One of the worst aspects of these crimes was that so many people in the wrestling community were aware of it and did nothing for more than a decade.
1. Buck Zumhofe
Heather Zumhofe didn’t meet her father until she was 14 years old. He was a professional wrestler–Buck “Rock & Roll” Zumhofe–and children all over the midwest enjoyed his antics as he strutted to the ring with a boom box over one shoulder. He was never a star, working underneath for Verne Gagne and occasionally rising to the mid-card when called upon. Buck was a good enough hand that Gagne put the AWA world light heavyweight title on him and featured him in feuds with people like Bobby ‘the Brain’ Heenan and ‘Mr. Electricity’ Steve Regal.*
But when the show was over, Buck Zumhofe was something else entirely: a sexual deviant who preyed on young girls. And Heather was easy pickings–she was right there, living with him. The assaults started soon after she moved in, and continued for years.
In March of 2013, Heather filed a criminal complaint against her father for the abuse she suffered as a teenager.
“The abuse began when she moved into Zumhofe’s home in June 1999 in New London. The abuse began with his touching her breasts and then oral sex. Zumhofe also made her dance in front of him in bra and panties and watch pornography with him,” according to a report in the West Central Tribune. “After about two weeks, the abuse progressed to intercourse two to three times a day. In later years, intercourse took place two to three times a week until the woman left in June 2011.”
Heather’s criminal complaint alleged that approximately 1,800 separate acts of sexual abuse occurred during that time frame. In May of that same year, prosecutors in Kandiyohi County, Minnesota, had found enough evidence to charge Eugene Otto “Buck” Zumhofe with 12 counts of criminal sexual conduct.
Less than a year later, on March 5, 2014, Buck was convicted, found guilty of six counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and six counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct. The jury deliberated for four hours before returning its verdict. The next day, the 62-year-old Zumhofe was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
After the trial concluded, Zumhofe asked to go to the restroom. Once he was out of sight of court officers, he attempted to flee. A 25-year sentence must have looked like a lifetime in prison to the aging wrestler. But he didn’t get far. He was tackled by bailiffs and immediately dragged back before a judge, where he was charged with escape from custody.
Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer (subscription required) says Kandiyohi County prosecutor Jennifer Fischer was disgusted by the defendant.
“Fischer was appalled at the story, noting that one of the worst aspects of it was that so many people in the wrestling community were aware of it and did nothing for more than a decade …” Meltzer wrote. “During the period, he regularly brought his daughter on the road with him and she was part of the shows. Fischer noted that she was astounded that so many people within wrestling could see what was happening and nobody ever came forward to say anything. His daughter said she was afraid to say anything for fear of reprisals from those in wrestling.”
The worst thing is that Fischer was completely correct. The 2014 conviction wasn’t Zumhofe’s first.
In 1986, while holding the AWA world light heavyweight title, Zumhofe was arrested and charged with sexual misconduct involving a female minor in Texas. He was eventually convicted of fourth-degree sexual conduct with a minor and served 36 months in prison. Once he got out, however, he returned to the AWA, even reclaiming the light heavyweight title during a match televised on ESPN.
Zumhofe was released in 1989–a full 10 years before his assaults on his daughter began. The most disturbing thing about Buck’s penchant for violating underage girls was that people in the wrestling business knew.
As Gary Hart detailed in his autobiography:
“… I don’t know if he [Ken Mantell, the World Class booker at the time] didn’t know any better about Buck or if he just didn’t check people out before he brought them in, but Buck had a predilection for underage girls,” Hart wrote. “After Ken brought Buck in from the AWA, Buck was found with a young girl living in an abandoned farmhouse, which had no electricity, close to Ken’s place in Decatur, and he [Zumhofe] was eventually sent to jail.”
But even though Zumhofe might be one of the worst offenders when it comes to sexual assault, he’s certainly not the only one.
2. Bruiser Bob Sweetan
Four years after she divorced ‘Bruiser’ Bob Sweetan, Rebecca Carson learned the awful truth about her former husband. She’d known that he was into drugs, that he’d cheated on her with at least one other woman, and that he was miserable about paying child support. But she was unprepared for what her daughter, Candace, told her.
Candace confided to Rebecca that when she was 15 years old, her father had sexually molested her. Rebecca Carson immediately filed a criminal complaint against Sweetan.
Sweetan, born Robert Beier and later known as Robert Carson, was by this time a grizzled veteran making his final appearances in the wrestling business, working for Rip Tyler’s WOW promotion, based out of Mobile, Alabama. Slam! Sports’ Greg Oliver detailed how Sweetan was brought to justice. “Eventually, Sweetan was apprehended in Pensacola, Florida, and brought back to Texas in January 1990, where he faced the felony charge over the sexual assault and a separate charge over non-payment of child support,” Oliver wrote. “Six months later, on July 9, Sweetan plead guilty to the sexual assault. Instead of further jail time, he was a part of a new program that required him to stay in touch with authorities, stay away from minors, and continue to pay the child support.”
Sweetan didn’t live up to the terms of his deal, refusing to check in with Texas authorities. He was later deported to his native Canada.
Most people who knew Sweetan found the sexual assault charges easy to believe. Always a loner, Sweetan had a bad reputation as a locker-room thief and a bully.
“In the early part of my career, I was earning extra money by donning the striped shirt and refereeing,” legendary announcer Jim Ross wrote for Fox Sports. “One of the top villains in the territory was a 300-pound Canadian by the name of “Bruiser” Bob Sweetan. Sweetan, who later served a prison sentence in Texas, was a bully. During matches he “accidentally” bloodied my nose and on another occasion blackened my eye. He was the star villain and I was the rookie who felt that I could not protest. It was all a part of paying my dues … or so I thought.”
Instead, it was Sweetan taking liberties with a youngster, and it wasn’t the first time. But Ross had a friend in Danny Hodge, the multiple-time NWA world junior heavyweight champion, three-time NCAA wrestling champion, two-time Olympic wrestler and national Golden Gloves boxing tournament winner. After returning from a Japanese tour and seeing what Sweetan had done to Ross, Hodge took a measure of revenge for his young friend during a match with Tri-States Wrestling’s (the forerunner to Mid-South/UWF) top heel.
“Hodge had been bullied as a kid, and he wasn’t tolerant of such behavior. As fate would have it, Hodge wrestled Sweetan soon after his return. Hodge saw my black eye and was filled in by other wrestlers of Sweetan’s conduct regarding rookies and people the real-life villain could intimidate and bully,” Ross stated. “In the match with the 220-pound Hodge, Sweetan was humbled, physically gassed, and punished while being made to look far from invincible in his casting as the territory’s top antagonist. Ironically, the booking that night called for Hodge to lose, which he did.”
Hodge endured a verbal reprimand, but Ross says that Sweetan soon moved on after Hodge showed him up in the ring.
“Within a few months, Sweetan was out of the territory because few wanted to work with him, ride with him or associate with him outside of work,” Ross wrote. Ross’s thoughts on Sweetan were echoed by WWE Hall of Famer ‘Hacksaw’ Jim Duggan, who called Sweetan “just a mean guy and a bully.” Ed Wiskoski, a headliner in the Pacific Northwest and in the AWA–where he was known as Colonel DeBeers–referred to Sweetan as “an asshole.”
Exiled back to Canada, Sweetan suffered with arthritis, diabetes, and memory loss before dying in February 2017 at age 76.
3. Ken Wayne
Second-generation wrestler Ken Wayne lost his mask as part of one of the successful 1980s regional tag teams, the Nightmares. But a police task force used digital information to unmask Wayne as a sexual predator in 2014.
Wayne–whose real name is Kenath Dewayne Peal–was arrested Sept. 9, 2014 by officers assigned to the Tennessee Attorney General’s Cyber Crime Unit and the DeSoto County Sheriff’s Department. Investigators found Peal had numerous images and videos of child pornography.
As a singles wrestler, Wayne was successful as a junior heavyweight, holding the NWA United States junior heavyweight title, the USWA version of that title, and the WWC world junior heavy championship. But he’s best known for teaming with Danny Davis as the Nightmares, where they had a long and successful run in Tennessee and Alabama. The pair also worked as jobbers for WCW and WWE.
And if you were a fan of St. Louis or Central States wrestling in the 1980s, you may have seen Wayne in an unexpected context. While Satoru Sayama was setting Japanese wrestling on fire with his portrayal as Tiger Mask, some promoters in the United States found it much easier–and cheaper–to put the similarly sized Wayne under a hood as a version of Tiger Mask as well.
Wayne continued to make a living in wrestling until his conviction, running New Experience Wrestling and serving as a board member for Ohio Valley Wrestling. He was occasionally active on fan message boards like Kayfabe Memories, as well, answering questions and telling road stories.
He is currently serving five years in prison for possession of child pornography. Upon his release, he will be monitored by the state of Tennessee for 15 years, and will be required to register as a sex offender. He pleaded guilty to the charges, according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal. As a further part of his sentence, Wayne must also pay $1,000 to the Mississippi Children’s Trust Fund and $1,000 to the Mississippi Crime Victims Compensation Fund.
One of the most interesting aspects of the case: Wayne was actually operating a wrestling school in Arkansas at the time of his arrest. Immediately following his initial arrest, local media reports of his arrest did not connect him to his past career as a professional wrestler.
4. Hardbody Harrison
At one time, Hardbody Harrison’s claim to fame was being a part of a racial discrimination lawsuit against WCW. These days he’s a lot more infamous for what he did after professional wrestling.
Harrison Norris Jr. wrestled mostly as a job guy in the latter stages of WCW, but he was a legitimate tough guy, winning a Toughman Heavyweight Tournament in 2000. He was also a former soldier in the U.S. Army, as well as a police officer for a short period of time. But Harrison had a dark secret: He was a sex trafficker, keeping a string of at least eight women captive, split up among two properties he owned in suburban Atlanta.
His victims testified that Harrison earned their trust by bailing them out of jail or getting them off drugs with promises of a pro grappling career. During the trial, the women’s real names were never released to the public.
In November 2007, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported the following:
“One, who was given the name Lexi, testified that she was strung out when she met Norris at a gas station in Cobb County. ‘He asked me if I’d ever considered a job in professional wrestling,’ said Lexi, then 30. ‘Being on the streets, you get tired. This seemed like something positive in my life.’
“She moved in with Norris and was given a list of tasks to complete. One, called ‘HB Training,’ turned out to be sex with Norris.
“Lexi asked the other girls about the last item — called ‘CPT’ — but couldn’t get a straight answer. At the end of her first week, as she stood outside a home in Rabun County, she found out what it meant. It was time for her ‘cut party.’ As Norris and the others watched in the living room, Lexi had sex with three men.”
Lexi’s story was backed up by every one of the female witnesses called. Harrison used physical intimidation, threats, violence, and the specter of death to keep the women in line.
Norris was prosecuted under an anti-human trafficking law passed in 2000, which was designed to halt the flow of sex and labor slaves into the country, the law emerged as a weapon against trafficking that originates within the U.S., as well. Norris–who acted as his own attorney–was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for human sex trafficking.
There are many other stories of sex crimes in wrestling. Whether that’s Grizzly Smith raping his 13-year-old stepdaughter to produce the WWE Hall of Famer Jake “The Snake” Roberts–and Smith’s subsequent serial molestation of his daughter, Rockin’ Robin–or British wrestler turned TV presenter Jimmy Saville’s infamous molestation of hundreds of children.
As for Fabulous Moolah? We have that story covered here.
Nowadays it’s easy to fete Art Barr as a talented grappler tormented by his drug abuse and gone too soon, but it’s important to remember that Barr pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a woman in 1990, not too long before he came to WCW as the family-friendly character ‘the Juicer.’
However, none of them spent time in prison or jail for sex crimes the way these other four wrestlers did.
Each of these stories is a cautionary tale: a reminder that wrestling–especially as it once was–drew many marginal people toward its tawdry spotlight.
If you enjoyed this piece, be sure not to miss these following articles which delve further into the “underside of the ring”:
- Dino Bravo | His Shocking Death and Why He Was Murdered by the Mob
- Bruiser Bedlam – The Insane Crime Life of Wrestling’s Ion Croitoru
- Ludvig Borga – The Surreal, Shocking Life of Tony Halme
*The Steve Regal referenced here is NOT Darren Matthews, who would go on to be Lord Steven Regal in WCW and later, William Regal in WWE.