Lawyer recalls John du Pont's 'grave condition'

John E. du Pont leaves a hearing after David Schultz's shooting death in 1996.
John E. du Pont leaves a hearing after David Schultz's shooting death in 1996.
Posted: December 11, 2010

For four decades, Taras M. Wochok had been both friend and attorney to John E. du Pont. He tended to his legal affairs, and was a regular visitor at the prison where the eccentric multimillionaire was serving his sentence for murder.

Wochok was there on Monday, in what would be du Pont's last week. "I observed a man who was in grave condition at that point," Wochok said. "When I left the hospital, I was not sure I would see him again."

Du Pont, 72, died Thursday morning at a prison in Somerset County, Pa., having spent nearly 15 years behind bars for the 1996 killing of Olympic gold medalist wrestler David Schultz.

An autopsy was completed Friday. It could take two months before the official cause of death is known, according to the local coroner's office. Wochok said du Pont had been hospitalized for a lung illness.

A great-great-great grandson of the founder of the Wilmington chemical company, du Pont grew up in luxury on a rolling estate in Newtown Square now known as Foxcatcher Farm. The estate's mansion is a replica of Montpelier, President James Madison's home in Virginia. It was also the scene of the murder.

But du Pont was an involved citizen in Newtown Township and a well-known, if unusual, figure before the crime. At the police station, for example, a plaque on a wall of the chief's office lists all who have served on the force. John E. du Pont is on the list.

"His name is there as a training officer," Police Chief Dennis Anderson said. The plaque lists du Pont as serving from 1970 until 1982, when he resigned from an honorary and unpaid position.

Anderson, a member of the Haverford Township Police Department at the time, was one of the first SWAT officers to arrive at the estate, which du Pont had fashioned into a world-class wrestling training facility.

It turned out to be a three-day standoff, with the heavily armed du Pont holed up in the mansion. Schultz, a 1984 gold medalist, was found lying in the driveway of his house on the estate by other officers. The motive for the slaying remains unclear.

Anderson, who was there all three days, recalled the cold rain and how officers used the wrestling training center as a staging area to nap on the gym mats. And he remembered the "uneventful arrest," when du Pont was tackled by officers after he left the mansion to try to turn on the heat, which had been shut off by police.

When arrested, du Pont had in the pockets of his sweatpants two sets of keys, a U.S. passport wrapped in a Russian cover, and a list of foreign embassies with "pre-programmed quick dial numbers," records show.

A list of the 14 guns taken from the mansion's "trophy room" included a small pocket derringer, a 9mm Luger, and a Winchester shotgun. There were also 20 boxes of ammunition and a laundry basket of Foxcatcher wrestling sweatsuits, socks, and T-shirts.

To police, du Pont was both a benefactor and a troubled man. He donated bulletproof vests, flew his helicopter on police business, used his armored personnel carrier at parades. He gave police access to indoor and outdoor shooting ranges for practice.

Dottie Jacobs, an administrative assistant with Newtown Township police, said du Pont was "very generous" to the police but "always had problems."

A former wrestler and coach who lived on the estate, Daniel Chaid, told police in October 1995 that du Pont had pointed a gun at him. Reports show police were called to the estate that night for two arsons.

"Those two fires were probably the start of it," Lt. Michael M. Savitski said of the events that led up to the shooting.

Wochok said there were "lots of attempts" to help du Pont, and acknowledged that his client was at times delusional. But the lasting memory of du Pont, he said, will be all the good he did for the community, citing the burn center at Crozer-Chester Medical Center and facilities for Villanova University and other institutions.

"Ultimately, he wanted to be just one of the guys. He wanted to be like the swimmers, he wanted to be like the wrestlers," Wochok said. But his wealth and social standing stood in the way. "I don't think he ever realized that," Wochok said.


Contact staff writer Mari A. Schaefer at 610-892-9149 or mschaefer@phillynews.com.

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