In Memory of a Murder: A Look at the Du Pont Case

When the trees are bare, you can just make out some of the once-thriving Du Pont family farm. Ten years after the conviction of its murderous owner, the blood-tainted estate is overgrown with weeds—and worries.

When the trees are bare, you can just make out some of the once-thriving Du Pont family farm. Ten years after the conviction of its murderous owner, the blood-tainted estate is overgrown with weeds—and worries.

In one last eccentric brush stroke before he sold his stately three-story Georgian mansion, training track and 30-some barns, sheds and outbuildings, millionaire John Eleuthere du Pont ordered much of his Newtown Square estate painted black. Maybe he figured he’d never return following his conviction 10 years ago this month for the 1996 murder of Dave Schultz, head coach of the estate’s world-class Foxcatcher wrestling team and facility. Whatever the case, he ordered workers to spray paint some two-dozen structures matte black. One of them was Schultz’s former home on Goshen Road, the scene of the crime.

In du Pont’s mind, the paint would make it all “disappear”—or so said Charles “Chuckie” King Jr., who began renting stables from du Pont in 1980. And while former Foxcatcher wrestler Jack Cuvo maintains du Pont hated the color black, these days he may hate his former home even more.

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“He figures no one supported him, so he’s not going to support this area,” says the Newtown Square Historical Preservation Society’s Sid Elston, a resident of the Echo Valley neighborhood bordering the estate, who has visited du Pont in jail. “He never told me that, but I surmised it.”

If Rouse Group Development Company has its way, the Du Pont estate will be gone for good. The Havertown-based developer purchased Foxcatcher Farm’s 416 acres from du Pont in February 2005 for an undisclosed sum. By this month, they hope to begin building Ashford, a 45-plus community, after spending the last year and a half wrangling with local officials.

Until Schultz’s murder, the farm had remained largely as it was in 1681, when the acreage was William Penn’s reference point in laying out Newtown Square. Following her death at 91 in August 1988, John rechristened mother Jean Austin du Pont’s Liseter Hall Farm, naming it Foxcatcher after father William “Willie” du Pont Jr.’s first thoroughbred. Most figured the land would not—and could not—ever disappear, and that the area’s rural character would remain.

“We’d love to drag it out for 10 years, but that’s not possible,”Newtown Square Supervisor John S. Custer Jr. says of the approval process for the Ashford development. “The Du Pont property was always one we could count on [for open space]. We thought it would always be there because it was owned by the Du Ponts.”

Willed to the Delaware Museum of Natural History (formerly headed by John), Jean Austin du Pont’s 230-acre dairy farm was sold in January 1998 to G&W Land Company for $15.3 million to help fund operations. Part of the original estate, the land is now the site of Episcopal Academy’s new campus.

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“She left it to be open country,” says Malvern’s Charles King Sr., who was a Du Pont stable hand and manager for 30 years before passing the reins to Chuckie. “It’s hard to see it go away.”

JOHN E. DU PONT remains a fixture at his fourth institution, the State Regional Correctional Facility at Mercer, a minimum-security prison north of Pittsburgh. His earliest release date, January 2009, is fast approaching on a 13- to 30-year third-degree “guilty but mentally insane” murder conviction. Longtime lawyer and friend, Paoli’s Taras M. Wochok, and newly hired Philadelphia attorneys David Rudovsky and Alan Davis want him out even sooner. They’re waiting for a ruling on a federal habeas corpus petition they’ve filed that’s initiated du Pont’s federal appeals process. His state-level and post-conviction relief appeals are exhausted. The petition sits in Philadelphia federal court with U.S. Magistrate Judge Linda Caracappa, who could deny the petition, conduct a hearing or remand the matter to the initial trial judge, Patricia Jenkins. Her decision isn’t subject to a time line. “It’s likely to be turned down like all the others, but in my heart of hearts, I can’t say that,” says Wochok, who remains the only original defense attorney du Pont has retained. “The issues we’re raising are meaty.”

Bill Toal, the assistant district attorney now handling the case for Delaware County, says du Pont is challenging the constitutionality of the state’s mental health statutes and his sentence of “guilty but mentally insane.” Also at issue are the claim of prosecutor misconduct, and that Jenkins allowed evidence regarding du Pont’s questionable behavior, in the closing arguments.

U.S. Attorney Patrick Meehan, who was the Delaware County DA for less than three weeks when du Pont shot Schultz, calls the recent legal challenges “revisionist perspectives” in an already “long and tortuous process for the county.” He maintains the jury’s verdict wasn’t a concession, but rather a “just, fair resolution that stands for the premise that a wealthy defendant is not going to garner resources and implement them in a way to avoid justice. It was a triumph for the integrity and validity of the system. The jury still called him a murderer.”

Before Toal, Laurie Magid (now Meehan’s first assistant) was the county’s assistant DA who defeated du Pont’s direct appeal. The Villanova Law School professor’s “secret weapon” was “a small army” of law school interns who did the research. Meehan recalls vividly that spring of 1999, when du Pont’s attorneys—led by national appellate magnet Alan Dershowitz—took up the entire defendant’s desk plus two rows of spectator seating in Superior Court in Philadelphia. “On my side, there was me,” she says. “I didn’t even have a paralegal. My husband carried my box of documents up the courthouse steps.”

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For his part, Wochok continues to maintain that du Pont has been treated “more harshly because of his name.” He’s made weekly full-day trips to see du Pont for a decade but wouldn’t describe his curious client’s physical or mental health. A year ago, Wochok told the Baltimore Sun’s Bill Ordine that du Pont’s mental state had improved a great deal, that he continues his interest in ornithology and has worked in a prison chapel and taught prisoners civics. He also told of du Pont’s typical day-to-day struggles with the terms of his confinement, prison officials and other inmates.

In 2009, du Pont will be 70. Upon re-lease—whenever that may be—sources say he will remain in the Pittsburgh area. If he left the state, he’d violate his parole.

“I don’t think he’ll ever get out,” says King Sr., who hasn’t seen the man he calls Johnny in prison. “I don’t know if he’d want to see me.”

Like at the mansion, du Pont has maintained a strict guest list in prison. At the inmate’s request, Custer says he met with du Pont three times. Prior to the murder, Custer, whose son wrestled for a year at Foxcatcher, had never met du Pont.

As president of the Echo Valley Asso-ciation, Custer was asked by du Pont to speak on his behalf during the civil trial filed by Schultz’s widow, Nancy, who won an estimated $35 million, then considered the largest such settlement paid by one individual. According to Custer, he was to detail “all the good” du Pont had done for the community. The preservation society’s Sid Elston also went along. He says du Pont wanted locals “to carry back a message of his normalcy.”

They were accompanied by Bev Collier, a 17-year property manager for du Pont (who failed to inform her when he sold the estate). Custer says du Pont told them that if he won his state-level appeals, he’d turn the estate into a perpetual nature preserve. If not, he’d sell. Each visit, Elston says, the trio had a “general conversation” about food, softball games he’d umpired, a hip operation he’d had. Other inmates asked him lots of questions, du Pont told them.

“He’d say, ‘They think I know a lot,’” Elston recalls. “He was quite normal. He snacked quite a bit. Bev used to go to the vending machines for him.”

They claim du Pont never spoke about the murder or his wealth, and only sparingly about the estate. “We wanted to keep it from being developed,” Elston admits. “We were on a mission, too, and we hoped he’d get an early parole so he’d care for the property. But he didn’t want us to talk about his property. He’d shut us down right away.”

In its plans for Ashford, Rouse has gradually reduced its plan for 650 housing units to 460 single-family homes, carriage homes and attached “low-impact” townhouses ranging in price from $800,000 to $2 million. Not surprisingly, dialogue at Newtown Planning Commission and township supervisors’ meetings has centered on open space. Of the 416 acres, Rouse attorney David Gifford says about 67 percent will remain open. “Some” of the 33 existing structures will be preserved and incorporated—but not the mansion, which would be replaced with a clubhouse/recreation facility. Schultz’s home is scheduled for demolition, too.

Rouse first proposed 225 detached homes, a number that now stands at 198, Gifford says. If Rouse trades more of those for housing clusters, the plan should get township approval, Custer says.

The plan also calls for a walking-biking trail along Route 252 and the dedication of a 40-acre parcel of “buildable land” as a “passive nature park” on the estate’s northerly side. Gifford says it would be Newtown Square’s largest dedicated public park.

Gifford joins Custer and Elston in debunking the notion that the estate is a stigmatized property. “Gossip? Yes. But I haven’t heard anyone say it’s where that happened,” says Gifford. “That is just part of its history.”

Conceding the obvious, Custer says the tragedy didn’t do anyone any good, “including the people of this township. [But] at the time [of the murder], John didn’t know what he was doing.”

ON JAN. 26, 1996, John du Pont shot and killed 36-year-old Dave Schultz, a gold medal winner for the United States at the 1984 Olympics and an international wrestling folk hero. At the time, he was training for one last comeback at that Summer Olympics in Atlanta. His wife witnessed the shooting, then raised their two children, Alexander and Danielle, now 20 and 17, alone. Repeated attempts to reach her through her friends and attorneys failed.

The Baltimore Sun’s Ordine was one of two reporters who generated 200-some clips covering the murder and prosecution for the Philadelphia Inquirer. He also co-authored the 1998 book Fatal Match, and last January he wrote a 10-year retrospective on the Main Line murder whose “backstory of [du Pont’s] bizarre behavior” remains “haunting.”

The most bizarre? Ordine says du Pont owned the world’s most rare stamp—the 1-cent, 1856 British Guiana—and sought to have his own picture on a postage stamp. When an acquisitions adviser told him a subject must be dead to appear on a U.S. stamp, he struck a deal with Antigua-controlled Rotonda and soon was featured in a series of stamps in athletic poses. “We were stumbling on this kind of stuff every other day,” Ordine says.

Cuvo, the onetime Foxcatcher wrestler, says he observed plenty of quirks. One time du Pont asked him if he saw the ghosts he was seeing in the wall. “The next time I was there,” he says, “scaffolding was up, and he was having that section cut out of the wall. I’m no doctor, but I truly thought the guy was delusional.”

The litany of eccentricities attributed to du Pont was well-publicized. The master of the manor ordered digs in search of bodies. At various times, he professed he was the Dalai Lama, president of Bulgaria and the Holy Child. He thought intruders could enter the house through tunnels and that aliens were spying on him. He raced his Lincoln Continental around the estate, twice landing in a pond.

Andy Trautmann saw du Pont’s behavior first-hand. Then a detective with the Springfield Police Department in Delaware County, he was team leader for the multi-jurisdictional tactical response team that nabbed du Pont after an intense 50 1/2-hour standoff. Now a patrolman with the Downingtown Police Department, Trautmann was the first to surround du Pont in the infamous siege. Officials freed two potential female hostages, then installed bright lights directly on the house to blind du Pont. “He wanted the lights moved off his ‘holy ground,’” Trautmann remembers. “I thought, ‘No. we’re in charge.’” Then they restricted his phone access to negotiators only and turned off his heat.

A sniper was the first to see du Pont exit the back door. “He took 10 to 15 steps north, then turned and walked the other way to the garden house,” Trautmann recalls. “I said, ‘Police! Don’t move,’ and he threw his hands up in the air. Then he started running back to the house. I ran, then repeated, ‘Police. Stop. Don’t move!’ Again, he stopped and put his hands in the air. Then he looked through me, saw six or seven guys behind me and started running [back to the house] with his hands up. I ran after him, grabbed his shoulder with my left hand, then six or seven SWAT guys brought him down.”

Ironically, several months prior, the tactical response team had run an eight-hour training siege at an abandoned Newtown Square mansion four miles away. Once or twice a year, training scenarios were held “at banks and malls—but never a mansion,” Trautmann says. “Go figure.”

An Olympic-caliber marksman, du Pont had a firing range on the estate. He also had a Vietnam-era tank and a helicopter. With caution, officials secured the house, uncertain if there’d be booby traps. “Again, what’s Du pont known for?” Trautmann asks. “Gunpowder.”

They found 15 long rifles with scopes; night vision equipment; a cache of handguns; a street sweeper (a multi-shot, drum-driven gun) loaded with 12-gauge rounds; protective vests; and more.

Trautmann now conducts training for the Western Chester County Emergency Response Team. He spoke about the du Pont siege as recently as the end of January, at the OpTac International symposium in Maryland. “It was all resolved without one shot being fired,” he says.

So why did du Pont shoot Schultz? The motives are “braided,” the Baltimore Sun’s Ordine says. But the overriding reason, he believes, is that Schultz announced his intention to leave—without du Pont’s permission—after the Atlanta Olympics to coach at Stanford University.

Others close to the du Pont case have said that he gave Schultz a $15,000-$20,000 Christmas bonus weeks prior. Was it a bribe? Was he that desperate to keep Schultz at Foxcatcher?

Another betrayal may have come in the form of Schultz’s cooperation with police in regards to a skirmish with another wrestler. As Ordine points out, “it was part of the stew.”

There’s also the flat-out envy theory. “He wanted to be regarded more highly in the wrestling world,” Ordine says, “and in some respects, attain what David Schultz already had. But even with all his money, he couldn’t.”

Another rumor is that Schultz and du Pont had a rocky romantic relationship. There was a 1988 sexual harassment suit filed against du Pont by Andre Metzger, a former assistant coach he’d fired as the head wrestling coach at Villanova University. The school renamed its John E. du Pont Pavilion in 1997 after the millionaire’s conviction.

But former Foxcatcher wrestler Cuvo won’t lend any credence to the homosexuality hoax. “[Du Pont] just liked the company,” he says.

Maybe du Pont was mentally ill, as psychiatric experts for both sides testified and the jury ruled. Only the defense said he was insane. At one point, Ordine recalls a distinctive “duality”: While du Pont was fending off prosecutors by asserting his incompetence and insanity, family members had filed a civil suit to gain control of his assets, a case that required he prove his competence and sanity.

Then there’s the involvement of Patrick Goodale, an ex-Marine, du Pont security consultant and prosecution eyewitness, who stood armed beside du Pont as he fired three shots. The defense said he fueled du Pont’s paranoia. (Now living in Virginia, Goodale declined comment.) Former estate employee Charles King Sr. still blames Goodale.

“I don’t think John could shoot someone unless he was pushed to or was on drugs,” he says. “After that guy [Goodale] starting hanging around him, my son always said Johnny changed. He was scared of everything. He was always a little off. But I never had problems with him, and my son never had problems.”

Cuvo’s final face-to-face with du Pont three weeks before the murder remains eerie. Du Pont wasn’t only carrying a gun—he was loading bullets. Cuvo made a quick exit for the wrestling room, where he saw Schultz for the last time.

“He’d used to be playful, but now he was paranoid, and his clowning became more violent,” Cuvo says of his former boss. “If he’d pulled that trigger on me, I don’t think he’d have known it.”

He asked Schultz if he felt threatened by du Pont. “His words said, ‘I know how to handle John,’ but his face said something different,” Cuvo says. “I told him to get his wrestling in, then distance himself from John.”

It was hardly this weird when du Pont recruited Cuvo and others out of competing clubs after college. Contracts depended on advancement and loyalty, says Cuvo, who admits, “He bought me out.” Still, he consistently declined offers to live rent-free at the farm, choosing to commute three or four times a week from Easton.

Full-time or not, Cuvo says, “anything went” for du Pont’s “boys.” One time, Cuvo was wrestling in Kalamazoo, Mich. He lost, took it hard, then called du Pont, who flew him home on a Learjet. Cuvo wasn’t even affiliated with Foxcatcher at the time. As he continued to financially feed USA Wrestling, the sport’s sanctioning body, du Pont wrestled, too—but there was an unwritten rule: “You had to take it easy on John,” Cuvo says.

In his research, Ordine learned of overseas tournaments “arranged for du Pont to be successful in matches.” Another wrestling insider recalls the finals of a masters-level match that pitted du Pont against Schultz. “[Schultz] let him win,” the source says. “It was so phony it embarrassed my 13 year-old son (an eventual three-time NCAA qualifier).”

“He hurt the sport,” concludes Cuvo. “I hope he’s getting the help he needs, but I also hope that when he gets out, he’ll have nothing to do with wrestling.”

USA Wrestling is “regrouping,” according to University of Pennsylvania coach Larry “Zeke” Jones, the 2004 U.S. Olympic freestyle coach and two-time U.S. Pan American Games coach. He never committed to du Pont but still worked out at Foxcatcher when, at 114.5 pounds, he was ranked No. 1 in the nation (1989-’95). Jones actually called Schultz the night before the murder looking for a place to stay but slept elsewhere when Schultz didn’t return the call.

“It’s taken 10 years [for the sport] to recover [from Schultz’s murder], and it might take another 10 years to get back on our feet,” Jones says.

These days, Jones is working with the Sunkist Kids National Training Program and USA Wrestling to formulate a Foxcatcher-like epicenter at the University of Pennsylvania just as Philadelphia is poised to host its first NCAA Wrestling Championships in March 2011.

When Foxcatcher was dismantled, Nancy Schultz founded the Dave Schultz Wrestling Foundation in 1996 to provide support and opportunity for many of her husband’s kindred spirits. But she discontinued the foundation at the end of the 2004-’05 international wrestling season for “personal reasons.”

COLOR IS ALSO a matter of personal choice. After her 1940 divorce from Willie du Pont Jr., Jean Austin du Pont re-did the farm in white with green trim. When she died, John restored the barns to his father’s distinctive sapphire blue and gold of the 1920s and ’30s, when his vast thoroughbred operation was easily one of the Mid-Atlantic’s finest.

Black, it seems, was a later whim.

The soon-to-be-leveled mansion, which sources say remains as John left it, was a righteous replica—down to its four-columned portico—of Montpelier, the 1760 Virginia estate built by James Madison Sr., father of the fourth president of the United States. In November 1900, du Pont’s grandfather, William Sr., bought Montpelier. John’s dad was raised there.

In 1925, William Sr. built Liseter Hall for Willie and Jean, but the 600-plus-acre site itself didn’t even derive from the Du Ponts. It was a 1919 wedding gift from Jean’s father, William Liseter Austin, a Baldwin Locomotive Works executive. He’d begun the prized Guernseys dairy herd there in 1916, but Jean’s Welsh ponies, which she began breeding in 1928, were among the country’s best. They were her showstoppers at 78 straight Devon Horse Shows. She’d also kept hunters and was a popular queen at the Radnor Hunt. She bred and raised a matched pack of 13-inch-high beagles, too.

John fared poorly in following in his parents’ footsteps—and not for a lack of trying, at least initially. After Willie’s death at 68 on Dec. 31, 1965, John spent $767,000 for seven of his father’s 51 horses sold at auction. After Jean’s death, John and his lone brother, William Henry, bought many of her 91 remaining ponies, including a 7-year-old stallion that cost John $90,000.

But like the later favors on the wrestling mat, someone always had to “school” horses for John—even immediately before he mounted. So to pique his competitive urges, he turned to athletics. In 1966, he built an Olympic-sized pool for his Foxcatcher Swim Club. By the 1980s, he was sponsoring U.S. Olympic wrestlers.

Foxcatcher wrestler Cuvo says du Pont was considered the “black sheep” of his famous family. “There were rooms full of dog and horse show ribbons, and he was in a peasant sport,” he says. “Wrestling was barbaric [to the Du Ponts]. He once told me he was an outcast because he chose wrestling. It was so opposite to how he was raised.”

In 1997, Du Pont’s lone living sister, 83-year-old Jean Ellen du Pont Shehan, was one of the three trustees a Delaware County court approved to manage his funds while incarcerated. And rest assured she is well-guarded in her dotage by a son, James McConnell, and a daughter, Marian Lassen. Publicly, Lassen speaks for all the Du Ponts, offering nothing on the impact John’s struggles have had on the family. “We’re private people,” she says.

But longtime estate employee King Sr. says du Pont’s mother “would roll over in her grave—many times” if she knew what had become of her youngest child.

“If she was still here, I don’t think any of this would have happened,” he says. “She kept the wraps on him.”

A Tragic Chain of Events

Jan. 26, 1996: Dave Schultz is murdered.

September 1996: After being held in Delaware County Prison, John du Pont is found mentally incompetent to stand trial by Judge Patricia Jenkins. She reverses that ruling two months later after du Pont receives treatment at Norristown State Hospital.

January 1997: Testimony in du Pont’s murder trial begins and lasts five weeks, followed by a week of deliberations by the jury, which finds du Pont guilty of third-degree murder but mentally insane.

Feb. 25, 1997: Du Pont is convicted.

May 1997: Du Pont is sentenced.

April 1999: Du Pont’s direct appeal is denied.

June 1999: Du Pont’s attorneys launch a flurry of appeals all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which won’t hear the case.

Sept. 22, 2003: Du Pont is denied relief under the Post-conviction Relief Act, touching off a series of appeals that continue to this day.

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