Steroids discovered in probe of slayings, suicide

Updated: June 27, 2007, 10:05 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

FAYETTEVILLE, Ga. -- Pro wrestler Chris Benoit strangled his wife, suffocated his 7-year-old son and placed a Bible next to their bodies before hanging himself with the pulley of a weight machine, authorities said Tuesday.

Investigators found prescription anabolic steroids in the house and want to know whether the muscle man nicknamed "The Canadian Crippler" was unhinged by the bodybuilding drugs, which can cause paranoia, depression and explosive outbursts known as "roid rage."

Chris Benoit
AP Photo/WWE, HOAuthorities are investigating whether steroids may have been a factor in the deaths of Chris Benoit, above, his wife and child.

Authorities offered no motive for the killings, which were spread out over a weekend, and would not discuss Benoit's state of mind. No suicide note was found.

"In a community like this it's bizarre to have a murder-suicide, especially involving the death of a 7-year-old," District Attorney Scott Ballard said. "I don't think we'll ever be able to wrap our minds around this."

In an interview with ESPN.com on Tuesday, Ballard indicated that the boy had needle marks in his arms. The district attorney said he believed that the boy had been given growth hormones for some time because the family considered him undersized.

That was only one of the strange facts that Ballard revealed. He said 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."

Recent Pro Wrestler Deaths

Chris Benoit's death in a murder-suicide is the latest in a string of professional wrestlers who died relatively young. Here is a list of some prominent performers and how they died:
Date Name Age Cause of Death
2005 Eddie Guerrero 38 Heart failure *
2003 Curt Hennig 44 Acute cocaine intoxication**
2002 David Smith 39 Heart attack***
1999 Owen Hart 34 Accidental fall
1999 Rick Rude 40 Heart failure believed caused by overdose of GHB, steroids
1997 Brian Pillman 35 Heart attack****
* Guerrero had not used illicit drugs and alcohol in four years prior to his death, but his prior lifestyle was widely blamed as a contributing factor.
** Hennig's father said a combination of steroids and painkillers contributed to his death.
*** Smith's autopsy said steroid use may have played a role in his death. His brother-in-law Bruce Hart said Smith "paid the price" for using.
**** Pillman, a former NFL player, had a prior history of abusing steroids and painkillers.

The Montreal-born Benoit was one of the stars of the World Wrestling Entertainment circuit and was known for his wholesome family man image. His wife, Nancy, was a wrestling stage manager who worked under the name "Woman." They met and fell in love when their wrestling story lines intertwined.

When he won the world heavyweight championship in 2004, Benoit (pronounced ben-WAH) hoisted the belt over his head and invited his wife and child into the ring to celebrate. Asked by the Calgary Sun that same year to name his worst vice: Benoit replied: "Quality time with my family is a big vice. It's something I'll fight for and crave."

Nevertheless, Nancy Benoit filed for a divorce in 2003, saying the couple's three-year marriage was irrevocably broken and alleging "cruel treatment."

She later dropped the complaint, as well as a request for a restraining order in which she charged that the 5-foot-10, 220-pound Benoit had threatened her and had broken furniture in their home.

In the divorce filing, she said Benoit made more than $500,000 a year as a professional wrestler and asked for permanent custody of Daniel and child support. In his response, Benoit sought joint custody.

The bodies were found Monday afternoon in three rooms of the house, off a gravel road.

Ballard said that Benoit's wife, 43, was killed Friday in an upstairs family room, her feet and wrists were bound and there was blood under her head, indicating a possible struggle. Ballard told ESPN.com that it appeared that she had been pinned to the floor and asphyxiated with some sort of cable.

The son, Daniel, was probably killed late Saturday or early Sunday, the body found in his bed, Ballard said. The district attorney indicated that he had been choked to death.

Benoit, 40, apparently killed himself several hours and as long as a day later, Ballard said. His body was found in a downstairs weight room, his body found hanging from the pulley of a piece of exercise equipment. Ballard said that he had used weights, the pulley and cable to choke himself to death.

The prosecutor said he found it "bizarre" that the WWE wrestling star spread out the killings over a weekend and appeared to remain in the house for up to a day with the bodies. Ballard told ESPN.com that investigators smelled what they ascertained to be decomposing bodies when they entered the home. The varying degrees of decomposition between the bodies helped indicate the staggered times of death.

Toxicology test results may not be available for weeks or even months, he said. As for whether steroids played a role in the crime, he said: "We don't know yet. That's one of the things we'll be looking at."

Benoit received drug deliveries from a Florida business that sold steroids, human growth hormone and testosterone on the Internet, according to the Albany County, N.Y., District Attorney's Office, which is investigating the business, MedXLife.com.

Six people, including two of the pharmacy's owners, have pleaded guilty in the Albany investigation, and 20 more have been arrested, including doctors and pharmacists.

Steroids have been linked to the deaths of several professional wrestlers in recent years. Eddie Guerrero, one of Benoit's best friends, died in 2005 from heart failure linked to long-term steroid use.

The father of Curt "Mr. Perfect" Hennig blamed steroids and painkillers for Hennig's drug overdose death in 2003. Davey Boy Smith, the "British Bulldog," died in 2002 from heart failure that a coroner said was probably caused by steroids.

The WWE, based in Stamford, Conn., issued a statement Tuesday evening saying steroids "were not and could not be related to the cause of death."

"The physical findings announced by authorities indicate deliberation, not rage," the company said, adding that Benoit tested negative April 10, the last time he was tested for drugs.

Benoit was a quiet, roughhewn figure amid the glitz and bluster of pro wrestling. He performed under his real name, eschewed scripted personas and didn't bother to fix a gap where he had lost one of his front teeth. (According to the WWE Web site, he lost the tooth while roughhousing with his pet Rottweiler.)

His signature move was the "Crippler Crossface," in which he would lock his hands around an opponent's face and stretch his neck.

"You always rooted for him, because he was a good guy and he overcame the odds," said Dave Meltzer, editor of the Wrestling Observer, a weekly news letter. "It's like if you watched 'Rocky,' and in the end it comes out that Rocky killed his wife and his son."

He met his wife in the 1990s when she was married to rival wrestler Kevin Sullivan. As part of the scripted rivalry, Benoit and Nancy were supposed to act as if they were having an affair. A real romance blossomed, and she left Sullivan for Benoit.

Neighbors said the Benoits led a low-key lifestyle.

"We would see Chris walking in his yard from time to time. He wasn't rude, but he wasn't really outwardly warm," said Alaina Jones, who lives across the street.

Jimmy Baswell, who was Benoit's driver for more than five years, placed a white wreath at the Benoits' gate. "They always seemed like they were the happiest people," he said.

WWE said on its Web site that it asked authorities to check on Benoit and his family after being alerted by friends who received "several curious text messages sent by Benoit early Sunday morning."

On Saturday, Benoit was slated to appear at a WWE live event in Beaumont, Texas. According to a release from the WWE, Benoit contacted WWE that afternoon to inform them that his wife and child were ill, and that he would not be able to attend the show.

The release also stated that WWE executives rebooked Benoit's flight for the following morning, making arrangements for Benoit to attend the pay-per-view event in Houston on Sunday. Employees attempted to confirm his travel plans but were unable to contact him.

The WWE, based in Stamford, Conn., said authorities asked that it not release further information on the deaths.

"WWE extends its sincerest thoughts and prayers to the Benoit family's relatives and loved ones in this time of tragedy," the company said in a statement on its Web site.

"He was like a family member to me, and everyone in my family is taking it real hard," said fellow Canadian Bret Hart, a five-time champion with the World Wrestling Federation. The federation has since changed its name to World Wrestling Entertainment.

Benoit had maintained a home in Atlanta from the time he wrestled for the defunct World Championship Wrestling. The Fayette County Tax Assessors Office lists the value of the house, on more than 8.5 acres, at nearly $900,000.

The WWE canceled its live "Monday Night RAW" card in Corpus Christi, Texas, after the bodies were discovered.

Monday's show was supposed to be a memorial service for WWE owner Vince McMahon. In a storyline concocted by the WWE, McMahon was supposedly "assassinated" in a limousine explosion two weeks earlier. McMahon appeared at the beginning of Monday's telecast and acknowledged the bombing was made up.

The McMahon storyline has been dropped.

Benoit had two other children from a prior relationship.

Mike Fish of ESPN.com contributed to this report. Information from The Associated Press was also used.