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Murder, madness and the quest for Gold

Jeanie Saint Germain had just finished lunch with a friend in Santa Rosa, Calif., one day in 1996 when the phone rang. It was her husband, Bryan, in Medford.

"I have to tell you something," Bryan said. "John shot Dave."

Time seemed to stop.

"Please drop the other shoe," Saint Germain said.

"And he died."

The murder victim was Saint Germain's eldest son, Dave Schultz, who, along with his younger brother, Mark, made up the greatest pair of wrestling brothers ever produced in the United States, with both winning Olympic Gold Medals and World Championships.

John du Pont, a troubled heir to the vast du Pont fortune, had shot 36-year-old Dave Schultz three times with a .44 Magnum, the last hollow-point round an execution-style shot in the back.

That event is the centerpiece of the high-profile movie "Foxcatcher," which garnered five Academy Award nominations (it's playing at Tinseltown in Medford and the Varsity Theatre in Ashland).

The film, based on the 2014 book of the same name by Mark Schultz and directed by Bennett Miller ("Capote," "Moneyball"), got some eyebrow-raising publicity recently when Mark Schultz lashed out at Miller on social media.

The film seems to suggest a troubled Mark was jealous of the affable Dave. Some viewers have seen an ambiguous hint of homosexuality in the film's depiction of Mark's relationship with du Pont.

"I HATE EVERYTHING THAT SCUM TOUCHES. EVERYTHING!!! Mark Schultz tweeted about the director on Dec. 31.

He later reversed field, citing a "hasty, emotionally charged reaction." He said it was the film's context — his brother's murder and the ruin of his career — that upset him.

Saint Germain has a unique vantage point on all this.

"I think it's a good movie," she says, adding a log to the fire on a morning an icy fog has settled on the hill where she and her husband live near Medford. "I was impressed with Channing Tatum's performance. But I do feel he was written to be one-dimensional."

Tatum plays Mark Schultz. Dave is played by Mark Ruffalo. Steve Carell plays du Pont. Both Carell (leading actor) and Ruffalo (supporting actor) have been nominated for Academy Awards, along with Miller (best director), screenwriters E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman and makeup and hair-styling artists Bill Corso and Dennis Liddiard.

Saint Germain, who worked in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's costume shop for 28 years, rising to be the OSF's resident costume designer, has seen the movie four times. She says Tatum's Mark is not like the real Mark. "He's (played as) sullen and not very bright," she says.

"I can't get inside Bennett's head. I think they were trying to make the point that Mark was jealous of Dave. He was not. They were buddies."

The film depicts du Pont, who was a heavy drinker and cocaine user, and his relationships with the two brothers at Foxcatcher, the wrestling training center du Pont had established on the grounds of his palatial estate in Pennsylvania.

Saint German says "Foxcatcher" shows how the very wealthy can manipulate those who need help. Wrestling is not a big-money sport like football, baseball and basketball, and American wrestlers didn't have the support of their government as Soviet-era athletes did in those days of supposed amateurism.

Mark, who went to school in Ashland and Palo Alto, Calif., as a boy, spent years writing "Foxcatcher," finally completing it with co-writer David Thomas and selling it to the prestigious publisher Dutton, which puts out only about 20 nonfiction titles a year. The book's subtitle sums it up: "The True Story of My Brother's Murder, John du Pont's Madness, and the Quest for Olympic Gold."

Saint Germain says when Mark started writing the book some years after the murder, it was for his children.

"He wanted them to know who he was and what he'd been through," she says. "Mark's life was destroyed when Dave was killed. He lost his wife and three children."

She says there were several breakups and divorces in the family in the year after Dave's murder.

As boys, Mark and Dave lived in Palo Alto with their father, who was divorced from their mother, and in Ashland with her. Both became legendary wrestlers in high school and college. As they won national championships, Dave, known as a great technician, was called by Sports Illustrated "a Yoda-like master of the mats," while Mark was portrayed as "the sledgehammer," "a massively muscled head-on attacker." Saint Germain says that was his competition persona, but far from the whole Mark.

Dave and Mark both won Gold at the 1984 Olympics and became the only brothers to win both World and Olympic championships. They won more NCAA, U.S. Open, World and Olympic titles than any American brother combination in history, becoming wrestling legends. Dave spent so much time overseas competing against the great Russian and Bulgarian and Georgian wrestlers that he taught himself to speak Russian.

"He used to keep vocabulary cards on the toilet," Saint Germain says.

Mark trained at the Foxcatcher complex before Dave. The brothers were not there at the same time, as they are in the film. Mark went on to coach at Brigham Young University.

Dave coached at the University of Oklahoma, Stanford University and the University of Wisconsin before moving to Foxcatcher to coach younger wrestlers and train for a last shot at Olympic glory.

Saint Germain often visited Dave at Foxcatcher. She says the du Pont she met was an odd, frightening man given to waving a gun around while high on alcohol and cocaine. He showed her his trophy room, which was filled with trophies and awards, most of which had been won by his mother as a horsewoman and dog breeder.

"John had a gun," Saint Germain says. "He'd put it on the table right in front. That was always present. In the movie he did not come across to me as being as dangerous as he was.

"There were times he would show up at Dave's (a cottage on the estate grounds) drunk, having fallen down or something, and Dave would patch him up, take him home, put him over his shoulder and put him to bed."

Dave and Mark's father, Phil, was once visiting Foxcatcher, and du Pont walked up to him out of the blue and said, "You — get out."

Then there was the time du Pont kicked the African-American wrestlers training with him off the team and the farm and out of the program. Saint Germain says he explained that black was an unlucky color.

Another time du Pont drove his town car into a pond on the property with an international wrestling official in the passenger seat. He once brought a psychic to Foxcatcher to describe the spirits there. He removed the treadmills from the gym because he was afraid their clocks were transporting him back in time. And he assigned wrestlers to find Nazi spies hidden in the trees on the grounds.

"You've got to get out of there," Saint Germain told Dave.

"I can handle myself," he said. "John knows I'm his friend."

On Jan. 26, 1996, Dave was tinkering with his car radio at his family's cottage on the Foxcatcher grounds when du Pont pulled in near him.

"Hi, Coach," Dave said.

Du Pont shot Dave twice. Nancy, Dave's wife, who was at the front door, told du Pont to stop. He pointed the gun at her, then back at Dave for the final shot. Then he drove off.

Saint Germain believes du Pont may have known Dave would be moving on after the '96 Olympics.

"I think he had feelings of love, hate, abandonment," she says.

The murder left Nancy, their son, Alexander, and their daughter, Danielle, without a husband and father. And 20 former Foxcatcher athletes were left without training or coaching six months before the 1996 Olympic Games. Nancy quickly founded the Dave Schultz Wrestling Club in March 1996, and it successfully sponsored the wrestlers through the Olympics.

Four months after Dave's murder, Mark competed in the 1996 Ultimate Fighting Championship, a controversial mixed martial arts event in Detroit, and won.

Represented by prominent lawyers, du Pont pleaded not guilty to murder by reason of insanity. Nobody put forth a motive. Jurors ultimately came back with a verdict of guilty and mentally ill. He got 13 to 30 years, becoming the richest American ever sent to prison for murder. At his final appeal, which Saint Germain attended, he was represented by Alan Dershowitz.

Saint Germain developed a tremor and lost her voice during the 1996 trial. Doctors said it was a post-traumatic-stress-like syndrome from the trauma. She has not regained her normal speech, but she still sings in the Rogue Valley Chorale.

"He kept coming up for parole every two years," Saint Germain says of du Pont. "Every time I would write a letter — a long letter."

Saint Germain doesn't think anybody knows what was going on in du Pont's mind.

"It's not clear in the movie," she says. "It wasn't clear at the trial. John never said."

Du Pont died in prison of illness on Dec. 9, 2010.

The Dave Schultz Memorial International wrestling meet is held annually at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., in honor of Dave. Saint Germain attends every year and will leave Wednesday for this year's event.

Reach freelance writer Bill Varble at varble.bill@gmail.com.

Jeanie Saint Germain talks about her son Dave Schultz and his relationship with the dangerous John du Pont. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell