There's a house south of me in Fayetteville, Georgia.
One where the occupants, unaware of who the previous owner was, bought it - and are now tired of chasing people off their lawn.
They come. Not that often anymore, but just often enough. To stand on the lawn and have their picture taken of themselves with the house behind them.
Because inside that house was the scene of a double murder and suicide.
When Benoit didn't show up for work on June 7, 2007 the WWE was worried. Benoit was a soiid, dependable worker. As a boy in Canada he had idolized the wrestlers and the industry and had overcome just about every obstacle, from his lack of height and lack of size - to become a small, compact fireplug of a man courtesy of steroids. After years of putting in appearance after appearance, he suddenly was an unannounced no-show.
Initial reports of his death resulted in the WWE tearfully giving him a 21 bell salute and presenting a "package" celebrating his life that was broadcast on Monday's show. Poignantly, it was capped with him tearfully embracing his deveopmentally delayed son as they celebrated him finally winning the heavyweight championship, a life's dream.
And then the details came out about the deaths.
His wife was found, with her hands and feet tied, asphyxiated and with a towel over her head. There was some blood under her head, but there wasn't that much sign of a struggle - not that she could have struggled much against a man whose 5'11" frame had been jacked up to 220lb. The man was pure explosive power, a lot of fast twitch muscles, but he'd choked or smothered her slowly and methodically.
He then headed over to his son's room, sedated his next victim with Xanax and then strangled him - the pride and joy of his life, his seven year old boy.
This was no crime of passion or rage, he placed a Bible next to each, and then went down to his weight room, where he placed another Bible on the weight machine and put the cable of a weight machine around his neck, and hanged himself.
Two words came to mind immediately: roid rage.
But even though Benoit had obviously been using steroids for years, there was no sign of the characteristic rage that marked other steroid-related deaths. This was a cold, quiet, deliberate and methodical double murder and suicide. The presence of the Bibles meant he had presence of mind to know he was doing wrong and to apologize to God for his actions.
But the WWE didn't need this. They'd weathered a steroid scandal with Hulk Hogan being front and center in the case. They'd had to call themselves "sports entertainment" and admit it was all fake rather than have steroid testing. Instead they have their own "wellness" testing which is more about not getting sued by lawyers - because wrestlers deal with a lot of physical and emotional hurt with drugs. But in order to be taken seriously as a sporting event, they'd have had to have others run their testing and others decide what their people could and could not take. Now the wrestlers laugh about it on talk shows and talk about the behind the scenes, whereas in the day you were expected to assault someone who suggested it was fake, even if that meant jail.
There were a lot of dead wrestlers, men whose hearts had given out or who had just succumbed to one injury after another. Under the lights they were supermen, but in real life they were very real men.
But strangling a seven year old boy first? Murdering his wife? That was taking it to another level. The WWE immediately excised and exorcised themselves of any mention of Benoit. They cleansed their website, their inventory, their programming to remove him entirely. And because they'd acquired the WCW footage in various buyouts, they controlled that history as well. Unless you wanted to find grainy VHS footage of him in a warehouse in Calgary as a teenager, you weren't going to see him outside of YouTube.
Friends shook their heads. Benoit had been getting increasingly erratic, violent towards his wife, and they were having marital problems. His family refused to believe it, saying he was a loving and doting husband and father and something like this was totally out of character. Had to be the steroids.
They asked the Fayetteville coroner, expecting him to be some kind of bohunk hick - if he'd done an autopsy. They had, but just like every other police department, they'd gone just far enough to establish what they needed to know. No drugs involved, no foul play, death by asphyxiation. Suicide by hanging.
But the Benoit family wanted more answers, beyond the legal finding that he'd been a murderer who died by his own hand. The coroner happily packed up the organs and shipped them to the family, who had an independent coroner look at it at their expense. The coroner, who was NOT a wrestling fan, was amazed that the brain had come from an early 40something man. He'd started writing up his findings only to find that the organs in question belonged to a middle aged superstar, and not the eighty five year old he had presumed.
Because there were holes in the brain, and clear evidence of dementia. Systemic damage to all four lobes and even damage to the brain stem itself.
It makes the footage you see of him now, standing at the top of a twenty five foot ladder. Pausing. Steeling himself for something he was and wasn't happy with doing. Getting up the nerve and then launching himself yet again from that ladder. Landing forehead first into a prone man below him and clearly not acting at the result of the impact to his skull. Because his "finisher" was the head-butt, driving his forehead time and time again into people from increasingly taller and taller jumps. He'd had to compensate for his size by not only taking heroic doses of steroids but also in doing dangerous and flashier tricks. Mick Foley knocked out many of his own teeth diving from house-tall cages, and was knocked unconscious during a horrifying and infamous Hell in a Cell match with Undertaker. But Benoit was notorious for concussions - he suffered them again. And again. And again. And again. And again.
And in the grey matter floating in a jar in the coroner's office, the cumulative effects of that "finisher" were obvious. This was the brain of a far, far older man. This was the brain of an Alzheimer's patient. One who most certainly would be prone to sudden, child-like fits of temper, or confusion. To act in ways that were out of character for no apparent reason.
Which didn't solve the mystery of what happened that fateful June night in Fayetteville. It just added another layer of questions. Had it been steroids? Had he been in the grip of dementia? Or had his wife just been tired of a workaholic husband whose hectic schedule bought her a gilded cage, and wanted out? Had he not been able to cope with that and just ended it with his callused hands around her throat?
We'll never know. And the WWE doesn't care. They will never mention Benoit again, their break with him and his history with the company is total. Scorched earth policy.
But every now and then someone with a house, a house with ghosts - will look out the window and see some people on the lawn, Canadian license plates on the car. Taking pictures. Some knocking on the door and asking to come in. After all, they'd driven all the way from Winnipeg, eh? Did you know about him, eh? Great resler there, eh?
Part of you can almost excuse these folks from making this pilgrimage - as the house is probably the only history left. As the wrestling faithful die off and age out, his name might be a footnote in history, the wrestler time forgot. The one who had worked so hard and who had overcome such odds - and then destroyed everything on one night, with a Bible on one side and a steel cable around his neck.
NOTE: The comparison of Benoit to Alzheimer's is not an invention of mine, here's the quote from Julian Bailes, the head of Neurosurgery at Western Virginia University:
"Benoit's brain was so severely damaged it resembled the brain of an 85-year-old Alzheimer's patient."