Victims have nearly been forgotten

June 20, 1994|By San Francisco Chronicle

DANA POINT, Calif. -- In the beginning, Nicole Brown Simpson was drawn to her husband's fame. In the end, she was nearly obscured by it.

The vicious slaying of Ms. Simpson and her friend, Ronald Goldman, last week has been treated almost as a footnote in a wildly contorted tale that ended with the arrest of her ex-husband, O.J. Simpson, on national television. He faces arraignment on murder charges today.

But yesterday, the talk of a fallen hero gave way to the grim reality that a vibrant mother of two and a male friend had been slain by a fierce killer.

"My wife and I were just talking about the fact that people had forgotten about her [Ms. Simpson], and that it wasn't right," said a street vendor near Ms. Simpson's condominium. "O.J. was getting all the attention like he always had, just because he was a celebrity."

What emerges in interviews with friends and neighbors of Ms. Simpson is the portrait of a classic California girl whose teen-age love led to a fairy-tale existence that went awry as she grew into womanhood and became increasingly independent of a controlling husband.

Nicole Brown was the sunny homecoming princess at Dana Hills High School in Orange County when she met O.J. Simpson in June 1977. He was an NFL superstar at the height of his career and she was just a gregarious, 18-year-old senior. By her own account, they were practically living together within a year.

They married Feb. 2, 1985, and her entrance into the jet-set style of life began almost immediately. They lived in a $5 million mansion in Brentwood, and O.J. soon bought a $2 million summer home along the ocean in Laguna Beach.

Hertz paid for annual trips to Hawaii, where Mr. Simpson could promote the company. They skied at Aspen and Vail and drove around town in Ferraris.

"She was an extremely attractive, carefree woman who liked to drive fast in showy cars, and she hung out with people who liked to do the same thing," Christa De Young, a waitress at a Brentwood espresso bar, said of Ms. Simpson.

Mr. Simpson frequently went to New York, and eventually bought a million-dollar condo in Manhattan's Bristol Plaza.

In her 1992 divorce petition, Ms. Simpson said she dropped out of junior college to be available to travel with O.J. whenever he wanted.

Friends said he insisted on knowing her whereabouts.

While most public descriptions have focused on Ms. Simpson's cover-girl looks and affluent lifestyle, many say that she was a devoted mother who spent most of her time raising her daughter, Sidney, 9, and son, Justin, 6.

She was, by all accounts, a mother who doted on her children and lavished care and money on them.

"She bought flowers for one of her kids on the day she was murdered," recalled Monty Davis, a florist. "It was for a dance recital. She was just a nice person."

Yesterday, the children were staying with their grandparents in Dana Point. Family members said they have tried to let the children grieve in private and have gone out of their way to protect them from the media barrage surrounding the case.

"I feel sad for the real victims here -- I do not feel sad for Mr. Simpson," said Lois Skolar, who lives near Ms. Simpson's townhouse in Brentwood.

Indeed, Mr. Simpson's surrealistic run from justice in Los Angeles Friday diverted attention from the people hardest hit by the tragedy. And as prosecutors prepare to file formal charges today, the well-known picture of a smiling football superstar is beginning to fade into that of an angry, obsessed man.

Signs that the relationship between the Simpsons was more stormy than storybook were apparent in the 1989 police report that followed a frantic 911 call from Ms. Simpson to Los Angeles Police.

When police arrived at the Simpson estate, an obviously battered wife, wearing only a bra and muddy sweat pants, was shouting, "He's going to kill me!" She told police he had slapped and kicked her and complained to officers that despite numerous other 911 calls, "you never do anything about him."

When O.J. Simpson appeared in his bathrobe, he yelled toward his wife: "I don't want that woman sleeping in my bed anymore! I got two women, and I don't want that woman in my bed anymore!"

Shortly after, Mr. Simpson drove off in a blue Bentley, and several squad cars were unable to find him. He later pleaded no contest to spousal battery and was placed on two years' probation, fined $700 and ordered to perform community service.

A city domestic violence attorney later said Ms. Simpson told her that "it was only a matter of time before he killed her."

Even after the couple divorced in 1992, they continued to see each other, though Ms. Simpson attempted to put some distance between them. On the day of her death, Mr. Simpson and his former wife attended a dance recital for their daughter, Sydney. But family acquaintances said they were not as friendly as they appeared.

Although friend after friend swore that Mr. Simpson really was a warm and affable person, people who knew his ex-wife describe Mr. Simpson as a man of such unrelenting jealousy that even after the couple divorced, he allegedly would wait outside her house to see who was visiting her.

Acquaintances say she told him that there was no chance at reconciliation several weeks ago and that he had become enraged. "He was telling her girlfriends and her that if he ever caught her with anyone he would kill her," one said.

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