Police: Wiki Confession an 'Unbelievable Hindrance'

Authorities have seized computer equipment tied to posting about Nancy Benoit.

February 9, 2009, 10:19 AM

June 29, 2007 — -- A Wikipedia posting about the death of pro wrestler Chris Benoit's wife that preceded the discovery of the Benoit family's bodies has become a major obstacle in the murder-suicide criminal investigation, authorities told ABC News.

"It is unbelievable what a hindrance this has put on our investigation," said Lt. Tommy Pope, a spokesman for the Fayette County, Ga., Sheriff's Department.

"We've got to put a lot of effort and time into working to prove or disprove that someone put up a hoax situation or that somebody was conceiving the death from out of state," Pope said, adding that investigators have been flooded with tips regarding a Web posting that's very likely a bizarre coincidence.

Police have traced the Wikipedia posting and subsequent anonymous confession and apology to an IP address in Connecticut. Pope said local authorities there are working with his department and have seized computer equipment from the person responsible for the postings.

"We know who the person is," Pope said, adding that police wouldn't reveal his or her identity until early next week. By then they hope to have determined whether the person was implicated in what police earlier this week called a double murder-homicide.

If the person had knowledge of the death before police discovered the body, he or she could face criminal charges.

The anonymous Wikipedia poster confessed early this morning to changing the entry for professional wrestler Chris Benoit to mention that his wife was dead -- 14 hours before the police had even discovered the bodies of Benoit, his wife and 7-year-old son, Daniel.

The confession, which was posted on Wikinews, came from the same IP address, traced to Stamford, Conn., from which the eerie posting about the pro wrestler's wife was made, an administrator for Wikinews confirmed. The WWE is based in Stamford.

"I am not connected to WWE or Benoit at all in any way," the poster wrote, describing himself or herself as an "everyday" individual, confirming a Connecticut residency, and claiming that the prescient entry was an unfortunate coincidence.

"I hope this puts an end to this speculation that someone knew about the tragedy before it was discovered," the Wikipedia user wrote.

Wikinews is the user-generated news site that falls under the same nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation as Wikipedia, the user-generated encyclopedia.

ABC News attempted to contact a person identified in a Wikipedia entry about Naugatuck, Conn., that came from the same IP Web address that police are now investigating. That person flatly denied any involvement with the posting related to Benoit and his wife's death.

The original Wikipedia posting that touched off the controversy began at 12:01 a.m. EDT on Monday, June 25.

"Chris Benoit was replaced by Johnny Nitro for the ECW Championship match at Vengeance, as Benoit was not there due to personal issues, stemming from the death of his wife Nancy," the posting read.

The posting was confirmed to ABC News by Wikipedia spokesman Sandra Ordonez on Thursday. Ordonez said Friday that the company had handed over any information to authorities that might help their investigation, including the IP address.

The company didn't have the name of the poster, but revealed the original posting about Nancy Benoit's death was stripped 47 minutes after it was added to Chris Benoit's entry, Ordonez added.

A volunteer editor flagged the post and notified the Web site's management, Ordonez said, before the company notified the police.

The writer claims in the "confession" that as speculation grew about what "personal reasons" may have forced Benoit to miss scheduled World Wrestling Entertainment events Saturday and Sunday, he or she latched onto a rumor online about the death of Nancy Benoit and posted it as "fact" on the Chris Benoit Wikipedia entry.

The Benoit entry, which has been updated hundreds of times this week, is currently locked due to "vandalism."

While there are ways to scramble IP addresses, police are often able to trace exactly where Wikipedia entries originate. "Authorities are usually very effective at figuring out where that IP address came from," Ordonez said.

Police say that Benoit asphyxiated his wife Nancy Friday, used a chokehold to kill their 7-year-old son Saturday and hanged himself with a weight machine cord early Sunday morning.

World Wrestling Entertainment contacted authorities Monday after Benoit missed scheduled events Friday and Saturday. The wrestling organization said the wrestler canceled his appearance at a Sunday night championship match, saying his wife and son were suffering from food poisoning. On Sunday, the wrestler sent a series of text messages to two of his co-workers simply listing his address. In another, he wrote, "The dogs are in the enclosed pool area. Garage side door is open."

The pro wrestling group also made "several attempts to contact Benoit via phone and text message," but hadn't reached him as of 11 p.m. Sunday, according to a WWE statement.

The WWE, which originally posted the contents of the text messages, has since stripped them from the pro wrestling organization's Web site.

The IP address from which the first Wikipedia addition -- and subsequent confession -- was made has been flagged for "vandalizing" other Wikipedia entries in the past, including a racist edit about troubled NBA star Ron Artest.

Another entry was edited earlier this month, apparently from the same IP address, about WWE wrestler Chavo Guerrero Jr., a close friend of Benoit's and reportedly one of the two recipients of text messages sent by Benoit over the weekend before the bodies were discovered.

In that entry, the IP user stripped an explicit and damaging description from the Guerrero post.

Chavo Guerrero is the nephew of Eddie Guerrero, another friend of Benoit's and a wrestler who died of heart failure in 2005. While he was reportedly clean at the time of his death, the coroner later tied the heart failure to longtime drug and alcohol abuse.

Jerry McDevitt, a lawyer for the WWE, told The Associated Press Thursday that no one at the WWE knew that Nancy Benoit was dead before her body was found Monday. "I have no idea who posted this," McDevitt said. "It's at least possible Chris may have sent some other text message to someone that we're unaware of. We don't know if he did. The phone is in the possession of authorities."

Authorities, who have ruled the incident a double murder-suicide and still have released no motive, also confirmed Thursday that federal drug agents and sheriff's officials conducted an overnight raid at the office of Benoit's personal physician, Dr. Phil Astin, in search of medical and prescription records.

The search warrant was obtained by the Fayette County Sheriff's Department in connection with the Benoit investigation, according to Chuvalo Truesdell, spokesman for the department.

Benoit had been under the care of Astin, a longtime friend, purportedly for treatment of low testosterone levels. Benoit visited Astin Friday, the day police say he killed his wife. The doctor said that Benoit showed no signs of distress at their meeting.

Anabolic steroids were found in Benoit's home, leading officials to wonder whether "roid rage" may have played any role in the murders. Results from toxicology tests may not be completed for two weeks.

Fayette County District Attorney Scott Ballard said that empty beer cans were found in a trash can in the Benoit home and an empty wine bottle was discovered a few feet from where Benoit hanged himself.

McDevitt, the WWE attorney, has said that Benoit and his wife had been arguing over whether the wrestler should take time off to help care for their son, Daniel, who suffers from a rare medical condition called Fragile X syndrome.

Benoit did request and receive four months off from work in 2006 for personal reasons. "He was feeling depressed, that kind of thing," McDevitt said.

On Friday, Benoit's father spoke publicly for the first time. Michael Benoit said he could not understand what might have motivated his son to murder his wife and son and kill himself, but he's hopeful the toxicology reports might finally provide some answers.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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