Fans, Friends Look Behind Benoit Facade

The house, by most appearances, is immaculate and perfect. The fireplace, the wooden deck, the private staircase climbing up to a little boy's room. The circle driveway and the red Hummer.

When fact blurred to fantasy, Nancy Benoit never told people this, that in high school, all she really wanted to be was a housewife. Now her house is where the story ends and the spectacle begins.

It takes a good navigational system to get to the Benoit home, past a gravel road, through a narrow two-lane spin with tall Georgia trees on both sides. Gawkers have inched by for days, peering through the metal gate for answers. A woman rolled in from North Carolina the other night, reeking of alcohol, firing a volley of "why's" as a neighbor went to get his mail. She allegedly pelted him with rocks and wound up in jail.

"It's certainly surreal," says Fayette County district attorney Scott Ballard. "I've used the word bizarre. There are so many bizarre things about it."

The why might never be answered -- why Chris Benoit, wrestling superstar, alleged family man, apparently murdered his wife on a Friday, strangled his son on a Saturday then wrapped a cord from his weight machine around his neck and hung himself on a Sunday.

Because they lived in a world of scripted storylines, flying clotheslines and outlandish ring names, it took nearly a day for some WWE fans to believe that Benoit and his family were actually dead. Some still can't swallow it.

But fiction, those close to the case will say, could not trump the reality on Green Meadow Lane.

Ballard sits in his office across town at 5:30 p.m., after office hours because the Benoit case has evolved into a round-the-clock, breaking-news buffet of Geraldo and Greta proportions. Before Monday, Ballard had no idea who Benoit was. Maybe, he says, nobody really did.

He's describing how rigormortis had set in by the time they found Nancy, whose skin was marbleized as she lay face-down on the floor. He's remembering his walk into Daniel's room -- the 7-year-old boy's body was gone, but posters of his dad still hung on the wall, and two toy wrestling belts sat on a shelf.

There was every indication, Ballard says, that Daniel Benoit adored his father.

"I pray for two things," Ballard says. "That he didn't know about his mother's death and he was asleep when he was strangled.

"I don't think anybody can give me a why for that little boy being strangled that would satisfy me. I will never understand that."

     * * * * *

Jim Daus was headed out to dinner Monday night when a call pierced his steeply-planted world.

Nancy was dead.

Before she was "Woman," before she graced the covers of wrestling magazines and was drooled over by teenage boys, Nancy Benoit was Nancy Daus, a Florida girl who dropped out of high school to marry her boyfriend Jim.

They were high school sweethearts, kids with no money and little to do, and on Sunday nights, Jim grabbed his girl and whisked her to Orlando to watch wrestling. It was new for Nancy, whose protective parents at first didn't let her go. But he had front-row seats, and the couple was lured by the drama, the machismo, the circus.

"How would I describe it? Male soap opera," Daus says. "You follow the storylines like you'd watch a soap opera on TV. It builds, and you have to wait 'til Monday to find out the next chapter."

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