How the O.J. Simpson Heisman Trophy theft was solved

LAPD's art theft detail used email and telephone records to find O.J. Simpson's stolen Heisman Trophy

The last time USC's 1968 Heisman Trophy won by O.J. Simpson was displayed in public was in 1994.

It was June, and Simpson was at the center of a homicide investigation after his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Lyle Goldman were found dead outside her home.

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FOR THE RECORD:

O.J. Simpson Heisman: In the Jan. 9 California section, an article about the recovery of USC's Heisman trophy won by O.J. Simpson said that the trophies are presented annually by the New York Athletic Club. They were presented for many years by the Downtown Athletic Club and are now awarded by the Heisman Trophy Trust. —
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Fearing for the safety of the trophy and Simpson's No. 32 football jersey, USC officials removed them from their cases in USC's Heritage Hall. Days later, they placed the items back on display.

Then on July 28, 1994, a custodian noticed that the trophy and jersey were gone.

So began a mystery that has baffled detectives and generated various theories for more than 20 years.

This week, Los Angeles police officials announced that they had finally recovered the stolen Heisman. But the jersey has not been found.

The theft

The custodian working that night in 1994 immediately notified security guards when he saw the trophy was missing. At the time, police said they suspected two thieves were responsible for the break-in.

Someone had unscrewed the covers of the display cases.

The theft was the first time any memorabilia had been stolen from Heritage Hall.

There was a flurry of activity in 1995, when it looked like the trophy had been recovered. An attorney called USC to report that a good Samaritan had come across the trophy and wanted to return it.

“But the small bronze statue of a football player ... only slightly resembles the Heisman,” The Times reported at the time.

Trail goes cold

USC and Simpson received Heisman trophies, which are awarded annually by the New York Athletic Club to whoever is named as college football's best player by a group of sports journalists.

Simpson went through a lengthy murder trial, which was televised, and he was ultimately acquitted. In a subsequent civil trial brought by the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Goldman, the disgraced athlete was found liable for $33.5 million.

To help settle court costs, Simpson sold his own copy of the Heisman at an auction at the Los Angeles showroom of Butterfield & Butterfield.

An anonymous East Coast collector bought the trophy for $230,000, plus commission.

USC's statue, however, remained missing.

Trophy recovered

LAPD officials have released little information about how they got it back.

Sources familiar with the investigation told The Times that someone in possession of the trophy contacted Heisman Trophy officials to authenticate the bronze statue as the one given to USC for O.J. Simpson.

Heisman officials apparently alerted the university, which notified the LAPD. Soon after, the LAPD's art theft detail began investigating the theft.

But a misspelling on one of the plaques might have been what led investigators to the man, confirming that it was taken during the theft.

Robert Whalen, executive director of the Heisman Trophy Trust, declined to comment about the trophy's recovery because of the LAPD's ongoing investigation.

Using telephone and email records, art detectives were able to locate the person and eventually recover the trophy. The LAPD is still trying to locate Simpson's jersey.

The person who had the trophy apparently has a criminal history, according to an LAPD affidavit and search warrant. Names in the affidavit and search warrant were redacted.

The Dec. 1 search warrant said an arrest warrant had been issued on an unrelated felony involving drugs, but the person's name was redacted.

No prosecution

Former prosecutor Dmitry Gorin, who works as a criminal defense attorney, said the theft of the Heisman occurred too long ago for anyone to be charged.

“Most of the statutes are three to four years with very few exceptions related to theft,” he said. “If you don't know something is stolen then that could stop the clock, but here clearly they knew it was gone. So the statute of limitations has run.”

Prosecutors are likely to be much more successful if they are charging someone with receiving stolen property.

Replica is on display

It is unclear what USC plans to do with the recovered trophy.

After the trophy was stolen, USC obtained a replica Heisman to stand in its place, said Tim Tessalone, USC sports information director.

For more Southern California news, follow @VeronicaRochaLA and @lacrimes.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

11:30 a.m.: This post was updated with new details and information throughout.

This story was originally posted at 4:01 p.m. Jan. 7.

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