BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – Minnesota wrestling legend Verne Gagne has been implicated in the death of a fellow nursing home resident, who died a few weeks after he was injured in an altercation with Gagne.
The incident was first reported by MinnPost.com. The Web site reported that both the 82-year-old Gagne and the man who died, 97-year-old Helmut Gutmann, were residents of the memory loss unit at Friendship Village in Bloomington and suffered from Alzheimer's-related dementia.
On Jan. 26, Gagne apparently threw Gutmann to the floor, breaking his hip. Gutmann's daughter, Ruth Hennig, told the Star Tribune of Minneapolis that her father died on Feb. 14.
No charges have been filed. Bloomington Police Deputy Chief Perry Heles said they are investigating an incident at Friendship Village, but wouldn't confirm the identities of those involved. An official at the home did not immediately return a call for comment.
Reached by phone, a Gagne family member declined comment. A message left at the office of the family's attorney was not immediately returned.
Gagne is a former wrestling champion who attained folk legend status in Minnesota. According to WWE.com, Gagne grew up in Robbinsdale and wrestled at the University of Minnesota where he won numerous championships and a slot on the 1948 United States Olympic team.
After a brief stint with the Green Bay Packers, Gagne turned to pro wrestling in 1950. He wrestled into the early 1980s, but as early as the '60s branched out into wrestling promotion and broadcasting through his work with the American Wrestling Association. He eventually became sole owner of the AWA, where he helped launch the careers of pro wrestling legends including Hulk Hogan and Jesse "The Body" Ventura.
Gutmann had a compelling life story of his own. Born in Germany in 1911, he fled the Nazi regime in order to serve as a captain in the U.S. Army's Chemical Warfare Service in World War II. For 40 years, he worked as a cancer research scientist at the Minneapolis V.A. Hospital. He was also a classical musician who played violin for the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra for 12 years.
Betty Gutmann, who lived at Friendship Village with her husband of 63 years, told MinnPost.com that she is sad and upset about the attack — but said those feelings are tempered by the realization that Gagne probably did not understand what he was doing.
"You can't blame the person that did it," she said. "[Gagne] doesn't know what he's doing. I feel so sorry for his family, because they are faced with a terrible problem of what to do."