Saturday, March 29th, 2008
by Irvin Muchnick
On Thursday night this blog reported that the chief of security for World Wrestling Entertainment erroneously told Fayette County 911 that Chris Benoit had left a mysterious message for a fellow wrestler “this morning” – Monday, June 25, 2007 (http://muchnick.net/babylon/2008/03/28/benoit-911-call-wwe-security-chief-gave-wrong-day-of-wrestlers-last-message).
On Friday I left voicemail messages on what I believe to be the cell phone numbers for WWE’s Scott James and Chavo Guerrero. James and Guerrero were colleagues and friends of Benoit’s, and had the last known contacts with him. The authorities have determined that these contacts came after Benoit murdered his wife and their son.
Those two gentlemen are thus uniquely positioned to answer the question, “What did Vince McMahon know and when did he know it?” Of course, the question does not bear on the theory of the double homicide/suicide itself; the crime is open-and-shut. However, it does bear on the explanation of how the Benoit family tragedy came to be exploited for yet another high-rated dead-wrestler-tribute edition of Monday Night Raw, which began more than five hours after the long-decomposing bodies of Chris, Nancy, and Daniel were found in their home outside Atlanta. That exploitation, in turn, would become the first chapter in what McMahon surely anticipated as an epic struggle to spin the sports entertainment industry’s role in the early drug-related deaths of so many of its performers.
My skepticism that security head Dennis Fagan’s mistake was innocent flows from knowledge that the 24-hour gap in the representation in his 911 call isn’t the only investigative detail casting suspicion on the Benoit timeline WWE issued on June 26.
The company put out a press release (viewable at http://corporate.wwe.com/news/2007/2007_06_26_2.jsp) to counter accusations that it had manipulated the previous day’s news from Fayette County. On cable news programs, hosts were speculating that WWE cynically chose to do the Benoit Raw tribute even though higher-ups already knew, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Chris was the perpetrator. (On some of those programs, such as MSNBC’s Live With Dan Abrams on June 26 and Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor on June 27, I found myself cast as the WWE apologist for resisting a rush to judgment.)
For present purposes, the significant item of the timeline is the action WWE claims it took once executives realized Benoit wouldn’t make it to the Saturday night, June 23, show in Beaumont, Texas. They “rebooked Benoit’s flight for the following morning, allowing Benoit to miss the Beaumont event and making alternate arrangements for him to attend the pay-per-view event in Houston on Sunday,” the news release asserts.
But unless I missed something, documents recently released by the sheriff’s office in Fayette County, Georgia, include nothing about a Sunday morning flight. They do, in considerable detail, chronicle how Benoit, after missing his Saturday morning flight, called Delta Airlines and reserved a seat on a Saturday night flight. (Benoit explained missing the early flight by saying Nancy and Daniel had food poisoning.)
Though it contradicts the WWE timeline, a Saturday night flight jibes with a second timeline floating out there on the Internet – a more detailed one whose provenance seems to be the June 27, 2007, New York Daily News. (See http://www.nydailynews.com/news/2007/06/27/2007-06-27_chris_benoit_timeline-2.html.)
That said, one item in the sheriff’s report would be consistent with the booking of a Sunday morning flight for Benoit. According to the log of the text messages retrieved from Chris’s cell phone, Scott James texted Benoit at 9:26 a.m. Sunday, “What time do u land?”
Vindication? Not so fast. There’s a big problem with that interpretation. And that big problem is the entire record of text messages. For shortly before 5 a.m. Sunday morning – four and a half hours before James messaged Benoit “What time do u land?” – Benoit had sent both James and Guerrero the now-infamous serial messages, “The dogs are in the enclosed pool area. Garage side door is open” and “Chavo, Scott. My physical address is 130 Green Meadow Lane. Fayetteville Georgia. 30215.”
Let’s go over this again. Scott James and Chavo Guerrero have strange conversations and text exchanges with Chris Benoit on Saturday. Their buddy misses the show in Beaumont. In the early morning hours on Sunday they receive new levels of text-message weirdness. Yet James is expecting Benoit on the ground in Houston late Sunday morning?
It just doesn’t add up. Nor is it logical that James and Guerrero would sit on the Sunday morning text messages all day and night – as Benoit proceeded, uncharacteristically, to no-show a second straight night (this time at a pay-per-view where he was booked to win a world title, no less) – and decide not to tell their bosses about them until 12:30 p.m. Monday, as the WWE timeline states.
That is why I called James and Guerrero on Friday.
What happened next isn’t clear. But it is in keeping with the paranoia and mindfucking m.o. of many wrestlers, if not with specific instructions by their bosses not to talk to me or anyone else probing the absolutely essential question of whom they told about the Sunday morning text messages, and when they told them.
I preface the following with the disclaimer that I am not familiar with the voices of James and Guerrero.
At the number for James, a man answered and, before I could even identify myself, feigned that he couldn’t hear me. I called back and he repeated the exercise. Our connection seemed fine to me both times. Later I called yet again, got voicemail, outlined my mission, and invited James to call me.
At the number for Guerrero, a man answered and, when I asked if he was Chavo Guerrero, replied, “Who are you?” I said, “Irv Muchnick” – whereupon the man said no, that he wasn’t Chavo Guerrero and I had a wrong number. As with James, I called back later, got voicemail, and left a message.
Also on Friday, I emailed Gary Davis, WWE’s vice president for corporate communications. After thanking Davis for getting back to me the night before on my question about Dennis Fagan, I proceeded: “WWE’s timeline said the company arranged for a Sunday morning flight for Benoit from Atlanta to Houston. Can you provide detail on that? I ask because the open records from the Fayette County Sheriff mention no evidence of a reservation for Benoit on a Sunday flight. We do know, however, that Benoit himself called Delta Airlines and rebooked himself for a Saturday evening flight.”
Davis, too, has not returned my message.