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Where Are They Now? 10 Key Players in The O.J. Simpson Trial

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On January 24, 1995, opening statements began in the case of the People of the State of California v. Orenthal James Simpson, a.k.a. The O.J. Simpson Murder Trial. For more than eight months, the jury—and more than 100 million interested members of the television-viewing public—watched as dozens of witnesses, experts, and legal pros were paraded in front of the cameras, and turned into instant celebrities.

While some key members of the trial—including Simpson's prone-to-theatrics "Dream Team" defense attorney Johnnie Cochran and fellow lawyer/Simpson family friend Robert Kardashian—have since passed away, others have spent the last 20 years rehashing the events of the trial of the century. Besides being fictionalized in FX's new hit series, The People vs O.J. Simpson, what are they doing now?

1. BRIAN “KATO” KAELIN

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The most famous face of the O.J. Simpson trial (besides the defendant himself) might very well be Kato Kaelin, the sometime-actor who was staying in Simpson’s guest house at the time of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman’s murders and the man who initially served as sort of an alibi for Simpson, as the two drove to a McDonald’s that evening together.

Kaelin’s jokey, laidback, surfer dude persona turned him into a tragic-comic punch line at the time. The trial allowed Kaelin to extend his 15 minutes of fame into some bona fide (albeit tiny) cameos on MADtv and Mr. Show, plus a string of reality and game show gigs on Celebrity Boot Camp, Gimme My Reality Show, and The Weakest Link. In 2014, Kaelin told Details that today “my opinion is I think he's guilty.” He also took that time to promote his loungewear line, Kato Potato (now known as Slacker Wear), noting, “I really think this will be successful. But it's not clothing for superheroes. Everyone with a couch is a couch potato sometimes. Each piece has a pocket with a zipper for the TV remote, so you'll never lose it. There's also a pocket for Cheetos, Fritos, or Doritos.”

2. AL COWLINGS

Al "AC" Cowlings was a familiar name in sports circles long before he hopped behind the wheel of a white Ford Bronco and led police—and reporters—on a low-speed car chase along a California freeway. Ultimately, it was with Cowlings’ help that Simpson was eventually arrested. Though Cowlings always maintained that he was helping Simpson turn himself in, not flee, he was arrested for aiding a fugitive but never charged due to lack of evidence.

In 1997, records show that Cowlings filed for bankruptcy. And that white Ford Bronco? It was purchased by Michael Pulwer shortly after the civil trial for $75,000, who keeps it stored in an undisclosed spot but does make it available on occasion for rent or exhibit. “It’s well taken care of,” Pulwer told the New York Daily News in 2014. “It’s not on the street … I think someday, somebody will want to have it in a museum of famous or infamous cars.” 

3. FRED GOLDMAN

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Fred Goldman, Ron Goldman’s father, still stands as an example to the families of murder victims everywhere. Throughout the trial he was an eloquent spokesperson for the victims who couldn’t speak for themselves, and spent more than a decade pursuing civil claims against Simpson. The additional court time revealed even more details about the case and ended with Simpson being ordered to pay $33.5 million to the victims’ families, although Simpson has only paid a small amount of that. What money Goldman and his family have gotten has been channeled back into the Ron Goldman Foundation for Justice, a nonprofit organization they founded to assist crime victims. 

4. DENISE BROWN

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Nicole Brown Simpson’s sister, Denise Brown, was a powerful voice for victims of abuse. Her testimony about the abuse that Nicole Brown Simpson suffered at the hands of O.J. made for some of the trial’s most memorable moments. Brown, too—along with her late father, Lou—set up a foundation in her sister’s name to educate and raise awareness about domestic abuse.

In 2014, Brown penned an essay for TIME in which she detailed the pain she still feels, more than 20 years after the loss. “To this day, so many people continue to give me praise about the work I’ve done since Nicole’s murder,” Brown wrote. “The truth of it all was that I couldn’t stand how the ‘Dream Team’ was portraying Nicole, and at the same time, I also couldn’t stomach the thought of my sister being a victim. I wanted and still want people to really see my sister as a strong, vibrant woman.” 

5. MARCIA CLARK

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Marcia Clark was an L.A. deputy district attorney when she was tasked with taking on Simpson’s highly-paid “Dream Team” of lawyers. It was the kind of case that could make or break an attorney’s career, but Clark was no newcomer; in 1991, she successfully prosecuted Robert John Bardo for the murder of My Sister Sam actress Rebecca Schaeffer. And while the outcome in the Simpson trial wasn’t in Clark’s favor, it did help her to discover a new passion in life—writing. In 1997, Clark co-authored Without a Doubt, a book about the Simpson trial, with Teresa Carpenter. She has since written four novels (with a new one coming out in May) and often appears on television as a legal expert in high-profile cases. “Writing novels and being in the courtroom—it's a storytelling job, no matter how you look at it,” Clark told Oprah in 2013. “It's the same thing.” 

6. CHRISTOPHER DARDEN

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Clark’s partner in prosecution during the trial was Christopher Darden, who famously asked Simpson to put on one of the bloody gloves found at the crime scene. This led to Johnnie Cochran’s famous declaration: “If the glove doesn't fit, you must acquit.”

Shortly after the end of the trial, Darden left the district attorney’s office and was appointed as an associate professor of law at L.A.’s Southwestern University School of Law. In 1999 he founded his own firm, Darden & Associates. As recently as 2012, the Simpson trial outcome was clearly still weighing on Darden’s mind when he stated, during a panel conversation at Pace Law School, that he believed Johnnie Cochran tampered with the evidence. “I think Johnnie tore the lining,” Darden told the crowd. “There were some additional tears in the lining so that O.J.'s fingers couldn't go all the way up into the glove.” 

7. MARK FUHRMAN

Mark Fuhrman was the LAPD detective who investigated the Brown Simpson-Goldman murders. After stating that he found two bloody gloves that he believed were worn by the murderer, Fuhrman entered Simpson’s property without a search warrant, allowing the defense to claim that Fuhrman could have planted evidence. Further questioning of Fuhrman led to him being accused of racism, all of which resulted in a perjury conviction. But Fuhrman has found much success since the conclusion of the trial; in 1997 he wrote Murder in Brentwood, a bestselling book about the trial, which he followed up with several more popular true crime novels covering everything from the JFK assassination to the death of Terri Schiavo. In a 2010 interview with Oprah, Fuhrman said that if he could say one thing to Simpson today, it would be that, “I know you didn't mean to kill two people, and you didn't go there for that, and it wasn't a first degree murder.”  

8. LANCE ITO

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Though much of a judge’s work is done out of the spotlight, overseeing the Simpson trial made Judge Lance Ito one of its most familiar faces. He even inspired a Jay Leno sketch: The Dancing Itos. Because of the divisive nature of the case, Ito earned both cheers and jeers for his handling of the evidence, particularly as it related to Mark Fuhrman. Though he rarely spoke publicly about the case, Ito—who now administers the appointment of experts in death penalty cases—changed the game for high-profile cases like Simpson’s when he allowed cameras into the courtroom.

9. ROBERT SHAPIRO

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Like so many other key people in the O.J. Simpson trial, lawyer Robert Shapiro, who successfully defended Simpson, eventually wrote a book about the case—The Search for Justice: A Defense Attorney’s Brief on the O.J. Simpson Case. Also like so many other members of the legal teams on both sides, he shifted his focus shortly after the trial ended—in Shapiro's case, from criminal defense to civil litigation. He also co-founded the online legal site LegalZoom.com, as well as ShoeDazzle with Kim Kardashian, the daughter of his former colleague Robert Kardashian.

10. O.J. SIMPSON

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Finally, the most famous face of the trial: The defendant himself, a retired pro football player turned commentator and actor. Though Simpson was found not guilty of the murder of his estranged wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and waiter Ronald Goldman in 1995, two years later he was back in court facing a wrongful death charge in a civil suit brought about by the victims’ families, where he was ordered to pay $33.5 million in damages.

Over the next decade, Simpson ran into a number of other legal troubles, ranging from suspicion of ecstasy possession and money laundering to speeding through a manatee protection zone. In 2007, Simpson led a group of men into a hotel room at the Palace Station hotel in Las Vegas in order to steal some sports paraphernalia that Simpson claimed belonged to him. On December 5, 2008, he was sentenced to 33 years in prison. In 2013, Simpson was granted parole for some of his crimes but will remain in prison until at least 2017.

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How a London Tragedy Led to the Creation of 911
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In trouble? Pick up the phone and call 911. According to the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), 240 million 911 calls are made each year. But if it weren’t for a house fire and a group of angry Brits, the system might not exist today.

Though 911 is an American staple, its origins are in England. In 1935, there was no such thing as an emergency phone number, and phone calls were dependent on operators who connected people to exchanges or emergency services when necessary. England did have emergency fire call points, but they didn’t use telephone technology—instead, they relied on the telegraph, which was used to send a signal to fire departments from special boxes [PDF]. There were police call points, too, but they were generally unstandardized and inefficient, since police didn’t have a way to receive emergency calls while on their beats. Instead, officers would check in during their rounds at special police boxes, like the one you probably recognize from Doctor Who.

But all that changed after November 10, 1935, when a fire broke out at the home of a prominent London surgeon, Philip Franklin, at 27 Wimpole Street. As the blaze tore through the building, five women sleeping on the upper floors—Franklin’s wife and niece, as well as three servants—became trapped. A neighbor, Norman MacDonald, heard their screams and promptly picked up the phone to dial the operator. Nobody answered.

“It seemed entirely futile to continue holding on and listening to ringing tone, which awakened no response,” he later wrote. A neighbor went to a fire call point and firefighters soon arrived, but they were unable to save the five women.

27 Wimpole Street, London, as it looks today
27 Wimpole Street, London, as it looks today
Eden, Janine and Jim, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The tragedy sparked a national inquiry—and outrage. Two years later, London unveiled a new service: the emergency number 999. Officials thought it would be best to choose a number that was easy to find by touch on a rotary dial, and rejected a number of other options, like 111, that might be triggered by equipment malfunctions. (It wasn’t unusual for lines rubbing together and other technical glitches to trigger a 111 call; 222 was already in use by a local exchange, while 000 would have just contacted the operator after the first zero.)

The new number wasn’t immediately embraced. Of over 1000 calls made the first week, nearly 7 percent were pranks. And some members of Parliament objected, saying it would be easier to just install an emergency button on phones instead.

A New York City police officer takes an emergency call from his car in the 1960s
A New York City police officer takes an emergency call from his car in the 1960s
John Pratt/Keystone Features/Getty Images

The United States had a similar system of police telephones and signal boxes, but like the UK it lacked the technology to quickly and effectively call authorities during emergencies. In the 1950s, the National Association of Fire Chiefs, inspired by the UK’s system, requested a national emergency number, and by 1967 the FTC was meeting with AT&T, the nation’s largest telephone company, to hash out a plan.

The first 911 call in the United States—a test call made from a mayor’s office—was made in Haleyville, Alabama in 1968 [PDF]. The numbers 911 reportedly made the grade because they weren’t in use for any existing phone exchange, and were catchy and easily remembered.

As the service rolled out nationwide, police and fire departments struggled to keep up with call volume. Despite the success of the program, New York police, in particular, reported being strained and having to hire more officers.

It took a long time to implement the system. Only 50 percent of the United States had 911 service as of 1987, according to NENA. Today, coverage is still not universal, although it’s close: 96 percent of the country is currently covered.

The evolution of telephone technology has brought new challenges, however: The FCC estimates that a full 70 percent of calls now come from cell phones—and given the mobility of mobile phones, that’s a challenge for dispatchers and phone companies. The 911 system was built for landlines, and cell phone GPS systems don’t always transmit data quickly or accurately. Plus, the proliferation of cell phones has led to a spike in accidental butt dials, which tie up the line and can prevent real emergencies from getting the attention they need. Still, we've come a long way from the days of sending telegraph messages inside boxes.

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The Barnes Mystery: A Twisted Tale of Maids, Murder, and Mistaken Identity
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The Barnes Railway Bridge
Garry Knight, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

In the late 1800s, Park Road was a quiet part of Richmond on the outskirts of London. Julia Martha Thomas, a retired schoolteacher, made her home there in the left portion of a semi-detached villa known as 2 Mayfield Cottages. It was a typical English house, two stories high and surrounded by a garden. For the most part, Thomas lived there alone; occasionally, she took on servants like the Irish-born Kate Webster, whom she hired in January 1879.

Three months later, Thomas was nowhere to be found. But her servant had seemingly come into a great deal of wealth.

AN UNSAVORY MAID

The Daily Telegraph would later describe Webster as a “tall, strongly-made woman ... with sallow and much freckled complexion and large and prominent teeth.” Unbeknownst to Thomas, her new maid's resume was far from ideal: She'd first been imprisoned for larceny in her native Ireland at 15 years old, and had lived a life of petty crime ever since. By the time she was 30, in 1879, she’d served multiple sentences for theft.

During one of these sentences, an 18-month stretch at Wandsworth prison in West London, Webster had put her young son in the care of Sarah Crease, an acquaintance and charwoman who worked for a Miss Loder. When Webster filled in for Crease one day, Loder recommended her to Thomas, who she knew was looking to hire a servant.

Webster got the job on the spot, but the relationship between Thomas and the young woman quickly became strained. “At first I thought her a nice old lady,” Webster would later say. But Thomas’s cleaning standards were strict—too strict—and she would “point out places where she said I did not clean, showing evidence of a nasty spirit towards me.” Webster’s love of drink, which she nourished regularly at a nearby pub, The Hole in the Wall, also failed to impress Thomas.

On February 28, after around a month of work, Thomas wrote in her diary that she “gave Katherine warning to leave.” When Webster asked Thomas to extend her employment through Sunday, March 2, Thomas begrudgingly agreed. It was a fatal mistake.

BLOODY SUNDAY

Sundays were half-days for Webster, who was expected at 2 Mayfield Cottages in the late afternoon. Dawdling too long at the ale house, Webster arrived late and Thomas went to church agitated. It was the last time she was seen in public.

That evening, Thomas's landlady's mother Jane Ives, who lived in the other half of the villa, heard a sound “like the fall of a heavy chair.” Ives and her daughter also noticed housework being done quite early the next morning.

The next two Sundays, Mrs. Thomas—a devout Christian—failed to show up for church. Webster, however, seemed to have a new lease on life. She soon met with Henry Porter, a former neighbor from when she had lived in Hammersmith, to share some news. Saying she had married a man named Thomas and spinning a tale of a wealthy dead relative who had left the contents of 2 Mayfield Cottages to her, Webster said she was looking for a broker for the items.

She wined and dined Porter and his son Robert at a local pub, leaving briefly to visit a friend who lived nearby. When she returned, both Porters noticed the heavy bag she had carried into the pub was nowhere to be seen. Robert Porter later helped her carry a heavy box from 2 Mayfield Cottages to a nearby bridge, where Webster said that a friend was coming to come pick it up. As Robert walked away he heard a faint splash, but as Webster caught up with him she assured him that her friend had picked up the container, and he continued on his way.

Several days later, Henry Porter introduced Webster to John Church. In the market for new furniture for his pub, Church offered Webster 68 pounds for an assortment of furnishings. They scheduled delivery vans for March 18.

A HORRIBLE DISCOVERY

The splash the younger Porter had heard was indeed the heavy box he'd helped Webster carry as it hit the river. But it didn't spend long in its watery grave. A coal porter who discovered it near the Barnes Railway Bridge on March 5, a few miles downstream along the Thames from where Webster had let it slip, was horrified to discover the mangled contents: a woman's torso and legs, minus one foot.

The relatively primitive forensic techniques of the day couldn't identify a body without a head, and an inquest failed to establish a cause of death. That a woman's foot shortly turned up in the nearby suburb of Twickenham was little help; police readily concluded that it belonged to the same body, but whose? The unidentified remains were buried in a local cemetery, and the press began buzzing about the "Barnes mystery."

Meanwhile, by the time Church's delivery vans arrived on March 18, Thomas had not been seen for two weeks—and her neighbors had grown suspicious. The younger Miss Ives went to investigate the vans, and was told that a “Mrs. Thomas” was selling her furniture. When “Mrs. Thomas” was summoned, it was none other than Webster, who Ives knew was Thomas’s servant. Webster told Ives that Thomas was away somewhere—she couldn't say where, exactly—but the game was up. Webster panicked and fled with her son, traveling by train to her family home in County Wexford, Ireland. Meanwhile, the police were summoned.

When authorities searched 2 Mayfield Cottages, they discovered a grisly scene: There were blood stains everywhere (some showing signs of cleaning), charred bones in the kitchen grate, and a fatty substance behind the laundry boiler. They also found Webster’s address in County Wexford. The criminal was hauled back to Richmond, and a trial began on July 2, 1879.

The trial turned into a major spectacle, and crowds gathered both inside and outside the courtroom. Webster’s social position made her crime especially salacious—not only had she committed a gruesome murder, but she had attacked her betters. And she was a woman. According to Shani D'Cruze, Sandra L. Walklate, and Samantha Pegg in Murder, “Victorian ideals of femininity envisaged women as moral, passive, and not physically strong enough to kill and dismember a body." Webster's crime had put the lie to those ideals.

Initially, Webster accused Church and Porter of the crime. Though police did find Thomas’s belongings at Church’s pub and home, both men had solid alibis and were cleared. Webster then said an ex-boyfriend, a “Mr. Strong”—whom she occasionally claimed was the father of her child—had driven her to crime. But despite her attempts to shift blame onto others, Webster was eventually convicted of killing her employer.

The night before her execution, she finally confessed to the priest: “I alone committed the murder of Mrs. Thomas.”

According to Webster, she and Thomas had argued when the latter returned home from church. The argument “ripened into a quarrel,” and Webster “threw [Thomas] from the top of the stairs to the ground floor.” Then, Webster “lost control” and grabbed her victim by the throat in an attempt to silence any screams that could alert the neighbors and send her back to prison. After choking Thomas, Webster “determined to do away with the body” by chopping up the limbs and boiling them in the laundry tub.

Legend says Webster attempted to sell the fat drippings from Thomas to the proprietress of a local pub, and even fed them to two local boys, but neither rumor has ever been substantiated. But Webster did burn some of Thomas’s remains in the hearth, and divided much of the rest between the heavy bag she had carried into the pub and the box. Running out of room, she also disposed of one of Thomas’s feet in the nearby suburb of Twickenham. She never revealed where she hid Thomas’s head.

Webster was executed on July 29, 1879. “The executioner having drawn the cap over her face, retired from the scaffold,” read a broadside detailing Webster’s sentencing and execution. “The unhappy criminal was launched into eternity.”

A SURPRISE IN THE GARDEN

The Execution of Catherine Webster at Wandsworth Gaol
The Execution of Catherine Webster at Wandsworth Gaol, The Illustrated Police News
Wikimedia // Public Domain

Thomas's story has a strange modern twist. In 2009, English broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough bought the vacant pub next door to his house. The building was the former home of the Hole in the Wall, Webster's favorite watering hole, which had closed three years previously.

As contractors were excavating the site to build an extension on Attenborough's property, "they saw a ‘dark circular object,’” according to The Telegraph. That object turned out to be a human skull—one missing its teeth and with “fracture marks consistent with the fall down the stairs and low collagen levels consistent with it being boiled,” an investigating officer told West London Coroners Court. According to a local coroner, there was “clear, convincing and compelling evidence” that the skull belonged to Julia Martha Thomas.

The discovery came too late for the murdered woman, however: Since records of her body’s precise location in Barnes Cemetery were lost, her head wasn’t laid to rest alongside her (its exact whereabouts are somewhat unclear). Though a disappointing ending for a woman who liked things neat and tidy, the Barnes Mystery, at last, was entirely solved.

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