10 years ago: The Chris Benoit double murder-suicide [June 25th, 2017]
It was Sunday, June 24th, 2007. I was at a Buffalo Wild Wings with my ex-girlfriend and a friend of mine as we’d gathered monthly to watch the WWE pay per view. On this instance, it was Vengeance: Night Of Champions, an event where CM Punk would be battling Chris Benoit to determine the new ECW World Heavyweight Champion, a title that had been vacated by Bobby Lashley. As the event went on, it was announced that John Morrison would be replacing Benoit, with little explanation given as to why Benoit wasn’t on the show.
The next day, as I was driving home from work, my friend Brandon (who I’d watched the pay per view with the night before) called to tell me the news: Chris Benoit was dead. As I sat at a stoplight only minutes from my house, I remember crying immediately. Benoit wasn’t just a favorite wrestler of mine, but an inspiration to work harder, to never give up, to persist in the face of adversity, and to chase every dream you have, regardless of whether or not they’re attainable. I remember a video package the WWE had released for Benoit featuring the Finger Eleven song “One Thing”. This song still stands as one of my biggest inspirations as I recall how hard Benoit worked in wrestling.
What made this death that much more of a shock to me was that only weeks earlier, Benoit had wrestled at an Ohio Valley Wrestling event that I was at. He was very personable, smiling at anyone who approached him and happy to speak with anybody who had questions. This is a photo snapped that day:
I watched Raw that night as Vince McMahon, who only a week earlier had been “blown up” in a limousine, stood solemnly in a ring that stood in an empty arena, speaking about Benoit as the episode showcased Benoit’s finest moments in the ring. The episode was originally supposed to be a 3-hour memorial tribute to McMahon. Throughout the night, different wrestlers spoke on their fallen friend, some very upset and downtrodden, but it seemed that some knew the grisly details where others hadn’t. Two testimonials that stood out to me were Chavo Guerrero Jr.’s, and a very grim one from William Regal:
Regal seemed to lead on that he knew more about the situation, as he neglected to comment on Benoit the man, but rather on Benoit the wrestler. As the week unfolded, details surrounding Benoit’s death came to light and showed that Chris, his wife Nancy (formerly known as Woman in ECW and WCW), and his youngest son Daniel were all found dead in the home that they shared in Atlanta, Georgia. According to the autopsy, Nancy was murdered first, bound at the feet and wrists. She died of asphyxiation on Friday, June 22nd, and was found wrapped in a towel with blood under her head and a bible placed next to her bed. According to the autopsy on Daniel, he had died on Saturday morning as he lay in bed, again with a bible placed next to him, with Benoit himself dying on Sunday, having used a weight machine to break his own neck as a bible lay on the weight machine.
Although that’s the official cause of death listed for each of those involved, there are a lot of details that have been ignored following the incident. For example, several voicemails were left by Benoit to wrestler Chavo Guerrero Jr. and WWE official Brad Armstrong, both of whom stated that Benoit seemed “off”. Chavo later told that he had spoken to Benoit, who claimed that he’d missed his flight and wouldn’t be appearing at Vengeance: Night Of Champions, and was stressed out due to Nancy and Daniel having food poisoning. On Sunday morning, between 3:51 and 3:58am, several texts were sent to co-workers and fellow wrestlers from both Chris and Nancy’s cell phones, stating that the dogs were in the enclosed pool area, and that the garage side door had been left open. A call was also placed to WWE officials by Benoit, who alleged that he was taking his family to the hospital and would be in Houston for the event.
According to Nancy’s sister, Sandra, Benoit’s computer history included “
the quickest and easiest way to break a neck”. When WWE official John Laurinaitis contacted the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department to check on the family, the police notified the WWE around 4:15pm to say that three bodies had been found, and that the home was ruled as “a major crime scene”.
Several motives have been listed for the crime, such as Benoit’s mental state being so deteriorated due to years of head trauma that his brain “resembled
an 85-year-old Alzheimer’s patient”. Steroids were also listed as a potential lead for the cause, as “roid rage” has been prevalent for years among athletes, but as several wrestlers have stated since the incident, “how many baseball players have killed their wife and kid?” It’s also noted that steroid rage usually leads to “rage, not deliberation”, which leads to the question of why Nancy’s arms and legs had been bound. It’s been stated by Benoit’s peers that he was immensely paranoid, often traveling different routes from the airport to get to his home in order to evade potential followers. Several wrestlers have claimed that Benoit would have two sides: one that would lash out at you, and another that would be your best friend, with the events of the day dictating which one you spoke to. Brad Armstrong, however, stated that Benoit “never said a cross word to anybody”.
In 2003, Nancy had filed for divorce, citing “domestic abuse”, but the divorce was dropped and the two continued to be married until their deaths. Hardcore Holly would later state in his autobiography that Benoit would drink heavily when issues with Nancy would arise, which several wrestlers later confirmed. As more details surrounding the Benoit case arose, the WWE issued the following statement on SmackDown:
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Last night on Monday Night Raw,
the WWE presented a special tribute show, recognizing the career of
Chris Benoit. However, now some 26 hours later, the facts of this
horrific tragedy are now apparent. Therefore, other than my comments,
there will be no mention of Mr. Benoit’s name tonight. On the contrary,
tonight’s show will be dedicated to everyone who has been affected by
this terrible incident. This evening marks the first step of the healing
process. Tonight, WWE performers will do what they do better than
anyone else in the world: entertain you.
Following this, the WWE have done all but eliminate Benoit from their history, often negating that he was part of several high profile events such as the Royal Rumble which Benoit won in 2004, or the main event of WrestleMania XX, where Benoit defeated Triple H to win the World Heavyweight Championship. Truly tragic, as the moment has often been cited as one of the greatest in ‘Mania history.
This photo is said to have been taken on Saturday morning, as Nancy was dead in Benoit’s home. One strange part of the Benoit situation is that Nancy’s Wikipedia page (which can be edited by anyone) listed Nancy as being dead 14 hours before the bodies were found. The original edit listed, “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 man who posted this claimed that it was written due to rumors he’d heard on the internet, and it was found that he’d also made several edits to other Wikipedia articles that were unfounded.
It was claimed that Benoit was “given ten months to live due to an enlarged heart” by Nancy’s sister. What’s strange about the case is that a large knife was found under Daniel’s bed. Prior to her marriage to Benoit in 2000, Nancy was charged with aggravated battery after chasing her former husband, Kevin Sullivan, with a knife in 1997. Benoit’s friend Dean Malenko stated, “He’s not a monster. We’re talking about a guy who, a month ago, was in Jacksonville and
rather than drive down to Orlando, where he needed to be the next day,
he took a flight to be home with Daniel.”
Another bizarre detail that never seems to get mentioned is that wrestler Dave Taylor was allegedly spotted at the Benoit residence before police arrived. Benoit’s neighbor Holly Schrepfer was contacted by police to enter the property before they arrived to secure the dogs and check on the family. She discovered the bodies, and whilst fleeting the home, claimed that she saw Dave and his wife carrying a platter of deli food. In no way does this point to Taylor being involved in the deaths, but it’s possible that he was coming by to check on his friend. It was suggested that he was sent by the WWE to check everything out and get the facts early to prevent a PR problem. This could also be why William Regal’s tribute was so grim, as the two were friends and tag team partners in the WWE. Taylor has since denied that this is possible, as he says he was in Texas on tour with the WWE. There is no evidence for him being in either location, other than Schrepfer’s claim.
Benoit kept a personal journal following the death of longtime best friend Eddie Guerrero. In it, he would write letters to Eddie, which makes me wonder why he never wrote a suicide note or a farewell. In the personal effects returned to Benoit’s father, a handwritten note was found in a bible that said “I am preparing to leave this Earth.” Within a few months of each other, Guerrero, Johnny Grunge, and Victor “Black Cat” Mar all died, respectively consisting of Benoit’s best friend, his local buddy who he went to after problems with Nancy, and his riding partner on Japanese tours. Chris’ diary remains weren’t found by police, but rather by neighbor Holly Schrepfer in a garbage can.
There are a lot of facts that don’t make sense with what has been alleged to have happened. Toxicology reports claim that all three involved in the incident, Chris, Nancy, and Daniel, were sedated heavily. There are claims that beer cans were found near Benoit’s body, but there was no alcohol found in his system. There were texts sent from Benoit’s phone that were sent AFTER Benoit’s time of death, as determined by police.
There are several wrestling fans who have turned on Benoit and refuse to give credit to his hard work in the sport. That is their prerogative. I personally loved Benoit as a wrestler and will never shun the fact that he gave a lot to wrestling, but I also don’t have children and have never been married. I don’t know how I’d feel from that perspective. That being said, after watching several videos and reading endless articles and write-ups regarding the case, I do think that everything is worth a second look, as I don’t think it happened quite like we all have been told that it did. Nevertheless, two great figures of wrestling history died ten years ago, and the wrestling world was changed forever as a result.