July 9, 2007
Wrestlers who kill: A history lesson
By BRIAN ELLIOTT - SLAM! Wrestling
As macabre as it is to think of it, however, Chris Benoit is not the only professional wrestler to have ever committed murder. Notwithstanding wrestlers who died in the ring, with their opponents then labelled as "killers" -- Ray Gunkel's death being blamed on Ox Baker's heart punch, or King Kong Kirk's death at the hands of England's Big Daddy, come to mind -- there have been some very real, very sad cases of pro wrestlers committing homicides.
Here is an attempt to bring a few to light:
Juana Barraza was known as "The Silent Lady" during her time as a wrestler in Mexico, but has been linked to at least 11 murders of elderly women in Mexico City. She was seen running from the scene of the death of her last victim, Ana Maria Reyes, and confessed the crime to police, though she refused to be blamed for the other murders. Since then, she has admitted to a further three killings in the "Mata-viejitas" ("Little Old Lady Killer") case.
Kurt Lauder, who wrestled for the IWS and MWF promotions in Canada, was convicted on 26th July 2006 of murdering 16 year old Shanna Poissant. An autopsy showed that the girl had died from severe head trauma, and Lauder -- who at 24 years old was 6-foot4, and 325 pounds -- later admitted to striking her several times with a heavy, blunt object. He was given a life sentence, with no parole for at least fifteen years.
Lauder's mother was also convicted of a crime, that of attempting to cover up the murder. Suzanne Grosser-Lauder pleaded guilty to destroying evidence that linked Kurt to the murder, and was sentenced to five months in prison. Her husband, Ian Lauder, was due to be charged, but died at age 61 before the trial.
Going back to January 1935, wrestler "Big" Jim Clinkstock was found guilty of the manslaughter of Leo Kahn, whom he killed after Kahn had insulted his wife. Following the insult, Clinkstock beat Kahn so badly that the head injuries would kill him two days later. Clinkstock, who was 6-foot-4 in tall and weighed 225 pounds, was sent to jail on January 31, 1935, with the judge decreeing that he should serve no more than eight years.
Perhaps the closest thing to the deaths of the Benoit family takes us back to 1944, and the murder-suicide perpetrated by Charles Eastman, known as wrestler Gorilla Grubmeyer. Eastman shot his wife Geraldine to death on May 20, 1944, after she had returned from a trip to Chicago, believed to have been to finalise their divorce. Eastman then hung and shot himself, leaving behind a 15-month-old child.
Nanjo Singh murdered his wife, Betty, in the 1950s and went to prison. He was convicted in April 1958 of second-degree murder, and voluntary and involuntary manslaughter in Philadelphia.
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This one is unique, and well-known, even if its ties to wrestling came later.
On 21st December 1954, Dr. Sam Sheppard was convicted of killing his pregnant wife Marilyn five months previously. It was to begin a spiral of horrible events that led to Sheppard's own demise.
Much of the story of Sheppard is very similar to that portrayed by David Janssen as Dr. Richard Kimble in The Fugitive TV series, and Harrison Ford in the 1993 film version. On July 4, 1954, the couple had been entertaining friends, and later, Sam slept on the couch whilst Marilyn went to bed. Sam claimed that he was awoken by the sound of his wife calling for him, and when he went to the bedroom, he saw a bushy-haired man struggle with Marilyn, but was quickly knocked unconscious by the same man. When he awoke, his wife was dead, and a further altercation with the killer saw him knocked out a second time.
Sheppard was found guilty of second degree murder, and it was almost eleven years before the physician's name was cleared. Although he returned to his practice, Sheppard became addicted to alcohol and drugs, and he was sued for malpractice when one of his patients died. It was at this point that he tried his hand at professional wrestling, of all things. He was a drawing card for a short amount of time, but never was a main eventer or showed any real talent for the mat game. But he was never able to curb his addictions, and he died on April 6, 1970 from liver failure.
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A couple notables were found not guilty:
Bruiser Brody was fatally stabbed in a wrestling locker room in Puerto Rico in 1988. Jose Gonzales, who wrestled under the name Invader #1 and was involved behind the scenes as a booker, was arrested for the killing. Theories abound about a cover-up and a murder conspiracy. Key witnesses like Tony Atlas did not show up for the trial, and Gonzales was acquitted.
Jack Reynolds was charged with murder, tried, and acquitted. Reynolds, an welterweight champion, was accused of shooting to death James Meyers, 52, in a cafe brawl in the early morning of March 11, 1934. Reynolds, his wife Alice, and a friend, David Polinsky, 28, were charged with second-degree murder. In the end, it was decided that it was self-defense, and essentially, that "fate decreed that the killers kill each other."
Art Shires was charged with murdering Hi Erwin, but the charge got reduced, finally, to aggravated assault.
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As for suicides, the list is a little more lengthy and current. Setting aside any arguments about drug overdoses or auto accidents that may have been self-inflicted, here are a few confirmed suicides:
According a shoot interview done with Mike Kirchner, Mike (Awesome) Alfonso had marital problems which led to his suicide in February 2007. Apparently, Alfonso's wife told him one night that she wanted a divorce, and that she had been having an affair. Alfonso grabbed her and threatened her, and she called the police, after which he was arrested. She then made it difficult for him to see his two children, and froze his bank accounts. One night, when friends were to pick him up before going out, he hung himself.
The Von Erich (Adkisson) story is well known. Chris von Erich killed himself September 12, 1991 at age 21; Kerry von Erich killed himself February 18, 1993 at age 33; Mike von Erich overdosed with a suicide note on April 12, 1987 at age 23.
Tojo Yamamoto (Harold Wantanabe) shot himself February 19, 1992.
Famed wrestler and Florida Championship Wrestling promoter Eddie Graham killed himself January 21, 1985 at age 55.
"Catalina" George Drake (Roland Hogg) killed himself December 29, 1967 at age 39.
Jerry London (Jerry Linden) of Hamilton, Ontario, killed himself on August 20, 1970 age 41. Word is that his death followed a verbal dressing down by San Francisco promoter Roy Shire.
Yukon Eric (Eric Holmbeck) killed himself in a church parking lot on January 16, 1965.
Charley Pesek, younger brother of "The Tiger Man" John Pesek, committed suicide on August 7, 1938 in Ravenna, NE. Young Pesek waa a lightweight wrestler who had just returned from the Pacific Coast with a string of racing dogs from the Pesek Kennels.
Philip Benefant killed himself in New Britain, CT, on June 8, 1925. He was 40 years old. He had been in ill-health.
-- with files from (and thanks to) esteemed wrestling historian J Michael Kenyon, Steven Johnson and Greg Oliver
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Brian Elliott is British journalist covering pro wrestling, fight sports,
and soccer. He is the sports editor for Zodiac Lung magazine, and can
be visited online at http://spaces.msn.com/brianelliott.