SI Vault
the Muscle murders
William Nack
May 18, 1998
When Bertil Fox, a former Mr. Universe, was arrested for double homicide last year, he became only the latest accused murderer among hard-core bodybuilders, whose subculture is a volatile mix of fragile egos, economic hardship and anabolic steroid abuse
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May 18, 1998

The Muscle Murders

When Bertil Fox, a former Mr. Universe, was arrested for double homicide last year, he became only the latest accused murderer among hard-core bodybuilders, whose subculture is a volatile mix of fragile egos, economic hardship and anabolic steroid abuse

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So builders try, through vial and error, to take up more and more space. "No matter how big they get, they're not big enough," says Klein. "Why? Because of the emaciated character of their egos."

This contradiction complicates a subculture already fraught with inordinate pressures and frustrations. There's little money to be made in bodybuilding, even at the top (first prize in the Mr. Olympia contest is $110,000) and some bodybuilders earn cash to live on and to buy their drugs by working as male prostitutes. For long periods they subject themselves to diets of agonizing deprivation: low-calorie, fat-free and sugarless. The drug use, meanwhile, has been out of control for more than 10 years—in the late 1980s, Christian said in the Flex interview, bodybuilders began growing bigger and more ripped—and today, according to one veteran, "it's chemical warfare out there." The war can be fatal. In '92, immediately following the Dutch Grand Prix bodybuilding event, competitor Mohammed Benaziza of France died of renal failure after overdosing on diuretics. Others have collapsed from dehydration.

Benaziza's death is one reason that competitors are tested for diuretics at a few pro events, including the Mr. Olympia contest and the Night of the Champions. Some entrants, however, have found an undetectable substitute for diuretics: an injectable starch that acts as a magnet for excess fluids and helps the body expel them. The International Federation of Body-Builders, the professional sport's governing body, does not test competitors for any substance other than diuretics, on grounds that random testing for steroids and other muscle-building drugs would be expensive and impractical.

"If you just do drug testing at the contest, it does not solve the steroid problem," says IFBB vice president Wayne DeMilia. "You'd need to test the athletes several times going into the contest, but, considering that our events include participants from all over the world, it's almost impossible to get official testers out to each athlete or get each athlete to specific testing sites." Perhaps so, but the IFBB and other event promoters can't be blind to the fact that steroids are essential to the kind of muscle development on display at pro competitions and that random in-contest testing would disqualify at least some of the participants.

The dangers of diuretics and steroids notwithstanding, this is the only world that bodybuilders care to know, and it involves them in an endless struggle for self-mastery and control. The gym is a monastery in which they live like giant monks. They have no control over the world outside the gym. They have no control over the men who judge the cut of their anatomical suits. But they have at least a sense of control over their drugs, their diets, their training regimens—and their mates. Bodybuilders, given their often troubled histories, have more than their share of problems with rejection.

"On the one hand they are masters of their destiny," says Klein. "They buy into their own mythology. Their bodies and their power and their being in control. It's false. They can't accept rejection. Their response often is rage. Women are particularly vulnerable to that rage. Bodybuilders buy into this hypermasculine lifestyle, and here they are with 23-inch biceps and they can't control a little woman? Deep inside they know they don't have the power. That's what makes it so devastating. Factor in the steroids and other drugs and the dieting and the competition, and you've got a tinderbox."

So Kimbrough, thrown over for another man, stabbed Ramsey. Riccardi shot Navarro after she rejected him. Killer Sally, as much the breadwinner in her household as her husband, killed him after his ill-timed return home on Valentine's Day. Then came Fox, who fit the bodybuilding profile perfectly. Born in St. Kitts, Fox moved to England with his family when he was five, and there he suffered what an old friend, Rick Wayne, calls "the belittling taunts of schoolmates who enjoyed nothing more than making his life miserable, who had targeted him for their worst practical jokes and bullied him mercilessly." Fox, who would grow no taller than 5'7", found his refuge in the gym. There, says Wayne, "bodybuilding had turned Bertil into a man's man even before he'd turned 17."

Fox competed all over the world. In 1980 he won the Mr. Universe title, one of bodybuilding's highest honors, and during the next few years he was at the apex of his sport. "Bertil was probably the best bodybuilder on the planet," says Peter McGough, the editor-in-chief of Flex, "but he couldn't, or didn't care to, get his act together on contest day. He would sometimes self-destruct as the contest drew near." In '88 Fox flew from London to Chicago to compete in a pro invitational. Upon arriving at his hotel, he was informed that his room wasn't ready. "He turned on his heels, went back to the airport and caught the next flight back to London," says McGough. "No other champion bodybuilder has ever done such a thing. When he self-destructed it was always somebody else's fault; he was the victim."

He kept to himself. "Fox was a loner even among loners," McGough says. Tross, his best friend since 1991, describes him as having "an adult body but...the mind of a 13-year-old. A very simple mind. He has very low self-esteem." He also had a history of violent behavior toward women. Several friends of Fox's and relatives of Leyoca's told SI that Fox had abused his late lover.

Bertil and Leyoca had been going together for two years when she broke off the relationship last summer. In late August, The Observer of St. Kitts-Nevis reported, Bertil had finished doing a cycle of injectable steroids when he took off for England, leaving Leyoca with the keys to his house. He reportedly called her twice from London, trying to win her back, but by the time he returned to St. Kitts, on Friday, Sept. 26, she had taken up with another man. Fox testified at his trial that he had discovered upon his return that his gun and bullets and the pouch in which he carried them were missing from his house. He said that on Monday, Sept. 29, he went to the dress shop to retrieve the items. (Contradicting that testimony, Tross later told SI that he saw Fox wearing the gun pouch on his waist on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.)

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