It was a Friday in June 1994, and Dallas private investigator Bill Dear, dapper as ever in his three-piece suit, monogrammed shirt and alligator boots, had completed his speech to the National Conference of Investigative Reporters and Editors and remained in the St. Louis Convention Center to answer questions.
On that day, however, attending journalists seemed less interested in his litany of recollections of high-profile cases he'd worked during a colorful, sometimes controversial, three-decade career. Never mind his investigations that had been spun into nonfiction books; solving the murder of an Ohio millionaire, tracking down a missing 16-year-old genius and an abducted 5-year-old girl; the tales of dangers faced and bad guys put behind bars; the staff of assistants he employed who helped him sleuth around the world; the bigger-than-life persona that Dear had long perpetuated as "the real Sherlock Holmes." The topic of the day, clearly, was a crime that had occurred thousands of miles away in an upscale California residential area known as Brentwood.
There, in the realm of Los Angeles' rich and famous, the slain bodies of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman had been found. The savage murders that had occurred in the doorway of Nicole Simpson's Bundy Drive condo only five days earlier had been locked onto the front pages of newspapers throughout the world and were an around-the-clock concern of the electronic media. The prime suspect: the murdered woman's ex-husband, O.J. Simpson, Heisman Trophy winner, NFL Hall of Famer, movie star and pitchman.
What, the famed P.I. was asked, did he think about the case?
"I told them what I believed to be true, based on what I'd heard and read," Dear says. "O.J.'s blood was found at the Bundy crime scene. Nicole's blood was at Simpson's home on Rockingham. Ron Goldman's blood was in Simpson's Ford Bronco. This, I said, looked exactly like what it was: O.J. was guilty."
It was later, as he stood in the convention center lobby, that Dear noticed a strange look on his son Michael's face. Having accompanied his father on the trip, the young man had sat in on the question-and-answer session. "You've never done that before," he finally said.
"I didn't have to ask what he meant," the elder Dear recalls. He had, in a from-the-hip reply to a reporter's question, joined the nationwide chorus that was proclaiming O.J. Simpson guilty even before the investigation was complete. The credo he had sworn to throughout his career--never assume, always verify--had been violated.
Three weeks after the murders--after watching the live coverage of the bizarre slow-speed chase along a Los Angeles freeway that finally ended in Simpson's arrest, after reading and re-reading every news report he could lay hands on, after filling a legal pad with questions he wished answered--Dear was on a plane to Los Angeles.
Though he had been talking of slowing the frantic pace of his career and moving into semiretirement, he was off on what would turn into a six-year odyssey. It became, he admits, an obsession. Working independently, without assistance from Los Angeles law enforcement or the "dream team" of lawyers assembled to defend Simpson, Dear went in search of a truth he was convinced had not yet surfaced. Unlike many, he saw reason to doubt that O.J. was, in fact, guilty of what was being called the Crime of the Century, many questions that to him weren't answered:
··· If the crime scene had been the horrific bloodbath described by media reports, why was it that such small amounts of blood were found in Simpson's Bronco?
·· ·If he had made his getaway from Nicole's condo and driven directly home to make certain he caught a scheduled late-night flight to Chicago, didn't it stand to reason that there would have been blood on the vehicle's gas pedal, brake or steering wheel?
·· ·Why, in the wall-to-wall beige carpeting inside Simpson's home, was there no blood left by a man who, just minutes earlier, had stabbed and killed two people?
·· ·In a limited time frame, how had he disposed of bloody clothing? And, assuming he'd done so, why would he have overlooked the pair of socks later found in his bedroom with a single droplet of blood on them? And what of the murder weapon?
·· ·Why, after what authorities assumed was a violent struggle with victim Goldman, did Simpson have no bruises or scratches except for a small cut on the knuckle of one finger? And if the finger had, in fact, been injured during the murders, why was it that there was no cut on either of the gloves Simpson was supposed to have worn?
·· ·Then, the most troubling question of all: If Simpson was wrongly accused, who else might have committed the horrific crimes?
Today, after dozens of trips to California, visits with world-renowned forensic specialists in the United States and Europe, interviews with people who the Los Angeles Police Department and the L.A. County District Attorney's Office showed little or no interest in and reviews of previously uncovered medical records, Dear is convinced there is a strong suspect who was never considered.
"What I initially set out to do," he says, "was make the list of people who were considered among the inner circle--family and friends of O.J., Nicole and Ron Goldman--and see who could be eliminated."
In time, all but one was.
In his recently self-published book, O.J. Is Guilty, but Not of Murder, Dear presents a case that O.J.'s troubled son, Jason, 24 at the time of the murders, should have been viewed as a prime suspect. (The Dallas Observer has not attempted to investigate Dear's theory, other than to verify statements of fact.)
"I'm not accusing him of murder," Dear says, "but this is a man with a history of mental problems, a man who was seen carrying a set of sharp chef's knives on the night of the murders." He is also, Dear says, someone who lied about his whereabouts at the time of the crime.
"At the very least," Dear says, "he should have been questioned."
Dear says today that Jason Lamar Simpson was apparently never interviewed by investigators. As proof, Dear pulls a copy of a deposition given by Jason prior to the 1996 civil trial in which his father was found responsible for the crimes. In response to questions from attorney Daniel Petrocelli about his ever being questioned about the murders by the LAPD or the district attorney's office, the young Simpson's answers were "No."
That is but one of many things Dear found troubling as his investigation progressed. Why was it, he asks, that unidentified fingerprints discovered in Nicole's condo were compared to 15 others, yet there was never any attempt to match them to Jason? To satisfy his curiosity, Dear has requested copies of all fingerprints taken at the crime scene.
"My investigation," he writes, "uncovered the fact that the day after the murders...O.J. retained a high-profile criminal defense attorney who specialized in death penalty murder cases to represent Jason Simpson. Why would he hire a criminal attorney to represent Jason, who was not even a suspect at the time?"
The police, Dear says, had, from the outset of their investigation, been convinced that Jason had an alibi for the time--shortly after 10:15 p.m.--when the murders were committed. Jason Simpson was a chef at a trendy Beverly Hills restaurant called Jackson's, and he had allegedly worked until 11 p.m., then was picked up by a girlfriend who was driving his Jeep. They had gone directly to her apartment to watch a movie on television.
However, when Dear located the girlfriend and interviewed her, she told a different story. Because business had been slow that evening, she said, Jason had closed the kitchen early and left work at 9:45. According to her account, Jason had left her place at approximately 11 p.m.
Then, in his civil deposition, Jason provided yet another version: He indicated that he left the restaurant between 10 and 10:30 p.m., drove his girlfriend to her apartment, kissed her good night in the Jeep, then went directly home where he watched TV alone until three in the morning.
"All three versions," Dear says, "can't be right." One thing that is consistent in each version, however, is that Simpson did have his set of chef's knives with him when he left the restaurant.
Why, Dear asks, did those assigned to the case not bother to check Jason Simpson's background? "If someone had done so," he says, "it would certainly have raised some red flags."
In his 339-page book, copies of which he recently sent to the California Attorney General's Office, the Los Angeles County district attorney and the Los Angeles Police Department, Dear offers evidence that the young Simpson was on probation for aggravated assault at the time of the Bundy Drive murders, having attacked a former employer. Medical records obtained by Dear list a lengthy history of mental problems, suicide attempts and excessive use of drugs and alcohol. On at least two occasions, Jason Simpson, diagnosed by his doctor as suffering an intermittent rage disorder that was being controlled by the drug Depakote, had physically assaulted ex-girlfriends. One, who Dear quotes at length, described Simpson as being gentle and loving at one moment, then angry and out of control the next.
In the book, she describes one of many violent incidents that occurred between them: "He [Jason] grabbed me and pinned me down on the bathroom floor. Then he grabbed for my braids. He started whacking off my hair with his chef's knife." Several times, she told the private investigator, Simpson had attempted suicide. On one occasion, she recalled, he had broken a plate-glass window, had picked up one of the shards and began slashing at his wrists. "He was yelling, 'See what I'm going to do? I'm going to kill myself.' It was all so crazy. He was acting like a madman, somebody else, somebody I didn't know."
The violence and anger, she told Dear, generally occurred when Simpson was not taking his medication. She said that she had seen Jason two months before the murders occurred, and he had told her he was no longer taking the Depakote. "I asked him," Dear quotes her as saying, "and he told me, 'No, that medication was fucking me up in the head. I'm not taking that shit anymore.'"
As one forensic psychologist who reviewed Dear's findings stated in Dear's book, Jason Simpson was, at the time of the Bundy murders, "a walking time bomb."
Attempts to contact Simpson through his attorney and a former employer were not successful.
The den of the 64-year-old Dear's quiet Midlothian home is a testimony to the fervor he's attached to his lengthy--and expensive--effort to prove that the investigation done by the LAPD and district attorney's office amounted to little more than "a relentless rush to judgment." He estimates he's spent $600,000 on his marathon fact-finding mission. Exercise equipment now shares space with large trunks filled with the files he's accumulated. In a bookcase are copies of 40 other books that have been written on the Simpson case. Photographs and legal documents related to the murders are spread across a pool table on which a game hasn't been played in years.
Still, it is a setting far different from that one would have found the flamboyant P.I. in another time in his career--back when the swimming pool adjacent to his sprawling southern Dallas County mansion had a canal that extended into the master bedroom, when his closet was filled with 200 suits and a like number of custom-made boots and the jet black Corvette he drove had personalized license plates.
In those days, Dear was in Canada one week, Europe the next, working at a breakneck pace to earn the millions people were willing to pay for his expertise. It was a time when he owned a popular steakhouse and a thriving western clothing store; when he watched over his own school for wannabe private eyes and wrote books on his most fascinating cases. Hell yes, he says, he loved it when Playboy was comparing him to Sherlock Holmes at the same time the British tabloids labeled him "the real James Bond."
Dear, it seems, was one of those born to warm in the spotlight. As a 15-year-old growing up in Florida, he says he witnessed a robbery while making his morning paper route deliveries. Following the getaway car on his bicycle, he took down the address it eventually pulled in to and phoned the police. Proclaimed a hero in the next day's paper, he was soon being followed by another car that twice ran him off the road. Assuming someone was attempting to scare the youngster from testifying, police provided him a daily escort on his paper route until the trial was over. By 20, he says he was the youngest sworn police officer in Florida history. One of the first things the young patrolman did was cite legendary Teamsters Union leader Jimmy Hoffa for a traffic violation. More headlines. He's been there ever since.
In the mid-'50s, Dear left Florida for Dallas, convinced that a career as a private investigator offered more excitement and considerably better paydays than carrying a badge. Adopting a workaholic routine, he was soon busy investigating homicides, helping clients collect on insurance settlements and locating children who had either run away or been kidnapped. Soon, his reputation began to spread. So did his business.
By 1979, he was on the campus of Michigan State University, delving into the Dungeons and Dragons-playing background of a 16-year-old prodigy named James Dallas Egbert III who had disappeared into a labyrinth of steam tunnels beneath the school. Two months passed before Dear finally located the troubled youngster hiding in Morgan City, Louisiana. From the experience came his first book, The Dungeon Master.
Then there was the Byzantine murder case in Bath, Ohio, where Dear moved into the home of millionaire victim Dean Milo, even wearing his clothing and sleeping in his bed in an attempt to gain some "feel" for the crime. As unorthodox as his practices might have seemed, his investigation resulted in the convictions of 11 conspirators, including the victim's brother, as well as another book, Please...Don't Kill Me.
Later, he was hired by the Tarrant County grandparents of a missing 5-year-old. He managed to track her to a small town in Nebraska where she was being held by her mentally unstable father. The story's happy ending featured Dear and the little girl stepping off a plane in Dallas as the minicams recorded the joyful reunion.
Each round of publicity, he quickly learned, resulted in a new wave of calls from prospective clients.
Those were the days when he was at his self-promoting best, a time when he was lionized by some and labeled more sizzle than steak by others. His detractors were quick to point out that the gushing newspaper and magazine profiles never bothered to mention the cases he didn't solve or that much of the legwork credited to him was actually being done by the sizable staff he employed. At one point, a rumor circulated that his license had been suspended after a dissatisfied client complained to the Texas Board of Private Investigators. Never happened, Dear says.
Says Richard Riddle, a former Dear partner who now has his own agency, "Sure, Bill's got a big ego. Doesn't even try to hide it. But he works his tail off for his clients. I don't know how many missing-kid cases he's worked for a dollar. On top of that, I've seen him spend thousands of dollars of his own money on cases when the client couldn't afford to pay."
While the self-assuredness and the sizable ego remain, today's Bill Dear says he is no longer chasing fame and fortune. Members of the staff who once worked for him have gone off to set up their own investigative agencies. He now takes only those cases that interest him, enjoying the simple pleasures of being a grandfather. He even occasionally ventures out in public without a suit and tie. It's his version of semiretirement.
Now, however, the unanswered questions surrounding the Simpson-Goldman murders have his motor running. The Los Angeles police, he says, "screwed up." And, since O.J. Simpson was acquitted of criminal charges, the murder cases officially remain open.
"It needs to be resolved," Dear says.
The portrait of Jason Simpson drawn from Dear's investigation is one of a young man battling myriad problems. The files assembled from the investigator's research suggest as much:
In 1990, police records show, Jason Simpson was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs and placed on summary probation. Two years later, assault charges were filed after Jason Simpson attacked the owner of a restaurant where he worked as the prep chef. Pleading no contest to a reduced charge of disturbing the peace, he was again placed on probation, this time for 24 months. The only other brush with the law Dear was able to find occurred in 1994, when he rammed his Jeep into the back of a pickup in the wee hours of the morning and fled the scene. A witness had taken down his license plate number, and Simpson was later charged with leaving the scene of an accident and driving with a suspended license.
The medical and psychological records obtained by Dear document a series of suicide attempts, drug use, brief stays in psychiatric hospitals and ongoing visits with a counselor. Dear traced Jason's erratic behavior back to the age of 14, when he was first admitted to the hospital following a cocaine-induced seizure. An enraged Simpson once took a baseball bat to a bronze statue of his father that was located on the grounds of the Rockingham home. There was, according to family friends Dear quotes in his book, an ongoing battle, both verbal and physical, between O.J. Simpson and his son.
On at least three occasions, Jason had attempted to take his own life. There was the incident when he had cut his wrists with the glass from a broken window after the argument with his girlfriend, another occasion during which he had stabbed himself in the abdomen and yet another when, after a night of drinking tequila and beer, he swallowed 30 Depakote tablets, more than 10 times the recommended dosage prescribed to prevent epileptic seizures.
Dear quotes Dr. Burton Kittay, the psychologist who treated Jason Simpson on numerous occasions, saying that his patient did have mental problems. Dr. Kittay did not, however, believe Jason could have committed the murders of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman. As he tells Dear in his book, "And besides, I don't think Jason is smart enough to have pulled off the murders and not gotten caught."
Los Angeles Police Department homicide Detective Vic Pietrantoni, now assigned to the Simpson-Goldman case, says he's received a copy of Dear's book but has not yet read it. "A lot of folks around the country have opinions about what happened that night," he says, "but we feel we did a thorough investigation and that we have the right suspect. But, yes, my mind's always open."
Dear's foremost question focuses on motive. Why should Jason Simpson be considered a suspect in the murder of a former stepmother he cared for and a waiter whose only apparent reason for being at her home that Sunday night was to deliver a pair of eyeglasses left behind by Nicole's mother?
The young Simpson apparently had been close to Nicole. It was, Dear writes, Jason who often volunteered to take Nicole, who loved to dance, to local clubs when his father begged off. According to Dear, Jason and Nicole had remained good friends even after her breakup with O.J.
But, Dear says, she had embarrassed him on the day before she died.
"You'll remember that the family was to attend a school dance recital that afternoon," Dear says. "Jason wasn't going to be able to attend because he was scheduled to work. He'd talked to Nicole about it, suggesting they all come to Jackson's Restaurant for dinner afterwards. She'd agreed that it was a good idea."
Jason, Dear says, was excited about the prospect of demonstrating his cooking talents for Nicole and her family. He'd made reservations and even bragged to fellow employees that they would be stopping in for dinner, according to fellow workers who spoke to Dear. At the last minute, however, Nicole had phoned to say they had decided to go to Mezzaluna, a less expensive neighborhood restaurant, instead.
In the book, Dear suggests the possibility that Jason, angered and embarrassed over being stood up, drove to Nicole's condo after dropping his girlfriend off at her apartment. Perhaps, he writes, there was a confrontation during which the young Simpson's rage boiled over. Maybe Goldman arrived just as that rage, no longer held in check by doses of Depakote, peaked. End result: two people dead.
Taking his theory a step further, Dear suggests the possibility that Jason, frightened by the realization of what has occurred, places a call to his father to tell him what had happened. O.J. rushes to the Bundy Drive address and sees that there is nothing he can do--but try to protect his son.
Even the controversial DNA evidence presented at O.J. Simpson's criminal trial comes into question in Dear's book. The blood chemistry of fathers and siblings, he points out, have similar genetic characteristics. And, what of the footprints allegedly left by shoes favored by O.J.? Writes Dear, "O.J. and Jason have approximately the same size feet. Jason also had access to O.J.'s clothes closets and was known to have taken items of clothing from his dad at will."
Once his investigation was completed, Dear took his case to experts. Skeptical at first, they agreed after reviewing the P.I.'s findings, that Jason Simpson should, in fact, have been considered a suspect. Among them was James Cron, former commander of the Dallas County Sheriff's crime scene unit. "I'd say that everything Dear uncovered would certainly make one question why Jason Simpson was not eliminated as a suspect," he says. "That's just standard procedure."
Well-known British crime scene experts Terry Merston and Peter Harpur reviewed Dear's findings and concluded that O.J. Simpson was not the killer of his ex-wife and Goldman but was likely at the crime scene at some time after the murders. Additionally, their 24-page analysis concluded that the stab wounds on the victims were more likely to have been inflicted by a sharp knife with a single-edged smooth blade rather than the long-bladed, double-edged stiletto supposedly owned by O.J. Simpson and described by the prosecution as the murder weapon.
Several psychologists who reviewed Dear's evidence concluded that Jason Simpson should have been considered a suspect. Wrote one, "After reviewing all of the history of suicide attempts, failed relationships in which isolation and moods of violence and dependency were interwoven, it seems more and more likely that Jason psychologically could have been a very reasonable suspect in the murders."
Among the material Dear asked doctors to review was what he refers to as the "Dear Jason" letter.
During a four-month period during which the investigator tracked Simpson's movements, a weekly routine of checking the contents of the young man's trash developed. Among the items collected were numerous liquor bottles, empty prescription bottles--and, on one late Tuesday night, a wadded page from a three-ring notebook. "At first," Dear says, "it looked like a letter that had been written to Jason, then marked over by a series of lines and circles." It took him hours to decipher the block-letter writing beneath the scribbles.
"Dear Jason," it began, then meandered through a sad stream-of-consciousness message. "I want solace...now I am a failure...alcohol is the root of all my shortcomings...I know I'm a good guy somewhere but I cannot find him...I had so many plans but now what...will and integrity absent...I do know what to do but don't have the will to do it...In short I'm fucked...walking on broken glass..."
The more he read the tormented words, the more Dear was convinced the letter had not been written to Jason but, rather, by him. Taking it to expert handwriting analyst Don Lehew along with samples of Simpson's writing from discarded documents that had been found in the young man's curbside trash container, Dear was told that the handwriting on the letter was Jason Simpson's.
As one listens to Dear, reviews the material he's collected and reads his book, there is no single revelation that causes one to view Jason Simpson as a suspect. Rather, it is the accumulation of facts that give credibility to his cause that Jason Simpson should have been at least considered a suspect by police. What Dear has accomplished is not a resolution of the case but, rather, suggests a starting point for an investigation.
"That," he says, "is all I set out to do."
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Meanwhile, Dear is back in the public eye. The British Broadcasting Corp. recently aired a documentary titled O.J.: The Untold Story, in which it introduced much of Dear's evidence. Radio talk shows are now calling to interview him about his new book. Recently, Dear says, a 60 Minutes producer phoned to discuss the possibility of taking yet another look at the case.
Even in semiretirement, the spotlight continues to shine in his direction.
Editor's note No. 1: In 1989, Carlton Stowers co-wrote Please...Don't Kill Me (Houghton Mifflin) with Bill Dear.
Editor's note No. 2: This is a book report. The Observer takes no position on Dear's theory. And to the Dream Team: Please don't sue us.