The murder-suicide of Canadian pro wrestler Chris Benoit of his wife and son was bizarre and shocking enough: Benoit allegedly strangled his wife and seven-year-old son the night of June 22, at his home in suburban Atlanta, Georgia.
But the story got even stranger when someone noticed that Benoit’s entry in the online encyclopedia Wikipedia had been amended to note the death of Benoit’s wife. This would not be unusual, except for the fact that the addition was made anonymously at 12:01 a.m., more than twelve hours before police found the Benoit family dead.
How was that possible? A posting by an anonymous psychic? Was the contributor somehow involved in the deaths?
Before anyone gets too carried away with conspiracy theories or prophecy, there are a few things to note. First of all, the Wikipedia entry did not predict Benoit’s killing of his wife or his child. It said: “Chris Benoit was replaced by Johnny Nitro for the [wrestling] match at Vengeance, as Benoit was not there due to personal issues, stemming from the death of his wife Nancy.” There is no mention of Benoit’s involvement in his wife’s death at all; in fact the entry suggests that the wrestler had the option to participate in the event but chose not to. The “personal issues” explanation for Benoit’s absence would seem to be something of an understatement given that he was dead.
Second, death rumors are among the most common types of rumors about celebrities and their families. Many popular performers (including Will Ferrell, Johnny Knoxville, Britney Spears and Brad Pitt) have at one time or another been the subject of erroneously reported deaths. According to the rumor mill, Mikey (from the Life cereal commercials) was killed when he mixed Pop Rocks with soda, and of course Bobby McFerrin (composer of the 1988 hit “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”) killed himself to end a suicidal depression.
Third, this incident shows how people will often overinterpret mere coincidences as much more meaningful than they are.
In Benoit’s case, the still-anonymous writer simply made a wild guess (and tasteless joke) based on rumors. The writer admitted, “Last weekend, I had heard about Chris Benoit no showing [at] Vengeance because of a family emergency, and I had heard rumors about why that was. I was reading rumors and speculation about this matter online, and one of them included that his wife may have passed away, and I did the wrong thing by posting it on Wikipedia [in spite of] there being no evidence. I posted my speculation on the situation at the time and I am deeply sorry about this....it is one of those things that just turned into a huge coincidence.”
There are probably thousands of other errors and literary pranks on Wikipedia, a few of which may turn out to be strangely prophetic purely by chance.
Another coincidence that spooked many people surrounded the 1991 death of Freddie Mercury, lead singer of the band Queen. In addition to his guitar work with the band, his bandmate Brian May scored music for films. One of the last films that May worked on before Mercury died was titled “Freddy’s Dead,” released in 1991. Spooky coincidence?
Actually, the answer is simple: While a Brian May did in fact score “Freddy’s Dead,” it was not Freddie Mercury’s famous bandmate but instead a lesser-known Australian composer of the same name. Plus, of course, the subject was Freddy Krueger, not Freddie Mercury. Another “spooky” coincidence debunked.
Benjamin Radford wrote about death rumors in the media in "Media Mythmakers: How Journalists, Activists, and Advertisers Mislead Us" (2003). This and other books are noted on his website. He shares his skepticism regularly on LiveScience.