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To become a champion, declares a plaque in the private gym that John Eleuthère du Pont built to train world-class athletes, “you can’t just take it to the top. You have to take it over the top.” Last week the sports- and gun-loving Du Pont, an heir to his family’s chemical-company fortune, appears to have done just that. Starting on Friday afternoon and stretching into the weekend, the 57-year-old crack marksman held off police, who had sped to his mansion near Philadelphia to arrest Du Pont for the shooting death of Olympic wrestler Dave Schultz, 36.
The killing was a lethal twist in the often eccentric and sometimes troubled life of Du Pont, who had transformed his 800-acre estate, Foxcatcher Farms, into a state-of-the-art sports center for amateur wrestlers, swimmers and pentathletes. “Eagle” du Pont (so called because few people could pronounce Eleuthere) is well known in U.S. wrestling circles as one of the sport’s most generous backers-he has donated more than $3 million to the U.S. Olympic wrestling team. But he is also known as a controversial figure whose lavish treatment of athletes sometimes mocked the values of amateur sports, and whose volatile personal behavior had caused more than one person to leave the Foxcatcher club. In August 1988, a problem-plagued wrestling program he funded at Villanova was shut down after just two years. In December 1988, a lawsuit (which was settled out of court) claimed Du Pont had made improper sexual advances to Villanova assistant coach Andre Metzger.
According to police, Du Pont shot Schultz three times with a .38-cal. revolver during an argument outside Schultz’s home on the Foxcatcher property. He then holed up in his gun-filled mansion (modeled after James Madison’s Montpelier) about a mile away. Because Du Pont never bothered to restore telephone service after a fire damaged his home in October, police first established contact by cellular phone, then got the phone company to repair the line in the middle of the night.
Schultz, who lived with his wife and two school-age children, coached Du Pont’s Team Foxcatcher wrestlers and had been intent on making an Olympic comeback. Schultz won the 1984 Olympic freestyle gold medal in his 163-lb. weight class. He was ranked No. 1 in the U.S. in his weight class and seemed assured of a spot on the U.S. team in Atlanta this summer. Acquaintances had seen few signs of trouble between Schultz and Du Pont before the shooting. “Dave Schultz was John’s best friend,” says Pauline Gostigian, a neighbor who spoke to Schultz hours before the shooting. “Dave would have done anything for him.”
“I know it was nothing Dave did to provoke him,” insists Dan Chaid, 33, whose eight years on the staff of Team Foxcatcher ended last fall when Du Pont threatened him with a submachine gun. “John got in one of his moods.” Those moods, according to Chaid, were ruled by alcohol and drugs–which could transform a man described by one neighbor as “kind, generous and mild-mannered,” who collected seashells, into someone completely different.
In a civil suit filed in 1985, his former wife Gale Wenk du Pont charged that John had threatened her with a knife and gun and tried to push her out of his moving car. Neighbors recall such incidents as Du Pont’s driving two Lincoln Continentals into the farm’s pond, one after another, and arriving at one of the houses on his property on Christmas Eve, drunk, bloodied and in his army personnel carrier. “It was like a Howard Hughes scenario,” Martha du Pont, wife of John’s brother Henry, told the Associated Press. “He withdrew from his family and surrounded himself with these strangers, moochers…people who fed him drugs.”
Chaid says that in 1987 he, Metzger and Schultz actually helped Du Pont dry out, “staying with him 24 hours a day, in shifts.” But Du Pont eventually lapsed into old habits, and last fall his behavior became increasingly bizarre. On Oct. 12, 1995, without warning or provocation, Du Pont cornered Chaid in the weight room, pointed a machine gun at his chest and said, “I want you off this f— farm.”
Chaid, who has been planning to file suit this week over the incident, claims he called the local police only to be told, “John is just an eccentric. I’ve known him 40 years.” And in fact Du Pont, an accomplished shooter who once competed in the pentathlon (a five-event competition that includes swimming, riding, shooting, running and fencing), taught marksmanship to the police force for years and has since bought equipment for the force and helped train their dogs. “He was a friend of the police department,” says retired police chief Stan Short.
How many in the wrestling world were aware of the unstable nature of Du Pont, who had as many as 90 young athletes in his charge at one time, is not clear. Stan Abel, Schultz’s former coach at the University of Oklahoma, claims he had tried to warn Schultz away from Foxcatcher but won’t say why. Now Abel says simply, “I wish he’d taken my advice.”
–Reported by Mubarak Dahir/Newtown Square and Sharon E. Epperson/New York
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