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Teresa Carpenter





Viking
Hardcover 1997, paperback 1998.

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from "The Has-Been"

Brentwood was definitely not my neck of the woods. The conventional wisdom about this upscale 'hood was that it was a place where people air-kissed, compared implants and did lunch. During my stint in Beverly Hills, I discovered that the cliches were pretty much true. The hills north of Sunset were jammed with multimillion-dollar estates hidden behind many millions more dollars' worth of landscaping. All to create the illusion of privacy. The farther north you went, the higher you got into the hills, the streets became narrower, the street signs more obscure. I strained to find Rockingham Drive.

There was a cruiser parked up ahead, where a uniformed officer directed traffic. A few civilians milled around outside an iron security gate. Some of them had the nervous, unfed look of reporters. Still, the scene was not exactly bustling with activity. I got the impression that the main show had come and gone.

I slipped unnoticed past the press and through the gate, where I got my first look at the larger Tudor-style house overhung with old eucalyptus trees. The manicured grounds seemed to glow an unnatural shade of green in the midday light. In one corner of the lawn stood a child's playhouse. O. J. Simpson might be a has-been, I thought, but he must still be bringing in serious bucks to manage the upkeep on this place.

A white Ford Bronco sat nosed into the curb on Rockingham. Extending up the driveway from the rear of the vehicle was a trail of reddish-brown spots. The rust-colored droplets stopped several yards short of the house. The front door was open and in the foyer I could see more droplets. They appeared to be blood. Gingerly, careful to disturb nothing, I stepped inside.

Search warrant or no, it always felt weird to me to walk into the house of a stranger. But there's also a voyeuristic fascination: what a person chooses to surround himself with tells you a lot about him. This interior of O. J. Simpson's house was exquisitely appointed with overstuffed white furniture, Lalique glass, and Berber carpeting. And yet the place gave off a faint odor of mildew and neglect.

Beyond the living room lay the gleaming kitchen. Seated at the counter was Bert Luper, one of Phil's buddies from Robbery/Homicide. Balding, with tufts of curly hair rimming his head and bifocals perched at the end of his nose, Bert was an old-timer in RHD and one of the few black detectives in the division. He had an offbeat sense of humor, and the two of us always clicked. It was good to see a familiar face. Bert motioned me over.

"Tom and Phil here?" I asked him.

"O. J. showed up here, back from Chicago," he told me. "Phil and Tom scooped him up and took him downtown for questioning."

The house seemed awfully quiet. No one was doing any searching that I could see.

"Where's the team?" I asked.

"They left to check out the murder site, on Bundy." The criminalists, Bert explained, had done some preliminary work here collecting blood from the driveway and foyer; they'd return later in the afternoon, when Phil and Tom could get back to oversee things. Great, I thought. No wonder things are moving at a worm's pace. Still, I couldn't fault Phil and Tom for leaving the crime scene to interview Simpson. You get your best shot before a suspect has had the chance to learn enough, or collect his wits sufficiently, to compose a convincing lie. By this point Simpson was, at the very least, a potential suspect.

I was checking my watch, wondering whether to return to the office, when I noticed a couple of guys in sports jackets approaching. They had the unmistakable swagger of detectives. I was familiar with most of the downtown guys and I knew these weren't from Robbery/Homicide. They had to be from the West L.A. station, so Brentwood was their jurisdiction. The older of the two identified himself as Detective Ron Phillips. He introduced me to his companion, Detective Brad Roberts. We shook hands and they asked me whether anyone had shown me around the house. I was about to reply when a third detective joined the party. He was a real straight arrow, hair closely trimmed, shirt pressed a little more neatly than the others'.

"Marcia," said Ron Phillips, 'this is Detective Mark Fuhrman."

So much has been said and written about Fuhrman since then that it is difficult to conjure a pure and unbiased recollection of him. He seemed calm, professional, and on top of his game. He was not particularly personable. Normally in a situation like this, you lighten the morbidness with some banter. But there was none of that with Mark Fuhrman. Instead, as I think back on it, he was politely condescending.

It was Fuhrman, however, who seemed most thoroughly familiar with the facts of the case. And it was Fuhrman who ended up giving me the Grand Tour. He led me out the back door of Simpson's house which opened onto a patio and an impressive little grotto. Off to one side, a waterfall cascaded over natural boulders into a large amoeba-shaped swimming pool. To the south of the pool lay a Jacuzzi and three adjoining guest rooms. As we strolled, Fuhrman gave me a clear, no-bullshit account of the events of the early morning.

The guest house on the left, he told me, was where Vannatter and Lange had found a young black woman named Arnelle. O. J. Simpson's daughter by an earlier marriage. I remembered Phil had said she'd been pretty shaken up when he told her Nicole was dead.

Fuhrman himself hadn't interviewed Arnelle. He'd gone to the middle guest house, where he'd found a white male named Brian Kaelin, who, for some reason, everyone called Kato. Fuhrman awakened Kaelin at around six A.M. and began to question him about the previous evening's activities. Kato told him how he had heard "a thump" on his rear wall. The sound was so loud he thought it might have been an earthquake.

Fuhrman told me how he'd parked Kato in the kitchen to wait for Phil. Then, for my benefit, he retraced his own steps through the main house. I followed him past a large pool table and through a trophy room studded thickly with awards, plaques, and photos. We left by the front door. Then Mark turned left to an alleyway that cut along the south side of the house. I hadn't even noticed it when I first walked up the drive. We went through one metal gate, then another. Even on that bright, sunny day, the overhanging trees left the patch dark. The air back there felt damp. The ground was littered with leaves, dirt, and debris. When we got to the point where the back of an air conditioner overhung the path, Mark stopped.

"Here's where I found the glove," he said, pointing to the ground.

"So it was you who found it," I said.

"Yeah, it was lying right about here." He indicated a spot a foot or two in front of the air conditioner.

"You didn't pick it up?" I asked him, already worrying about the possibility that he might have carelessly contaminated the evidence. "No," he answered scornfully. "He knew what I was getting at. "I never picked it up. I left it there for the criminalist.

"I figure on his way down he must have run into this" - he indicated the air conditioner - "and he dropped the glove without knowing it."

It was past noon, and yet the pathway was so dim and isolated that I actually felt relieved to get back into the sunlight.

We checked out the pool house, which was outfitted with a kitchen and a room that could function as a bedroom. I stuck my head in and looked around.

"Sure as hell nicer than any place I've ever lived," I remarked. Fuhrman didn't comment. During this entire walk-through he'd refrained from small talk. Once I got used to it, I kind of admired the severe simplicity of his manner.

As we walked the lawn that sloped north toward Ashford, we came to a bronze statue of a man in football uniform. He was holding a helmet.

Fuhrman stopped in front of it.

"He got that when he won the Heisman Trophy," he said, as if it was something I should know. I sneaked a look at Fuhrman out of the corner of my eye. He was staring at that statue with unguarded awe.

I've thought about that moment often. How ironic: Mark Fuhrman, the man who supposedly lived and breathed to frame O. J. Simpson, stood beside me in that bright June sunlight, indulging in a moment of outright hero worship...

Copyright Lykart Limited, 1997.