William Forsyth met and married his wife June in 1955. After two years of military service in West Germany, Bill and June moved to Los Angeles, where Bill had grown up. After arriving, Bill started a rental car business, and the couple had two kids, Susan and Bill Jr. The business and other investments continued to grow, and in 1986 the Forsyths cashed in. Four years later, Bill and June retired to Maui, the Hawaiian island that their son called home. Bill was 61 at the time. June was 54.
Despite the romance of a new life, the transition was difficult for Bill Forsyth. Personal difficulties led to marital difficulties. Marriage counseling seemed to help, though, and by the next year there was a general sense that Bill was on the mend. Three years after the move to Hawaii, however, with Bill still feeling unsettled, a local psychiatrist prescribed Prozac. The psychiatrist, who had been seeing Bill since the previous year, did not believe Bill to be either seriously depressed or suicidal.
After his first day on the drug, Bill was feeling as you might expect if you've read Peter Kramer's Listening to Prozac – he was "better than well." The next day, however, he felt horrible, and for the first time put himself under hospital care. Ten days later, Bill felt well enough to leave the hospital, but was still taking Prozac. Everyone seemed to agree that he was doing better, and the family scheduled a boat trip for the next day. When his parents failed to show up that afternoon, Bill Jr. went to their home, where he found both his parents lying dead in a pool of blood. Eleven days after starting on Prozac, Bill Forsyth had taken a serrated knife from the kitchen and stabbed his wife 15 times. He had then taken the knife, fixed it to a chair, and impaled himself on it.
Depressed people sometimes do desperate things. Yet these were senseless acts that were simply unimaginable to those who knew Bill Forsyth. For his two grown children, the only possible explanation was the drug. They decided to sue.
The Forsyth case was not the first wrongful death suit to be brought against Eli Lilly. By the fall of 1994, a year after the Forsyth murder-suicide, there were already 160 cases filed against Lilly, linking Prozac to homicides, suicides, and other violence. Many of these cases were dismissed; others ended with cash settlements. But Lilly had not lost a Prozac case, and was determined to keep it that way. By the mid-1990s, Prozac sales were worth $2 billion per year, or about a third of all Lilly's income.
In March 1999, with Susan and Bill Jr. refusing to settle,
the Forsyth case finally made it to trial in United States District Court in
Honolulu. "I know that with all their power and money I don't have much of
a chance," said Susan at the time, "but I feel like I have to
try." With David Healy serving as an expert witness, the Forsyth's lawyers
went on to argue that the Prozac family of drugs can produce a kind of
psychological hijacking – a bizarre and nightmarish syndrome marked by
suicidal thoughts, extreme agitation, emotional blunting, and a craving for
death. They also argued that the company knew of these risks and, instead of
warning doctors to look out for them, worked vigilantly to sweep them under the