There are only a couple of things I remember about his trial, which I did not follow closely. (The first one.) I was at Kirby’s, my favorite local bar, for the very last time before I moved away from Wichita forever. Every TV station was showing the low-speed chase in the white Bronco. Everyone in the bar was riveted by it. Pretty sure that’s the first I’d ever heard of the situation.
Cut to a few months later, the next year. The trial is over, and they are about to read the verdict. I was at work that day, at my first telecom job in Miami. We had a TV turned on in the office, which was a rare thing. I remember being flabbergasted by the result. But people were saying it was a racial issue, that black people generally believed he was innocent. So I wasn’t as sure as I might have been.
When O.J.’s version of the book was announced, I was working at a big bureaucratic music company here in Nashville. If there was any shred of the O.J. racial divide left at this point, the book announcement obliterated it. Now the lines drawn were: pretty much everybody thought he was guilty, only conspiracy theorists thought he wasn’t.
I remember being astounded by the audacity of it. It was a running joke in my office for awhile. I was in the break room one day, and somebody said their sandwich had been stolen out of the fridge. I said, “It wasn’t me. But I have a new book coming out, called ‘If I Took It.’” I posed for my imaginary book’s cover: big fake smirk, my own sandwich held up high.
As a lifelong heavy consumer of shadenfreude, I can’t imagine why it didn’t occur to me to read this earlier. I’m not sure why I decided to read it now, even. It took only mild searching before I found a PDF that contains O.J.’s version of the book, which was squashed before publication by a combination of public outrage and financial pressure from the families of his victims.
The first two-thirds of the book isn’t very useful, except to establish what kind of guy we are dealing with. I have to admit, O.J. can be a smooth son of a bitch. His version of events is pretty cut and dried, and if you had no other information to go on, you might well find yourself believing it. O.J. himself is painted as a nice, normal, helpful, generous, fun guy. Nicole, after being a perfect partner for many years, turns into a crazy bitch who is making his life miserable, and jeopardizing the lives of his kids by doing lots of drugs, fucking everything in sight, and hanging around with a sleazy crowd. I had to actively fight him off at this point, to keep his version of events from becoming the canonical one in my head. He makes next to no mention of the constant mental and physical abuse he inflicted on her for the entire 17 years of their relationship. And he claims she cheated on him many times, but never once says anything about the many other women he was sleeping with while married.
Then we get to the chapter where he describes the murders. Oh my god, this is such a revelation. A veritable feast for those of us who follow the antics of people like O.J.
The author takes us up to the moment where he has confronted Ron and Nicole. He believes Nicole’s life is spiraling out of control, and he has come to scare her into straightening up, he says. He has a knife. O.J. has never seen Ron before, but he is convinced the kid is there for sex, to deliver drugs, or something else equally unsavory. Nicole’s dog wags his tail at the kid, so O.J. is convinced the kid has been there before. O.J. is enraged.
According to O.J.’s version of events, there is a fourth participant on the scene at Nicole’s house that night: an acquaintance of his who he calls “Charlie.” This person is very clearly a deus ex machina device. I don’t believe there was such a person, neither does the book’s ghostwriter, and from what I’ve read, it is a fairly standard thing for murderers who confess to create a person such as this. “Charlie” exists solely to tell O.J. that Nicole has been fucking O.J.’s friend Marcus Allen, the final detail that propels O.J. to Nicole’s house, armed with a knife. “Charlie” stands there helplessly, trying to pull O.J. back from the brink. His other deus ex machina duties are to be O.J.s sole living audience after the murders, and to conveniently dispose of O.J.’s bloody clothes.
O.J. takes us right up to the edge, but ultimately isn’t willing to describe the act itself. He claims he has no memory of it. Apparently, it’s not uncommon for this to happen to first-time murderers, suddenly overwhelmed with the gravity of what they’ve done. And he even implies that, heavens no, there’s no way he could have done that.
One minute he’s standing there yelling at Nicole and Ron, knife in hand, Ron starting to pull some “karate shit,” as O.J. describes it. The next minute, Ron and Nicole are dead in giant pools of blood, O.J. and the knife are covered in blood, but strangely, he just doesn’t know what happened. O.J. pleads with his imaginary accomplice: “Charlie, tell me what happened here!” Indeed, it’s a mystery.
After the murders, O.J. “bifurcates,” for lack of a better word. At some level, he knows damn good and well he killed them, but he’s not willing to admit it to himself. Too painful, and not at all in line with his own self-image. In his own sick and twisted way, I’m sure he really did love Nicole. He is genuinely remorseful about their deaths. He is genuinely sad that she is gone, and that his children will grow up without a mother. I bet if he had a chance to take it all back, he would.
In the following days, O.J. does a lot of things that make him seem more like a grieving ex-husband than a murderer. He is willing to talk to the cops for the first time without a lawyer present, defying those around him who say it’s a terrible idea. He writes what sounds a lot like a suicide note, and holds a gun up to his own head during the low-speed Bronco chase. He seems genuinely devastated by Nicole’s loss at the funeral. He agonizes over how his children are going to deal with the situation. He’s both the murderer and the murderer’s grieving victim. Holy cow, does that ever explain a lot. He tells the cops a version of events that, not surprisingly, does not include him murdering anybody, and does not attempt to explain the discrepancy with what we’ve read before.
Folks, if this isn’t the most chilling thing I’ve ever read, I don’t know what is. A unique, first-person glimpse into the mind of a psychopath. Has there ever been a book like this, before or since? Doubtful.
The families of O.J.’s victims were able to wrest control of the book away from O.J, and released their own version. It contains new material by Ron Goldman’s family, the book’s ghostwriter Pablo Fenjves, and Dominick Dunne. At only three bucks and change for the Kindle version, there is no way I wouldn’t buy it.
The best of the new material is the forward by Fenjves. He writes at length about the conversations he had with O.J., and his reluctance to speak about the murders. The oft-quoted, most shocking line: “I don’t know what the hell you want from me. I’m not going to tell you that I sliced my ex-wife’s neck and watched her eyes roll up into her head.” So, does that mean O.J. actually does remember the murders after all?
This was a fascinating, grisly read. I am going to be doing a lot of googling on the major characters in this drama for some time to come. How convenient for me that O.J. has yet another trial in the news right now.