Kalispell Man Convicted of Murdering Wife Dies in Prison

Jerry Forsyth was serving a 110-year sentence at the Montana State Prison

By Justin Franz
Sharon Snell's sister Karen Forsyth was murdered in 1979. Snell is hoping the community writes letters to keep the killer behind bars. Justin Franz | Flathead Beacon

A 74-year-old Kalispell man who was convicted of murdering his wife in 1979 died in the Montana State Prison on April 8 following an “extended illness.”

Jerry Forsyth was serving a 110-year sentence. Prison officials said the death was not related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jerry Forsyth shot and killed his wife on Dec. 11, 1979 with the help of a friend, Douglas Richards. Forsyth reportedly believed that if he got rid of his wife he would be able to retain full control of the bowling alley they owned together. Forsyth initially tried to poison his wife, then 31 years old, but when that failed he decided to shoot her in the head and make it look like a burglary. When police arrived at the bowling alley — located on First Avenue West in Kalispell — they found Karen Forsyth dead and Jerry Forsyth unconscious from an apparent strike to the head. A month later, Jerry Forsyth was arrested and charged with deliberate homicide, after Richards told police what had happened.

Forsyth was convicted at trial in 1980, but the conviction was later overturned on appeal because the judge had failed to give proper jury instructions. A second trial, held in Polson in 1982, ended with a hung jury. Forsyth was finally convicted in 1986.

Sharon Snell, Karen Forsyth’s sister, said her family suspected Forsyth was the murderer since the beginning because of the young couple’s toxic relationship. Snell said that within a week of the murder, Forsyth had the woman he was seeing behind Karen’s back move in.

Forsyth was eligible for parole in 2000 but had been denied on multiple occasions, most recently in 2018. Snell said at the time her family feared for their safety if Forsyth would have been released.

“I fear him. I’m scared to death of him and he should serve every bit of his sentence,” she told the Beacon in 2018. “If he were to get out, it would just be horrifying that me or other people in my family would have to constantly be looking over our shoulders.”

On Thursday, the day after Forsyth’s death, Snell told the Beacon that she was thankful that her family would never have to fear the man again or again go through the traumatic experience of a parole hearing.

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