We stayed in our car with our headlights off for a few minutes before meeting up with the others. It felt like one of those nights in high school, when you and your friends, with nothing better to do, would spend entire evenings parked on some suburban street and cruising for trouble. We were not in the suburbs though, we were in Brentwood. To our left was Paul Revere Middle School, a location that we would soon learn was a pivotal setting in one of the most widely publicized trials of all time, or, as our tour guide Adam Papagan would phrase it, "The last big media circus before the internet arrived."
The white van pulled up in front of us. We stepped out of the car and into the cold. Several other people, all in their twenties and thirties, waited to get into the van. "I'm guessing you guys are here for the same reason as us?" my friend asked sheepishly.
"Let me put it this way," said one man, "I'm wearing my gloves."
We loaded in. Papagan got into the front seat, put on a Madonna mic, and asked us if we were excited for the Super Bowl. So began the OJ Simpson tour—a macabre and homegrown operation in which, for $15, you too can recreate the brutal events that transpired between OJ Simpson, Nicole Brown, Kato Kaelin, and Ron Goldman on that fateful night of June 12, 1994. This would be Papagan's fourth time giving an official version of the tour, but he has been giving informal versions of it since high school. He inherited the tour from a friend of his family's, Stu Krieger, the screenwriter behind movies like The Land Before Time, and A Troll in Central Park. For years, Krieger gave the tour to visiting friends and relatives before passing it on to Papagan. The narrative would be laid out "as though OJ did it," said Papagan. A few people chuckled.
Like the rest of the passengers squeezed together in the van, Papagan was a child when the Simpson trial happened. He is also a Brentwood native, who, although knowledgeable about the case now, remembers it primarily as "Something the adults were going crazy about." Papagan's
tour is, in many ways, a nostalgic look at his own youth, and passengers are encouraged to see it through the same lens. We were invited to shout out any random thoughts or degrees of separation we had from the murder. (Apparently there had been a casting director in the last tour who had auditioned Kato Kaelin several times.)
While we waited for our final passenger, Papagan told us a little about the significance of Paul Revere Middle School. It was here, on June 12, that the entire Simpson family had gathered to watch OJ and Nicole's daughter Sydney perform in a dance recital. He pointed out the entrance to the school auditorium, where OJ and Nicole, who were on tenuous terms after the most recent of several separations, had put on game faces for the kids' sake. After the recital, OJ reportedly asked Brown if the group could all go out to dinner. Nicole had turned him down, saying she didn't think that was a very good idea, given the split. The scorn OJ felt from this rejection is believed to have been what incited his alleged plan to murder his ex-wife.
The final passenger got in the car. It was a young woman named Mallory, who Papagan knew. "Mallory actually has a special connection to the case," said Papagan, "she was actually in that dance recital. Mallory did not recall many specifics about the recital, given that she was six years old at the time, but did say that she "thought she remembered what her costume looked like."
As we made our way through the pricey neighborhood's sleepy streets, Papagan gave us some background on OJ and Nicole's relationship—one that he described as fraught with "some issues of domestic violence." We made it to the next stop—the Gretna Green condo.
The Gretna Green condo is in a two-story building built in the breezy pseudo-European style. It was bought by the Simpsons after their first separation so that Nicole could have a place to live away from OJ. It is from here that, in 1989, Brown placed a chilling call to 911 saying that OJ was going to kill her. Papagan pointed out a large window at the front of the condo where, allegedly, Nicole had at one point given oral sex to a man after realizing OJ was spying on her. The condo is also historically significant because it was the first Los Angeles home of Kato Kaelin, who OJ and Nicole had met in Colorado. Papagan was unsure as to how Kato had come to befriend the Simpsons, but noted that Brown was a housewife who had plenty of time to meet cool people like Kaelin.
After the Gretna Green condo sold, Brown moved to the Bundy condo where she would eventually be murdered. This new home did not have a guest house for Kaelin, but Brown offered to let him move into her second bedroom. OJ, who was not very good friends with Kaelin, offered to let him move into the guest house at his mansion instead. The move, postulated Papagan, was a jealous means of keeping Kaelin away from Nicole.
Since Kaelin was not allowed to move in with Brown and her kids, the family allegedly named their new dog after him.
We all agreed that Kaelin was our favorite OJ character. "At least something good came of this trial," Papagan said of, Kaelin's … career? He then pointed out a building to our right that used to hold the gym where Brown had met fellow murder victim Ron Goldman. There also, noted Papagan, was the very first Coffee Bean.
Next up was a Peet's Coffee, which used to be a subpar Italian restaurant called Mezzaluna. It was there that Brown dined on the last night of her life, and also there that Goldman worked as a waiter. Papagan's father had apparently been waited on by Goldman at one point; he remembered him being "cocky." After the murders, the restaurant became a popular tourist attraction. It was also suspected among locals to be a drug front—in the two years after Goldman's death, two other Mezzaluna waiters were also murdered. This, said Papagan, was the basis for one alternate theory to the idea that Simpson was guilty.
To our left, there was the Ben & Jerry's that Brown had taken her kids to for dessert after dinner. The next morning, when police found her body, there would be a melted cup of cookie dough ice cream nearby. "I used to go to that Ben & Jerry's too," recalled Papagan. "Pretty solid ice cream. Also, there's a Jamba Juice, which used to be Juice Club. You guys remember Juice Club?" None of us did.
Up ahead was also a McDonalds, said Papagan, where OJ had eaten with Kaelin right before killing Brown and Goldman. Simpson, allegedly planning on killing Brown, had supposedly gone home to tell Kaelin he was "going to McDonalds," so that he would have an alibi. Kaelin invited himself along. The two then ate a rushed meal at the restaurant before Simpson dropped Kaelin back off at home, which added an extra 20 minutes to his already rushed plan.
Next was a trip by Goldman's old apartment. "He had a pretty good life here," said Papagan of Goldman, who lived walking distance from his waitering job. His old building was nice enough, but big and impersonal. I have known plenty of struggling actors—who are paying more than they should for rent, because the illusion of affluence is part of what brought them to LA—who worked in restaurants exactly like Mezzaluna and lived in buildings exactly like Goldman's.
During his shift at Mezzaluna that night, said Papagan, Goldman had received a call from Brown—her mom had left some sunglasses there while they'd been in for dinner. Could he bring them by her place after work? Papagan then pointed out the staircase Goldman had apparently come down after taking a quick post-shift shower, before heading to out to do this simple errand for his friend.
We arrived at what Papagan said was his favorite part of the tour—the Bundy condo where the murders occurred. We were instructed to step out of the car. We all made our way up to the condo, which has had its address changed so that tourists will not visit.It is a generic, nondescript condo, and I recognized it immediately. The walkway also resonated with me as one of the more familiar images I had from watching the trial. There were the same tiles on which puddles and footprints of blood had been broadcast into my family's living room on a near daily basis for 134 days.
Retracing Simpsons's steps, we walked around into the alley behind the condo, where Simpson's Bronco had been parked. One thing a lot of people don't realize, said Papagan, is that there were two Broncos involved in the case: Simpson's, which contained drops of blood that had DNA from him, Brown, and Goldman; and Al Cowlings's, which was driven in the infamous car chase. Ford discontinued the Bronco the year after the trial. (This map traces the sites of the infamous white Ford Bronco chase a few days later.)
Back in the alley, there was the gate, which had, on the morning of June 13, been found smattered with blood that contained Simpson's DNA. On the concrete where the Bronco had been parked, change had been haphazardly dropped, possibly after Simpson took off the bloody track suit he had worn to both McDonalds and the murders.
Once back in the van, we pulled back into this parking spot so that we could exactly trace the route Simpson had allegedly taken post-homicide. His alibi that night was to be that he was on a flight to Chicago, so he had to quickly make his way back to the house, where a limo was waiting to drive him to LAX. During the trial, the prosecution faltered when the route they claimed he had taken from the crime scene to his mansion was proven unrealistic, given the time frame.
The route Simpson took, said Papagan, was along a winding side street that only a true Brentwood native would know about. We turned up a dark intersection. As we drove up to the site of Simpson's old mansion, Papagan emphasized the time crunch Simpson had been under: the trip to McDonalds with Kaelin had made Simpson late for his flight.
As we pulled up to the old Rockingham house property, Papagan recalled the 1998 demolition of Simpson's former home. Tourists had gathered not only to watch, but to take pieces of the rubble home with them. "Some people have the Berlin Wall, some people have OJ Simpson's house," said Papagan.
What was still intact was the tall gate over which Simpson had allegedly jumped, since walking through the front entrance would have meant being spotted by the waiting limo driver. During the trial, Kaelin would testify that he had heard this jump as a loud "thump" while he was watching The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Papagan then revealed that once, when he was in high school, there had been a private school party at the new house on this site. He and his friends had crashed the party by jumping over this very same gate.
As we all looked on at this last stop on the tour—where Simpson had emerged through the front entrance and gotten into his limo sweaty and breathless, Papagan asked us to consider that the Simpson trial had occurred before much had been made public about the effects of head trauma on professional football players. It was possible, he said, that brain injury may have driven Simpson to kill. "OJ was a victim too," he offered.
On the ride back home to Paul Revere, we reminisced about other stories that had played out on the grocery checkout covers of our childhoods: Lorena Bobbitt, Tonya Harding, JonBenét Ramsey. We all agreed that 1994 was a good year for gossip.
· Curbed Features [Curbed LA]