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Chris Benoit and Jake Shannon at the Cauliflower Alley Club Reunion
Chris Benoit and Jake Shannon at the Cauliflower Alley Club Reunion

The Chris Benoit Murders & Suicide: Exploring The Role of Head Trauma in Murderous Behavior

Jake Shannon - June 27, 2008
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I was completely shocked to hear of WWE wrestler Chris Benoit's death this weekend. I was even more shocked and utterly disappointed to hear that he murdered his wife and son as well.

Benoit was the only performer on WWE that drew my attention due to his technical wrestling prowess. I was really at a loss to understand the evil that Benoit perpetuated in the prolonged murder/suicide.

While the media seems to want to make steroids the scapegoat, it may not be the only driver behind his sickening behavior. There was an interesting article in the New York Times that suggested that head trauma may have a role The article is here.

In it, former WWE wrestler and Harvard graduate Christopher Nowinski makes the suggestion that concussions may be the reason and I completely agree. The deliberate nature of the murder/suicide (e.g., the prolonged acts, the placements of bibles next to the bodies, the sending of text messages to colleagues, etc.) do not lend themselves to "Roid Rage". Unfortunately, Chris was ultimately responsible for these atrocious acts, not anabolic steroids (this isn't to say unprescribed anabolic steroids aren't bad, because they are).

Head trauma is coming to light in modern neurological / criminal research as a primary cause of this type of evil behavior:

"In a similar case many years later, a head injury may have transformed a man into a serial killer. During an ocean voyage to America in 1945, Raymond Fernandez, 30, experienced a life-changing event. As the young man climbed a flight of steps to the ship's main deck, a hatch cover slammed onto the top of his head. Fernandez suffered a serious concussion and remained in a coma for a week. When he awoke, it was clear that he had undergone a personality transformation. Whereas before he was courteous, well mannered and displayed an even disposition, he soon became argumentative, quick to anger and difficult to control. Over the next few years, Fernandez may have murdered 17 women with the help of his girlfriend, Martha Beck. They were eventually executed at Sing Sing prison in 1951"

"Brain irregularities or physical trauma, such as head injury, may also play a role in criminality. Although research indicates brain damage can cause a sudden personality change, it is not true in each and every case."

And this:

"Another form of physical trauma linked to serial killers is head trauma."

"Gary was malnourished as a child, and he suffered at least one serious head trauma in elementary school, knocked cold in an accident that left him unconscious on the playground."

"Head injuries/injuries at birth: Head trauma is one of the most common patterns uniting serial killers."

"A history of head trauma or head injuries is one of the most strongly unifying aspects of serial killers. "Henry Lee Lucas, Bobby Joe Long, Carlton Gary, Ted Bundy, Charles Manson, Leonard Lake, and John Gacy have all had either severe head injuries, repeated head traumas, or damage that occurred during birth . . . Because the primitive brain is the most vulnerable to injuries occurring on the side of the head--because of the thinness of the skull at that point and the lack of internal fluid protection--individuals who have received sustained blows to the side of the head are often at risk." The neurological evidence suggests that the ritualistic patterns of serial murderers are actually mirrors of an abnormal electro-chemical process in the brain caused by head trauma. (Norris, 232)"

This isn't to say that anabolic steroids weren't a contributing factor in his behavior, I just find that it is a much more tenuous inference to make when the head trauma argument is both so persuasive and backed by significant research and evidence (For an interesting news story on the affects of anabolic steroids see this YouTube Link). The combination of mood-altering hormonal imbalance and head trauma are deadly.

Chris Benoit taking a steel chair shot to the head during a missed Flying Headbutt.
Chris Benoit taking a steel chair shot to the head during a missed "Flying Headbutt".

Chris Benoit made a living in an entertainment field well known for its steel chair shots to the head and flying headbutts (Benoit's finishing move done from the top rope for maximum impact) and his autopsy should include not just toxicology but a CT scan for possible brain damage incurred from "hardcore"-style wrestling as well.

When and if we open a pro-wrestling school, it will be straight-up wrestling (shoot-style professional wrestling and competitive catch-as-catch-can). No steel chair shots to the head, no pressure to look like a "body-builder", and no intentional head trauma. I think the only positive that can come from this sickening tragedy is if people are open to learning lessons from it (regarding domestic abuse, steroids, head trauma, etc.).