Anthony Garcia could be pleasant but also displayed bizarre behavior - Omaha.com
Published Monday, July 22, 2013 at 12:30 am / Updated at 9:22 am
Anthony Garcia could be pleasant but also displayed bizarre behavior

One night this spring, a police officer in suburban Chicago pulled over a black Ferrari with Indiana plates after it hit a curb twice.

Dr. Anthony Joseph Garcia III got out of the stopped vehicle and threw his jacket on the wet pavement. His eyes were bloodshot and glassy. He smelled of alcohol.

Garcia waved his arms in the air and declared that he was drunk.

“I am an alcoholic. I drink all day and night, and I have been driving around in my Ferrari drinking and just want to show you that I had no weapons and was just being courteous,” Garcia said, according to a police report of his midnight arrest on March 12.

This incident and others gathered over wide-ranging interviews in three states portray a troubled 40-year-old doctor who began his medical career on a joyful note: In 1999, Garcia and his proud father loaded up an old relic of a van and drove cross-country from Walnut, Calif., to his first big medical job.

But Garcia now stands accused of murdering four people, out of revenge, over a five-year span in Omaha. He is expected to make his first court appearance Tuesday in Omaha. His lawyers plan to fight the charges, saying he is innocent.

He is accused of killing 11-year-old Thomas Hunter and his family's house cleaner, Shirlee Sherman, in 2008, and Dr. Roger Brumback and his wife, Mary, in May.

Dr. Brumback and Thomas Hunter's father, Dr. William Hunter, were involved in firing Garcia from the residency program in the Creighton University pathology department more than a decade ago.

Last week The World-Herald visited Illinois, Indiana and California to interview Garcia's former colleagues and neighbors and review police and court filings and state medical license applications, among other documents. The portrait of Garcia that emerges is of a loner, someone who could be pleasant and professional, but who also drank and displayed bizarre behavior that troubled neighbors and others.

Garcia grew up in Walnut, an affluent bedroom community near Los Angeles. It is a city filled with ritzy housing developments, many of them carrying ad-perfect names such as “Magnolia at Snow Creek.”

There is no downtown in Walnut, just a few strip malls scattered among the houses. Many who live in the city of 30,000 work in neighboring Orange County or Los Angeles, about 30 miles away.

In fact, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck lives in Garcia's old neighborhood, right over a hill from the family's two-story home with the red tiled roof.

The Garcias were one of the first families to move into the neighborhood, buying a home for about $75,000 in the mid-1970s that is now valued at about $600,000.

A man at the Garcia home on Saturday declined to be interviewed. “No comment,” he said from behind the front door after peering through the blinds.

Garcia's parents are considered humble, hard-working people. Unlike their son, who fancied convertibles and sports cars, Frederick and Estella Garcia drove older vehicles. In fact, they still drive the silver 2000 Honda CRV that police say Garcia drove to Omaha in 2008 to target the Hunters.

“They drive older, secondhand cars,” said one neighbor, who, like many in this neighborhood, had been interviewed by Omaha police detectives on Tuesday.

Garcia's father is a recent retiree. Fred Garcia had worked for years for the U.S. Postal Service, repairing machinery. Estella Garcia, described by neighbors as “very private,” still works as a nurse. The couple have three children. Anthony is the oldest.

Estella Garcia came home Monday to find four Omaha police detectives, along with a slew of local deputies and LAPD detectives, searching their home. The neighbors haven't seen the Garcias since that day.

“She (Estella) was on my mind the other day, thinking about how she is handling this. She's so private,” said Tony Ortiz, who lives across from the Garcias with his wife, Sue.

“Our hearts break for them,” said Sue Ortiz.

Anthony Garcia graduated in 1991 from Walnut High School, where he and his brother, Fernando, played football. At one time the now-overweight Garcia sported a “buff” body and could frequently be seen in the neighborhood jogging. Unlike his siblings, he didn't talk or socialize much.

“He was a jock. He was into athletics ... he was buff,” said Sue Ortiz.

Garcia's parents were, by all accounts, proud of their son. Fred Garcia, known as a gregarious neighbor who always had time for a story, would often proudly describe his eldest son as the family's “brain surgeon.” He talked about Anthony a lot.

Shortly after Gracia graduated from the University of Utah School of Medicine in 1999, he landed his first residency position in New York. A happy Fred Garcia loaded up an old van with his son's belongings, and the two drove straight through to New York. Sue Ortiz said Fred Garcia told her they took turns at the wheel and sleeping on a mattress in the back of the van.

“It was packed on the inside and on the top. It was a sight,” she said.

"I am an alcoholic. I drink all day and night, and I have been driving around in my Ferrari drinking and just want to show you that I had no weapons and was just being courteous."

Garcia to a suburban Chicago policeman who stopped him

Soon, Garcia's troubles began to hit. He was fired from the residency program in New York about six months later, after yelling at a radiology technician. About six months after that, he was accepted into Creighton's program. He lost that job as well in 2001, for allegedly sabotaging a fellow resident.

He landed in Chicago, at another residency program. However, he left that program two years later, citing medical problems, including migraine headaches, and depression.

By about 2003 he had returned home to California, where he holed up in his parents' home, going out infrequently. Neighbors never saw him either mow the grass or take out the garbage. In 2005 he declared bankruptcy, citing about $81,000 in medical bills. Some of the bills were for psychiatrists and neurologists, according to federal bankruptcy documents.

Several neighbors said they knew nothing about Garcia's medical problems.

During that time, when Garcia was unemployed, Estella Garcia told Sue Ortiz that her son was “on vacation.” Later, Fred Garcia admitted that Garcia was having problems getting a medical license.

“Fred would go out every day and check the mail, hoping the license was in there,” said Sue Ortiz.

In 2007, Garcia landed another residency, this time in Louisiana. Like the others, it was short-lived. He was let go in February 2008, after it was determined that he had not been fully honest on his application, including about what had happened at Creighton.

Thomas Hunter and Sherman were killed the following month.

Garcia found another job in Chicago in 2009, arriving in that city with only the belongings he had in his two-door black Pontiac sports car. Garcia, who had obtained an Illinois license in 2003, found work at a clinic called Visiting Physicians Group providing in-home care for Medicare patients.

The owner of the clinic, Dr. Benjamin Toh, rented a room to Garcia.

Toh said Garcia's résumé indicated he hadn't worked for several years. But Toh never encountered a problem with Garcia as a tenant or as an employee.

“He really was a very pleasant person,” Toh said. “The patients he saw liked him.”

In May 2010, Garcia started working as a contract employee for medical staffing at the Federal Correction Complex in Terre Haute, Ind., about three hours south of Chicago.

He bought a house there in 2012 for $120,000. The three-bedroom home sits on a cul-de-sac in a neighborhood with well-kept yards and many retirees.

Garcia parked his three cars , including the Ferrari, in the driveway, even though neighbors said his garage was empty.

Several neighbors spoke last week about Garcia but declined to give their names, saying they feared retribution because of the nature of the charges against him.

“He was just creepy,” said one woman. “He was friendly, though.”

Early on, Garcia invited a neighbor to a strip club. The man declined, saying he was too old. A bouncer at Club Koyote in nearby West Terre Haute said he recognized Garcia's picture but said he wasn't a regular customer.

Garcia gave presents to his female neighbors: flowers for the college students next door, an orchid for one neighbor, wine for yet another. But the presents caused some of his neighbors to call the police.

Neighbors said he had few visitors but recalled a loud 7 a.m. party that appeared to be a continuation of a night of drinking.

Garcia eventually stopped taking care of his yard, and neighbors complained.

Garcia was told to cut the grass by the neighborhood association, so he went outside with a weed eater to cut the grass — wearing a full gas mask. “That was the talk of the neighborhood,” the neighbor said.

He subsequently hired someone to mow the yard.

Garcia has not been convicted of a crime in Terre Haute, according to Vigo County court records. But police were called to his home four times this year.

In January, the young women who received the flowers told police Garcia made them uncomfortable. In February, he called police to say that he believed his housekeeper was stealing from him. He was drunk and police told him to call back when he was sober.

His next known encounter with law enforcement appears to be the March arrest in Bedford Park in suburban Chicago.

He had empty Coors Light cans in his car. He told the officer he had been drinking all day and was driving around looking for beer and peanuts.

Garcia was later convicted of DUI, ordered to pay $1,189 and sentenced to probation. His blood alcohol level was .211, nearly three times the legal limit.

The officer asked where he was coming from, and he said either his hotel or a strip club.

“I suffer from many mental and physical illnesses,” he told the officer.

Back home in California, neighbors thought Garcia had finally hit his professional stride. Several said they never saw him after he moved to Chicago, until this year, when he returned home over the holidays.

By several accounts, he was a changed man. He had gained lots of weight, ballooning to 250 pounds, according to arrest records. And he had developed a nervous “twitch,” with his head constantly rolling on his shoulders. He was always looking skyward, often with his eyes closed, rarely making eye contact, several neighbors said.

“He had this really nervous twitch,” said Tony Ortiz.

In about January, Garcia walked around the neighborhood handing out orchids and visiting with old friends. He even remembered to give his condolences to neighbor Zenaida Sibal, who lived up the street from his parents and whose husband passed away in 2008.

“He said 'I'm doing this, for something my parents should have done a long time ago,' ” said Sibal.

For her part, Sibal didn't recognize Garcia when he first approached with the flower. Besides the weight, he looked far older than his years, she said.

When he visited with the Ortizes, Garcia talked about his Illinois practice and his years growing up in California. Garcia, who has never married, was still bemoaning the loss of a high school girlfriend.

“He talked about her that day, and I thought 'Let it go,' ” said Sue Ortiz.

Tony Ortiz, sitting next to his wife on their couch, nodded in agreement. “He doesn't let things go.”

World-Herald staff writer Roseann Moring is reporting from Illinois and Indiana, and staff writer Robynn Tysver from California. Staff writers Maggie O'Brien and Alissa Skelton contributed to this report.

Contact the writer: Roseann Moring

roseann.moring@owh.com    |   402-444-1084    |  

Roseann covers Bellevue and Sarpy County crime.

Contact the writer: Robynn Tysver

robynn.tysver@owh.com    |   402-444-1309    |  

Robynn is Omaha.com's elections writer. She's covered presidential politics in Iowa's caucuses, and gubernatorial and Senate races in Nebraska.

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