John Eleuthère du Pont

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John Eleuthère du Pont
John Eleuthère du Pont prison.jpg
Born (1938-11-22)November 22, 1938
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Died December 9, 2010(2010-12-09) (aged 72)
State Correctional Institution – Laurel Highlands
Somerset, Pennsylvania
Education Haverford School (1957)
B.S., University of Miami (1965)
Ph.D., Villanova University (1973)
Spouse(s) Gale Wenk (m. 1983–83) annulled after 90 days
Parents William du Pont, Jr.
Jean Liseter Austin

John Eleuthère du Pont (November 22, 1938 – December 9, 2010) was a convicted murderer, an American multimillionaire, and member of the prominent du Pont family.[1][2] He was an ornithologist and conchologist, publishing several books on birds; a philatelist, coach, and sports enthusiast. As a philanthropist, he founded and directed the Delaware Museum of Natural History, which opened in 1972. He also contributed to Villanova University and other institutions.

In the 1990s he established a wrestling facility at his Foxcatcher Farm after becoming interested in that and the pentathlon events. He became a prominent supporter for amateur sports in the United States and a sponsor for USA Wrestling. In the 1990s friends and acquaintances were concerned about his erratic and paranoid behavior, but his wealth shielded him.[3] In 1997 he was convicted of the murder in the third degree of his friend Dave Schultz, an Olympic champion freestyle wrestler. He was ruled to have been mentally ill but not insane and was sentenced to prison, where he died thirteen years later. The story is retold in the true crime book Wrestling with Madness,[4] and is the subject of the 2014 film Foxcatcher.[5]

Early life and education[edit]

John du Pont was born on November 22, 1938 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the youngest of four children of William du Pont, Jr. and Jean Liseter Austin (1897–1988). He grew up at Liseter Hall, a mansion built in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania by his paternal grandfather on more than 200 acres of land given to his parents at their wedding by his maternal grandfather.[6] Both his parents' families had immigrated to the United States at the beginning of the 19th century and became highly successful.

During the 1920s and 1930s, the couple acquired more land and developed Liseter Hall Farm for Thoroughbred breeding, showing and racing. His mother retained Liseter Hall Farm after the couple divorced in 1941. She added a dairy herd of Guernseys and bred Welsh ponies at the farm. John was two when his parents divorced. In addition to his two older sisters, Jean du Pont McConnell and Evelyn du Pont Donaldson, and his older brother Henry E. I. du Pont, du Pont had a younger half brother, William du Pont III, born of their father's second marriage.

Du Pont graduated from Haverford School in 1957. He attended college in Miami, Florida, where he studied under and was mentored by the scientist Oscar T. Owre.[7] He graduated from the University of Miami in 1965 with a Bachelor of Science degree in zoology. Du Pont went on to complete a doctorate in natural science from Villanova University in 1973.

Science career[edit]

During his graduate work, du Pont participated in several scientific expeditions to study and identify species of birds in the Philippines and South Pacific. As an ornithologist, du Pont is credited with the discovery of two dozen species of birds. He wrote a number of books on birds published by the Delaware Museum of Natural History, including:

  • Philippine Birds (1971)
  • Birds of Dinagat and Siargao, Philippines;: An Expedition Report (1973); D.S. Rabor was listed as the second author.
  • South Sulu Archipelago Birds: An Expedition Report (1973), with D.S. Rabor
  • South Pacific Birds (1976) ISBN 0-913176-04-4

In addition, he published several short papers during the 1970s on birds, relating to the expeditions and updating the lengthier books.[8]

He was second author with Clifton Stokes Weaver, for Living Volutes: a Monograph of the Recent Volutidae of the World.[8]

He founded the Delaware Museum of Natural History in 1957. As a young man, he served on the board, helping guide the institution toward opening in 1972. After having been part of scientific expeditions, he served as director of the museum for many years.

Personal life[edit]

At the age of 45, on September 3, 1983, he married Gale Wenk, a therapist. The marriage was annulled 90 days later.



Du Pont was also a philatelist. In a 1980 auction, while bidding anonymously, he paid $935,000 for one of the rarest stamps in the world, the British Guiana 1856 1c black on magenta.[9] The stamp sold at auction for $9.5 million to an anonymous bidder on June 17, 2014.[10]


"Du Pont was considered one of the most positive forces for amateur sports in the United States. In addition to his official role as a sponsor for USA Wrestling, he also contributed financially over the years to modern pentathletes, swimmers, gymnasts, track and field athletes and triathletes. At one point in 1992, more than 150 athletes in three sports were using his training center."[3]

After his mother's death, du Pont turned the 440-acre (1.8 km2) Liseter Hall Farm in Newtown Square into a wrestling facility for amateur wrestlers.[11] He called his team "Team Foxcatcher", after his father's noted racing stable. Du Pont established a training center and sponsored competitive events at the estate. He also allowed some friends, such as David Schultz, an Olympic champion wrestler, to live with his wife in a house on the grounds for years.

Du Pont became a coach in wrestling, swimming, track, and the modern pentathlon. He was also involved in promoting a subset of the modern pentathlon (run, swim, shoot) as a separate event.[12][13] He took up athletics and became a competitive wrestler in his 50s. His only prior wrestling experience was as a freshman in high school. He began competing again at the age of 55 in the 1992 Veteran's World Championships in Cali, Colombia; following that in 1993 in Toronto, Canada; in 1994 in Rome, Italy;[14] and in 1995 in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Dave Schultz murder[edit]

On January 26, 1996, du Pont was seen shooting Dave Schultz dead in the driveway of Schultz's home on du Pont's 800-acre (3.2 km2) estate. Schultz's wife Nancy and du Pont's head of security were present and witnessed the crime. The security chief was sitting in the passenger seat of du Pont's car when du Pont fired three bullets into Schultz. Police did not establish a motive. Schultz was a longtime friend of du Pont who had repeatedly tried to help him.[3]

Du Pont's friends said the shooting was uncharacteristic. Joy Hansen Leutner, a triathlete from Hermosa Beach, California, lived for two years on the estate.[15] Leutner said du Pont helped her through a stressful period in the mid 1980s. She later said, "with my family and friends, John gave me a new lease on life. He gave more than money; he gave himself emotionally." She expressed incredulity about the killing. She is quoted as saying "There's no way John in his right mind would have killed Dave."[3] Newtown Township supervisor John S. Custer Jr. said, “at the time of the murder, John didn’t know what he was doing.”[16] Charles King, Sr., a du Pont stable hand and manager for 30 years, claimed he knew du Pont well throughout his life. King's son Charles “Chuckie” King Jr. said he considered du Pont his friend during his childhood.

However, many people had noticed his increasingly disruptive behavior.[15] Charles King Sr. blames the du Pont security consultant for influencing what happened. King said, “I don’t think John could shoot someone unless he was pushed to, or was on drugs. After that guy 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.”[16]

After the shooting, the multimillionaire locked himself in his mansion for two days while he negotiated with police on the telephone. Police turned off his power and were able to capture him when he went outside to fix his heater. During the trial, one of the defense's expert psychiatric witnesses described du Pont as a paranoid schizophrenic who believed Schultz was part of an international conspiracy to kill him. He said du Pont believed people would break into his house and kill him, and had installed a variety of security features in his house.

Du Pont pleaded "not guilty by reason of insanity". The insanity defense was thrown out, and on February 25, 1997, a jury found him guilty of third degree murder but mentally ill. In Pennsylvania, third-degree murder is a lesser charge than first-degree (intentional) or second-degree (during the perpetration of a felony), and indicates a lack of intent to kill. In Pennsylvania criminal code, "insanity" applies to someone whose "disease or defect" leaves him unable either to understand that his conduct is wrong or to conform it to the law.[17]

The jury verdict of "guilty but mentally ill" meant the sentencing would be referred to the judge, Patricia Jenkins. She could have sentenced him from 5 to 40 years. Following the guilty verdict, Nancy Schultz, Dave's widow, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against du Pont. It resulted in a multi-million dollar settlement being awarded to the Schultzes' two children.

Du Pont was sentenced to 13 to 30 years incarceration and was housed at the State Correctional Institute-Mercer, a minimum-security institution in the Pennsylvania prison system.[18]

Du Pont was first eligible for parole on January 29, 2009; it was denied. Du Pont's maximum sentence would have ended on January 29, 2026, when he would have been 87.[19] The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the verdict in 2000. In 2010 the 3rd Circuit U.S. appeals court in Philadelphia rejected all but one issue raised on appeal (involving his use of a Bulgarian prescription drug, scopolamine, before he fatally shot Schultz in 1996), and requested written briefs.[20]


Du Pont died on December 9, 2010. He had unspecified health issues and had been ill. A spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections said du Pont was found unresponsive in his bed at the State Correctional Institution – Laurel Highlands. He was pronounced dead at 6:55 a.m. at Somerset Community Hospital.[1][2]

Philanthropy and institutions[edit]

Du Pont founded the Delaware Museum of Natural History in 1957, which opened to the public in 1972 on a site near Winterthur donated by his relative Henry Francis du Pont. John du Pont served on the board for many years.

He helped fund a new basketball arena at Villanova University, which opened in 1986. Originally it was called the John Eleuthère du Pont Pavilion but after his conviction, his name was removed from the facility. Today, it is simply called The Pavilion.

Foxcatcher Farm[edit]

After his mother's death in 1988, du Pont assumed stewardship of Liseter Farm and renamed it "Foxcatcher Farm" after his father's famed Thoroughbred racing stable.[21]

He maintained much of her work, but added a wrestling facility and supporting buildings for that interest.

After his arrest, du Pont sold off the dairy herd, nearly 70 Guernseys, in the fall of 1996. He ordered all the buildings at Foxcatcher Farm to be painted a matte black. The Delaware Museum of Natural History, which du Pont formerly headed and held the dairy farm in trust, sold that portion in January 1998 after his conviction and sentencing to prison. Since then, the land has changed hands again. It is has been developed into the campus for the relocated Episcopal Academy prep school, as well as a community of new million-dollar-plus homes.[21] The 400-plus acres of Foxcatcher Farm was left of the original larger property.

Disputed will[edit]

Du Pont's will bequeathed 80% of his estate to the Bulgarian wrestler Valentin Yordanov, an Olympic champion, and his relatives. In June 2011, Beverly A. du Pont Gauggel and William H. du Pont, relatives of John du Pont, filed a petition in Media, Pennsylvania, to challenge the will, asserting that du Pont was not "of sound mind" when he made his will. The petition claims that during that period, du Pont asserted alternately that he was Jesus Christ, the Dalai Lama and a Russian Czar.[22]

That petition was dismissed, and while appealed, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania has upheld a Delaware County Orphans Court order dismissing a challenge on the will on November 19, 2012.[23]

Former Delaware County Court of Common Pleas President Judge Joseph Cronin dismissed the challenge for lack of standing, finding that because the niece and nephew were not named in two successive wills going back to 2006, they would not be harmed if the September 2010 will were deemed valid. A three-judge panel of the Superior Court affirmed that ruling on November 19.

Representation in media[edit]

Steve Carell portrays du Pont in the 2014 film Foxcatcher.[24]


  1. ^ a b Jeré Longman (December 9, 2010). "John E. du Pont, Heir Who Killed an Olympian, Dies at 72". New York Times. Retrieved November 28, 2012. "John E. du Pont, an heir to the du Pont chemical fortune whose benevolent supporLKYUIOYIOUYUIYIUGIUHYIt of Olympic athletes deteriorated into delusion and ended in the shooting death of a champion wrestler, died Thursday in a western Pennsylvania prison. He was 72. Mr. du Pont was found unresponsive in his cell at Laurel Highlands State Prison near Somerset, Pa., a prison spokeswoman told The Associated Press. ..." 
  2. ^ a b "Du Pont heir dies in prison". United Press International. December 9, 2010. Retrieved December 9, 2010. "Du Pont fortune heir John E. du Pont, convicted of the 1996 murder of Olympic wrestler David Schulz, died of natural causes, Pennsylvania prison officials said. He was 72. Corrections spokeswoman Sue Bensinger said du Pont was found unresponsive in his Laurel Highland State Correctional Facility cell in Somerset County Thursday, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Bensinger said he had been ill for some time." 
  3. ^ a b c d Jere Longman, Pam Belluck and Jon Nordheimer, "For du Pont Heir, Question Was Control", The New York Times, February 4, 1996
  4. ^
  5. ^ Justin Chang (May 19, 2014). "Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum give superb performances in Bennett Miller's powerfully disturbing true-crime saga". Variety. 
  6. ^ "Last hurrah for historic Liseter Hall Farm", Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred, September 2005
  7. ^ James A. Kushlan (1991). "IN MEMORIAM: OSCAR T. OWRE, 1917–1990". The Auk 108 (3): 705–708. doi:10.2307/4088110. 
  8. ^ a b Publications, Delaware Museum of Natural History
  9. ^ Rachlin, Harvey (1996). Lucy's Bones, Sacred Stones, and Einstein's Brain: The Remarkable Stories Behind the Great Artifacts of History, From Antiquity to the Modern Era. Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 0-8050-6406-0. 
  10. ^,0,3255081.story
  11. ^ "The Value of Open Space, Save Open Space, Everything Old is New Again", Save Open Space, April 1999
  12. ^ Alice Higgins, "Trials Of A Busy Pentathlete", Sports Illustrated, August 28, 1967
  13. ^ Chapter XI: "20th-Century Personages and the Arts", Historic Newtown Square, Newtown Square Historical Preservation Society
  14. ^ "Silverbacks: Masters 3rd Freestyle Wrestling World Championships Results-1994", Silverbacks Wrestling website
  15. ^ a b Randy Harvey, "Signposts to a Tragedy – Du Pont Heir", Los Angeles Times, January 31, 1996
  16. ^ a b J.F. Pirro, "In Memory of a Murder", MainLine Today, January 12, 2007
  17. ^ Law and Legal Research, Lawyers, Legal Websites, Legal News and Legal Resources, Onecle, Crimes And Offenses – 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Pennsylvania Statutes
  18. ^ "Heir Sentenced Up to 30 Years For Killing of Olympic Wrestler", New York Times, May 14, 1997
  19. ^ What Ever Happened to: Imprisoned Chemical Heir John du Pont? – Newsweek and The Daily Beast. (August 7, 2008). Retrieved on March 16, 2013.
  20. ^ Circuit Won't Hear Arguments on Du Pont Millionaire's Last Round of Appeals", Law
  21. ^ a b Michael Yockel, "Last hurrah for historic Liseter Hall Farm", Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred, September 2005, Retrieved on October 23, 2005
  22. ^ "Du Pont Relatives Contest Validity of Late Killer's Will", Delaware County Daily Times, 1June 15, 2011. Retrieved on June 15, 2011.
  23. ^ "Superior Court: Du Pont relatives have no standing to contest will", Main Line Suburban Life,
  24. ^ "Foxcatcher". IMDB. Retrieved July 14, 2014. 

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