O.J. Simpson was found innocent following a criminal trial in which he had been charged with the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ronald Goldman. When a civil trial was held a year later to determine if Simpson should be held liable for the deaths, Simpson famously said he did not own a pair of Bruno Magli shoes like the ones that created a bloody footprint the night of the murders. But a photo showed otherwise.
The photographer whose name was mentioned prominently, who testified during the trial, and who was subject of a story last week in USA Today, was Canisius College graduate E.J. Flammer. But his photos of Simpson wearing the shoes came to light long after another photograph taken by Harry Scull Jr., now a Buffalo News photographer, got wide attention and which Simpson’s civil attorneys tried to discredit. The Flammer photos proved that characterization false and vindicated Scull.
Scull has never told the whole story of the photo, until now.
I grew up watching O.J. Simpson play for the Bills, but I was never star-struck by him.
The first and only time I met him or talked with him would probably have been in 1991, when I was shooting photos for Topps trading cards in Miami. He was there. I took my father-in-law with me because he wanted a picture with O.J.
A couple of years later, I got another picture of O.J. I’m sure he wishes I had never taken it.
So do I.
I started shooting Bills games for the Associated Press in 1986. The AP was pretty loose in its approach to how we shot the games from the field. This was pre-Twitter, pre-computers and we would go down on the field before games to shoot file art. It was a matter of just going down on the field to get some stuff that might work for someone else, in case you might see the owner or the general manager on the field.
I was always with former News photographer Mike Groll, and we usually got there by 10 a.m. We shot film in those days before digital photography, when we were working on the top of the administration building at Rich Stadium.
Before the Dolphins game in 1993, there had been a big hubbub because linebacker Bryan Cox had some negative things to say about Buffalo and the team, so I was looking for his response that day. I had borrowed a 500 mm lens from Canon, and I was out on the field playing with it. I was looking to get his reaction when he came out of the tunnel, and I got what I wanted when he gave the fans the two-finger salute. I was just pointing the cameras getting a little bit of this and a little bit of that.
O.J. did a lot of games for NBC back then as a sideline reporter. He had a good rapport with the Bills and people liked to see him. He just happened to be one of many people I photographed who came walking through that day. I took one picture of him: frame 1A.
In addition to working for the AP, I also had shot photos for Pro Football Weekly. Because I owned my outtakes from the AP, I was free to do with them as I saw fit. Generally after every game I would go to my own darkroom and make up a stack of black and white pictures that the AP didn’t want, which I would then send to Pro Football Weekly. That image of O.J. walking went to Pro Football Weekly just because it was O.J. I never heard anything about it.
The murders happened less than a year later. The day of the famous Bronco chase, I was volunteering at a football camp being held by former Bill Martin Bayless in Dayton, Ohio, and was sitting up in the players’ lounge in the suites watching the NBA Finals. I had Reggie White of the Green Bay Packers on the left of me and Eric Allen of the Oakland Raiders on the right. As the chase was going down, they interrupted the basketball game. I’ll never forget when the Bronco pulled into O.J.’s driveway on Rockingham, that dog barking, and Reggie is imitating Scooby Doo, saying “Come on O.J. Come on out.” Who would have known where it would go from there?
At the time, I occasionally shot photos for the National Enquirer. When the Simpson criminal trial was going on, I contacted people at the Enquirer to see if they wanted to look at any images. They said they appreciated it, but they had looked at every O.J. picture imaginable, and they couldn’t find anything. Suffice to say, I was OK with that.
After the criminal trial, a friend asked if he could look into my images further. All of a sudden my pictures showed up in the National Enquirer. A photographer acted unprofessionally and sold the stuff to the Enquirer without my knowledge, lied to me about the amount of money that was made on the photo and put me in a bad light when I had to sit in a deposition in Buffalo and defend the authenticity of that image.
Did I know the photo was important? Yes. I had a gut feeling just because I remember distinctly the sole print on that Bruno Magli shoe that was shown in a bloody footprint at the crime scene during the criminal trial. When I photographed him walking through the end zone, his foot was off the ground going over one of the white letters in the end zone. So that white letter acted as a natural reflector to show the bottom of the shoe.
Before the civil trial started, my good friend and my attorney Michael O’Connor reached out to John Kelly, who was handling part of the civil trial for the Brown family. They talked. Mr. Kelly and his associate flew to Buffalo, and we talked and had dinner and moved forward. He said we helped hand the case to them on a silver platter. I was grateful I was able to help them. I never heard from the attorneys again.
When they won that civil trial, my name wasn’t mentioned once. I would have liked to have gotten a thank you. I had had my credibility and professionalism questioned. I had investigators calling my mom digging for information about me. I have no interest in going through that again.
Hindsight being 20/20, I would never do it again.
There’s not a week that goes by that I don’t hear about the photo. It’s fine. It’s also sad. I hope I get remembered for more than this, but it is what it is.
I don’t want to say how much money I made from the picture. It was enough to put a down payment on a home in Clarence and have some vacation money here and there. At that time in my life, it was nice. A simple thank you from the families of the victims or their attorneys would have been so much better.
And by the way, to this day, my mom still thinks he’s innocent.