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The Bad News Bearers:
The Most Difficult Assignment in Law Enforcement

(Released May 2009)

podcast link 
  by Emil Moldovan  


Key Citations



Case History O.J. Simpson/Louis & Juditha Brown/
Ronald Goldman


In their book on the O.J. Simpson case, Evidence dismissed - The Inside Story of the Police Investigation of O.J. Simpson, Los Angeles police homicide detectives, Tom Lang and Phillip Vannatter describe the notifications they made on June 13, 1994 following the discovery of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. The detectives wrote they were ordered to respond to the residence of O.J. Simpson during the early morning hours to make a personal notification and have Mr. Simpson take custody of his two children, who had been removed to the local police station while the crime scene was being processed. Upon their arrival at the residence, they failed to get a response to their ringing from the front gate.

After observing additional blood evidence at this scene, the four detectives (Tom Lang, Phillip Vannatter, Ron Phillips and Mark Fuhrman) decided to enter the residence by scaling the locked front gate to check on Simpson's welfare. Once inside the grounds, they located Simpson's daughter, Arnelle Simpson, who resided in one of the guest houses. The detectives learned that Simpson was in Chicago, having flown the previous evening from Los Angeles. Detective Ron Phillips obtained the telephone number of the hotel where Simpson was staying and called his room, informing him of Nicole's murder. At approximately 6:21 a.m. that morning, detective Tom Lang called the residence of Louis and Juditha Brown and made the death notification over the telephone. Since O.J. Simpson and Nicole Brown Simpson were legally divorced, Nicole's parents were the primary next of kin who would make critical decisions pertaining to property and funeral arrangements, and should have received the first notification. The logic Detective Lang used for making a telephone notification instead of sending a police officer (or one of the four homicide detectives present at the scene) to their home was his concern that they might learn of the death via radio or television coverage due to extensive media presence at the crime scene. By 6:30 a.m. the morning of June 13th, notification via telephone was made to the Brown family. Ron Goldman's family was not notified until much later in the day.

Nicole Brown Simpson
Nicole Brown Simpson in 1993
Generally, no official death notification should be made to the next of kin, or other family or friends, until the identity of the victim is fully confirmed. There have been numerous incidents documented where the identity of a person was assumed, only to discover later that the buried body was misidentified.2

Lang and Vannatter noted in their book that they returned later that same morning to the crime scene where the bodies of Brown and Goldman were located. The coroner's investigator, Claudine Ratcliffe, arrived around 9:10 a.m. and together they walked through the crime scene. When they located Nicole Brown's purse in her bedroom, they found her driver's license and U.S. passport and made the "official" identification. Lang and Vannatter did not confirm Nicole's identify before making the death notification to the Brown family and O.J. Simpson.

Ron Goldman was identified by the coroner investigator, Claudine Ratcliffe, when she examined Goldman's body at the scene and compared his facial features to the driver's license found in his wallet. Lane and Vannatter correctly noted "According to California law . . . only authorized personnel from the county coroner's office may touch or move a body at a crime scene." (California Government Code Section 27491) Lang and Vannatter wrote "because a coroner's investigator has identified him, a member of the coroner's staff will make the death identification to Goldman's family."3 Claudine Ratcliffe notified Fred Goldman, Ron's father, by telephone at 5:25 p.m. the afternoon of June 13th.

There are several interesting conclusions to the notification events described in, Evidence Dismissed. One of the most controversial issues arising out of the police investigation was the response by the four detectives to the residence of O.J. Simpson the morning of June 13th. Had they followed standard procedures and waited until the coroner's investigator arrived to make positive identification before making a notification attempt, they might have avoided the huge controversy raised by their scaling the wall which tainted their credibility and gave credence to the defense's suggestion that they possibly planted evidence. The detective's concern to notify the Brown family to preclude their learning of the death via the broadcast media was not extended to the Goldman family. And lastly, almost all accepted protocols in death notification recommend making a telephone notification only as a last resort when there are no other options. (Leash, 1994)

Since both the Brown and Goldman families were within easy driving distance of the crime and, because the bodies were discovered in the late evening of the previous day, there was sufficient time to have the coroner respond, make identifications, and send personnel to the respective homes of the victims to make a personal notification. The Brown and Goldman families spoke of the notification during the months following the trial of O.J. Simpson. In each case, they felt their notification was less than professional in the manner in which they received word of the deaths of their family members. When the Brown family was called the morning of June 13th, Detective Tom Lang said Lou Brown answered the initial call but Nicole's sister, Denise Brown, picked up an extension and overheard the notification to her father. She immediately began screaming into the phone that "O.J. did it! O.J. killed her!" Lang said he heard a "growing wave of wailing female voices in the background" as he tried to converse with Lou Brown and answer his questions. Fred Goldman complained of the time lapse in his notification that his son was killed the previous evening.

Go To Medicolegal Death Investigator Notification

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