By Lance Pugmire, Times Staff Writer
Sports officials are bracing for the results after law enforcement officials in Georgia said Tuesday that they will investigate whether steroids played a role in a grisly murders-suicide involving pro wrestling star Chris Benoit over the weekend.
Prescription anabolic steroids were found inside the Fayetteville , Ga., home where Benoit, 40, strangled his former wrestler wife and 7-year-old son before apparently hanging himself with the cord of a weightlifting machine, police said.
"I don't know that we'll ever determine why [Benoit] did this," Fayette County District Attorney Scott Ballard said in a telephone interview. "The toxicology reports will shed some light, but we'll need to consult experts on all sorts of things about this, including what concentrations of steroids equal a 'roid rage."
Benoit, who went by the nickname "Canadian Crippler," was a star attraction on the World Wrestling Entertainment circuit and was described by one fervent wrestling follower as "the best in-ring wrestler of the last 20 years." He was remembered on a WWE "tribute" broadcast on USA Network on Monday night, as many wrestling fans learned of the wrestler's death from WWE chairman Vince McMahon.
McMahon opened Tuesday night's Extreme Championship Wrestling show by announcing that because of emerging details of the deaths Benoit's name would not be mentioned again during the telecast. However, WWE officials also expressed concern "with sensationalistic reporting" about the steroid discovery.
"The physical findings … indicate deliberation, not rage," a statement from the organization said. WWE also noted that Benoit tested negative for steroids in the organization's drug testing program on April 10.
In light of at least 27 deaths of pro wrestlers 45 years old or younger since 1997, McMahon recently reacted angrily when questioned about the legitimacy of his health and safety concerns for his wrestlers. "If people die, they can't perform for you," he said in a 2003 investigative story by The Times. "From the human being's perspective, how do you think I feel [about the deaths]? Do you think I'm the … devil?"
Although California's State Athletic Commission does not test script-performing pro wrestlers for performance-enhancing drugs, as it does test boxers and mixed-martial arts fighters. Commission official William Douglas said Benoit's death illustrates "there's a rampant problem; this is getting pretty scary."
The Associated Press reported late Tuesday that the Albany, N.Y., County district attorney has identified Benoit as a customer of a Florida company, MedXLife, implicated in an investigation of illegal steroid sales.
As details of the deaths emerged Tuesday, pro wrestling observers weren't ready to attribute what one called "a Charles Manson-O.J. Simpson thing," solely to the effects of steroids, which medical experts say can cause explosive mood swings.
"The wrestling guys who have died at 40 usually just have a heart attack and die young," said Bryan Alvarez, 32, an independent pro wrestler and friend of Benoit's. "But we know Chris had problems with his wife. If you ask me, I believe this was a combination of 20 years of steroid abuse, several years of a work schedule where brain trauma becomes possible, and the problems with his wife.
"Blaming steroids alone is too simplistic, but I guarantee you the toxicology shows steroids in his system."
The medical examiner working the case determined that Benoit killed his wife, Nancy, on Friday, then his son late the following day.
District Attorney Ballard said Nancy Benoit, 43, formerly known on the World Championship Wrestling circuit as the character "Woman," was found in an upstairs office in the couple's two-story home with her feet and wrists bound.
Ballard said the medical examiner determined Daniel wasn't killed until much later — possibly late Saturday. The boy was found dead in his upstairs bedroom. Authorities noticed injection marks on the boy's arm that appear to be the result of routine medical treatments.
"A chokehold," Ballard said, "was used to strangle the boy rather than hands, because there's no bruising consistent with a strangling by hands."
Benoit's signature match-ending hold was called the "cross-face crippler," where he'd cross his arms at an opponent's chin, pulling the head backward.
A Bible was placed near Nancy and Daniel's bodies, authorities said.
Benoit dispatched five text messages to two WWE co-workers early Sunday morning. The WWE released transcripts of those messages Tuesday, in which Benoit reported his full home address to the workers, and said, "The dogs are in the enclosed pool area. Garage side door is open."
Ballard said he's "virtually certain" that Benoit committed suicide Sunday by undoing a weightlifting machine lifting bar and wrapping the steel cord around his cloth-wrapped neck in the home's basement.
Fayette County court records made public Tuesday showed Nancy Benoit filed for divorce and sought a restraining order after a 2003 incident. She claimed in the court records posted by the website TMZ.com that Chris Benoit "lost his temper and threatened to strike [her] and cause extensive damage to the home and personal belongings of the parties."
Nancy Benoit also claimed her husband had followed through on similar threats "at other times," destroying furniture.
The petition said Nancy Benoit was "in reasonable fear for [her] safety and the safety of the minor child," noting "there is substantial likelihood [Chris Benoit] will commit such acts of violence against [Nancy] and the child [Daniel]."
In her May 2003 divorce filing, Nancy Benoit claimed her marriage was "irretrievably broken" and that she was subjected to "cruel treatment" by her wrestler husband.
The restraining order and divorce complaint were dismissed by Nancy in August 2003.
"Steroids alone don't cause this," said Dave Meltzer, editor of the website Wrestling Observer. "The guy clearly had a stormy, volatile relationship with his wife. Because of the road schedule, lots of [wrestlers] have marriage issues. Steroids maybe played a role, but I don't know what this is. To kill your kid … this is some demon I can't explain, and I don't think anyone in wrestling can."