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The Chris Benoit double murder-suicide occurred over a three-day period ending on June 24, 2007. World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) professional wrestler Chris Benoit killed his wife, Nancy Benoit, strangled his seven-year-old son, Daniel, and subsequently committed suicide by hanging. Autopsy results showed that Benoit first murdered his wife, Nancy. She was bound at the feet and wrists and died of asphyxiation some time on Friday, Fayette County District Attorney Scott Ballard told a news conference. She was wrapped in a towel and some blood was found under her head but Ballard said there were no other signs of a struggle. The couple's son, who also died of asphyxia, was apparently killed as he lay in bed on Saturday morning, hours before Benoit committed suicide by hanging himself in his weight room. Chris Benoit placed copies of the Bible alongside the bodies of his wife and son, as well as a third copy of the Bible on his weight lifting machine.
Since Benoit's suicide, numerous explanations for his actions have been proposed, including concussions, steroid abuse, and a failing marriage with his wife. The murder led to numerous media accounts, and federal investigation into steroid abuse in professional wrestling.
Murder and suicide
Murder of Nancy Benoit
On Friday, June 22, Chris Benoit killed his wife Nancy in an upstairs office. Her limbs were bound, and her body was wrapped in a towel. A copy of the Bible was left by her body. Injuries indicated that Benoit had pressed a knee into the back while pulling on a cord around the neck, causing strangulation. Blood was also found under her head, suggesting she may have tried to fend off her attacker. However, officials stated there were no signs of immediate struggle.
Between the two murders
At about 3:30 p.m. EDT on Saturday, June 23, Chavo Guerrero received a voicemail message from Benoit's phone stating that he overslept and missed his flight and would be late for that night's house show in Beaumont, Texas. Guerrero called Benoit back and Benoit sounded tired and groggy as he confirmed everything that he had said in his voice message. Guerrero, who was "concerned about Benoit's tone and demeanor", called him back twelve minutes later. Benoit did not answer the call and Guerrero left a message asking Benoit to call back.
At 3:44 p.m. EDT, Benoit called Guerrero back, stating that he did not answer the call because he was on the phone with Delta Air Lines changing his flight. Benoit stated that he had a stressful day due to Nancy and Daniel "being sick with food poisoning". A co-worker who often traveled with Benoit called him from outside the Houston airport and Benoit answered. Benoit told the coworker that Nancy was vomiting blood and that Daniel was also vomiting.
On Sunday, June 24, five text messages were sent to co-workers between 3:51 a.m. and 3:58 a.m. using both Chris Benoit's and Nancy Benoit's cell phones. Four of them were the Benoit's address and the fifth said that the family's dogs were in the enclosed pool area also noting a garage side door was left open.
During this time Benoit called and left a voicemail for an unknown friend. Benoit later called WWE's talent relations office stating that his son was vomiting and that he and Nancy were at the hospital with him. He also stated that he would be taking a later flight into Houston, but would not make the live event in Beaumont.
Murder of Daniel Benoit
Daniel Benoit was suffocated and killed in his bedroom, and a copy of the Bible was left by his body. The boy had internal injuries to the throat area, but showed no bruises. Daniel's exact time of death is unknown. The reports determined Daniel was sedated with Xanax and likely unconscious when he was killed. A large butcher knife was found underneath Daniel's bed, but the knife was not used in either murder.
It was later alleged that Daniel had Fragile X syndrome, and that this was the cause of domestic problems in the Benoit family. It was also suggested that needle marks in Daniel's arms were the result of growth hormones given to him because Benoit and his family considered him undersized due to Fragile X. Benoit's coworker and best friend, wrestler Chris Jericho, stated that from his own research on the condition, the symptoms "fit Daniel to a tee, all across the board." With regard to those who had publicly stated that they had no knowledge of Daniel suffering from the condition, Jericho said, "If Chris had decided that he wanted to keep it to himself, you wouldn't have been able to pry that out of him with anything." Despite Chris Jericho's initial statements regarding Daniel, he later stated in his 2011 book Undisputed, "It turned out that Daniel didn't have fragile X, but at the time it made sense because I was grasping at straws."
However, District Attorney Ballard later released a statement saying that a source with access to Daniel's medical files found no mention of any pre-existing mental or physical ailments. Likewise, Daniel Benoit's educators reported that he was on par with other students and not about to be held back as previously thought. Whether Daniel suffered from Fragile X Syndrome has never been officially established.
Suicide of Chris Benoit
Chris Benoit, according to District Attorney Ballard, committed suicide by hanging. Benoit apparently used a weight machine cord to hang himself by creating a noose from the end of the cord. When Benoit released the weights — approximately 240 pounds (110 kg), a total weight six pounds greater than that of Benoit's body — the move caused his strangulation. Ballard said the pull-down bar had been removed and Benoit was hanging from a pulley.
Discovery of the Benoits' bodies
On Monday, June 25, WWE was notified of the text messages sent to Chavo Guerrero and Scott Armstrong. The company asked the Fayette County Sheriff's Department to check on the Benoit family. After discovering the bodies, the police notified WWE around 4:15 p.m., informing them that they had discovered three bodies at the Benoit home and the house was now ruled as a "major crime scene".
A suicide note was not discovered during the initial investigation, but a note was later discovered in another Bible that had been included in Benoit's possessions that was sent to his first wife. According to Benoit's father Michael, "There was a note that was found in a Bible by the mother of Chris’s two children (Martina Benoit) that lives in Canada... The Bible was mixed in with Chris’s personal belongings that were shipped to them. He had a hand-written notation in there saying "I'm preparing to leave this Earth".
WWE attorney Jerry McDevitt appeared on Live with Dan Abrams on July 17, 2007 and said that Benoit was prescribed testosterone as part of a treatment for testosterone replacement therapy, which McDevitt said was a common medical practice for people who had used steroids in the past, and had suffered testicular damage as a result.
Former wrestler Christopher Nowinski stated that Benoit may have been suffering from repeated, untreated concussions throughout his wrestling career, ultimately leading to an unstable mental state. Nowinski was quoted as saying that Benoit "was one of the only guys who would take a chair shot to the back of the head ... which is stupid." Tests were conducted on Benoit's brain by Julian Bailes, the head of neurosurgery at West Virginia University, and results showed that "Benoit's brain was so severely damaged it resembled the brain of an 85-year-old Alzheimer's patient." Tests conducted on Benoit's brain tissue revealed he did in fact suffer from severe chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), and had brain damage in all four lobes of the brain and brain stem. Bailes and his colleagues concluded that repeated concussions can lead to dementia, which can contribute to severe behavioral problems. Benoit's father suggests that brain damage may have been the leading cause of the double murder-suicide. A statement released by WWE dismissed this idea as "speculative".
Nancy Benoit had filed for divorce in May 2003, allegedly after domestic abuse from Chris, but had withdrawn it in August 2003. In February 2008, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) reported that Nancy may have suspected her husband of having an affair with a WWE Diva, and that they may have also argued over a life insurance policy. The AJC claimed the source was a recently released report from the Fayette County Sheriff's Office.
World Wrestling Entertainment
The event was first reported to fans of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) on their WWE Mobile Alerts Service and posted to their official website soon after. On their website, the company released the following statement:
WWE canceled the scheduled three-hour-long live Raw show on June 25 (which, coincidentally, was supposed to be a scripted memorial for the Mr. McMahon character), and replaced the broadcast version with a tribute to his life and career, featuring past matches, segments from the Hard Knocks: The Chris Benoit Story DVD, and comments from wrestlers and announcers from the RAW, Smackdown! and the now-defunct ECW brands. Shortly after the program aired, many of the aired comments were posted on WWE.com. It was not until the program was nearly over that reports surfaced that police were working under the belief that Benoit murdered his wife and son before killing himself.
The next night, after some of the details of the deaths became available, the company aired a recorded statement by its Chairman Vince McMahon before their ECW broadcast:
After learning about the full details of his and his family's deaths, WWE quickly distanced itself from Chris Benoit:
- With the exception of his results and listings in WWE's title history (though the summaries of his title reigns have been removed), and select press releases from WWE's corporate subsite, the WWE website removed all past mentions of Benoit, including all news articles relating to the specific details of the incident, as well as his biography and the video tribute comments from Benoit's peers.
- WWE pulled the tribute episode from international markets which aired Raw on a tape delay basis. Several channels announced the episode was being withheld for legal reasons. A substitute Raw, hosted by Todd Grisham from WWE Studios, was created featuring recaps of John Cena's WWE Championship victories, mainly the ones that had occurred over the past year.
- Some countries that received WWE programming up to three weeks late had all Chris Benoit matches edited out.
- Their merchandising website, WWEShop.com, followed suit with regard to all Benoit-related merchandise.
- All mentions of Benoit have been removed from archived footage broadcast on WWE Classics whenever possible. This policy also originally included footage of Nancy Benoit, although footage of her appearances has since been allowed to air. Matches and other footage involving Benoit have appeared very sparingly on any new DVD releases by WWE.
- Benoit, along with his "Crippler Crossface" and other signature moves, were removed from the WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2008 video game, after Benoit was originally included in the game as a playable character. However, starting with WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2010, the move was reinstated under "Crossface".
- Benoit is listed in the WWE Encyclopedia, where his wrestling career up to where he lost the World Heavyweight Championship to Randy Orton is detailed, along with his title history.
Professional wrestling industry
Numerous individuals in professional wrestling, past and present, commented on the deaths and their aftermath:
- Semi-retired professional wrestler Hulk Hogan commented solely on the personalities of Benoit and his thoughts on the crime, saying: "He was peaceful and kept to himself" and "I think it had to be something personal, a domestic problem between him and his wife."
- Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA) employee and former WWF/E co-worker Kurt Angle chose to comment more on the frenzy created by the crime, stating "This is not WWE’s fault and this is not Vince McMahon’s fault. Chris Benoit was responsible for his own actions."
- Eric Bischoff, on his website, also commented on the media frenzy, saying: "It's clear that the media wants to blame steroids, professional wrestling, Vince McMahon, or anyone or anything else that further sensationalizes this family tragedy. I refuse to join the choir. I don't have enough information. I wasn't there. I am not a psychiatrist. I just can't imagine how or why this could have happened."
- Other wrestlers have also commented, including Lex Luger, Marc Mero, Ted DiBiase, Sr., Bret Hart, Lance Storm, Chyna, Steve Blackman, Rob Van Dam, Ultimate Warrior, Chris Jericho, and William Regal. Vince McMahon and his wife Linda were interviewed (separate and jointly) by various news outlets.
- Adam Copeland (Edge) and Chavo Guerrero, Jr. openly spoke about how Benoit's death affected them. Copeland said Benoit was one of the three people he was close to in the WWE and Guerrero said Benoit was a very private person yet a close friend to the Guerrero family.
- CM Punk, in an 2011 interview with GQ, briefly touched on the subject of the Benoit murder/suicide (which occurred over four years prior to the interview). He described it as "a pretty... low point in everyone's life. A lot of people don't like to talk about it. It still blows my mind."
In 2003, Benoit had been inducted into the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame. As a result of the double murder-suicide, his induction underwent a recall election in 2008. Benoit was retained as a member by a narrow margin.
When the news was released about Benoit's death, most mainstream news outlets covered the story, including MSNBC and Fox News Channel. Benoit made the cover of People magazine. ECW Press announced on July 16 that noted wrestling writer Irvin Muchnick had written a book on the Benoit case, due out in 2008. At the Comedy Central Roast of Flavor Flav in August 2007, Jimmy Kimmel joked to honoree Flavor Flav that "Chris Benoit is a better father than Flavor Flav", which drew a shocked, appalled response, and laughs from the crowd.
Immediately following the deaths, WWE Classics On Demand, WWE's subscription video on demand service, began removing the likeness and mentions of both Chris and Nancy Benoit from archival footage. They eventually returned Nancy to programming, but continue to remove Chris from bi-weekly uploaded episodes of WCW Monday Nitro.
With Benoit and his death allegedly linked to steroid abuse, WWE is currently under investigation by the United States House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform regarding their talent wellness policy. As of June 2009 Congress has taken no action against either the WWE or any other professional wrestling company. In January 2009, Henry Waxman, outgoing chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, requested that the Office of National Drug Control Policy chief, John P. Walters, "examine steroid use in professional wrestling and take appropriate steps to address this problem." In the letter, Waxman stated "In the first year of WWE's testing program, which began in March 2006, 40% of wrestlers tested positive for steroids and other drugs, even after being warned in advance that they were going to be tested." He also wrote about how wrestlers who test positive for performance enhancers receive light punishment and afterwards can often participate in wrestling events. The committee investigation also uncovered how easily wrestlers can secure "therapeutic use exemptions" (TUEs, permission to take banned substances for medical reasons) so they can continue performing while using steroids. When Waxman's staff interviewed Dr. Tracy Ray, a physician contracted by WWE, Ray claimed there was "shadiness in almost every [TUE] case that I've reviewed."
Steroids were found in the home, leading some media organizations to hypothesize that a steroid-induced rage may be the cause of Benoit's actions, as some doctors have linked steroid use to uncontrollable anger, among other psychological issues which include paranoia. WWE released a press-statement, challenging the "roid-rage" claims. One part of the statement reads:
Prosecutors in New York investigated the deliveries Benoit received from Signature Pharmacy and MedXLife.com, which sold steroids and human growth hormone (HGH) over the internet. Terence Kindlon, the lawyer for MedXLife co-owner Dr. Gary Brandwein, denied allegations that his client's company sold steroids to Benoit. Brandwein plead not guilty to six counts in New York state court related to the criminal sale of a controlled substance. According to a report from Sports Illustrated, three packages sent to Benoit were from Signature Pharmacy with the first one sent in December 2005 to San Antonio, Texas. The second package was sent on February 13, 2006 to an address in Peachtree City, Georgia and the third package was sent in July 2006 to Fort Walton Beach, Florida. This followed eleven superstars that were announced in a Sports Illustrated steroids investigation that began March 2007, which included Kurt Angle, Eddie Guerrero, Oscar Gutierrez (Rey Mysterio, Jr.), Paul Levesque (Triple H), Adam Copeland (Edge) and Gregory Helms, with both Copeland and Levesque receiving a high amount of steroids.
WWE attorney Jerry McDevitt stated that "they believe the facts of this crime do not support the hypothesis that 'roid rage' played a role in the murders." They cite evidence of premeditation in addition to the lack of a toxicology report, and the fact that the steroids found within Benoit's home were legally prescribed. Dr. Gary I. Wadler who currently serves on the World Anti-Doping Agency's Prohibited List and Methods Committee and has served on its Health, Medicine, and Research Committee agreed stating that "that was a premeditated act and that's not rage". Investigators seized both Chris and Nancy's medical records. They also have medical records of Mark Jindrak, Hardcore Holly (Robert Howard), Lex Luger (Lawrence Pfohl), Rey Mysterio, Jr., Buff Bagwell (Marcus Bagwell), and Johnny Grunge (Mike Durham), all of whom were patients of Dr. Phil Astin. The toxicology report on Chris Benoit's body was released Tuesday, July 17, 2007 at 2:30 p.m. EDT.
At the press conference held by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation at 2:30 p.m. EDT on July 17, 2007, it was announced that three different drugs were found in Nancy Benoit's system: hydrocodone, hydromorphone and Xanax. All three drugs were found to be at levels investigators considered normal for therapeutic treatment (as opposed to recreational use or abuse.) A blood-alcohol level was found at 0.184. Dr. Kris Sperry added it was impossible to say whether any of the blood findings was due to ingestion of alcohol or the post-mortem process. It was also ruled out that Nancy was sedated by Chris before she was murdered.
Xanax was found in Daniel Benoit's system. District Attorney Scott Ballard noted this was not a drug that would be given to a child under normal circumstances. It is believed that Daniel was sedated prior to being murdered, with Dr. Sperry ruling out that Daniel died of a drug overdose. The GBI, however, said in the press conference that it could not perform tests for steroids or human growth hormones on Daniel because of a lack of urine.
Xanax and hydrocodone were also found in Chris Benoit's system, at levels investigators called consistent with therapeutic use. Elevated levels of testosterone cypionate were found in his urine; investigators believed that the level found suggested it had been taken recently. No artificial steroids were found in Chris's urine (with the exception of this testosterone cypionate) nor was there evidence of GHB, contrary to speculation. Benoit also tested negative for blood alcohol.
Dr. Philip C. Astin III was the personal doctor for Chris Benoit. Attorneys for Dr. Astin had asked a judge to throw out evidence seized during a raid on Astin's office after the death of Benoit and his family. Astin's attorney, Manny Arora claimed that the search exceeded authority granted in a search warrant and that authorities seized patients' records other than Benoit as well as three years of bank records and computers. This comes from Wrestling Observer, a newsletter dedicated to professional wrestling. According to the Associated Press in February 2008, Astin had been charged with overprescribing medication in a case not connected to Benoit. On January 29, 2009, Astin admitted he illegally prescribed drugs, sometimes without even examining the patients first and pleaded guilty to all 175 counts against him. Astin faced a maximum of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million on each count. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison for illegally prescribing medicine to his patients.
A statement regarding Nancy Benoit's death was added to the Chris Benoit English Wikipedia article fourteen hours before police discovered the bodies of Benoit and his family. This seemingly prescient addition was initially reported on Wikinews and later on Fox News Channel. The article originally read: "Chris Benoit was replaced by Johnny Nitro for the ECW World Championship match at Vengeance, as Benoit was not there due to personal issues, stemming from the death of his wife Nancy." The phrase "stemming from the death of his wife Nancy" was added at 12:01 a.m. EDT on June 25, whereas the Fayette County police reportedly discovered the bodies of the Benoit family at 2:30 p.m. EDT (14 hours, 29 minutes later). The IP address of the editor was traced to Stamford, Connecticut, which is also the location of WWE headquarters. After news of the early death notice reached mainstream media, the anonymous poster accessed Wikinews to explain his edit as a "huge coincidence and nothing more."
Police detectives "seized computer equipment from the [man held] responsible for the postings" and called the posting an unbelievable "hindrance" to their investigation, but believed he was otherwise uninvolved, declining to press charges. The man had found several rumors on-line which supported his theory about the Benoit "family emergency" as reported in wrestling news; the IP from which he made the edit in question has been tentatively traced to vandalizing the Wikipedia entries for Ron Artest, Stacy Keibler, and Naugatuck, Connecticut.