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From the Archives: Siege at Foxcatcher Mansion - Teamwork and Patience Net Millionaire Murderer
Author: John M. Eller
Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content
This year marks the 20th anniversary of millionaire heir John du Pont killing David Schultz on his estate on January 26, 1996, and his subsequent arrest after holing up in his Pennsylvania mansion for two days. This story was originally published in our Sept/Oct 1996 issue.
On January 26, 1996, a murder occurred in rural Pennsylvania that put the word "Foxcatcher" on the pages of the nation's newspapers and on the lips of television reporters from around the nation.
Foxcatcher is the name of a sprawling estate owned by millionaire John E. du Pont, heir to the chemical fortune, in Newtown Square, Delaware County, Pennsylvania. On this quiet Friday afternoon, it became the scene of a 48-hour standoff between police and 57-year old du Pont, accused of the murder of Olympic wrestling champion David Schultz.
The incident began at 3:00 PM with a phone call to 9-1-1 from a guest house on the Foxcatcher estate. The caller was Schultz's wife, who witnessed the shooting and identified du Pont as the suspect. The call was received at the Delaware County Communications Center (DELCOM), which immediately dispatched Newtown Square Police to a reported "shooting, actor fled." The first arriving Newtown Square officer reported a "man with multiple gunshot wounds, no pulse."
The shooting occurred at the guest house where 36-year old Schultz was living with his wife and children. Immediately afterwards, du Pont holed up in his mansion, nearly a mile away, refusing to come out. A security guard for the estate advised police that there were two employees working in the mansion, which led to hostage concerns.
Newtown Square is a suburban community, covering an area of ten square miles. The 13-member police department serves a population of approximately 12,000. Foxcatcher is an 800-acre estate containing Olympic training facilities, and officers had no idea where the suspect had fled. One of the first requests made by the Incident Commander, Police Chief Michael Mallon, was for a tactical unit. Ultimately, more than five different tactical teams responded as the detail wore on.
Delaware County, adjacent to the city of Philadelphia, has 40 individual police agencies which serve a total population of 548,000 and an area of 184 square miles. Because most of these agencies are small, many have combined personnel to form specialized tactical response units.
Once these units, under the direction of Springfield Township Detective (Paul) Andy Trautman, were in place around the mansion, municipal police and Pennsylvania State constables moved back to secure the outer perimeter. Police were aware that there were underground tunnels beneath the mansion, and measures were taken to insure that they were safely secured.
The tactical team had four initial objectives: the containment of the suspect, the release of the employees, affecting the arrest of John du Pont, and securing the mansion and vehicle for search. “The tactical team activation at du Pont’s estate was a nightmare come true,” said Trautman. “Due to the construction of the mansion and the surrounding terrain, containment was extremely hazardous to the tactical officers.”
Du Pont was an excellent marksman - in fact, during the 1970s he trained Newtown Police officers at a firing range on his estate. Police knew he had access to many weapons, owned an armored personnel carrier and a helicopter, so no one knew exactly what to expect, especially since, during phone contacts, he referred to himself as the Dali Lama.
40 tactical team members were on location within one hour of the initial call. "Never having worked together in such a large collective group, I was pleased to see how it all came together, functioning as a team," said Captain Rudy D'Alesio, Upper Darby Police. "As the commanding officer of a tactical unit, I was proud of the patience, discipline and courage displayed during those long, cold hours."
The first tactical unit was formed by Springfield Township Police Department (33 officers) and comprised 36 officers from eight different municipalities. They were relieved by a second tactical unit consisting of 16 officers from Haverford Township Police (60+ officers). The third unit was formed by 10 members of Upper Darby Township (100+ officers), while the fourth, known as the Southeast DELCO unit, was formed by Darby Borough Police (26 officers) and consisted of officers from approximately 12 police agencies from the Southeastern section of the county. In addition to Delaware County's four teams, a fifth tactical unit of 11 officers from Tredyffrin Township in neighboring Chester County responded.
In addition, District Attorney’s investigators were on scene, as was the FBI, Pennsylvania State Police, and the Newtown Square Fire Company. Eight paramedics from Fitzgerald Mercy Hospital, in Delaware County, and York County Hospital, were on location to prepare for possible injuries in case shooting broke out. Communications to coordinate all these units was provided by the Delaware County Communication Center's Mobile I command communications vehicle.
According to Bob Kropp, DELCO’s Communications Consultant who was called to the scene at approximately 6:00 PM, there were some technical problems that needed to be solved once the mobile command units arrived. The initial command center at Newtown Police headquarters was too far away from the du Pont mansion (4 miles) to conduct low power frequency transmitting and receiving. Therefore, the command center was relocated to Newtown Square Fire Station 1, which was much closer to the scene.
Communications were established with personnel on the scene through the use of cellular telephones, until it was discovered that cellular communications between the command post and the personnel on the scene were being monitored by the news media. This could have resulted in problems if police conversations were made public by the media and overheard by John du Pont inside his mansion.
Arrangements were made with the telephone company to run two communication lines from Mobile I, which was parked at the fire station. More radio frequencies were being utilized and it became more difficult for the Operational Commander, Lt. John Francis from Springfield Township, to coordinate the efforts of all the personnel involved, so a decision was made to bring in Mobile II, DELCO's tactical response communications vehicle. Upon its arrival, Mobile II acted as liaison command between the on-scene commander and the main command post at the fire station.
Temperatures began to drop and rain was in the forecast. A request was made for provisions. A US Army Reserve unit, located in Edgmont Township, supplied ponchos and tents while the Delaware County Emergency Training Center supplied cots. Food supplied by local merchants was prepared by the Newtown Square Fire Department Women's Auxiliary.
As commanders realized the incident would become an extended operation, additional contingencies were made. Because the du Pont estate contained an Olympic gymnasium which had a washer and dryer and extra sweat suits, tactical units who were relieved could wash their clothes and wear a sweat suit until their uniform was ready. (After the incident, du Pont’s lawyer claimed the sweats had been pilfered by police, but, according to Springfield Township Lt. Jack Francis, they’d been washed and returned to the estate afterwards). Since the gymnasium also had a kitchen, the Fair Acres Geriatric Center sent a chef to prepare additional meals.
At 11:15 PM on Friday, a member of the negotiating team made contact with John du Pont via the cellular phone of one of his employees, who was still inside the mansion. After that, communication between du Pont and negotiators was sporadic, complicated by the fact that telephone lines to the mansion had burned in an October fire and were never repaired. A crew from Bell Telephone was called in to repair them, accompanied by officers. Police feared the two employees were being held hostage, but they eventually left of their own accord.
During the first night, strategies were being planned and a decision was made to disable the mansion’s heating system, which would become a key factor in du Pont's capture.
On Saturday, an area was set up at a nearby fire station for the news media - which by then included national television news services. Within two hours of the initial event there were approximately 12 news reporters around the command center, and several remote broadcast TV vans. Bill Lovejoy, Delaware County's Public Information Officer, handled the news media, relieved by Lt. Lee Hunter of the Newtown Police Department. Ed Truitt, County Emergency Services Coordinator, and his assistant were on hand to coordinate all the emergency services on location.
At 4:00 on Sunday, while talking on the phone to negotiator Sgt. Anthony Paparo, Upper Darby Police, du Pont indicated that he was cold and wanted to get his heat fixed. Paparo made arrangements with du Pont to allow him to leave the house, unarmed, to fix the boiler. When du Pont left the mansion, he was captured by waiting officers.
Although the standoff lasted two days, there were no injuries to either the suspect or any police officers working the detail. The local community praised police for using patience and restraint in dealing with the incident. Although the media speculated that the incident was handled differently because the suspect was John du Pont, but the bottom line was that the operation was successfully carried out.
"One of the most important factors was the degree of professionalism and the interaction of the five teams,” said Chief Gary Hoover of Haverford Township. “Everybody worked well together on all aspects of the deployment, from command to negotiations and tactical units. It was an exceptional job done by all phases of the deployment."
Trautman had nothing but praise for the approximately 90 officers who worked the inner perimeter. “Team members displayed courage, professionalism and extreme patience despite the many challenges they faced,” he said. “The cooperation among the different tactical teams, in conjunction with the command staff and negotiators, brought the crisis to a conclusion without injury.”
John M. Eller is the former Police Chief of Brookhaven, Pennsylvania. In addition to being a certified Criminal Justice Instructor and Consultant, he served as our police columnist for many years.
Photos by Robert Boyden