forsyth acknowledged that others might question whether Onfo was a “multi-level marketing” operation, but added, “The key difference is that we never sold anything.” And, he said, it’s probably cost them millions of dollars, rather than turning a profit.
“What we are just doing is saying to people, ‘Let’s build this together,’” he said.
John Forsyth had substantial crypto currency holdings when his second divorce became final last month. The divorce decree evenly split his and his ex-wife’s holdings in bitcoin and another digital currency, Ethereum, valuing them at more than $800,000. The decree also required him to pay an additional $15,000 a month to his ex-wife as well as $3,999 a month to support four of their children, ages 10 to 18. The decree estimated the value of John Forsyth’s business interests outside his cryptocurrency holdings at $1 million.
A FRIENDS’ AND FAMILY’S FAREWELL
John and Richard Forsyth were among seven siblings in an extended family with more than 100 cousins. The brothers grew up both in southwest Missouri and Alberta, Canada, and had dual American and Canadian citizenship, Richard Forsyth said.
The family had a private funeral Saturday, followed by a public vigil Sunday night in a park in Monett just north of Cassville. There, about 40 people, mostly family members, lit memorial candles and shared poignant and humorous stories about him.
Colleagues remembered how Forsyth often tried to lighten the mood in the intense emergency room of a hospital in the town of Aurora where he worked. Nurse Leah Tate remarked that he liked to see “just how much he could annoy you,” drawing chuckles from those gathered for the memorial service. She said Forsyth once made it his mission to get a nurse to throw something at him at least once a day.
Louise Hensley, a Monett resident and former neighbor of John Forsyth, said he treated her husband, who had Lou Gehrig’s disease, for several years.
“He was always so caring about his patients. He was so helpful to my husband and me during that time,” said Hensley, who described Forsyth’s death as “tragic.”
“I was just shocked when I heard a doctor was missing and then saw it was him.”
Hanna reported from Topeka, Kansas. Associated Press writers Jim Salter in St. Charles, Missouri; Summer Ballentine in Columbia, Missouri; and Lisa Baumann in Seattle contributed to this report.
Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna