How the Media Covered The Real Events That Inspired 'Foxcatcher'
A look at how various news outlets documented the murder at the center of the movie
At the center of Channing Tatum and Steve Carell's new movie Foxcatcher is the real life murder of Olympic wrestler Dave Schultz by John du Pont, which occurred on Jan. 26, 1996.
After Schultz was killed, du Pont barricaded himself in his house for two days until he was frozen out by cops who turned off the heat, forcing du Pont to leave the house to fix the boilers, at which point he was apprehended. In the days after the arrest, tales of du Pont's eccentric behavior began to emerge. He was later found guilty of third-degree murder, with a jury ruling he was mentally ill, and sentenced to 13-30 years in prison, dying behind bars in 2010 at age 72.
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The movie, directed by Bennett Miller and starring Carell as du Pont and Mark Ruffalo as Schultz (Tatum plays Dave's brother Mark), ends with du Pont's arrest, summarizing the later events via on-screen text that appears before the credits.
In light of Foxcatcher's theatrical release, The Hollywood Reporter has looked back at how various news outlets covered Schultz's murder and du Pont's subsequent arrest.
There's not much online about the initial crime, possibly due to the fact that it happened in 1996. But the articles that are available reflect a mix of shock and confusion at what happened.
The New York Times focused on the standoff in its Jan. 27 article titled "DuPont Accused of a Killing Holds Off Police at His Home" and opened with the fact that dozens of police officers had surrounded DuPont's estate, describing him as "a chemical company heir and a wrestling benefactor" and saying that he was suspected of fatally shooting "a former Olympic champion who lived on the 800-acre property." The Times then identified the victim as Schultz, "a freestyle wrestler who won a gold medal at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and was in training for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta" and recounted the details of the shooting: "He was shot once in the arm and twice in the chest about 3 P.M. Friday at a house on the du Pont estate, in suburban Philadelphia, Newtown Township police said. Mr. Schultz was pronounced dead at nearby Mercy Haverford Hospital, the police said," The Times writes, saying that the shooting was reportedly done with a .38 caliber revolver and had at least one witness.
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The Times quoted the police chief of Newtown Township, the Philadelphia suburb where Du Pont's Foxcatcher Farms estate was located, as saying "We do not know what motivated Mr. du Pont to do what he did," before going into the details of the standoff.
Du Pont was described as a "gun collector and former pentathlete" by The Times, which noted that the shooting range on his estate was used to train local police officers before du Pont turned his attention to wrestling, founding Team Foxcatcher and sponsoring wrestling since 1989. Schultz, The Times explained, was a coach for Team Foxcatcher. The Times also recounted that du Pont is a descendant of the founder of the chemical giant.
The Philadelphia Inquirer also focused its Jan. 27 article on the standoff, opening with the following: "An heir to the du Pont family chemical fortune remained barricaded in his home on his 800-acre Delaware County estate late last night, as police sought his arrest in the slaying of Olympic wrestling champion Dave Schultz."
DuPont was identified by name in the second paragraph, in which it was stated the he returned to his mansion after allegedly killing Schultz, a coach at his wrestling center and an internationally known wrestler. The Inquirer also notes that Schultz was shot three times, once in the arm and twice in the chest, before 3 p.m. in the driveway of his home and that he was pronounced dead at Mercy Haverford Hospital. Both The Times and The Inquirer believed du Pont was armed, with Newtown Police Sgt. Brian McNeill recounting to The Inquirer the threat du Pont could pose.
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"You get a great marksman, you get a lot of weapons, you've got a problem,'' McNeill said.
The Inquirer also recounted how the standoff unfolded and explained how police were trying to negotiate with du Pont and prevent him from escaping. The Inquirer also noted the shooting range's history of training cops. Schultz was described as being "considered one of the best — and one of the most recognizable — amateur wrestlers in the country," with The Inquirer detailing his wrestling accomplishments. Du Pont was described as a "longtime wrestling and sports enthusiast."
In another article published the same day, The Times took a longer look at the life of Dave Schultz, which was cut short by his death, talking to his past coaches about what the Olympian and top-ranked wrestler was like when he was training for greatness. That story also includes the first of what would become many tales of du Pont's eccentric behavior, which various outlets later explained was largely ignored by Foxcatcher wrestlers and those who worked with du Pont.
Schultz's father told The Times about a Thanksgiving dinner four years prior to his son's death in which du Pont suddenly asked both of the Schultz's to leave.
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"He said, 'Get the hell out,' " Phil Schultz said. "He would go off emotionally and there was no logic to it."
Schultz's father told the newspaper he had wanted his son to leave Foxcatcher.
"He just went along and played the game by the rules, until there were no more rules," Phil Schultz said.
The Inquirer also spoke to Pauline Gostigian, who's son knew duPont, saying that the heir had been having problems, adding that she had "begged" Schultz and his family to move to their house.
Of du Pont, Gostigian said, ``He's not been himself. I just think something flipped mentally.''
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The next day, The Inquirer also published a story detailing du Pont's increasingly bizarre mental state and how it strained his relationship with Schultz. The Jan. 28 article was entitled "A Life Beyond Rich and Eccentric: John Du Pont Paid His Way To Wrestling Renown. Later He Dubbed Himself Dalai Lama." The newspaper describes du Pont as a "wealthy wannabe" who was bound to the talented Olympic wrestler by money. Furthermore, as the standoff with du Pont continued, acquaintances described him "as a man who had descended into madness — and Schultz as an uneasy buffer between his benefactor and others," the Inquirer wrote.
"Dave was one of the few guys who could talk to John and calm him down,'' Team USA member Rob Eiter told the newspaper. ``Dave was the mediator between us athletes and John. John is kind of eccentric, and he always wants to be in control.''
Du Pont's bizarre behavior included referring to himself as the Dalai Lama, something that would come up repeatedly as his mental health was assessed leading up to his trial, and ordering wrestlers to find ghosts, Nazis and other entities that were trying to attack him.
One former Foxcatcher trainer, Dan Gable, said he felt duPont's behavior made the estate a "dangerous" place to be.
Another person who escaped from Foxcatcher, California wrestler Dan Chaid, said du Pont carried a .38-caliber pistol, the same type of gun used to kill Schultz, and abused cocaine and alcohol.
Chaid said he left the Foxcatcher estate three months before Schultz's death, fearing for his life, after du Pont threatened him with a machine gun.
"He crouched down in an attack stance, pointed the machine gun up at my chest and said...'I want you off the farm now,' '' Chaid said.
Chaid told The Inquirer that he reported the incident to the police but they dismissed it as just some of du Pont's eccentric behavior.
Sister-in-law Martha du Pont said she wouldn't be surprised if du Pont had killed Schultz.
"We were all predicting something like this would happen,'' she said. "He has been walking around with loaded guns for a number of years. It has been very frightening.''
She added that du Pont's mental state had been eroding for at least a decade.
A man who did business with du Pont also described a troubling 1990 visit to the estate in which the wealthy heir was cutting himself because he was hallucinating about insects attacking him.
"He was sitting on a Chippendale chair in the hallway and blood was streaming down in rivulets on each leg,'' recalled the businessman. "He was cutting off pieces of his own skin with a penknife. He jumped up and was holding a piece of his skin in his hand and shouting, `I've got one. I've got one.' He thought he had one of the insects.''
The Times also documented du Pont's arrest, explaining that he was arrested when he walked out of his house to repair the boilers that heat his home. When DuPont tried to run back to the house, a Newtown Township police officer tackled him after the police moved in when they realized he was unarmed, The Times noted. He was then charged with first-degree murder in the killing of Schultz and ordered held without bail in a county prison.
The Times explained that the boilers were shut off by police officers on Friday night and that the police had tried to draw him outside with a ruse, with police lieutenant John Francis arguing that du Pont ultimately wasn't "tricked" into leaving his home.
The Times also noted that locals had criticized the police for the length of the standoff, saying they were being too patient with him because of his longtime support for the local police.
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In the days following duPont's arrest, more tales of his eccentric behavior emerged, in extended profiles of him, published in the New York Times and Newsweek.
Newsweek began its Feb. 4 story titled "An Eccentric Heir's Wrestle With Death" with a definitive statement about du Pont's odd behavior: "If the category is rich loons, John Eleuthere du Pont, 57, qualifies as world class: very rich and very, very loony." Both the Times and Newsweek pieces described du Pont as a dilettante. Newsweek also recalled the machine gun incident with Chiad, revealing that when Chaid called 911, the investigating officer said, "John's always been a little bit different."
The magazine and The Times also revealed that he once threatened his ex-wife with a gun, accusing her of being a Soviet spy.
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The Times also said that roughly a week after Schultz was killed, police remained, "mystified about a motive; Mr. Schultz was a longtime friend of Mr. du Pont who had repeatedly tried to help him."
The newspaper described him as "an achingly lonely child in a fatherless household who used his inherited fortune to buy what he did not have naturally: camaraderie, adoration, self-worth. But after each period in which he appeared to seize control, his life would disintegrate into fragments…In cycles that curiously tracked the Olympic years, Mr. du Pont plunged into tailspins that drained his enthusiasm and distracted his focus, leaving him impatient, self-destructive, fearful and ultimately threatening to other people."
Recalling that reports of his outbursts and erratic behavior was often dismissed, The Times argued that Schultz's death "has raised questions about whether the money Mr. du Pont lavished upon Olympic-style sports organizations and law enforcement agencies may have blinded them to his problems."