On May 20, 1977, Nicole Brown graduated from high school, the day after her 18th birthday.
Three weeks later, she met O.J. Simpson.
Simpson, then 29, was nearing the end of his storied professional football career and had been acting on the side for a decade in TV and movies such as the disaster epic The Towering Inferno. Nurturing the Hollywood side of his aspirations, he had just bought a house at 360 North Rockingham Avenue in Brentwood. He had also been married to his first wife, Marguerite Whitley, for 10 years. They had three kids, Arnelle, Jason and newborn daughter Aaren.
If ever there was a woman whose life has been viewed through the prism of a marriage, it's Nicole Brown Simpson. Even those who knew her best and saw her often when she was alive only had so much time with her before her world became O.J.'s world, and she was just starting to make a life for herself again when she was killed on June 12, 1994, at the age of 35.
"I feel that Nicole has gotten lost in all this," her friend Cici Shahian, a first cousin of one of O.J.'s best friends, Robert Kardashian, told the Los Angeles Times in July 1994, as the world stopped to obsess over the spectacle that the arrest of O.J. Simpson for the murders of Nicole and her friend Ronald Goldman had already become.
Nicole had never heard of Simpson when he walked into Daisy, the Beverly Hills nightclub where she was working as a waitress.
She was born in Frankfurt, Germany, where her Kansas-bred father, Lou Brown, was serving in the Air Force and had met his wife Juditha Baur. The young family of four, including Nicole's older sister, Denise Brown, moved back to the United States when the girls were toddlers and settled in the Orange County city of Garden Grove, Calif. Lou and Juditha had two more daughters, Dominique and Tanya.
When the older girls were in high school, the family moved to Monarch Beach in the coastal city of Dana Point. Nicole was crowned homecoming princess in 1976 at Dana Hills High School.
"Nicole was bubbly, always happy and smiling," teacher Bill Prestridge told the Times. She also seemed eager to start life beyond school "and go on to bigger and better things," he added.
Nicole worked for two weeks at a clothing boutique before getting her job at Daisy.
By the time she enrolled at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo after graduation in 1977, she was already dating Simpson—and then a few months later she moved in with him and dropped out of school, because O.J. "required that she be with him," Nicole later stated in divorce papers.
"It was a very passionate, a very volatile, a very obsessive relationship. On both sides," Cathy Lee Crosby, who knew O.J. for 15 years and had spent time with the couple, told the LA Times.
During the murder trial, Denise Brown testified to seeing O.J. yell at her sister as far back as 1977, when Denise first met him on a trip to Buffalo to watch him play for the Bills. Denise said Nicole had greeted a friend of O.J.'s with a kiss on each cheek and he "got real upset and he started screaming at Nicole."
Simpson and Marguerite divorced in 1979 and that August their 23-month-old daughter Aaren drowned in the swimming pool at Rockingham, where Marguerite at first remained while O.J. rented a house with Nicole in Beverly Hills. The child spent eight days on life support at UCLA Medical Center before she died on Aug. 26.
"I fell in love with Nicole Brown immediately," Kris Jenner, who met Nicole in 1978, wrote in her 2011 memoir Kris Jenner...and All Things Kardashian. "We were destined to become best friends." O.J. was a groomsman when Kris married Robert Kardashian on July 8 that year and was one of the first visitors at the hospital when they welcomed daughter Kourtney Kardashian the following April. He and Nicole and Kris and Robert vacationed together in Aspen in the winter of 1980.
Nicole "had really fallen for O.J. by then," Kris recalled. "The two of them were madly in love and had this obvious chemistry that you could feel when you were in the same room with them...they absolutely could not keep their hands off each other. He was already incredibly possessive of Nicole. Even when she would go to the bathroom, O.J. would wonder out loud when she was going to come back."
Nicole and O.J. married on Feb. 2, 1985, in the backyard of the Rockingham estate. When Simpson was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame later that year, he thanked his pregnant wife for her support, telling the adoring crowd that she "came into my life at what is probably the most difficult time for an athlete, at the end of my career... [You] turned those years into some of the best I have had in my life, babes."
Daughter Sydney was born that October and son Justin arrived in August 1988.
The Simpsons' friends remembered the couple as being so much fun, frequently hosting parties, including annual Easter dinners and Fourth of July bashes where everyone's kids swam and ate and had a blast. They remained very close to Nicole's parents and they and her sisters were usually at all the family-friendly parties, too.
According to the LA Times, Nicole's father, Lou Brown, ran the Hertz rental car outpost that Simpson owned at the Ritz-Carlton in Laguna Niguel, and O.J. paid Dominique Brown's USC tuition. Simpson had also hired a first cousin of Nicole's, Rolf Baur, as the gardener of his estate, and then appointed him manager of two Pioneer Chicken locations he owned. Rolf's wife, Maria, worked as a housekeeper at Rockingham three times a week.
But at the same time, all of her friends were his friends, and he kept everybody close, ensuring that Nicole hardly opened up to anyone about what was really going on behind closed doors.
"The truth is, no one really knew her during her marriage," a friend who said she had known Nicole since their early 20s told the LA Times after she was killed. "She was never free to be herself or have friends. She wasn't available for that kind of intimacy." Nicole also was prone to abruptly canceling plans or not showing up when both she and O.J. were expected somewhere, the friend added, recalling that O.J. would regularly claim that his wife was in bed with menstrual cramps.
"She was the type of person who would not say to me what her problems were," added Maria Baur, who told the Times she often heard the couple loudly fighting in Simpson's home office. "She wouldn't talk."
In 1988, Nicole turned up driving a new Ferrari, which she would say was O.J.'s version of an "I'm sorry."
The word on O.J. and Nicole's marriage and the almost seven years that they lived together beforehand was that it was explosive, that they looked blissfully happy at times but would also have intense fights. Seemingly everyone they knew socially was well aware of the volatility.
Only in hindsight, after Nicole was killed, did it click into place for them how menacingly controlling, jealous, abusive and violent Simpson was.
"I didn't know that there was abuse until we heard and saw the whole thing unfold like everybody else and then heard the 911 tapes that were going to be used in evidence during the trial," Kris Jenner, who was supposed to have lunch with Nicole the day after she died, said on The Ellen DeGeneres Show in 2016. "It was heartbreaking... Me and some of her other close friends were all really surprised and shocked by that, because we felt we really failed her as a friend. It was horrible."
Friends would say that she fought back with words when she could. "He'd cheat. She'd find out. She'd get angry. She'd confront him," one told the Times. "She's a strong girl and she'd confront him. And they would fight."
Mark Fuhrman, the LAPD detective who played a pivotal role in O.J.'s defense strategy at the murder trial, wrote in a 1989 memo (during an internal look at how many times Nicole had called the cops on O.J.) that he responded to a call at the Rockingham house in the fall/winter of 1985. He arrived to find a woman crying and a Mercedes-Benz with the windshield smashed in; she told Fuhrman that Simpson had smashed it with a bat.
Denise Brown testified that, while out to dinner one night with her sister and brother-in-law in 1987, "O.J. grabbed Nicole's crotch and said, 'This is where babies come from and this belongs to me.' And Nicole just sort of wrote it off as if it was nothing, like—you know, like she was used to that kind of treatment and he was like—I thought it was really humiliating, if you ask me."
Also on the stand, Denise recalled telling O.J. sometime in the mid-'80s that he was taking Nicole for granted after which he flew into a rage.
"He ran upstairs, got clothes, started flying down the stairs and grabbed Nicole, told her to get out of his house, wanted us all out of his house, picked her up, threw her against the wall, picked her up, threw her out of the house," Denise said tearfully. "She ended up on her—she ended up falling. She ended up on her elbows and on her butt...We were all sitting there screaming and crying, and then he grabbed me and threw me out of the house."
Nicole would go home to her parents occasionally after such blowups, but O.J. would always call and emotionally apologize, and she would go back.
When a detective called Nicole's parents on the morning of June 13, 1994, to tell them their daughter was dead, Denise also picked up from another extension. Her reaction: "He killed her! He finally killed her!"
Kris Jenner recalled in her book that in 1988, on a trip to New York, Nicole confided in her about her various marital troubles, that O.J. was cheating and would get physically rough during fights, and she was having a hard time getting along with her stepson, Jason, who was 19 at the time.
"She never came out and said, 'I'm being abused by O.J.,'" Kris wrote. "I so wish I would have asked her for specifics. But I didn't want to cross a line if she didn't want to talk about something, which would become one of my biggest regrets. All she told me on her walk was, 'I want to leave him and I do not know how. I don't know if I can stay. He's really hard to live with."
Nicole had changed, Kris remembered. "She became more withdrawn and private and seemed anxious. She was biting her fingernails down to the quick and just seemed to be on edge all the time."
On Jan. 1, 1989, at 3:58 a.m., Nicole called 911. At first the operator could only hear screams and what sounded like someone being hit. When officers arrived at Rockingham, Nicole, wearing sweatpants and a bra, emerged from the bushes and yelled, "He's going to kill me!" Asked who was going to kill her, she said, "O.J."
"Yes, O.J. Simpson the football player."
According to the police report from that morning, she had a black left eye, a cut lip and a bruised forehead, and there was a handprint on her neck.
"You guys never do anything," Nicole told one of the officers. "You never do anything. You come out. You've been here eight times. And you never do anything to him."
That time, they told O.J.—who denied hitting his wife, saying he had just pushed her out of bed, that they had a drunken fight after a New Year's Eve party—that he had to go with them to the police station; instead, he drove off into the night in his Bentley.
Nicole went to the cops the next day and told them she didn't really want to press charges, but since she had signed the police report they were obligated to kick it upward to the L.A. City Attorney's Office, which filed domestic violence charges against Simpson, who had just co-starred in The Naked Gun and was working as a broadcaster for NBC Sports.
He ended up pleading no contest to misdemeanor spousal battery and was sentence to 120 hours of community service, two years of probation and twice-a-week counseling, as well as ordered to pay $500 in restitution to a battered women's shelter.
"We had a fight," Simpson told Up Close host Roy Firestone later that year. "We were both guilty. No one was hurt. It was no big deal and we got on with our lives. It wasn't that big of a deal."
A close-up photo of her bruised face was found after her death in a safety-deposit box, along with—the prosecution explained when the defense objected to it being shown in court—photos of her injuries from the New Year's Eve incident.
Just before Christmas in 1990, Nicole bought two pairs of brown, extra-large "Aris Lights" leather gloves—one pair of which prosecutors later insisted constituted the two bloody gloves found, respectively, at the scene of Nicole and Ron's murder and outside the Rockingham house.
Also in 1990, Nicole met Faye Resnick through Kris and they became fast friends once both were single. Resnick proclaimed to be a close observer—in many TV interviews and in her 1994 tell-all Nicole Brown Simpson: The Private Diary of a Life Interrupted—of the goings-on between Nicole and O.J. after they split up.
Nicole filed for divorce Feb. 25.
When Nicole and O.J. separated, she moved with the kids nearby to a $5,000-a-month rental home on Gretna Green Way in Brentwood—where she later rented the guest house to friend Kato Kaelin, whom she and Faye had met in Aspen on New Year's Eve, for $500 a month. Sometimes the aspiring actor would babysit Sydney and Justin.
"I only attended junior college for a very short time, because [Simpson] wanted me to be available to travel with him whenever his career required him to go to a new location, even if it was for a short period of time," Nicole stated in an affidavit petitioning for spousal and child support during their 1992 divorce proceedings. "I have no other college education, and I hold no degrees...I am not currently employed and spend my time caring for my two young children."
During a court-ordered meeting with a career counselor, she had said that the only goal she had to date was to raise her kids well. "Beyond that I haven't thought about me," she said. "I'm sure I will get a goal someday."
They settled their divorce in October 1992 with O.J. agreeing to pay Nicole a lump sum of $433,750, plus $10,000 a month in child support. Nicole also retained the deed on a rental property in San Francisco.
All told, Nicole relished being a full-time mom, driving the kids to school and karate and dance lessons. She reconnected with her girlfriends and enjoyed both fancy nights out and hosting potluck dinners at home. She went on trips, skiing in Aspen and sunning in Cabo San Lucas. Nicole also started jogging regularly and would get sitters so she could go clubbing at night after her son and daughter went to sleep.
"She became Nicole Brown, her own person," Cora Fischman, a friend and neighbor from Rockingham, told the LA Times. "She started all over again."
Nicole also went to therapy, at first in a group with some friends, and then on her own, practically every day for a month, according to a different friend.
"She called me up and said, 'I want my husband back,'" the friend told the Times.
Nicole then called O.J., but when he wouldn't take her call, she went to his house. He dismissed her, said he was fine without her. By the time she got him, he was calling to say yes, he too wanted to get back together.
On Oct. 25, 1993, Nicole called 911, telling the dispatcher with an audibly shaky voice, "Could you get someone over here now to 325 Gretna Green? He's back. Please... " Asked what "he" looked like, she said, "He's O.J. Simpson. I think you know his record. Could you just send somebody over here? He's f--king going nuts." Told to stay on the line, she replied, "I don't want to stay on the line. He's going to beat the s--t out of me."
The call, played in court less than two years later, was 13 1/2 minutes long. Simpson could be heard vaguely in the background, but at one point came through clearly, when Nicole told him the kids were sleeping. He said, "You didn't give a s--t about the kids when you was sucking his d--k in the living room. They were here. Didn't care about the kids then."
Nicole told the dispatcher her ex was referring to something that happened "a long time ago." (Simpson had seen her through the front window having a sexual encounter with a boyfriend in 1992.)
A couple who were her next-door neighbors on Gretna Green also testified that they would sometimes see O.J. standing outside her house, looking at it from the sidewalk.
Nevertheless, Nicole was on the sidelines with O.J. when he reported from the Dolphins-Cowboys game on Thanksgiving in 1993. They also spent Christmas together.
But on more than one occasion, Kris Jenner recalled in her book and in the 2015 LMN documentary The Secret Tapes of the O.J. Case: The Untold Story, Nicole told her friend that O.J. was going to kill her.
"At the end of Nicole's life, I think she finally was at a place where she knew she had to be more vocal with what was going on and she was in trouble," Kris said in the 2015 special. "The one thing she would tell all of us by the time, you know, it got to that level was, 'He's going to kill me and he's going to get away with it.'"
Friend Cynthia Garvey, ex-wife of baseball player Steve Garvey, told People in 1994 about running into Nicole at a mall the previous Christmas.
"I kept asking her, 'Are you okay?' and she kept saying, 'They won't believe me. He's charming. People don't know.' When she started to cry, she stiffened her back and pulled away. I can still see her holding on to the sleeve of my jacket. Just before walking off, I pulled her pigtail and said, ‘Nicole, you be smart. You know what to do.' She was trying to be strong, but she just got in above her head."
Eventually in 1993, Nicole sold the San Francisco property and, in order to avoid paying taxes on the sale income, quickly purchased a condo at 875 S. Bundy Dr. She moved there in January 1994.
She was going to rent a room to Kaelin, but Simpson—who was still very much involved in his ex's life—told Kaelin he could live in his guest house rent-free because it wasn't appropriate for him to live inside Nicole's house while they were supposedly in the process of working out their relationship.
Though that could be perceived as a delusion on Simpson's part, they were still seeing each other all the time, although Nicole had other men in her life. At the civil trial in 1996 after the Goldman and Brown families filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Simpson, O.J.'s attorney Robert Baker painted Nicole as desperate to get back with her ex-husband while also partying and associating with all sorts of shady characters.
Back in 1993, the National Enquirer had reported that Simpson was begging Nicole to get back together, a headline that, when asked about it during the civil trial, he insisted was backwards, that Nicole did the begging. "I think everyone, including our family, knows it was her pursuing me," Simpson said.
In March 1994, the whole fractured family—O.J., Nicole, Sydney, Justin and his older kids, Arnelle and Jason—all went to the L.A. premiere of Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult. Also that month, Nicole and O.J. and their kids went to Mexico for Easter with Kris, then-husband Bruce Jenner and kids Kourtney, Kim, Khloe and Rob Kardashian.
But whatever had come before, by May 1994, Nicole decided she had to move on for good. For her 35th birthday on May 19, Simpson gave her a bracelet studded with diamonds, rubies and sapphires. She gave it back a week later.
"Nicole wanted to be free of him, she wanted to live her life with the children and raise them away from all this fiasco of the marriage," Rolf Bauer told the LA Times later that summer. "She wanted to have a happier, more peaceful life...This time it was different. She really meant it and he knew it."
Nicole had previously classified Bundy as a rental property on her tax forms and she was using the Rockingham address as her permanent home. Around Memorial Day, Simpson told her she had to stop using his address and threatened to report her to the IRS.
In a diary entry dated June 3, per Jeffrey Toobin's The Run of His Life, Nicole wrote, quoting O.J., "'You hang up on me last nite, you're gonna pay for this bitch, you're holding money from the IRS, you're going to jail you f--king c--t. You think you can do any f--king thing you want, you've got it comming [sic]--I've already talked to my lawyers about this bitch--they'll get you for tax evasion, bitch, I'll see to it. You're not going to have a dime left bitch' etc."
On June 6, Simpson sent her a formal letter instructing her to stop using the Rockingham address, a letter she reportedly showed to Cici Shahian on June 7—the same day Nicole called a Santa Monica women's shelter for victims of domestic abuse and said she was being stalked by her ex-husband.
The defense floated the unsubstantiated theory at trial that Nicole had been killed by drug dealers who were at her house looking for Faye Resnick, that Resnick's cocaine use had landed her in debt. Simpson attorney Johnnie Cochran asked LAPD Detective Tom Lange on the stand if he was aware that Resnick had stayed with Nicole from June 3, 1994, until June 8, when she checked into rehab. Lange said he had conflicting reports on that.
On June 9, Nicole's friend and real estate agent Jeane McKenna put the Bundy condo up for lease at $4,800 a month and then they went looking for new places for Nicole to live.
"She knew the kids really liked Bundy and wouldn't want them to move, so she wanted to do something special for them, to give them something they would want—especially a pool," McKenna later said, per Toobin. "And by the end of the day, we found a place for her in Malibu, a one-story contemporary with a pool and a view of the ocean, for $5,000 a month. I remember walking up the hill there with her. We were smoking. Nobody smokes in Brentwood, so we used to sneak it together, and she was saying, like she couldn't really believe it, 'I can really do this. I can lease the house and move. I can really do this.'"
O.J. was by then dating model Paula Barbieri, and she was on his arm at a black-tie event the night of June 11.
Nicole was supposed to have lunch with Kris Jenner on June 13.
"She said she wanted to show me some things and talk about what was in her safe," Jenner told Ellen DeGeneres. "And so now unfortunately it all makes sense that that's probably what she wanted to reveal to me that next day, which broke my heart because I will always feel horrible that I didn't pay enough attention."
On June 12, 1994, a Sunday, Nicole got up early, made the kids breakfast and took them shopping. Later that afternoon, she went with dad Lou, mom Juditha, Denise and some other family members to daughter Sydney's dance recital. Afterward they went to dinner at Mezzaluna, an Italian restaurant in Brentwood. O.J. had been at the recital but was not invited to go to dinner.
"I didn't want to go," Simpson later said in an interview for E! True Hollywood Story: O.J., Nicole & Ron: Countdown to Murder, which aired in 1998. "To be honest, I was tired. At this particular time, I was avoiding Nicole. I thought she owed me an apology." He smiled. "And I just didn't want to go. I thought I'd see Paula. I was tired, and I just didn't want to sit up there and go through this [whole situation with his in-laws]."
The Browns left Mezzaluna at 8:30 p.m.
"We were going to take a lot of trips," Denise told E!, recalling the plans they started making that night. "We were going to do a lot of stuff. And I think that was probably the best talk we'd had in a long time. Then when we left, walking out the door, it was 'I love you, Nic.' And that was the last thing I said to her."
Shortly after 9 p.m., O.J. called Nicole. Then Faye called from rehab, later recalling in her book that Nicole said during their 15-minute chat that she would always support her and said, "'I just want all of us to have a healthy and happy life.'"
At 9:40 p.m., Juditha called her daughter to say she'd left her glasses at the restaurant. Nicole called Mezzaluna and asked her friend Ron Goldman, a waiter there, if he could drop them off at her house. He left the restaurant at 9:50 p.m., telling a co-worker he would return the glasses to Nicole on his way to meet some friends in nearby Marina del Rey.
Before work that day, the 25-year-old had played in his usual weekend softball game.
"He was always a good kid," Ron's father, Fred Goldman, told 20/20 years later about his eldest child, who was just starting college when he moved with his dad, sister Kim Goldman, stepmom and her three children to Southern California from Chicago in 1987. "He was fun, he had a good sense of humor, always laughing...He had a good heart."
Ron aspired to open his own restaurant one day and have a family of his own, Kim, whose 10-episode podcast Confronting O.J. Simpson launches today, told E! News in a recent interview. "He was a young guy that just loved life and had an infectious smile and had a zest for living...and I miss him a lot."
A neighbor who lived diagonally across the alley behind Nicole's place later told authorities he heard a dog start barking at 10:15 p.m.
At 10:55 p.m., Steven Schwab, another neighbor out walking his own dog, came across a big white Akita barking in the alley. Schwab didn't know the dog, but saw it had an expensive collar, as well as blood on its paws.
The Akita followed Schwab home, and he and his wife gave the dog some water outside their place, wondering what to do. Another neighbor, Sukru Boztepe, returned to the complex at 11:40 p.m. and volunteered to keep the dog overnight. But the dog—Kato, named by Sydney and Justin after Kato Kaelin—was too restless, so Boztepe and his wife, Bettina, went out for another walk.
The dog led them back to the front of 875 Bundy just after midnight, and that's when Boztepe looked past the front gate and saw a woman lying in a pool of blood.
Sydney and Justin had been asleep upstairs when their mother and Goldman were murdered outside, Nicole's head nearly severed by the deep cut to her throat and Ron stabbed at least 22 times.
A bath was drawn upstairs and there was a partially eaten bowl of ice cream left behind.
"She was nothing but a woman who put other people in front of herself," a friend remembered her to CNN later. "She cared so much about her kids, Sydney and Justin, and her family. She was such a warm woman."
When the children, then 8 and 5, were ushered out of the house through a back door by police on the morning of June 13, they had no idea what had happened. Sydney called the house phone from the police station, leaving a message asking her mom why she and Justin were there. "Mommy, please call me back. I want to know what happened last night...Please answer, Mommy!"
Nicole's funeral was June 16.
The next day, Simpson was supposed to turn himself in to police, but instead took off in his white Ford Bronco, his childhood friend Al Cowlings behind the wheel and O.J. in the back seat holding a gun to his own head and saying he wanted to see his mother. He had left behind a letter, which was read at a press conference by Robert Kardashian, insisting that he had nothing to do with Nicole's murder.
"I loved her, always have and always will. If we had a problem, it's because I loved her so much," Simpson wrote.
The ensuing low-speed chase was followed by millions of people on TV all over the country. More than 50 miles of traversed L.A. freeways later, they returned to Rockingham, where O.J. Simpson was arrested and subsequently charged with the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman.
On Oct. 3, 1995, Simpson was acquitted of murder. In 1997, however, a jury unanimously found him liable for both deaths and awarded the Brown and Goldman families $33.5 million in damages. In her 2015 book Can't Forgive, Kim Goldman wrote that they had received less than .075 percent of the money owed to them.
For more on the 25-year anniversary of the murders, tune into E! News tonight at 7/6c