THE O.J. SIMPSON MURDER TRIAL : Detectives Share Faith in Instinct


While Detective Tom Lange inched his way through more details of the O.J. Simpson murder case, I thought I might learn more somewhere else.

Lange, the Simpson case’s lead investigator, is such a “yes” and “no” kind of guy, such an enigmatic person, that I wondered about his unit, the Robbery-Homicide Division, and about the kind of person who devotes a life to the bloody task of investigating murders.

On Monday, I visited Robbery-Homicide, on the third floor of police headquarters, Parker Center, and talked to three detectives about their jobs.


They didn’t want to talk about the Simpson case, and I agreed to their ground rules. But in my mind, I related their answers to what I had heard coming from the courtroom in the preliminary hearing and in the trial.

In the end, I got a better understanding of how the cops investigate such cases and, to my surprise, of how we in the media cover them.


Capt. Will O. Gartland, the division commander, showed me into his office and introduced me to the two detectives he’d brought in for my interview, Addison A. (Buddy) Arce and Paul S. Tippin.

Tippin looks mild-mannered. He might be mistaken for an accountant. Arce is more the con-wise street cop. Gartland spoke softly, cautiously, in the manner of Tom Lange.

The detectives were friendly, with only the slightest touch of the cops’ needle. They had me sit on the sunny side of the table. It’s where they put the suspect, they said. The glare made the suspect uncomfortable. I replied that in my business, people had been trying to unnerve me so long that it no longer bothered me.

We talked about a quality that detectives prize, but that is held up to scorn by defense attorney Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. This is the detectives’ instinct, a “sense” of what happened at the crime scene. “You don’t have it when you are younger,” said Arce, who, like other robbery-homicide detectives, has many years of investigatory experience.


“You get there (at the scene) and nobody tells you what has happened,” said Arce. The detective looks around, asks questions, views the scene against the backdrop of many years of experience. “You get a feeling, and you go with your feelings. . . . It comes with experience.”

This is what Tom Lange was talking about in court Tuesday when Deputy Dist. Atty. Marcia Clark pressed him on why he ruled out drug-related killings in the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman.

“I don’t believe they were,” said Lange, whose 250 murder investigations include 125 drug-related killings.

Drug murders, Lange said, are distinctive. They are accomplished with guns. There are usually needles, scales, cookers and other tools of the drug trade scattered around, indicating use or sale. If the murder site is a home, office or store, it’s been ransacked by killers seeking money, drugs or incriminating address books.

This reliance on experience and instinct is being attacked by Cochran. He has maintained Lange and the other detectives were too quick to make up their minds that Simpson was the killer and abandoned the search for another possible murderer or murderers.

But the robbery-homicide detectives said they rely on more than instinct. Detective Tippin said the division works closely with the police lab and, despite what the defense says, understands the intricacies of DNA evidence.



As I mentioned earlier, I also learned something about the media from my visit to Robbery-Homicide.

This happened when we were discussing another quality of a good homicide detective--patience.

These detectives are assigned difficult cases, including serial murders. These killings often take many years to solve and to try. In the event of a hung jury, there is a second or even a third trial. And murder convictions are appealed. Arce is answering questions from appeals by two convicted killers currently on Death Row.

That gives the robbery-homicide detectives a long view of a crime. Their cases can take years, and they can wait.

This puts Detective Lange more in tune with the rhythms of this trial than many of us in the media, scrambling madly for a lead or for a hot item for a tabloid TV show.

To the media, every day is victory or defeat. Even the lawyer commentators, who are supposed to know better, have embraced this approach as they try to satisfy their strange new media employers.


It’s different for the homicide detective. Life goes on, as does death. “We know,” said Detective Arce, “tomorrow there will be another murder.”