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 from a weight-machine pulley, authorities said yesterday.
Investigators found 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."
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.
"I'm baffled about why anybody would kill a 7-year-old," district attorney Scott Ballard said. "I don't think we'll ever be able to wrap our head around that."
The Montreal-born Benoit was one of the stars of the WWE wrestling 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 married in 2000.
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 the house, situated off a gravel road in this suburb about 20 miles south of Atlanta.
Benoit's 43-year-old wife 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 said. Daniel was probably killed late Saturday or early Sunday, the body found in his bed, the district attorney said.
Benoit, 40, apparently hanged himself several hours and as long as a day later, Ballard said. His body was found in a downstairs weight room, hanging from the pulley of a piece of exercise equipment.
A closed Bible was placed next to the bodies of the wife and son, authorities said.
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.
Toxicology test results may not be available for weeks or even months, Ballard 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."
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.
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.
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.
World Wrestling Entertainment said on its Web site that it asked authorities to check on Benoit and his family after being alerted by friends who had received "several curious text messages sent by Benoit early Sunday morning."