Philip Vannatter, the Los Angeles police detective in the OJ Simpson case, has died at the age of 70. Vannatter died of complications from cancer Friday in Santa Clarita, his wife, Rita, said. He led the investigation of the 1994 slayings of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, which became “the trial of the century.”
“He was a real blue-collar detective,” O.J. Simpson prosecutor Christopher Darden said in an emotional interview Sunday. “He did his job the best he could and he was a fine detective, one of the best.”
Vannatter was among the first detectives to arrive at former football star Simpson’s mansion in June 1994 after the stabbing deaths of Simpson’s ex-wife, Nicole, and her friend, Goldman.
In 1977, Vannatter arrested film director Roman Polanski in the lobby of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on charges of having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl. A grandfather known as “Dutch” among friends and as a “super cop” among colleagues, Vannatter rose to the elite Robbery-Homicide division of the Los Angeles Police Department early in his 27-year career and earned a reputation for meticulous, tough-minded work.
One colleague told The Times in 1994 that Vannatter was a bear of a man who once kicked a door off its hinges while arresting a robbery suspect on the Westside. When Vannatter worked as a detective in Venice in the 1970s he would have contests with colleagues to see how long they could hold a sledgehammer with one arm outstretched.
But his work was challenged repeatedly during the Simpson trial, and Vannatter often responded testily on the stand when Simpson’s attorneys questioned him. In seeking to show that Vannatter illegally entered Simpson’s property to collect evidence, the lawyers questioned every detail of his account of events. The detective stood firm, and Municipal Judge Kathleen Kennedy-Powell ruled at a preliminary hearing that the police had acted appropriately.
Simpson’s defense team branded Vannatter a “devil of deception” and said he had used a vial of blood from Simpson to plant evidence at the former football star’s estate. The detective acknowledged that he had a vial of Simpson’s blood in an unsealed envelope in his car during a visit to Simpson’s home, but was unapologetic about the matter and said he was simply carrying it to a criminalist.