A look inside the mysterious disappearance and alleged murder of an emergency physician in Missouri

By Stephanie Srakocic | Fact-checked by Davi Sherman
Published June 6, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • A Missouri physician's body was found in an Arkansas lake over a week after his disappearance.

  • The circumstances of his death remain unclear.

  • The case sheds light on the rising violence against physicians in recent years.

Emergency physician John Forsyth, MD, went missing on May 21 after finishing his overnight shift at Mercy Hospital in the small Ozark mountain town of Cassville, MO. Forsyth, 49, had eight children with his ex-wife; the pair had recently finalized their divorce. The divorce was reportedly amicable, and Forsyth maintained a relationship with his children.[] 

Three days before his disappearance, Forsyth had proposed to his fiancée. He was declared missing after not showing up for his shift on the evening of May 21, 2023. The luxury RV that Forsyth stayed in during his shifts was parked and left unlocked in the hospital lot. Forsyth’s laptop, keys, and cell phone were inside. His car, containing his wallet, passport, and additional cell phones, was located about a mile away. 

The Cassville Police Department and the Missouri State Police searched the grounds but found no clues. It took another week before Forsyth’s body was found an hour south in an Arkansas lake on May 30, 2023. The lake, Beaver Lake, hadn’t previously been an investigation site in the case. A kayaker came across the body and called 911.

Forsyth’s body was found with a fatal gunshot wound. Although local police were unable to comment on the nature of the injury, Forsyth’s brother, Richard Forsyth, told the press that detectives were treating the case as a murder investigation. According to Richard, the Forsyth family has no connection to the area of Arkansas where his brother’s body was found.  However, Richard said he’d learned that his brother had been kidnapped and released in February 2022. It’s unknown if the 2022 incident is connected to the events of late May. 

Unanswered questions

There are still several mysteries linked to the case of Forsyth. His autopsy hasn’t been released, and despite statements made by his brother, a self-inflicted wound hasn’t been ruled out as a cause of death by legal authorities. Additionally, it’s unknown how and why Forsyth arrived in Arkansas or if there is any any connection between his death and the earlier incident recounted by his brother. 

According to the Associated Press, Forsyth agreed to a public reprimand from the State Board of Registration for the  Medical Arts Medical Board in 2015 for not adequately and completely maintaining records for two patients. In 2006, he was initially named as a defendant in a wrongful death case, but he was dismissed from the case before the hospital reached a settlement. In 2022, he was named in a wrongful death malpractice suit and settled out of court.[]

Rising anger toward physicians

No matter what the facts in the Forsyth case turn out to be, it is a shocking story. Even without the mystery surrounding it, a physician and father being found dead as the result of violence is unexpected. Unfortunately, the connection between physicians and violence is more common. In the past few years, there has been a rise in anger and violence toward physicians.

“Patients’ anger towards physicians has been growing exponentially for years, so it is understandable that it has begun to manifest as verbal abuse and violence,” says Carole Lieberman, MD, MPH., a psychiatrist practicing in Beverly Hills, CA.

In fact, between 2018 and 2022, American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) members saw a 16% increase in the number of assaults in the emergency room. The 2022 ACEP survey isn’t alone in finding this data. The results of MDLinx’s most recent physician survey revealed that 75% of physicians have seen violence against healthcare providers grow in recent years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that nearly three-quarters of all people who experienced a nonfatal workplace illness or injury due to violence since 2018 were healthcare workers.[][]

There are multiple possible reasons for this rise, such as some of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. A combination of factors, such as stress, fear, understaffing, increased wait times, and disinformation, along with the social, political, and economic factors that were already affecting healthcare, physicians, and patients in the United States, could be behind some of the anger.

Lieberman says there are several things happening that lead to anger from patients. 

“Doctors spend less time with their patients because insurance pays less for doctor visits. They’re overburdened with paperwork and other administrative requirements. They have burnout, especially after COVID-19.” 

It’s an issue that needs to be addressed. Although Forsyth’s case might not be connected to the rise in violence against providers, it’s a stark reminder that the concern for physician safety is a very real one. For more information about increased violence and proposed solutions, check out this article.

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