John Eleuthère du Pont
|John Eleuthère du Pont|
du Pont in February 1992
November 22, 1938|
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
|Died||December 9, 2010
State Correctional Institution – Laurel Highlands, Pennsylvania
|Cause of death||Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and emphysema|
|Education||Haverford School (1957)
University of Pennsylvania (1960)
B.S., University of Miami (1965)
Ph.D., Villanova University (1973)
|Spouse(s)||Gale Wenk (m. 1983; annulled after 90 days)|
|Parent(s)||William du Pont, Jr.
Jean Liseter Austin
John Eleuthère du Pont (November 22, 1938 – December 9, 2010) was an American philanthropist and heir to the Du Pont family fortune who in 1996 murdered Olympic gold medal winning wrestler Dave Schultz. He was a published ornithologist, philatelist, philanthropist, conchologist, sports enthusiast, and self-styled wrestling coach. In 1972 du Pont founded and directed the Delaware Museum of Natural History and contributed to Villanova University and other institutions.
In the 1980s, he established a wrestling facility at his Foxcatcher Farm after becoming interested in the sport 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. On February 25, 1997, he was convicted of murder in the third degree for the January 26, 1996, shooting death of Dave Schultz, an Olympic champion freestyle wrestler living and working on du Pont's estate. He was ruled to have been mentally ill but not insane and was sentenced to prison for 13 to 30 years. He died in prison at age 72 on December 9, 2010. He was the only member of the Forbes 400 richest Americans ever to be convicted of murder.
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 1922 in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, by his maternal grandfather on more than 200 acres of land given to his parents at their wedding by his maternal grandfather. Both his parents' families had emigrated from Europe 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. He had two older sisters, Jean and Evelyn, an older brother Henry E. I. du Pont, and 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 the University of Pennsylvania where he belonged to the Zeta Psi fraternity, and withdrew before completing his freshman year. Du Pont later attended college in Miami, Florida, where he studied under and was mentored by the scientist Oscar T. Owre. 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.
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 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.
At the age of 45, on September 3, 1983, du Pont married 29-year-old Gale Wenk, an occupational therapist. They met after he injured his hand in an auto accident. They lived together for less than six months. Du Pont filed for divorce when they had been married for ten months. Wenk sued du Pont for $5 million, claiming he had pointed a gun at her and tried to push her into a fireplace. The divorce became final in 1987. Du Pont's will excluded her from inheriting any of his estate. In 1987, it was estimated that John du Pont was worth $200 million.
Du Pont was also a philatelist. Bidding anonymously in a 1980 auction, he paid $935,000 for one of the rarest stamps in the world, the British Guiana 1856 1c black on magenta. After his death, that stamp was sold at auction for $9.5 million (inclusive of buyer's premium) at Sotheby's June 17, 2014. For the fourth time, that stamp broke the record for a single stamp's sale. The one-of-a-kind stamp was part of the estate of du Pont. According to du Pont's will – unsuccessfully challenged by several parties – 80 percent of the sale proceeds go to the family of Bulgarian wrestler Valentin Jordanov Dimitrov and 20 percent goes to the Eurasian Pacific Wildlife Foundation, based in Paoli, Pennsylvania, a group du Pont founded to support Pacific wildlife. While du Pont continued to buy stamps while in prison, he was not allowed to bring them there.
After his mother's death, du Pont developed the 440-acre (1.8 km2) Liseter Hall Farm in Newtown Square as a high-quality wrestling facility for amateur wrestlers. He called the private group "Team Foxcatcher", after his father's noted racing stable. Du Pont established an Olympic swimming and wrestling training center and sponsored competitive events at the estate. He also allowed some people, such as Olympic champion wrestlers Mark Schultz and later his older brother Dave Schultz and his wife, to live in houses on the grounds for years. Dave Schultz also coached the Foxcatcher team.
Du Pont became a sponsor 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. 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, Ontario; in 1994 in Rome, Italy; and in 1995 in Sofia, Bulgaria.
In August 1988, a problem-plagued wrestling program he funded at Villanova was shut down after just two years. In December 1988, a lawsuit (which was settled out of court) claimed du Pont had made improper sexual advances to Villanova assistant coach Andre Metzger.
Dave Schultz murder
On January 26, 1996, du Pont shot and killed Dave Schultz 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 Patrick Goodale 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 had worked with du Pont to coach the wrestling team for years. Schultz had also tried to help du Pont with his drinking problem.
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. 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." Newtown Township supervisor John S. Custer Jr. said, "At the time of the murder, John didn't know what he was doing." 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.
Many people had noticed du Pont's increasingly disruptive behavior in the months before the murder. Charles King Sr. blames du Pont's "security consultant", Patrick Goodale, 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 started 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."
After the shooting, du Pont 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. In September 1996, du Pont was ruled incompetent to stand trial, as experts testified that he was psychotic and could not participate in his own defense. He was committed to a mental hospital and his condition was to be reviewed by the court in three months.
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 that he 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 by the court, 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.
The jury verdict of "guilty but mentally ill" meant the sentencing would be referred to the judge, Patricia Jenkins. She could have sentenced du Pont to 5 to 40 years. Du Pont was sentenced to 13 to 30 years' incarceration and was housed at the State Correctional Institution – Mercer, a minimum-security institution in the Pennsylvania prison system. Du Pont was initially confined to Cresson Correctional Institute.
Following the guilty verdict, Nancy Schultz, Dave's widow, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against du Pont. The amount of the settlement was not disclosed. The Philadelphia Inquirer, citing anonymous sources, reported du Pont was to pay Schultz at least $35 million.
Du Pont's attorneys filed appeals. In 2000, his case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld the verdict. 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.
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.
Du Pont died at the age of 72 on December 9, 2010, from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). 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.
Philanthropy and institutions
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 called The Pavilion.
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. John never lived in the manor house; he occupied a smaller house on the estate. Days after his mother's death, he moved into the main house.
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 which held the dairy farm in trust, sold that portion in January 1998 after his conviction and sentencing to prison. A 123-acre segment is now occupied by the campus of The Episcopal Academy, a private independent K–12 school founded in 1785, which moved there in 2008 from split campuses located in the nearby Philadelphia Main Line communities of Merion and Devon. The 90-year-old du Pont mansion, Liseter Hall, in which du Pont was raised and had lived for 57 years, was demolished in January 2013. The mansion stood on a 400-acre portion of the property that is now being developed by Toll Brothers into a "master planned community of 449 luxury homes" called "Liseter Estate." Most of the outbuildings were torn down, though an existing 7,000 square-foot historical barn will be used as a clubhouse in the new development.
Du Pont had been worth an estimated US $200 million in 1986, ($434,883,211 in 2015 dollars). His will bequeathed 80 percent of his estate to Bulgarian wrestler Valentin Yordanov, an Olympic champion who had trained at Foxcatcher, and Yordanov's relatives. In June 2011, du Pont's niece Beverly A. du Pont Gauggel and nephew William H. du Pont filed a petition to challenge the will in Media, Pennsylvania, asserting that du Pont was not "of sound mind" when he made his will. The petition claims that during that period, John du Pont asserted alternately that he was Jesus Christ, the Dalai Lama and a Russian tsar.
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. 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, 2012.
Representation in media
- Du Pont's murder of Dave Schultz is recounted in the 2013 true crime book Wrestling with Madness.
- The 2014 film Foxcatcher, directed by Bennett Miller, was based on the events related to the Schultz brothers and exploring John du Pont's relationship with them. For his portrayal of du Pont, Steve Carell was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor.
- Olympic Wrestling Champion Mark Schultz, the younger brother of Dave Schultz, wrote Foxcatcher: The True Story of My Brother's Murder, John du Pont's Madness, and the Quest for Olympic Gold
- ESPN Films featured the story of du Pont and Team Foxcatcher in the 2015 30 for 30 series film The Prince of Pennsylvania. The film featured several former members of the Foxcatcher wrestling team, including Mark Schultz, as well as John du Pont's ex-wife Gale Denny and Mark and Dave Schultz's parents. The film, which was directed by Jesse Vile, premiered on October 20, 2015, and got its title from a letter Dave Schultz wrote to Prince Albert of Monaco rejecting his proposal for Schultz to become the coach of a wrestling team in Monaco.
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John E. du Pont, an heir to the du Pont chemical fortune whose benevolent support 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. ...
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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.
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- News coverage January 26–29, 1996 on ABC, CBS & CNN; 16 minutes. About the murder and the immediate aftermath.
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