By Mike Mooneyham
June 27, 2007
Professional wrestling star Chris Benoit strangled his wife with an electrical cord, smothered his 7-year-old son with a bag and placed Bibles next to their bodies before hanging himself in the weight room of their Georgia home, authorities said Tuesday.
Investigators believe Benoit, 40, killed his wife, 43-year-old Nancy, and son Daniel and then himself. The bodies were found Monday afternoon in three separate rooms of the million-dollar home situated on more than eight acres in a secluded neighborhood in suburban Atlanta.
Autopsy results indicate that Benoit killed his wife Friday night and his son Saturday morning. Investigators believe Benoit hung himself with the pulley on an exercise machine several hours and as long as a day later. Autopsies showed all three died of asphyxiation.
Benoit’s body was found hanging by his neck from a weight machine in the basement. The body of his wife, who was wrapped in a towel with her feet and wrists bound and blood under her head, was discovered facedown on the hardwood floor in an upstairs family room. His son’s body was found facedown, with no handmarks on his neck, in his own bed in an upstairs bedroom. A closed Bible was placed next to the bodies of the wife and son, authorities said.
Fayette (Ga.) County District Attorney Scott Ballard said he found it “bizarre” that the WWE superstar spread out the killings over a long weekend and appeared to remain in the house for up to a day with the bodies.
“In a community like this, it’s bizarre to have a murder-suicide, especially involving the death of a 7-year-old child,” Ballard said during a press conference outside the Benoit house Tuesday. “That’s what struck me the most in all this – there’s a 7-year-old little boy who’s dead. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to wrap my mind around that completely.”
Lt. Tommy Pope of the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department would not comment on Benoit’s state of mind or possible motive. No suicide note was found at the home.
Authorities also are investigating whether steroid abuse, which has been linked to aggressive behavior and explosive outbursts known as “roid rage,” may have been a factor in the double murder-suicide.
“We don’t know yet. That’s one of the things we’ll be looking at,” said Ballard. Anabolic steroids, however, were present in the home, as were numerous medications legally prescribed to Benoit. Toxicology test results may not be available for weeks or even months, Ballard said.
Steroids have been linked to the deaths of a number of professional wrestlers in recent years. Eddie Guerrero, one of Benoit’s closest friends in the business , died in 2005 from heart failure linked to long-term steroid use.
WWE issued a statement Tuesday concerning the steroids allegations.
“WWE strongly suggests that it is entirely wrong for speculators to suggest that steroids had anything to do with these senseless acts, especially when the authorities plainly stated there is no evidence that Benoit had steroids in his body, pending the toxicological reports, and that they had no evidence at this time as to the motive for these acts.”
But the bizarre story took an even more bizarre twist late Tuesday when Ballard said in an interview on the ESPN Web site that needle marks were found on the arms of Daniel Benoit and he had been injected with human growth hormones because “the family considered him undersized.”
Ballard also said in the interview that two text messages of note caused authorities to investigate the house. In one, Benoit told somebody he knew that his wife and son were sick.
“Of course, they were dead,” Ballard told ESPN.com.
In a second message to a neighbor, Benoit said that the door of the house was open and the pets were outside.
“And our assumption is that that was an effort to try and get somebody to come find the bodies after the suicide,” Ballard said. “That is our assumption.”
Chris and Nancy Benoit had lived together since 1997, married in 2000, separated in 2003 and got back together shortly thereafter.
Benoit previously had been arrested in the Atlanta area on a DUI charge but has no record of a previous arrest for domestic violence.
Nancy Benoit filed for divorce in May 2003, saying her three-year marriage to the 220-pound wrestler was irrevocably broken and alleging “cruel treatment.” But she later dropped the complaint, as well as a request for a restraining order in which she charged that Benoit had threatened her and had broken furniture in their home.
A judge issued a restraining order against Benoit and barred him from entering the family home. Nancy Benoit asked the court to dismiss the petition in August of that year. The couple later reconciled, celebrating together in the ring following Benoit’s WWE world championship win at Wrestlemania XX in 2004.
The tragic event has left the wrestling community in mourning and friends and fans of Benoit in shock.
“Chris was the type of guy you’d want to go to war with,” said WWE champion John Cena. “He was a good man, he truly lived for the business. He did everything for it.”
“He was like a family member to me, and everyone in my family is taking it real hard,” said former five-time WWE champion Bret Hart, whose younger brother, Owen, was killed in a freak stunt accident at a WWE pay-per-view in 1999. “It’s almost like reliving the whole Owen (Hart) death over again.”
WWE held a tribute show in Benoit’s honor, complete with matches spanning his 20-plus year career and testimonials from his fellow wrestlers, on Monday night in Corpus Christi, Texas, to replace a special three-hour telecast of Monday Night Raw on USA Network. That show was to have been a memorial service to further a controversial angle involving the storyline “death” of WWE owner Vince McMahon. McMahon, though, appeared center stage in an empty arena on Raw Monday night to break the news to the show’s nationwide audience.
“We at the WWE can only offer our condolences to the extended family of Chris Benoit,” said a tearful McMahon. “The only other thing we can do at this moment is pay tribute to Chris Benoit.”
Neither McMahon nor his crew were aware at the time of the circumstances surrounding the grisly deaths. WWE removed all of its Benoit tributes from its Web site Tuesday morning and later aplogized for the tribute show.
“That tribute last night shouldn’t have been done. After what I’ve read … not a good thing to do. The guy must have had some serious issues going on. How in the hell could he have smothered his son?” asked longtime fan Grayson Carter IV of Charleston. WWE officials asked authorities to check on Benoit and his family after the wrestler failed to show for appearances Saturday night in Beaumont, Texas, and Sunday night in Houston after informing WWE of a family emergency. The company also was alerted by friends who reportedly received curious text messages sent by Benoit.
A WWE “co-worker,” believed to be Chavo Guerrero, received a text message, but officials declined to elaborate on what information the message contained.
Authorities initially had a difficult time entering Benoit’s home Monday afternoon, which had been guarded by two large German shepherds roaming freely around the property. Once authorities entered the residence, they quickly located the bodies of Benoit, Nancy and Daniel. WWE was notified of the discovery at approximately 4 p.m. Monday.
The Montreal-born Benoit, known as “The Canadian Crippler” and “The Rabid Wolverine,” was known for his superior in-ring skills and was considered one of the best workers of the past decade.
“In my mind Chris Benoit was one of the most underrated and underutilized wrestlers of this era,” wrote Chris Wilkinson of Ladson. “What he lacked in mic skills, he more than made up for it in the ring. Very intense, and his matches told a great story. He should have been world champion a lot sooner and a lot longer than he was.”
Benoit’s wife also had enjoyed a successful career in the wrestling business as a manager and valet known as “Woman.” She met Benoit when her then-husband, veteran wrestler Kevin Sullivan, drew up a script that had them involved in a relationship as part of a storyline in the now-defunct World Championship Wrestling. They met and fell in love when their wrestling storylines intertwined.
Chris Benoit also leaves two children from a previous relationship – David, 14, and Megan, 10, who live in Canada.