O.J. had been in his room at the O'Hare Plaza Hotel for less than an hour when, at 7 a.m. Chicago time, a Los Angeles police officer phoned to tell him that Nicole had been murdered. O.J. then made about 10 calls from the room, including at least one to a woman believed to be Barbieri. According to witnesses at the hotel, O.J. was frantic as he checked out and rushed to a Hertz car for the ride back to the airport.
The moment he returned to his house on Monday morning, Simpson was greeted by police and handcuffed. Attorney Howard Weitzman, who had represented Simpson in the spousal-abuse case, arrived and prevailed on the police to un-cuff him. But speculation thereafter zeroed in on his involvement.
Los Angeles, which hasn't enjoyed a celebrity scandal of this magnitude for decades. was seized by the grim entertainment value of this affair. Here was a man, in his prime a remarkable athlete, whose remaining talents were minor except for the ability to make people like him. He had distilled the essence of affability and somehow marketed it. And suddenly police were leaking details, a steady stream of them, which allowed much of the public to build its own case of murder against Simpson. Enough camera crews staked out Simpson's house—called the Simpson mansion in all the news reports but actually modest by L.A. celeb standards—that catering trucks parked on Rockingham Avenue and did a nourishing business in tuna melts and burritos. Any civilian who walked his dog along South Bundy Drive was considered to be trolling for reporters; mutts sniffed aimlessly at their owners' ankles while TV reporters did their stand-ups.
More details of the investigation were leaked to the media, nearly all of them tightening the net on Simpson, whom police nevertheless initially refused to name as a suspect: A bloody glove found at the crime scene matched one found at Simpson's house; some of the blood spilled at the crime scene, where Goldman was said to have put up a "fierce struggle," matched Simpson's type; there was blood found on his clothes, possibly in a washing machine O.J. might not have known how to operate. Such details, if accurate, suggest this was far from a perfect crime.
Then the police, who to that point had been methodical in their handling of the case, bungled Simpson's arrest. With one of crime history's most highly visible suspects in their sights, the police lost track of him for all of a night and most of a day.
O.J., who had been sequestered in his house for much of the week, went to Nicole's funeral last Thursday morning and, to all appearances, returned that afternoon under heavy security. To the watching media he was apparently the man shielded from reporters by a long coat as he entered his front door between a pair of other men. However, police later learned that the man being shielded was a decoy—and that an off-duty L.A. officer, who was earning side money working on Simpson's security detail, was one of those carrying out the ruse. This only compounded the police's embarrassment: a cop helping to hide a man about to be named in two murder warrants whom the rest of the force would not be able to find.
Robert Shapiro, who became Simpson's attorney after Weitzman, citing his friendship with Simpson and pleading a heavy workload, gave up the case, would later say that on Thursday night and early Friday morning, Simpson was at the house of a friend in Encino in the San Fernando Valley. Told on Friday morning that warrants had been issued for Simpson's arrest, Shapiro arranged for a surrender at police headquarters. At that time, in addition to Shapiro and Simpson's lifelong friend, Al Cowlings, a former journeyman NFL defensive lineman (page 27), there were two doctors tending Simpson at the Encino home, one for the depression Shapiro said Simpson was suffering from. But Simpson missed the deadlines set by the police for his surrender. Their patience exhausted, the police dispatched a car to the address in Encino that Shapiro had given them. However, according to Shapiro, when two officers arrived to make the arrest, Shapiro discovered that Simpson and Cowlings had disappeared while he had been in an upstairs room conferring with the two doctors.
In an angry press conference, a police spokesman, Comdr. David Gascon, declared Simpson a fugitive, and all of Southern California went on red alert, with airport officials and border patrols advised to watch for him. Shapiro then held a press conference to say that Simpson, in addition to being a fugitive, was suicidal. He said that Simpson had drafted two codicils to his will and had written three letters, one to his mother, another to his children and a third to the public. A man identified as a Simpson friend, Robert Kardashian, then went before the microphones to read the letter addressed to the public. In it Simpson began by saying, "First, everyone understand I had nothing to do with Nicole's murder." He ended by saying, "Don't feel sorry for me. I've had a great life, great friends. Please think of the real O.J. and not this lost person. Thanks for making my life special. I hope I helped yours." In the letter Simpson singled out golfing buddies, former teammates and other friends and offered a special message to Barbieri that said, "Paula, what can I say? You are special. I'm sorry, I'm not going to have, we're not going to have our chance. God brought you to me, I now see. As I leave, you'll be in my thoughts."
Less than an hour later a motorist reported to police that he had spotted a white Bronco in Orange County, 60 miles south of Simpson's Brentwood house, and officers from several police agencies began pursuit. After Cowlings, who was driving, warned police over his cellular phone that Simpson had a gun to his own head, the authorities ushered the Bronco along freeways and surface streets.
Bystanders flocked to the freeways on which the Bronco was traveling, hanging signs that said GO O.J., among other cheerful greetings. Drivers honked horns in a celebratory manner. Pedestrians, driven mindless by so much history at hand, ran onto the freeways. Friends of the accused, some of them in tears, went on TV and radio and pleaded with Simpson to surrender peacefully. It was a strange procession, this run up the middle, black-and-whites following behind, the armada of helicopters tracking the suspect. Simpson and Cowlings motored on at a polite pace, reaching Simpson's house shortly before 8 p.m. There, after a 50-minute standoff during which Cowlings could be seen gesturing furiously, Simpson left the car and entered his house. He was allowed to use the bathroom, call his mother and drink a glass of orange juice, and then he was taken into custody—arrested for the double murder of his ex-wife and her friend. Cowlings was arrested, too, for allegedly aiding and abetting a fugitive, and then released on $250,000 bond.