July 17, 1988, marks the day of the death of Frank Goodish, better known to fans as Bruiser Brody. For years, controversy surrounded his murder. With stories coming in from the likes of Dutch Mantel and Savio Vega, both who were present during the time of Brody’s stabbing, it’s hard not to ask yourself if the murder was a cover-up.
This edition of Pro Wrestling Stories not only looks into Bruiser Brody’s death but also celebrates his influence on professional wrestling, with testaments from the people who knew and were inspired by him.
Was Bruiser Brody’s death a cover-up? Dutch Mantel, who was at the scene, writes what he saw that day.
“It is already known that Jose Gonzalez was the man that stabbed and killed Bruiser Brody.
He pleaded self-defense, and partly due to a weak justice system in Puerto Rico, and partly due to the fact that nobody was at Gonzalez’ trial on behalf of Brody, Gonzalez was acquitted.
The controversy surrounds why the men that were subpoenaed never got to Puerto Rico to testify. Yes, it is true that certain wrestlers would not talk. But there were many who were very willing to talk.
Unfortunately, they never got their chance.
I arrived in Puerto Rico for a two-day run on a Saturday afternoon. After deplaning and collecting my bags, I made my way to the Lagoon el Canario, where I would be staying. The El Canario was a great hotel by Puerto Rican standards because they had cable with a remote and in-room air conditioning. That’s almost a luxury.
I met Bruiser in the lobby of the hotel where we were also to meet [Tony] Atlas. Bruiser told me that Tony had arranged a ride for the three of us with a guy who operated a local gym and who was a big wrestling fan.
After a few minutes, Atlas arrived and we departed for Bayamon Loubriel Stadium around 6:00 PM. The trip takes about 20 minutes so we were very early for the show.
Everything was fine; just small talk made in the car on the way over. We collected our bags from the trunk upon arrival and entered the stadium, headed for the dressing room. But, as we entered the dressing area, I felt tension in the air. I always felt tension in the air there, as it’s an extremely dangerous place to work. But that night it was really heavy. Don’t ask me why. I don’t even know. I just felt it.
As I entered, I was following Bruiser and I noticed Carlos [Colon] and Invader [Jose Gonzalez] sitting on a bench to my right. Invader was trying on his leather strap – that he wears on his arm – with his teeth. Neither spoke.
Thinking back on it now, I don’t believe any acknowledgment was made to Brody either. I followed Brody to the rear of the room, directly in front of the shower door.
There were other guys who were already there. The Youngbloods, TNT, Roberto Soto, and Castillo Jr. were in various stages of unpacking and getting ready.
I have always hated the dressing rooms, so I sat down briefly and, still feeling uneasy about the tension that I felt, decided to go check the crowd. The is a ritual with me; I always check out the crowd or arena when I get there just to familiarize myself with it.
Bayamon Stadium is a baseball stadium so I arose from my chair and headed through a tunnel to get to the field. It’s only about 100 feet through the tunnel, and I stood, watching the crowd file in for no more than three minutes, and I had not been gone from the dressing room longer than 5 or 6 minutes, at the most.
But when I returned, my eyes met horror.
The whole dressing room was chaotic. The first person I saw was Chris Youngblood. I asked him what had happened. He was almost hysterical as he said, ‘Jose stabbed Brody.’
I still did not know what he meant but as I looked deeper in the room, I saw Brody lying prone on the floor with several guys surrounding him. I thought that some guy named Jose had rushed into the room and attacked Brody. Everybody in PR is named Jose so I looked at Chris again and he said, ‘Invader – Invader stabbed Brody.’
It was bedlam in the dressing room. Now, everything started to move in slow motion. I remember walking over to where Brody was lying and just staring in disbelief. A doctor is always present in San Juan and he was crying. Brody was conscious and as I looked closer, I could see a stab wound about an inch long and deep with air bubbles escaping from it.
Much later, the doctor told me that meant that the blade had pierced the lung.
Brody was telling promoter Carlos Colon to take care of his family.
I didn’t see a lot of blood but, again, later I learned that he was hemorrhaging internally.
I believe that Bruiser Brody knew he was going to die.
This can’t be happening, I thought to myself. This can’t be real. But real it was. I am not a very religious person but I eased over in a corner out of everyone’s way and prayed for Bruiser. I then found myself looking through a plexiglass door which led into the shower. The door was kind of translucent plexiglass that distorted images somewhat, but I saw the Invader and Victor Jovica screaming at each other in the shower room. Noise was everywhere and I couldn’t make out what they were saying but even if I could’ve heard them, they were speaking in Spanish, (which they often do). But I could see that a struggle was in process.
Invader and Jovica were shoving each other. It seemed as though Invader was attempting to leave and Jovica was trying to stop him. Brody was still on the floor. The doctor was working furiously to do what he could to help him. A call went out for an ambulance. It seemed like an eternity before aid arrived. And they didn’t even get the call through official channels.
Victor Quinones called a local radio station and told them to broadcast that an ambulance was needed immediately at the stadium. A paramedic crew was eating at a nearby McDonald’s and heard the request on the radio.
Brody, by the time paramedics had arrived, had lain there for over 25 minutes. Atlas was in a state of shock as were the rest of us. While the paramedics were preparing Bruiser to take him to the emergency room, I witnessed Invader leave the shower, walk around the feet of Brody, grab his car keys and leave.
Finally, after what had seemed like an eternity, Brody was loaded onto a gurney to be taken out. Brody, by this time, had been down at least 40 minutes. The paramedics couldn’t lift him. I saw Tony Atlas, almost by himself, carry Brody up four or five steps and transport him to the ambulance. Tony went with Brody to the hospital.
At this point, nobody knew what to say or even what had happened. But I knew enough to stand back and observe the situation. Puerto Ricans basically didn’t like the American boys coming down there and taking the money that they felt was rightfully theirs. And since I was in the dark as to what happened, I was watching to see what would happen next.
Chris Youngblood told me that Invader had approached Brody and requested that he accompany him to the shower to talk business. He said that Invader’s hand was covered with a towel. Then he said he heard screaming and a commotion inside the shower and then seeing Brody stumble through the door holding his chest. Brody went down; he didn’t collapse but went down under his own control. That was just before I got back into the room.
The guys in the other dressing room knew that something had happened, but were kept in the dark as to what it was. Alas, by this time, had returned to the stadium and he kept saying that Brody was going to die. I told Tony to stop saying that, but Tony, by this time, was out of control completely. The whole situation was out of control.
Some Police Officers entered the room and Tony began to tell them what happened, but they couldn’t understand English. The strange thing about it though…they didn’t take it seriously.
They would smile and mutter to each other because they just thought it was another wild PR angle.
Time moved slow. Atlas was screaming by now. He was screaming at the cops who weren’t understanding a thing he was saying. He tried to enlist an interpreter to tell them what happened.
And then Invader reappeared.
Nobody knew where he had gone but I surmised that he went home, because he came back with a different shirt on.
He came right back as though nothing had happened and started conducting business as usual. He completely ignored Atlas, who looked wild by now, Atlas pleaded with several PR boys to translate but they’d look at Invader and walk away.
Finally, Roberto Soto said he’d interpret. It was to no avail. These cops grew up watching Carlos and Invader so, to them, they were big stars and they were just ordinary policemen.
I was on last that night and Atlas and I left the stadium and headed for the hospital that Brody had been taken to. El Medico Centro was the name of it and somebody had told me that it was the best medical facility on the island.
As we were walking into the hospital, I met the surgeon who had already operated on Brody. I asked him about Brody’s status and he just looked at me and said it was touch and go.
Brody never left the operating room.
They actually performed two surgeries that night. I always believed that if Brody had been in an American hospital, he would still be alive.
What Brody actually died from was a loss of blood. He literally bled to death on the table during the second operation.
When I got back to my hotel room, I told the desk clerk that if any calls came in for Brody, direct them to my room.
I couldn’t sleep.
I was staying with one of the midgets, the Irish Leprechaun. The phone rang. The little guy answered the phone and told me it was Brody’s wife. I looked at my watch. It was 5:00 AM. How would I say this without causing undue panic? I calmly explained to her that Frank had been in an accident and she should get to PR as quickly as she could. I told her that it was serious, but I thought he’d be alright. I hung up the phone.
Again, I looked at my watch. It was 5:20 AM.
Brody dies at 5:40 AM.
After the call, I could not sleep. I tossed and turned and finally, just got up.
I went down to the front desk around 7:30 AM and the girl on duty was an American from Chicago who spoke Spanish. I asked her to call the hospital and find out what room Brody was in. That’s when I found out he was dead.
No words can describe how I felt. The girl at the desk got tears in her eyes. She told me that she was sorry. I just went outside the hotel and sat down for a while. How could this happen?
While I was sitting there, Buddy Landell came over and asked how Brody was. It was all I could do to tell him and he said cut the BS. I guess he could tell by the look in my eye that I wasn’t kidding.
We were supposed to go to Mayaguez that afternoon, but I never even packed my bag. I knew that I wasn’t going. Miguelito Perez came to pick me up, but when I told him the news, he refused to go too. Most of the PR guys didn’t hear the news until they got to town that afternoon. But after they heard of Brody’s death, they refused to go to the ring. I heard that it was a sold out $25,000 house. They sent the fans home telling them that they could use the tickets next week. I don’t believe they told them the real reason why.
Later that afternoon we were all in Atlas’ room.
Present at the time was Atlas, myself, Spivey, Jaggers, Ron Starr, and Dan Kroffat. I had been waiting all day for somebody to contact me. But nothing seemed to be happening. I learned later that the WWC office was stonewalling information on the wrestlers’ whereabouts.
Atlas stated that we had to tell somebody. I then remembered the names of the detectives that the girl at the desk had given me when she made the call to the hospital that morning. Orlando Figueroa, Pedro Clanero, and Hector Quinones.
Atlas talked to one of the detectives on the phone and told him where we were. The detectives said that they’d be right over and they were, in about ten minutes.
They came into the room, asked a few questions, and then transported Atlas to Headquarters. Tony left the hotel around 5:00 PM. He did not return until 10:00 PM. I started to get worried about him, but when he came back he told them that they wanted to talk to me. Of course, I agreed.
The station looked like something you’d expect to find in El Salvador, hot and stinking, with no air conditioning and a big overhead fan. I told them what I had seen, and afterward signed a sworn deposition as to my testimony. I could only swear as to what I actually saw, but I did my part.
As I was leaving, I saw TNT and Miguelito Perez there. I didn’t ask them any questions and they did not ask me any either. So, I don’t know what their statements said. I was told by the detectives that Jose Gonzalez would be charged with first-degree murder and advised me that when the time for the trial came, I would be subpoenaed and transported back to PR to testify. They told me that airfare and hotel would be arranged for me and that security would be provided.
That’s what they said. However, that’s not what they did.
I was depressed when I left PR and even more so when I got back to Birmingham. If you’ve ever been to Birmingham, you’d know what I mean. I told my wife in detail everything that had happened. She told me that nothing would be done to Jose Gonzalez. I got mad at her. How could something not be done? I told her to wait and see.
I waited, and I saw that she was right.
I got two separate subpoenas for the trial. The first trial date was postponed. The second trial was scheduled for January 23-26, 1989. I still have my subpoena. It was issued 1/3/89 but according to the post date, it was not mailed until 1/13/89. That meant that it laid on somebody’s desk for a full 10 days. Remember the trial was to start on January 23rd? I received the subpoena on January 24th. I had already heard the verdict by the time I opened the subpoena.
I never heard from the detectives again, not even to this day.”
UPDATE: We had the opportunity to interview Savio Vega back in October 2015 where he opened up about being a witness to the murder of Bruiser Brody. Savio shared chilling details of what he saw and how he was approached by Brody’s killer José González in the bathroom after the trial. To hear Savio’s take, listen below (skip ahead to the 18 minute, 53-second mark):
Bret Hart on the Murder and Influence of Bruiser Brody on Professional Wrestling
“I had always been grateful to Brody for bucking me up with some kind words during my first months on the road with the WWF when Chief was riding me. The last time I’d seen him was during a chance meeting at the airport in Detroit. André [the Giant] rode on those airport trolley carts that zip around inside the terminals, so Jim and I hopped on. Coming around a corner, we ran into Brody, who laughed at the sight of us.
My last memory of him was his wave and his smile.
On July 17, Brody had been called into a dressing room in Puerto Rico by the booker, Jose Gonzales, who also wrestled under a mask as The Invader. Gonzales, whom I remembered from my time in Puerto Rico as an easygoing guy, stabbed Brody with a butcher knife and left him to die on the dirty bathroom floor. Supposedly, Brody had been a bully to Gonzales in the ring one time too many, and Gonzales snapped. All the wrestlers were too scared to help Brody, so they sat there for over an hour while he died. No wrestlers would testify against Gonzales because they were afraid that if they did they wouldn’t live long enough to get off the island! Gonzales used self-defense as an argument and was acquitted.
This was one of the most horrible things that ever happened in the wrestling business.”
Stan Hansen on Knowing Bruiser Brody Since High School
“The very first time I ever met Frank Goodish, I was a high school football recruit.
I’d gone to a number of colleges and I was being shown around West Texas State.
This guy who was a player for West Texas was showing me around, showing me the campus…and I said, ‘Well, I wanna see the dorm,’ and he says, ‘We’ll go up there later…’
He kept putting it off and putting it off…so finally I came back around and I said, ‘Well I wanna see the dorm room where I’m gonna live if I come here, y’know?’
So he stops at the door – it’s about two in the afternoon – and he says, ‘Now listen…when you come here, you got a roommate y’know…and you can’t control what the roommate does…’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I understand…’
So he opened up the door…and it was like there was a line down the middle of the room – his [side] was immaculate; everything was really nice, the bed was made, books are stacked and everything.
On the other side, there’s no sheets on the bed, clothes everywhere…and Bruiser Brody is just laying on the bed. Slowly he comes to. [My guide] says to him, ‘This is the High School recruit…’
Brody goes, ‘Urrrrrghhh…’ and just turns over. (Laughs)
That was the first time I ever met Frank.
We developed a great friendship after that.
He was a really good football player but…he ran afoul of the coach and finally got kicked out.
Later on, like 4 or 5 years later when I was in wrasslin’, I went down to Dallas. The booker there says, ‘You know, there’s another kid here that’s trying to break in…he went to West Texas too.’
I said, [lights up]’You mean THAT wild and crazy guy?’
And he goes, ‘No [it can’t be]…this guy is the nicest, quietest guy…’
‘No, no,’ I said, ‘Frank Goodish! He’s the one who…’
And I start going off a little bit on all these stories and [crazy hijinks] he did at West Texas.
The guy goes, ‘Nah, this guy’s different, this guy’s polite, he’s calm and everything…he’s over in the dressing room . Lets go over there…’
So we went over there and [sure enough] there’s Brody.
Brody was always 6″4, but when he played at West Texas he was 220 pounds. Now he’s like 300 pounds – he has really bulked up.
So here’s this big guy and he’s got this big curly hair and beard and everything…we shake hands and I said, ‘I was telling them how crazy you are…’ And he just doesn’t say anything, just [smiles, nods] ‘Yeah. Good to see you…’
When the [booker] leaves, Brody says, ‘Hey man, be quiet…I’m trying to get in the business – I don’t want them to know all that stuff…’ (Laughs)
The first two or three years [in Japan] I was constantly looking for a McDonalds or a Kentucky Fried Chicken. Brody was actually the guy who took me out and showed me the Japanese culture and nightlife after the matches. I got into all their great food and I adjusted to it.
I must say – and I don’t brag a whole lot – but I think Bruiser Brody and I were probably the biggest, most dominant, most feared, toughest tag-team ever in pro wrestling.
I’ll say that – and I’ll get arguments from the Road Warriors and some other people – but over in Japan it’s a completely different style, a much more physical arena to wrestle in.
We tried to come over to the States a few times together but people just couldn’t keep up with our style. [We were] basically blackballed in the States because we were so dominant. We had a hard time being accepted over here.
We were just at our peak. We were in such good shape that nobody could run with us, that’s all there is to it. That’s what made us dominant. We were both 300 pounds – of course, that’s almost small today – but back then, 300 pounds…[but] we wrestled like junior heavyweights and we never stopped. People just couldn’t keep up.
You know – biceps…you can kiss ’em, but legs is what’s gonna get you ’round. Especially at a pace like we did. That’s what propelled Brody and I. He had good legs, I had good legs. We’d run all over the building – from the top of the stairs down…we were having a great time, enjoying what we were doing. That’s what made us.
Brody was a teacher. I know he taught me. He taught many, many people in the wrestling world. Not only did he teach the wrestlers, he taught quite a few of the reporters and especially, he taught the promoters.
He will always live inside me. Because Frank taught me to stand up – to stand up for myself, no matter what anyone else thinks.
And as a team, I’m not ashamed to say, I always looked at us as ‘one’.”
Scott Hall Tells of Learning the Hard Way from Bruiser Brody
“I remember the first time I ever got hit by a folding metal chair was by Bruiser Brody in Kansas City.
It was actually me and Mr. Pogo against Brody. So Brody comes in the locker room and he looks at me – and I’m huge, you know? – and he goes, ‘I can have a good singles match with you – what are we having a handicap for?’
And I’m going, ‘I don’t know Mr. Brody, uh, I don’t have anything to do with the booking…’
So we’re having our little match and Brody is over like crazy – everywhere he went, particularly over in Kansas City. So we’re out fighting on the floor and he picks up a chair…and he holds it [up] for a second…and I’m like, ‘Huh..?’
And he just waffled me with it.
Later on, he went, ‘Hey kid…[next time] turn and give me your back, or you know, put your hands up…’
I was so green. I’d never been hit before by a chair so I didn’t know what to do…”
The Berzerker Tells About the Influence Bruiser Brody Had on his Career
“Bruiser Brody became a really good friend of mine about a month after I broke into Japan. He trained me, he broke me in. I was young and he was my mentor.
I think he did it because I treated him with respect, you know?
Brody didn’t like guys that were cocky. He liked ex-athletes; ex-football players.
He was a booker for the Von Erichs back in ’87 and he got me in there.
We worked against each other probably six or seven times.
The last time I worked with him was in Little Falls, Minnesota which was in June of ’88 – and Frank died July 3rd. We were talking to Vince [McMahon] then. Actually, Frank was talking to them. We were gonna go into the WWF as a tag team.
I was really excited about it, but then Frank got killed. So that yanked the rug on that.
To people who say I’m a clone of Bruiser Brody…I say it’s a compliment. Let me tell you something – he’s first, I’m second. Believe me.
Frank was the man.”
‘Hacksaw’ Jim Duggan Remembers Bruiser Brody and his Influence on his Career
“Bruiser Brody was really instrumental in my career. Probably the greatest big man ever in professional wrestling.
I didn’t really impersonate Brody, but I took a lot of Brody’s mannerisms. I tell the young kids in the business today that everybody’s gonna show you stuff…take something from everybody and work with what’s best for you.
Just a few basic things you learn…like as a heel when you’re beating somebody up and you throw ’em out of the ring – if you throw ’em out of this side of the ring, don’t get out of the same side – get out on the opposite side and walk around. As you’re storming around to get him the whole crowd is like, ‘Look out! Look out! Here he comes!’
Little things like that.
When I went to work with Bruiser Brody in a main event in the San Antonio territory I had developed the name ‘Hacksaw’, which is from my football days. I was pretty wild in college and I would always break the wedge, hacksaw my way through the wedge, hence ‘Hacksaw.’ I tried the name ‘Hacksaw’ Jim Duggan and it worked for me.
When I started, wrestling was dangerous, people [in the crowd] would punch you and kick you and I’m sitting in the back all bruised up and Brody told me, ‘Forget [things like] feathered boas and sequined robes…if you carry something to the ring, carry something you can use.’
Big Bruiser always used to carry that chain – so I’ve been carrying a 2X4 ever since. I’d come screaming and waving that thing and people parted like the Red Sea.
I traveled with Brody a lot. He was good for the talent – especially for someone like me, as a young guy breaking into the business. He would take no guff from the promoter.
When I was working with him in the main event at the Hemisphere arena in San Antonio he was having trouble with the promoter [over money]. We had probably 12-14,000 people at the arena.
We went out there, Brody sat down on his butt, I grabbed him in a headlock. For 20 minutes we just sat and headlocked…the worst match you would ever wanna see. The crowd was booing and throwing stuff in the ring. But from then on, Brody always got his money – because they could make him go to the ring, but they couldn’t make him wrestle.
Another time, I remember Jim Crockett was saying, ‘Everybody who comes to work Atlanta, Georgia to work, they better be in a sports coat and tie!’
But, you know, we’re a bunch of wrestlers who are on the road all the time…
We’re sitting around [in the dressing room]and all of a sudden you hear the crowd pop – here comes Brody through the front door, he’s got on a teeny-tiny sport coat he can hardly get on, he threw his bag in the ring, climbed in the ring, climbed out the other side and went into the dressing room that way. Brody would make an entrance wherever he went.
He was an imposing person, a huge guy. He was rough with people – if guys didn’t like what he did in the ring, he’d just beat them up. Whattaya gonna do if you get beat up in the ring? You can’t call a cop…
I’ve never been back to Puerto Rico since he was stabbed to death.
No one should ever be killed in this business.
I don’t know what actually happened there, but I swore I’d never work Puerto Rico again after that and I never have.
I learned a lot from Bruiser Brody. He was one of the greatest wrestlers ever.”
BRUISER BRODY on the Benefit of Wrestling Veterans Hanging on
“In every professional sport and perhaps every business…if everybody who reached the top bowed out [straight away], that particular business would suffer as an industry.
What you’re talking about is evolution of an athlete; evolution of a wrassler.
The only way that new wrasslers starting out today can ever reach the top is they must wrassle the guys on the top…to learn what the guys on top took 20 years to learn.
I don’t know if I can go back from wrassling main event back to wrassling in the first match [again]. I gotta say I admire the guys who can.
But I do know this…if that day comes, then it’s my obligation to give back to professional wrassling, and the new guys starting, what wrassling gave to me.
Now, if I bowed out at the top and said goodbye to professional wrassling – and everybody else did that, because they got a pocketful of money or for whatever reason – I don’t really know how the guys starting out would ever get [better].
They gotta wrassle against the [best] competition in the sport.
It’s no different than the guy who plays 5 or 6 years as an all-pro starting right guard for the Dallas Cowboys – and here comes the rookie in the camp and he beats the guy out of a job. Now, they still need this guy who was [there] for 5 or 6 years to back up this new man.
If the guy who was all-pro just gave it all up and said, ‘Well I’m not staying with the cowboys ‘cos I’m not first string’, I don’t think the cowboys could go on to be successful. They gotta have the experienced and seasoned ball players, the ones that have gone up here and they’re coming down there, and they gotta have a bunch of ball players who are just starting here. And it’s the same in professional wrassling.
So when I look at Bruno Sammartino or some of the other guys that people look at and say, ‘They’re not like they were ten years ago…’
Maybe they’re not. But they’re probably making a bigger contribution to wrassling today than they did back then.”
Due to his death, Bruiser Brody will never get the chance to make a veteran impact as discussed in his 1983 shoot interview but his contribution to professional wrestling continues to inspire to this day.
SOURCE: solie.org, ProWrestlingStories.com interview with Savio Vega, Bret Hart’s autobiography ‘Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling’, Highspots, In Your Head Online, ‘Wrestling’s Glory Days’ facebook page, RF Video, worldwrestlinginsanity, 1Wrestling with Bill Apter, realitychecktv, slam!sports, The Crowd Goes Wild, Bruiser Brody shoot interview- June 18th 1983
Some quotes used in this article compiled by Matt Pender and shared here with thanks to our friends over at ‘Wrestling’s Glory Days’ Facebook page