The Life and Legacy of Dave Schultz, Chapter 1: The Day Wrestling Died

Mark Palmer

1/26/2006
Mark Palmer, InterMat Senior Writer
mark@intermatwrestle.com, Twitter: @MatWriter

Dave Schultz was one of the all-time greats. Not just because he was an NCAA champion or an Olympic gold medalist… but because of his genuine good nature and generous spirit.

Ten years ago, Dave's life was taken in a senseless, bizarre murder that sounds straight out of a really awful movie. Only this was really awful real life.

RevWrestling.com seeks to pay tribute to Dave Schultz with a series of articles that address various aspects of his life and legacy. In this installment, we share the circumstances of his tragic murder… and outline his considerable wrestling accomplishments. In future chapters, we plan to paint a more complete picture of Dave, including reminiscences from some of the folks who knew him best.


Friday, January 26, 1996: The day wrestling died.

That date, US freestyle wrestler Dave Schultz was murdered by multimillionaire John du Pont at his estate in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania outside Philadelphia.

Dave Schultz
Dave, a 1984 Olympic gold medalist, was training for the 1996 Atlanta Games and coaching the Team Foxcatcher squad at du Pont's state-of-the-art wrestling facility on the estate grounds.

That dreary Friday afternoon, Dave was working on the radio in his Toyota Tercel in front of his house at du Pont's estate when the heir to the chemical company fortune pulled up to the 36-year-old wrestler/coach's car and fired a shot through the back window of the station wagon.

At the sound of the gunshot, Dave's wife Nancy bolted out of the kitchen in their home. By the time she reached the front door, there was a second shot. She saw her husband on the ground… and du Pont pointing his .38 out the open window of his Lincoln Town Car.

According to the account of the crime in the book No Holds Barred: The Strange Life of John E. du Pont, Nancy told du Pont to stop … but he fired off a third shot into the back of the prone wrestler. Then du Pont pointed the gun at Nancy, who took refuge inside the house while dialing 911.

The life squad was there in minutes. However, Dave was pronounced dead at Mercy Haverford Hospital at 3:30 p.m.

In the meantime, John du Pont fled the murder scene and barricaded himself in his mansion on the estate grounds … staying locked in the library that had been reinforced as a bomb shelter during the Cold War, and stocked with food and water in anticipation of a nuclear attack. Outside, approximately 75 police officers -- including thirty SWAT team members -- took up positions in the freezing rain.

Negotiating by phone with the police, du Pont asked that he be addressed as "His Holiness" and referred to himself as the Dali Lama. In the meantime, all wrestlers at the Team Foxcatcher facility were evacuated.

The standoff dragged on through the weekend. At least a dozen separate phone conversations took place between du Pont and the police. Earlier that chilly January weekend, the police had shut off the boilers that provided heat to the mansion. By mid-afternoon Sunday, du Pont decided to try to fix the boilers which were located outside the residence. He exited the mansion, headed towards the greenhouse. The police ordered him to surrender. After threatening to run back to the house, du Pont was grabbed by the police, handcuffed and arrested approximately 48 hours after murdering Dave Schultz.

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In addition to his wife Nancy, Dave Schultz left behind two children -- a nine-year-old son Alexander (named for the legendary Russian Greco-Roman superheavyweight superstar Alexander Medved), and a six-year-old daughter Danielle. He was also survived by his parents Philip (a counselor) and Dorothy (a clothing designer) … and three siblings: sister Seanna, and brothers Mark and Michael.

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David L. Schultz was born June 6, 1959 in Palo Alto, California, the home of Stanford University. His parents were both Stanford graduates.

Dave wrestled at Palo Alto High School, and won the California state title at 165 pounds in 1977 … and earned state wrestler-of-the-year honors that year.

Dave Schultz
Upon graduation, Dave headed east to Stillwater, Oklahoma to wrestle at Oklahoma State. However, after one year wrestling for the Cowboys, he transferred to UCLA. While sitting out his first year back in California because of the NCAA transfer rule, UCLA eliminated its wrestling program. So Dave was forced to move again, this time to the University of Oklahoma at Norman. In his senior year as a Sooner, he captured the 167-pound title at the 1982 NCAA Championships. Dave completed his college wrestling career as a three-time All-American.

Even with those accomplishments, it was Dave's wrestling achievements beyond high school and college where he really made a name for himself. Over the course of nearly two decades, Dave won ten Senior National titles -- eight in freestyle, two in Greco-Roman. In international competition, Dave claimed the World Championship in 1983, plus three World silver medals, and two World bronze medals. Dave also was crowned champion at the 1986 Goodwill Games and the 1987 Pan Am Games … and was a four-time World Cup champ.

Dave Schultz was not only incredibly talented as a wrestler, but extremely generous in sharing his experience and knowledge with others. Dave did this as a coach, working as an assistant at the University of Oklahoma, Stanford, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. At the time of his death, he was the head coach at John du Pont's Team Foxcatcher facility where a number of accomplished wrestlers worked out, including 1996 Olympic gold medalists Tom Brands and Kurt Angle.

And, as friends are quick to point out, Dave took on the role of coach even in a less formal way, whether it was as clinician at wrestling camps … or in his willingness to answer questions of other wrestlers and demonstrate particular moves at a wrestling event.

As good a teacher as Dave was, he was also an incredible student, too. Throughout his career he would ask other wrestlers about the fine points of technique or a specific move.

The memory of Dave Schultz lives on. His name graces a major tournament that draws the best grapplers from all over the world … and memories of his amazing wrestling talent and giving nature live on in the hearts of all who knew him.

Chapter 2: John du Pont

Did you know Dave Schultz? If you have stories to share, please email the author at mark@revwrestling.com.

Chapters:
Chapter 1: The Day Wrestling Died
Chapter 2: The Murderer, John du Pont
Chapter 3: Immediate Memories of Dave
Chapter 4: Smiling Back at a Life Remembered
Chapter 5: A Spirit That Lives On

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