He Could Run... ...But He Couldn't Hide

THE END, LAST WEEK, WAS OFF-CAMERA. AFTER THE bloody steps, the heart-rending funerals, the surreal chase through the twilight of Los Angeles, O. J. Simpson surrendered himself into the darkness his life has become. He was in the back seat of his best friend's Bronco, communing quietly with his cellular phone, his blue steel revolver and a picture of his children. As the police stood back, waiting, the shadows lengthened. O.J., the great halfback who had made a fabulous career out of running for daylight, could no more hold back the night than reverse the tragedy of his week. Above, helicopters hovered, each carrying enough candlepower to light a village. Near the truck a dog stretched lazily, beside a garden as beautiful as a rainbow. And then O.J. emerged, turned himself over to the police, used his bathroom, accepted a glass of juice and, like sons everywhere caught in trouble, asked for time to call his mother.

It was a peaceful end, a surprisingly peaceful end, to a week that was drenched in trauma, tension and blood. On Sunday night, O.J.'s ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, a young waiter-model named Ronald Goldman, were stabbed to death outside her $650,000 town house. Almost from the moment their bodies were found less than two hours later, as crumpled and porous as Caesar's, suspicion focused on O.J. With the help of his star-quality dignity and heavy doses of sedatives, he led his two young children through Nicole's funeral service, holding each by hand, his eyes shielded by sunglasses. By Friday, after collecting piles of evidence and leaking much of it to the press, Los Angeles police officials were ready to arrest him. O.J.'s lawyer was going to bring him in. Only, O.J. fled, accompanied by his lifelong friend and all-purpose aide, Al Cowlings, who was doing Simpson one last service.

The cops, already reeling from the high-profile blunders named Rodney King and the L.A. riots, were beside themselves. How could they have lost one of the most famous men in America? Cmdr. David Gascon, his stern face frozen in anger, came to a press conference and announced, ""Mr. Simpson has not appeared.'' The gathered reporters, already in a lather of competitive zeal, gasped. Gascon added, ominously, ""And we will find him.''

A few hours later the manhunt played out on millions of television screens -- in equal parts police chase, VIP motorcade and demented victory lap. A white Ford Bronco, driven by Cowlings, rolled at leisurely speed across 60 miles of sprawling freeway mostly cleared of rush-hour traffic. More than a dozen news and police helicopters, flying in formation like some urbanized ""Apocalypse Now,'' and a phalanx of patrol cars followed at a cautious distance. Inside the truck, Simpson held a gun to his head and told authorities on his cellular phone that he'd kill himself unless he got to see his mother. Spectators jammed the overpasses and frontage roads. go o.j. signs popped up, a grotesque parody of his airport dashes for Hertz. Old football friends, horrified by what they were watching, called L.A. television and radio stations, beseeching him to give up. ""I love you, my mother loves you,'' said a weeping Vince Evans, a former University of Southern California quarterback.

There was good reason to think O.J. was preparing to die. His lawyer said he was suicidal. And a note he left behind, read to reporters earlier that day by an old college buddy, sounded like nothing so much as a sad farewell (page 20). In a scant, handwritten 550 words, Simpson professed love for the dead ex-wife he'd once battered, insisted he hadn't killed her and hinted broadly that he planned to kill himself. ""Don't feel sorry for me,'' it said. ""I've had a great life, great friends. Please think of the real O.J. and not this lost person.''

The end of his run was the curved driveway of his $5 million Tudor-style mansion in Brentwood. His surrender put an end to the Day of the Locust atmosphere building in the streets. And it set the stage for a long and difficult odyssey through the California court system, one that may be played for mortal stakes (page 22). Simpson was charged with "double murder, under special circumstances," a legal code phrase that allows prosecutors to ask for the death penalty

Simpson was more than another storybook American success, a kid with his legs bowed by rickets who ascended from poverty in a raw San Francisco neighborhood to a legendary football career and a fortune in show business. Orenthal James Simpson was the prototype of the modern athlete as total package -- a record-shattering running back with a luminous personal charm that attracted advertisers and film producers by the limousine-full. Before Magic, before Bo, before Michael and the Shaq, there was The Juice. While other great players faded from view as memories of their competitive feats slipped into the past, O. J. Simpson sustained a lasting bond with his public.

In the 1960s and '70s, when African-American athletes were cheered on the field but were largely invisible in the world of big-money commercial endorsements, Simpson was the trailblazing exception. His genial, race-neutral style went down easily with white audiences as he sprinted for Hertz and finessed his way through a string of lightweight movie comedies and adventures. ""Hertz told me in all their surveys that I was colorless,'' Simpson told an interviewer in 1992. He was aging with an uncommon grace that seemed destined to place him in an elite circle of sports figures like Palmer and DiMaggio.

But he was a polished hero with oddly jagged edges not in plain view. Simpson's enduring celebrity and ingratiating per-sonal style diverted attention from two failed marriages, the accidental drowning of an infant daughter and a wife-beating charge that ended in a 1989 misdemeanor plea. Said one colleague at NBC, where Simpson worked as an NFL and college analyst, ""I only see Juice with a big smile on his face.'' But that illusion slipped away in stunning fashion last week.

Even in a country grown accustomed to witnessing -- and reveling in -- the denuding of its heroes, Simpson's six-day descent from sports myth to murder suspect to fugitive was a bewildering national drama. In what seemed like a heartbeat, a figure millions of Americans thought they somehow knew on a personal level metamorphosed into a stranger whose fame obscured a sometimes violent and obsessive personal life. His story is certain to kindle a new national debate about domestic violence and the legal system's failure to protect battered spouses (page 21).

Last week's murders brought a brutal end to a turbulent relationship. Nicole Brown was 18 years old when she met Simpson in 1977. Homecoming queen at Dana Hills High School in Dana Point, she worked part time after graduation as a waitress at The Daisy, a Beverly Hills nightclub. Within a year they were living together. Simpson, then 30, had hit a low ebb. Injuries were beginning to dull the skills that had allowed him to gain 2,003 yards rushing in 1973, then a single-season record. The Buffalo Bills, his professional home since 1969, were about to trade him to the San Francisco 49ers for a handful of draft choices. His first marriage to a high-school sweetheart was over. In February 1979, shortly before they di-vorced, their 23-month-old daughter, Aaren, drowned in the family swimming pool and died a week later.

Simpson and Brown were married six years later, under a tent at his Brentwood Park estate. They made a dazzling couple, and his income underwrote an opulent lifestyle that included twin Ferraris, gambling trips to Vegas, skiing jaunts in Aspen, Colo., and summers at an oceanfront house in Laguna Beach, Calif. But some feared that the good times papered over serious problems. ""There were hints,'' one close friend of Nicole Simpson's told Newsweek. ""It was physically obvious. She had marks, red marks on her wrists. I saw them on two or three occasions. There were no scratches or black eyes and it wasn't a daily kind of thing. Everybody knew and every once in a while she'd say things to friends.'' Others saw no evidence of violence but sensed that O.J. was a dominating, jealous personality temperamentally unsuited for the spirited, gregarious Brown. ""He and Nicole were very passionate with each other,'' says one NBC colleague. ""But it was absolutely oil and water together.'' It was also no secret that Simpson enjoyed the company of beautiful women on the road.

The violence spilled into public view in early 1989. At about 3:30 a.m. on New Year's Day, police answered a 911 call from Nicole Simpson. One officer's report said, ""She grabbed me and hung onto [me] as she cried nervously and repeated, "He's going to kill me'.'' She'd called police ""eight times'' to intervene in fights, she said. She wanted him arrested. A few minutes later, according to police, a bathrobe-clad Simpson emerged from the house, screaming, ""I don't want that woman sleeping in my bed anymore. I got two women and I don't want that woman in my bed anymore.'' According to the report, Simpson tried to talk cops out of an arrest. ""This is a family mat-ter. Why do you want to make a big deal out of it?'' he said. Talking to investigators later, Simpson was more contrite about what he described as a ""mutual wrestling-type altercation.'' He said the two had been drinking and that he'd been wrong.

The City Attorney's Office wanted Simpson to do jail time -- 30 days for spousal abuse. Instead, attorney Howard Weitzman engineered a plea of no contest to a misdemeanor charge of spousal battery. Judge Ronald Schoenberg went along, sentencing Simpson to two years' probation, $470 in fines and penalties, 120 hours of community service and twice-weekly psychological counseling. Alana Bowman, head of the City Attorney's domestic-violence unit, says flatly that Simpson's fame bought him a break. ""I think the judge was trying to accommodate him,'' she says, ""rather than help him understand that this was criminal behavior.'' It was clear to authorities that this wasn't the first time Simpson had abused his wife. According to Bowman, Nicole Simpson told the City Attorney's victims' advocate that she feared for her life. ""She was very frightened,'' says Bowman. ""She said it was only a matter of time before he killed her.''

Over time, the remorse Simpson expressed in police interviews disappeared. When the city attempted to revoke his probation and jail him, he told a court hearing that he'd done more community service than everyone in the courthouse put together. Simpson echoed his public resentment in private with friends. Michael Militello, a Buffalo restaurateur, says he scoffed at the attention the incident sparked. ""He said, "Haven't you ever had an argument with your wife? That's all it was'.''

The assault had little impact on his lucrative career in commercial endorsements. Hertz said it had no plans to drop Simpson as its corporate spokesman. ""We regard it as a private matter to be treated as such between O.J.'s wife and the courts,'' explained vice president Joe Russo in May 1989. (Last Friday, the company said it was ""shocked and saddened'' by the murder charges and dropped him from all its ads.) The movie and television roles kept coming as well, although most were third-banana parts in second-banana projects.

Nicole Simpson filed for divorce in March 1992, citing ""irreconcilable differences.'' O.J. had completed his probation without incident. But court filings examined by Newsweek suggest that she still may have considered herself at risk. A miscellaneous provision of the settlement states: ""Each party shall have the right to live separate and apart from the other, free of any interference or harassment.'' The financial arrangement was modest given Simpson's estimated $10 million net worth, but Nicole Simpson had signed a prenup-tial agreement, so she received a lump sum of $433,750 and $10,000 a month in support for their two children. She bought a Mediterranean-style town house on South Bundy Drive in Brentwood, where her body was found last Sunday night.

The picture of their life after the divorce remains muddled. O.J. and Nicole continued to see each other, attending fund-raisers and other high-profile functions together. But police said last week that 911 calls from Nicole complaining about her ex-husband were an ""ongoing problem.'' O.J. dated other women -- including actress-model Paula Barbieri, whom he mentioned fondly in the letter read last Friday -- yet he also seemed to be pressing for a reconciliation with Nicole. One day shortly before Christmas last year, he fell into conversation with clerks at Theodore, a Brentwood clothing store, while waiting for some gifts to be wrapped. The conversation turned to dating. ""He said there really wasn't anyone he wanted to date,'' said Jodi Kahn, the store manager. ""He said, "I'm really trying to reconcile with my wife.' He seemed very happy about it.'' Others said Simpson's zeal to reunite was burdensome. According to one friend of Nicole Simpson's, he once barged into an L.A. restaurant where she was dining with five others. ""He said, "My name is O.J. and we're not divorced yet.' He was very matter-of-fact. . . . It made everybody feel uncomfortable.''

Nicole Simpson's transition to single life seemed less troubled. Her entire work history, beyond her two-month waitressing stint, was two weeks as a boutique salesclerk. But the divorce settlement allowed her to live well without a job. She decorated the $650,000 town house with Lalique crystal figures and a large, colorful, modern painting. In a loft overlooking the living room was a StairMaster. Acquaintances say she was a good mother with a cheerful personality, a familiar figure to shopkeepers and joggers along San Vicente Boulevard, Brentwood's main commercial drag. She worked out frequently at The Gym, a neighborhood health club, and on many evenings she hired a babysitter so she could go dancing with friends at clubs in Santa Monica, West Hollywood and Beverly Hills.

It's not clear when or how Ron Goldman came into her life. They might have met at The Gym, or Mezzaluna, a Brentwood restaurant where he waited tables and she liked to dine. He was 25, 10 years her junior, with sculpted good looks and a penchant for bragging about his sexual conquests. Goldman yearned to become successful, but his resume consisted of a few modeling assignments, a turn on ""Studs,'' Fox-TV's sleazy dating show, and, he told friends, a small upcoming role on the ""Baywatch'' series. He and Nicole danced together, and Goldman was seen driving her white Ferrari with the vanity plate L84AD8 (""late for a date''). Last week a neighbor reported seeing Goldman playing with Nicole's two children outside the town house.

Goldman insisted that they were not an item, and friends say they believe him. It was good for him to be seen with the well-known divorcee, he said. He told Barry Zeldes, a Brentwood clothier, that he was meeting more women just driving her around than he ever had before. Zeldes said he asked Goldman point-blank two days before he died whether he was sleeping with Nicole Simpson. As Zeldes recalled it, Goldman laughed and said no. ""If O.J. caught me with her, he'd probably kill me.''

On June 12, the last afternoon of her life, Nicole Simpson attended a dance recital with O.J. at Paul Revere Middle School in Brentwood. The couple watched their 9-year-old daughter, Sydney, in a performance called ""Footloose.'' He left after the dance; Nicole joined her sister and other family members for a celebratory dinner at Mezzaluna that broke up at about 8:30, according to co-owner Karim Souki. Once home, Nicole called the restaurant. She'd lost her prescription sunglasses, which were quickly found outside the main entrance. Goldman heard about the call and offered to take them over to her town house. Manager John DeBello says he told him he didn't need to go to the trouble. But Goldman insisted.

At 11:10, gity radmand was walking her dog along Bundy Avenue when she saw a large white dog barking furiously in front of Nicole Simpson's town house. It was an unusual, almost sickly sound, she said later, so worrisome that she thought the animal might be rabid. She could see nothing: trees and bushes blocked her view. The barking lasted about half an hour.

Shortly after midnight, a female passerby called 911. The dispatch tape has been sealed by authorities. Police found Nicole Simpson's body collapsed on the steps just inside the security gate. Goldman lay off the sidewalk a few feet away. Inside, the Simpsons' two children were asleep. A terse coroner's statement said the couple died of ""multiple, sharp-force wounds and stab wounds.'' Local television stations quoted police sources saying that their throats had been slashed. There were signs of a savage struggle -- blood ran halfway down the red Spanish tile of the sloping, 15-foot front walk lined with blue agapanthus.

Simpson's attorney claimed his client was home at the time of the murder, waiting for a limousine to take him to Los Angeles International Airport. He was scheduled to attend a golf out-ing in Chicago the next day with guests of Hertz. Eyewit-nesses said that from all outward appearances, Simpson's trip seemed routine. On the same 11:45 flight -- American 668 to O'Hare -- was a friend, sports photographer Howard Bingham. ""I don't know what happened, but he sure wasn't bleeding when I saw him,'' Bingham said. ""He was just the same old O.J.'' He arrived in the lobby of the O'Hare Plaza around 6:15 a.m. local time, ""tired, joking, smiling, just like any person off a red-eye,'' says Donna Brandt, assistant sales director. He said he needed to sleep and went straight to room 915.

By that time, police had been at Nicole Simpson's house for about three hours. At 7:45, the hotel switchboard put a call through to his room. Forty-five minutes later, Simpson was on his way back to the airport and L.A. Later that morning, Chicago police searching his room found a broken glass and drops of blood on a towel near the sink. Attorney Howard Weitzman, who would separate himself from Simpson's case within the next two days, said Simpson broke the glass and cut himself on the shards after hearing the devastating news. The criminal investigation was gaining momentum rapidly. Police seized a pair of tennis shoes from the mansion. They searched and later impounded Simpson's white Ford Bronco. A knowledgeable source in the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office told Newsweek that the state has forensic evidence, including traces of Simpson's blood type, from the scene of the murder -- and drops of the victims' blood type found at his house. According to published reports, investigators also came up with a bloody glove to match the one found at the murder scene.

When Simpson arrived home he was placed briefly in handcuffs -- standard department procedure when taking suspects into custody -- for a trip to police headquarters, where he was questioned for two hours. After Weitzman's protests, the cuffs were removed. It was one of several instances in which Simpson's celebrity status seemed to win him special consideration, a charge L.A. police brass deny. There were other examples: Los Angeles authorities told Chicago police as early as last Monday that Simpson was a ""possible suspect,'' but refused all week to officially name him as such. Robert Pugsley, a law professor at Southwestern University in Los Angeles, called it ""the old-boy treatment that gets accorded to celebrities.'' Others say that for a department trying to undo years of institutional racism, it only made sense to play the entire case with extreme caution. But the gingerly approach backfired on Thursday. After Nicole Simpson's funeral and burial -- an eerie scene in which Simpson, trailing behind a casket borne by pallbearers, held the hand of his young son -- he slipped from police surveillance (and reporters', for that matter).

For the moment, the only account of last Friday morning's events comes from Robert Shapiro, the criminal attorney who replaced Weitzman. He said Simpson awoke somewhere in the hills surrounding the San Fernando Valley, at a secluded house in the company of his close friend and ex-teammate Al Cowlings. At 9:30, Shapiro, a specialist in plea bargains with a long, successful track record in celebrity cases, brought him the news. Police were demanding his surrender. He'd have to be downtown by 11. Shapiro said he warned authorities that it might take more time; Simpson was suicidally despondent, sedated and under the care of an internist and a psychiatrist. He said that from a second-floor conference room, he could hear Simpson crying in a downstairs bedroom, where Cowlings sat with him. ""O.J. was wailing,'' he said. As the hour got later, Shapiro said Simpson called his mother, children and personal lawyer (to dictate a codicil to his will).

He also wrote three letters, one of which was read to reporters later in the day by Robert Kardashian, another old USC friend. It was about noon, according to Shapiro, when he took another call from the LAPD. They were coming to take Simpson in themselves and wanted the address. When they arrived, Shapiro said, Simpson and Cowlings were gone -- on the lam in Cowlings's white Ford Bronco (identical to O.J.'s).

The five-hour manhunt culminated shortly before 6 p.m., when police tracking Simpson's cellular-phone calls were finally able to pinpoint his location: an Orange County freeway interchange called the El Toro Y, not far from Nicole Simpson's burial site. Live police chases are a stable of local TV news in California, but there was never one like this. KCBS had its own logo for the spectacle stripped across the bottom of the screen: ""O.J.: The Murder Mystery.'' Jim Hill, a sportscaster at the station and a former NFL player, pleaded with Simpson. ""You do not want to be remembered as someone who ran from a bad situation.'' Soon it became clear that the pair was headed north back toward Los Angeles and Simpson's Brentwood mansion.

As the truck pulled into Simpson's driveway, hundreds of spectators pressed police barriers to get a look. Parents brought children and video cameras. Crowds watching on portable TVs cheered when they ended up in the shot. Cowlings walked back and forth between the house and truck, clearly agitated by the zoo scene. As darkness fell, Simpson passed word that he was ready to give up. A few minutes later it was over.

It will likely be months before a trial, but the bizarre swing of public sympathy toward Simpson worries officials. District Attorney Gil Garcetti said he is concerned that defense attorneys ""may find one juror who will not follow the law,'' setting Simpson free. While he says he understands the empathy for a fallen hero, he cautions against ""losing sight that it is Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman who are the true victims.'' Garcetti is right about that, at least, but the reality is that long after their names are footnotes, it is Simpson's name that will resonate, along with the memory of his run to an astonishing fate.

With his loping, easy, athletic grace and his irresistible grin, Orenthal James Simpson had it all. Snapshots from the life of an American icon:

O.J. wed his high-school sweetheart, Marguerite Whitley, in 1967. They had three children but divorced in 1979-the year his daughter Aaren drowned in a swimming accident.

A bowlegged kid from San Francisco, O.J. became a football sensation at USC, where he set a national rushing record, was a two-time All-American and won the Heisman Trophy.

As a Buffalo Bill, Simpson became the first NHL player to gain 2,000 yards in a season. He won four rushing titles, led the league in scoring and went into the Hall of Fame in 1985.

His TV commercials for Hertz, poking fun at his own running style, began in 1975 and helped launch his acting career. Hertz dropped Simpson after he was arrested last week.

With his famous smile and crisp delivery, O.J. moved into acting. His film credits include "The Towering Inferno' and all three "Naked Gun' comedies, with Leslie Nielson.

Simpson met Nicole Brown, then an 18-year-old waitress, in 1977. Married in 1985, they lived lavishly in Brentwood Hills, Laguana Beach and New York City. They divorced in 1992.

Simpson joined ABC's "Monday Night Football' show in 1983, switched to college games in 1986 and recently went to NBC as a sideline reporter. NBC pays him $600,000 a year.