Fans, Friends Look Behind Benoit Facade

Interviews have given Ballard, the district attorney, a better idea of who the Benoits were. But they haven't answered most of the questions.

"A lot of people who knew him are very complimentary of him," Ballard says.

He pauses.

"I wonder how well they knew him."

     * * * * *

Dinah Lawrence is a blonde-haired mother from Social Circle, Ga., who carries a metal casket on her keychain and a love of wrestling in her heart. She's made the hour-long trek here, to the Benoit house, with her 20-year-old son Chris.

They met Benoit more than a year ago, at the Mall of Georgia, when their hero was on a publicity stop. Most wrestlers shake a few hands and go on their way, Di says. Benoit was different. He spent 30 minutes with her, talking about everything from her studies to become a funeral director to the fact that her son shared his name.

It was one of Benoit's first public appearances since the death of his good friend Eddie Guerrero, who died in another Minnesota hotel room, at 38, of heart failure. Benoit told the complete strangers about his friend, and mugged for a picture. Lawrence brought a copy of the photo to the Benoit house on Thursday, along with a hand-written note that she placed near an action figure of Benoit.

"This is what I want to remember," Lawrence says as she stares at the picture. "The guy who was just … the guy next door."

When police discovered the bodies on Monday, it touched off tears, finger pointing and general confusion among wrestling fans. Monday night's WWE "Raw" broadcast was supposed to focus on the fictitious death of chairman Vince McMahon, whose limousine exploded in a television scene a few weeks ago. Could the grisly stories emanating from the Atlanta area be make-believe, too?

"I probably had 50 or 60 messages Monday," Mooneyham says, "and most of them weren't convinced.

"That line between fact and fiction is so blurred that fans don't even know."

The Benoit house is remote enough that cell phones spin from roaming to no service, but his fans keep coming. They leave potted plants, a smashed-up guitar, a baggie of uncooked macaroni. Near the gate is a note that says, "I love you."

Di's note fills an entire page.

"I'm so sorry you felt this was [the] solution to your problems …" it says.

Every couple of minutes, a man is seen through one of the first-floor windows. It's an investigator trying to piece together last weekend.

"He was like your best friend," Lawrence says. "It's hard to equate what happened in there with what we saw."

     * * * * *

The first three nights after Nancy Benoit's body was found, Jim Daus couldn't sleep.

He's been remarried for nearly 20 years now, and has a job in the real world marketing propane and natural-gas products. His work takes him on the road a lot. It almost seems strange -- years after Nancy was going places he couldn't, Jim's job takes him everywhere.

Nine years ago, scrambling to catch a flight in Chicago, he found a seat in the back of the plane, looked up and saw a familiar face. It was Nancy. They talked for three or four hours and reminisced. They had that kind of relationship, no bad blood, just laughs and memories and a little sadness. Jim has been to two wrestling matches since their divorce, and took his son there once. He hated it, and they've never gone back.

Now, wrestling is keeping him awake, bringing him more pain.

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