LOS ANGELES (AP) — Philip Vannatter, the Los Angeles police detective who served as a lead investigator in the 1994 murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, has died in Southern California, according to his brother. He was 70.
Vannatter died Friday at a Santa Clarita hospital of complications from cancer, his brother Joe Vannatter told The Associated Press on Sunday.
He was among the first detectives on the scene at former football star O.J. Simpson’s mansion in June 1994, following the stabbing deaths of Simpson’s wife Nicole and her friend, Ron Goldman. Vannatter testified at the murder trial, at which Simpson was acquitted.
In 1977, Vannatter conducted the investigation that led to the arrest of film director Roman Polanski on charges he drugged and had unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl.
A 28-year veteran with the LAPD, where he spent most of his career as a homicide detective, Vannatter retired from the force in 1995 but continued on as a consultant for cold case murders.
“He was a very devoted detective,” Joe Vannatter said, adding his brother worked some 250 murder cases in his career. “The last time I saw him he had gotten a call from LAPD that they solved a homicide he was involved in 30 years ago. He took great pride in that.”
Vannatter arrested Polanski in the lobby of the Beverly Wilshire hotel in Beverly Hills, kicking off an international legal saga that escalated when the director fled to France after he was convicted. As he put the cuffs on, Vannatter said he found Polanski was clutching a Quaalude, the drug he was accused of giving his young victim.
Vannatter had planned to retire in late 1994 but instead spent more than a year in the middle of the Simpson trial. Along with fellow detective Mark Furman, Vannatter’s name often featured in headlines and his face was a common sight on cable news shows.
Defense lawyers took aim at Vannatter’s truthfulness, suggesting police set out to get Simpson as soon as his ex-wife was found slain.
The defense argued that the search of Simpson’s estate was illegal and that all evidence seized — including a bloody glove, bloody socks and bloody drops — should be thrown out.
On the witness stand, Vannatter sharply defended the actions of detectives at the crime scene. Two judges upheld the search on the basis of Vannatter’s and other detectives’ testimony that they were trying to inform Simpson of the death and that it became an emergency after blood was discovered on Simpson’s Bronco and they feared people in Simpson’s house might be injured.
“I don’t think anybody’s ever been in the news like that. … It’s history now. Obviously we’re disgusted about what happened,” Vannatter said in 1995 of Simpson’s acquittal.
Joe Vannatter said his brother took the spotlight — and the criticisms — that came with the Simpson trial in stride.
“He was very upbeat and he knew he did the right thing,” Joe Vannatter said about his brother’s involvement in the case. “He had such thick skin. They felt that they had the right person that committed this horrendous crime.”
During retirement Vannatter lived part time on a farm in Indiana, where he served for four years as a deputy sheriff in the town of Vevay, pop. 1,683.
Before joining law enforcement, the West Virginia native served in the U.S. Army.
Besides his brother, Vannatter is survived by his wife, Rita; their daughter, Donna; their son, Matthew, an LAPD officer; and five grandchildren.
Services are planned for Wednesday at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood. A fund has been established in Vannatter’s name with the Los Angeles Police Memorial Foundation.
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