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Wrestler strangled wife, suffocated son before hanging self

Steroid use eyed as possible factor

FAYETTEVILLE, Ga. -- Professional wrestler Chris Benoit strangled his wife, suffocated his 7-year-old son, and placed a Bible next to their bodies before hanging himself with the pulley of a weightlifting machine, authorities said yesterday.

Investigators found prescription anabolic steroids in the house and are investigating whether the man was unhinged by the 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 motive or state of mind. No suicide note was found.

"In a community like this it's bizarre to have a murder-suicide, especially involving the death of a 7-year-old," District Attorney Scott Ballard said. "I don't think we'll ever be able to wrap our minds around this."

Benoit, a Montreal native whose nickname was "The Canadian Crippler," was one of the stars of the World Wrestling Entertainment 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 met and fell in love when their wrestling story lines intertwined.

When he won the world heavyweight championship, Benoit hoisted the belt over his head and invited his wife and child into the ring to celebrate.

Nevertheless, she 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 alleged that the 5-foot-10-inch, 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 she asked for permanent custody of Daniel and child support. In his response, Benoit sought joint custody.

The bodies were found Monday afternoon in three rooms of the house.

Benoit's wife, 43, 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, and his body was found in his bed, Ballard said.

Benoit, 40, apparently killed himself up to a day later, Ballard said. His body was found in a downstairs weight room, hanging from the pulley of a piece of exercise equipment.

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 results may not be available for weeks or even months, he 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."

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.

WWE said on its website 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 [Chris] Benoit early Sunday morning."

The WWE, based in Stamford, Conn., said authorities asked that it not release further information on the deaths.