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The true story of 'Foxcatcher': Mark Schultz remembers his brother Dave's murder by John du Pont

by KPCC Staff | Take Two

Dave (L) and Mark Schultz overlooking Stanford University where they both worked as assistant coaches following their college careers. Mark Schultz

The new film, "Foxcatcher," is about the real-life murder of Olympic wrestler Dave Schultz at the hands of his benefactor John du Pont (watch the trailer below).

But the story of how the two met is still being told by Dave's surviving brother Mark in the new memoir of the same name, "Foxcatcher."

It began at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles when the Schultz brothers each walked away with a gold medal for freestyle wrestling.

They were at the top of their game, but they struggled to survive when the spotlight of the games faded away.

"We weren't getting any support from USA Wrestling or the government or anybody else," says Mark Schultz. "I considered joining the military or going on welfare.

"I couldn't even get married, I was so poor. I needed stability. That's when John du Pont came along."

Multimillionaire John du Pont, heir to the du Pont chemical fortune, had made a name for himself bankrolling various athletes through Villanova University in Pennsylvania.

He used his largesse to get in the good graces of many within the local community, even the police department.

Du Pont invited Mark Schultz to join him at his estate, Foxcatcher Farm, where he'd created a wrestling training facility. Schultz, seeing few other opportunities out there, reluctantly agreed.

But he says there was something more sinister lying underneath those good intentions.

"He wanted to use my name to climb up the ladders of power of USA Wrestling," Schultz says, "basically build his credibility off of my name, my words, my success."

Trailer for "Foxcatcher"

Du Pont's erratic behavior also unnerved him for the time that he was at Foxcatcher.

"[Du Pont would] come into my room with a gun, waiving it around me and my girlfriend," Schultz recalls. "He'd walk into the wrestling room with a gun, waiving it around the Villanova wrestlers and me." 

But despite the danger, Schultz felt that du Pont was somewhat manageable and stayed for several years. Plus, he didn't have much choice.

"I was kind of trapped in a way because I was competing for the world championships," he says, "and there weren't a whole lot of options for me. Because I was an Olympic champion, I was so used to people treating me with respect. It just didn't occur to me that someone would be so underhanded."

It wasn't until 1988 that Mark finally left Foxcatcher after he says another gun-waving incident sent him packing.

The following year, his brother Dave decided to head to du Pont's to train at the facility.

"Dave had a family that basically insulated him from du Pont," says Mark. He adds there were more wrestlers there at the time to take up du Pont's attention.

Ironically, the tension that existed between du Pont and Mark Schultz didn't exist between du Pont and Dave Schultz.

He was a fervent defender of du Pont up to the end. Dave once said, "You know what the best thing to happen to amateur wrestling was?" His answer: John du Pont.

That's why it was a surprise when du Pont murdered Schultz in January 1996 — years after Dave first arrived and just months before he hoped to compete again in the Atlanta Summer Olympics.

Mark recalls he was in his office at Brigham Young University, thousands of miles away, when his father delivered the news. Once he heard, he trashed his office in anger and spent weeks mourning.

He says Dave had been working in a driveway when John du Pont drove up. Dave said, "Hi, coach!"

Du Pont shot back, "Do you have a problem with me?!" before firing a gun into Dave's arm, chest and back.

Du Pont stayed holed up in his estate for several days avoiding police capture — the same police that he helped finance. The stand-off ended when authorities froze him out by shutting down the boilers.

Du Pont was eventually declared guilty of third-degree murder, but was found have been mentally ill at the time. The court never determined a motive for the murder.

But Mark Schultz has his theories. 

"He admired us and at the same time was jealous of us, kind of hated us in a way, because we had what money couldn't buy," he says.

But he also said it was surprising because he never thought John du Pont would ever shoot his gun and kill someone.

While Mark wasn't present during the murder, he was on hand as the scene was being filmed for the new movie, "Foxcatcher."

"It was very difficult. I had to leave the set. I couldn't even stay and watch a lot of the scenes," he says.

However, he thinks about that moment and all the choices leading up to it every single day: struggling to stay afloat financially, meeting John du Pont and not saying more to his brother Dave to convince him to stay away from Foxcatcher Farm.

"I regret my brother died, and I regret that I met du Pont," he says, "but had it not been for these horrible curses, this movie would not be made, and Dave would not be immortalized."

Read more of Mark's recollection in his new memoir, "Foxcatcher," out in stores Nov. 18.

 

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