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 attempt to tell the story of John du Pont, the man who murdered Dave Schultz. In future chapters, we plan to paint a more complete picture of Dave, including reminiscences from some of the folks who knew him best.
Fall -- the time of year when the amateur wrestling world comes alive again as a new season begins for scholastic and college programs.
Last October, along with the usual discussions about "hot prospects" and predictions of who would win state and national titles, the online wrestling forums were abuzz about a book.
No, the wrestling community wasn't talking about the new memoirs of 2000 Olympic gold medalist Rulon Gardner … or those of Kyle Maynard, the legless wrestler from Georgia whose incredible story earned him guest appearances on The Larry King Show and Oprah, and a place on the New York Times best-seller list.
The book that had everyone talking was hardly new. In fact, it was nearly twenty years old. And, to the wrestling community, its author was hardly viewed as a hero or an inspiration.
The book was titled Off the Mat … and its author was John E. du Pont, the multimillionaire who murdered 1984 Olympic gold medalist wrestler/coach Dave Schultz on January 26, 1996.
Why would a book published in 1987 stir up so much discussion in October 2005?
Complimentary copies of Off the Mat were sent out to high school wrestling coaches across the country that fall, apparently by a firm representing John du Pont. The reaction in online wrestling forums such as TheMat.com seemed to be one of universal anger and disgust.
Rex Peckinpaugh's reaction was pretty typical. The head coach of the high school wrestling program at New Castle, Indiana posted this message to the AmateurWrestlingFanAddicts Yahoo group forum: "I was excited when I saw the package simply because I thought it would be a nice free book or DVD, but when I opened it and saw the du Pont book, I was certainly angry and dismayed. I was even more upset when I read the enclosed letter that said what a great aid this book would be in working with young people. I emailed the address shown on the letter and asked if this book was by the same John du Pont who gunned down Dave Schultz? I knew it was, but I was really angry. I told them I would be returning the book, as I hope everyone does. I read the book when it first came out … put in the context of what the man has done, it is nothing but garbage."
John du Pont still manages to stir up anger ten years after murdering one of amateur wrestling's all-time heroes.
John Eleuthere du Pont was born on November 22, 1938 into a world of wealth and privilege as the great-great-great-grandson of the founder of E.I. DuPont de Nemours, Inc., the giant chemical company known for brand names such as Teflon and StainMaster.
Within two years of his birth, John's parents William "Willie" du Pont Jr. and Jean split up, with the infant going off with his mother. After Willie remarried a young tennis star, the young du Pont had infrequent contact with his father … and was isolated from his older siblings who had already left home. The 1996 Carol Turkington book No Holds Barred: The Strange Life of John E. du Pont describes a young man who was lonely and socially awkward.
Du Pont prepped at Haverford, where he participated on the swimming and wrestling teams. He attended the University of Pennsylvania for one year, withdrawing before completing his freshman year to focus all his attention on making the US Olympic swim team. Later, when that dream washed out, he essentially bought his way onto the nation's top-ranked swim team at Santa Clara, California.
John du PontHowever, after being told by coaches and teammates that he was not cut out to be a champion swimmer, du Pont tried his hand at pentathlon -- an Olympic sport consisting of five activities: cross-country riding, swimming, running, fencing, and shooting. He won a championship in Australia in 1965, and hosted the national modern pentathlon championships at his Foxcatcher estate in 1967 … but failed to make the 1968 US Olympic team. However, as a reward for his considerable monetary gifts to the sport, du Pont was named trainer for the 1976 US Olympic pentathlon team.
By the mid 1980s, John du Pont found a new sport to shower with his wealth and attention: wrestling. In 1985, he approached Villanova University with an offer to finance a varsity wrestling program at the Philadelphia school, as long as he could be head coach. Villanova accepted the offer, and du Pont hired 1984 Olympic gold medalist Mark Schultz -- Dave's younger brother -- as an assistant coach.
Du Pont got out the checkbook again to build the Foxcatcher National Training Center for Olympic athletes at his estate, designed for swimmers and wrestlers. The state-of-the-art facility featured a 50' x 50' wrestling room, and a library of hundreds of wrestling matches on videotape for team members to study opponents.
But it wasn't just the facilities that attracted top wrestlers to Foxcatcher. Du Pont offered stipends of up to $1,000 a month -- along with free housing and scholarships -- to wrestlers who oftentimes were accustomed to just scraping by.
In addition to what he spent on his Foxcatcher club and its wrestlers, du Pont gave to amateur wrestling organizations. He contributed $100,000 to USA Wrestling in 1987 and 1988, then upped the amount to $400,000 each year up to 1995. In return, USA Wrestling named its national championships and World Team Trials after du Pont, and named him "team leader" for the US team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
Dave SchultzThe lives of Dave Schultz and John du Pont intersected when the millionaire -- who had an estimated worth of over $100 million -- welcomed the 1984 Olympic gold medalist to Foxcatcher in 1988. Dave was on a quest to compete in the Olympics again, so he welcomed the chance to work out with the top wrestlers from around the world, the coaching salary, and the farmhouse on the estate grounds which was home for his wife Nancy and their two children, Alexander and Danielle. However, Dave failed to make the US team for the 1988 Seoul Olympics … and met the same fate in 1992. All efforts were focused on competing for the US in the 1996 Atlanta Games … and Dave used the Foxcatcher facilities with that goal in mind.
Jim Humphrey had known Dave Schultz for about two decades. Jim, the 134-pound Big Ten champ and NCAA All-American in 1972 for the Ohio State Buckeyes, first met Dave at a 1976 pre-Olympic training camp at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. "Dave was sixteen at the time," recalls Jim, a member of the World Team in 1974 and 1975. "He was phenomenal at an early age."
Fast-forward to the late 1980s. Dave Schultz and Jim Humphrey had remained friends over the years. Jim had coached both Dave and his brother Mark when they were on US National teams. Dave and Jim coached the US team at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. Dave was at Foxcatcher, and Jim was head wrestling coach at Indiana University.
"I met John du Pont at the World Championships in France in 1987," says Jim. "Over time, at Dave Schultz's suggestion, du Pont started to talk to me about coaching at Foxcatcher." Jim accepted the head coaching position at du Pont's facility in 1989.
"Things were great the first eighteen months or so," recalls Jim, now an assistant coach at his alma mater. "Then du Pont started to make coaching decisions. He would ask certain wrestlers to stick around the farm rather than compete in major events." When asked why, Jim responded, "I think he was lonely. He wanted the company."
After serving as Team Foxcatcher's head coach for two-and-a-half years, Jim says, "We decided mutually to part ways. I left the facility in mid to late 1991, and, in fact left coaching to work in the corporate world." (Jim worked for a division of Johnson & Johnson until last August, when he returned for the coaching position at Ohio State.)
When asked to talk about life at John du Pont's Foxcatcher, Jim says, "Towards the end, I dreaded dealing with du Pont. A number of guys like Andre Metzger and Mark Schultz had left on acrimonious terms. Dan Chaid was kicked off the farm -- and he was one of the very first to come to Foxcatcher." Jim adds, "Dave had talked about leaving. But he stayed with him to the very end."
Ten years after the murder, Jim remembers the circumstances of how he heard the news as clearly as if it were yesterday.
"I was in Cincinnati for training at Johnson & Johnson's Ethicon facility there," says Jim. "I was in my car, following my friend and fellow Ethicon employee Bob Kinder who wrestled at Miami University (Ohio) to his folks' house for dinner. Bob suddenly stopped his car, ran back to mine, telling me he had just heard that Dave Schultz was murdered."
"I felt like someone punched me in the stomach, knocking the air out of me."
"I called Nancy (Schultz) right away. We were both crying, both devastated."
When asked about his dealings with John du Pont at Foxcatcher, Jim replied, "I never thought he was dangerous," says Jim. "I never imagined that he would kill any one. The murder was a total shock."
Jim Pearson is a mutual friend of Dave Schultz and Jim Humphrey who spent time at Foxcatcher (which he referred to as "Johnny World") until 1992 … and has his own recollections of John du Pont.
"One time du Pont showed up an estate barbecue with a semi-automatic machine gun around his neck," says Pearson, who wrestled for Humphrey at Indiana University, where he first met Dave at a clinic. "When someone asked about the gun, he said something like, ‘I don't want to stand in line for a burger.'"
Like Jim Humphrey, Pearson clearly recalls how he found out about Dave's murder.
"I was watching the Super Bowl at home when a friend called with the news," says Pearson, now president and CEO of Suros Surgical Systems in the Indianapolis area.
"Dave was one of the last wrestlers at Foxcatcher," says Pearson. "I think John panicked at the thought of everyone leaving."
Jim Pearson concluded the conversation with this positive thought: "People from all over the world came to Foxcatcher. Wrestlers got to interact with swimmers and pentathletes. Lots of great friendships were formed."
In 1997, John E. du Pont stood trial for the murder of Dave Schultz. There were two direct witnesses to the murder: Dave's wife Nancy, and one of du Pont's employees, a security professional seated beside the shooter in his car, not expecting the purpose of the visit to the Schultz home at the Foxcatcher estate until the first shot was fired from the lowered window of the Lincoln Town Car.
John du Pont (Photo by Chris Gardner)During the trial, the prosecution argued that du Pont's psychological problems were aggravated by alcohol and other substance abuse. One of the prosecutors, Joe McGettigan, said that Dave had tried to help du Pont and at times was successful. "Du Pont was motivated by the same things that motivate many people who kill people they know," McGettigan was quoted in the Baltimore Sun. "In this case, it was a bizarre combination of admiration that extended to almost hero worship of Dave and the envy of Dave's eminence in a field that du Pont had inserted himself -- wrestling."
After deliberating a week, the jury determined that du Pont was mentally ill, and found him guilty of third-degree murder. He was sentenced to 13-30 years in prison. Currently du Pont is serving that sentence in a minimum-security facility north of Pittsburgh. According to his longtime attorney and friend Taras Wochock in an article in the Baltimore Sun, du Pont works as a clerk in the prison chapel and teaches civics to his fellow prisoners. He is eligible for parole in three years, and could go to a halfway house in two.
Meanwhile, Foxcatcher Farm is under agreement of sale to a developer who plans to build either family homes or a retirement community on the grounds.
Chapter 3: Reminiscences of those who knew Dave Schultz
Did you know Dave Schultz? If you have stories to share, please email the author at email@example.com
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