[originally published at SLAM! Wrestling on August 4 under the headline, “Strange case of the Benoit Wikipedia hacker,” http://slam.canoe.ca/Slam/Wrestling/GuestColumn/2008/08/04/6348491.html]
By Irvin Muchnick
I recently filed a complaint with the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission to compel the Stamford Police Department to release the video of its interrogation last summer of Matthew T. Greenberg — a hapless University of Connecticut student whose Internet mischief has landed him the sobriquet of “the Benoit Wikipedia hacker.”
Pull up a chair while I explain.
One piece of the media frenzy in the wake of the June 2007 Chris Benoit double murder/suicide in Georgia concerned news that Benoit’s biography at Wikipedia, the online tag-team encyclopedia, had been edited at 12:01 a.m. on Monday, June 25 — more than 14 hours before the dead bodies of all three family members were found. According to Wiki, Benoit missed the pay-per-view show in Houston the night before “due to personal issues, stemming from the death of his wife Nancy.”
When the Internet Protocol address of the computer making this unauthorized edit was traced to Stamford — where World Wrestling Entertainment is headquartered — a sidebar mystery kicked into another gear. On June 28 the hacker confessed at an anonymous post at Wikipedia, saying he had no special knowledge of what had gone down in Fayette County but simply was passing along rumors.
Echoing the consensus sentiment, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales said, “I wonder where those rumors came from. I guess the police will figure that out eventually.”
The Fayette County Sheriff’s Office did ask Stamford PD to interrogate young Greenberg, and the story quickly died. But not so fast. Fresh reporting strongly suggests that the media — both the mainstream variety and the wrestling fan press — blew it. There’s every reason to wonder if the cops asked Greenberg the important questions. And unless you’re neck-deep in sand, you can see how the answers to those questions might illuminate WWE’s bizarre timeline of the weekend of the Benoit tragedy.
In the early morning hours of Sunday, June 24, Benoit sent cryptic text messages, containing his physical address in unincorporated Fayetteville but little else, to fellow wrestler Chavo Guerrero and referee Scott Armstrong. According to WWE, company executives didn’t become aware of the messages until Monday afternoon. In between, Benoit missed the “Vengeance” pay-per-view in Houston on Sunday, on top of missing the house show in Beaumont on Saturday, as speculation about this heretofore compulsively reliable performer resonated throughout the wrestling world and cyberspace.
The backup record for the February 2008 report by the Fayette County sheriff, closing the Benoit investigation, is full of holes. Among other things, the report cooks the raw telephone company records to produce its own phone log, which nonsensically ends more than 24 hours before the bodies were discovered; in addition, the documentation of text messages to and from Chris and Nancy Benoit’s cell phones is incomplete, and no voicemail messages at all are retrieved.
Against that backdrop, I couldn’t accept at face value the Fayette County report’s bland assurance that Stamford PD forwarded a bland assurance that Matt Greenberg was “harmless.” This conclusory statement seemed especially inadequate when it became apparent that language in a supplemental report, claiming that a copy of the Stamford PD interview of Greenberg was “included in the case file,” was at best misleading. When pressed, Detective Ethon Harper conceded that he and other officers wrote their reports without ever viewing the complete Greenberg interrogation, which is on videotape. I requested a copy of what they had on hand, and it turned out to be only a snippet, cutting off after three minutes, as soon as it started getting interesting.
Stamford PD explained that they must have sent Fayette County a bad duplicate. (One can’t help being reminded of “Rose Mary’s Baby” — the 18½-minute gap in President Richard Nixon’s White House audiotapes caused by an accidentally-on-purpose erasure by his secretary, Rose Mary Woods.) Stamford has refused to send me the complete video, with a claim that “voluntary statements” to police are exempt under state public information law. After not finding a single expert who agreed with that baroque interpretation of the plain language of the open records statute, I appealed on July 28 to the Freedom of Information Commission. An arbitration hearing will be scheduled in Hartford if a commission ombudsman does not succeed in mediating a settlement.
Friends, you don’t have to harbor alternative theories about the Benoit crime in order to regard the Greenberg angle of the investigation as pertinent to what everyone knew and when everyone knew it. At Wikipedia, Greenberg professed no connection to WWE — but did the cops even probe that assertion? Online sleuths had fingered Greenberg as a serial Wiki vandal who (to cite just one example) also was responsible for puerile and sexist vulgarities on the page for Stacy Kiebler. Yet, in a single aberrantly nice edit, Greenberg removed ethnic slurs from the page for Chavo Guerrero, a Benoit text-message recipient. What’s that about?
Finally, bear in mind that Greenberg could have been an inadvertent conduit of important information without being an insider himself. In the 20 hours between Benoit’s final texts and the Wikipedia edit, the online rumor chain of discussion boards and chat rooms could have stumbled upon a whiff of the truth for a good reason. The cursory Connecticut police report says a search of Greenberg’s computer “revealed no information that was posted about the homicide prior to June 25, 2007,” but not in a way to make a careful reader confident that the cops drilled the computer’s Internet history with purpose or sophistication.
In a July 18 email to me, Fayette County sheriff’s attorney Richard P. Lindsey wrote, “I have not read anything which makes me question the integrity and thoroughness of the investigation and the quality of work done by the detectives. Their role was to determine who committed the crimes and to ensure that no third party was involved in the murders; their role was not to determine if WWE may have acted or not acted in a manner to control the publicity of the heinous crimes committed by one of its stars.”
Lindsey also wrote, “I am not being stubborn (maybe I am) …”
Sometimes the most revealing words are the ones in parentheses.