Agapanthus and Cap

Among the evidence items in the Simpson trial a knit cap and a glove were found beneath the leaves of an agapanthus plant at Nicole's gate, and the prosecution speculated that they came to be in that place because the objects were lost by Simpson in his knife attack against Goldman there. If so, then these dislodged items apparently fell through the leaves of the plant and onto the ground beneath, where they were found. It had been my belief that those items, particularly the cap, would not naturally fall through such leaves, and therefore the reason for them to have been found where they were was because they were deliberately planted by a person that wanted to blame Simpson for the crime.

: In December, 1997 I bought a 1 gallon agapanthus plant (variety: Lily of the Nile) and planted it in my back yard with the plan to test the interaction of a knit cap with its leaves. By letting the plant grow until the middle of the following June, I hoped to have a plant that was reasonably similar to the plant at Nicole's gate. In fact, according to pictures I have seen of the crime scene, it does appear about the same size and shape, though there are differences of detail. Of most interest here, Nicole's plant seems to have leaves that are more uniformly distributed circumferentially; in mine there seem to be two "clumps" of leaves (in the south-east and the west) with thinned gaps between. The knit cap I used is generic, without pedigree, and borrowed from a relative. If it is different from the evidence cap it is because it is smaller, and hence would more easily fall through the leaves. Such a discrepancy, if it is a fact, is conservative for the present purpose. I did not undertake to acquire and experiment with a glove.

In preliminary trials, I believed that the result depended somewhat on the way in which the cap approached the plant. If there was only a vertical component of motion when it struck the leaves the cap was less likely to come into a resting position that was unequivocally "under" the plant than if there were also a horizontal component of motion. But, we do not know the circumstances under which the cap might have approached the plant. If the struggle were very close to the plant and the cap were "dislodged" then it might fall more or less straight down on the plant (vertical motion only) But, if the struggle were taking place a yard or two from the plant and "flew" off by the struggle it could hit the plant with a horizontal component of motion. Tests were conducted both by "throwing" the cap at the plant and by "dropping" the cap. In order to test the result of a person standing near the plant and holding his hand low to "fling" the cap under the plant deliberately, a third set of trial was conducted. Each series consisted of 50 trials -- 150 hits of the cap on the agapanthus in total. (The plant seems to have suffered somewhat.)

DETAILS: In each trial the quadrant (North, South, East, West, Center) of the cap's final resting place was recorded, together with a description of the relative position of the cap and leaves. In a "Type 9" result the cap is completely under the leaf; in a "Type 1" result the cap is completely on top of the leaf. Several intermediate results are also recognized. Of course, the cap will interact with more than one leaf, so results were recorded in such form as "All type 1" or " 2 Type 1, Several Type 9." In some trials (about 10% of all "tosses") the cap did not contact the plant at all; this was considered a "Miss" and was repeated without being documented. In about 20% of the "tosses" the cap bounced completely off the plant and landed in a position where it was not covered by any leaves; this was recorded as "Bounce."

All "tosses" were done from a distance of about 8 feet, and in the quadrant from west to south of the plant's center. (Interfering plants in the yard made other locations impossible.) The trajectory of a "toss" did not rise more than a foot from where the cap was released (3 to 4 feet off the ground.) Some experiments with "lobbing" the cap on a high (6 to 8 feet) trajectory were tried, but the accuracy was poor, misses were frequent, and no records of such trials were made. Trials of "dropping" the cap were made from a stepladder, and the cap was released 8 feet above the ground. The results of "flinging" the cap seemed to depend on the distance from which this was done, and half the trials were done from 3 feet and the other half from 6 feet away from the plant center. "Flinging" was done on June 14, 1998, "tossing" on June 20, and "dropping" on June 21. The temperature during all trials was 68 to 75 degrees F., and the last previous (light) rain had been on June 11.

To facilitate photography, sheets (2' x 4') of white painted pegboard (1" pitch) were put beneath and behind the plant. However, since the interaction of the cap with the raw dirt under the plant was essential to the results of "flinging," those trials were made without the pegboard.


FLING (Simulated "planting" of evidence)
16 cases, under all leaves
33 cases, ambiguous, mostly under
1 case, conspicuously flung

TOSS (Simulated "thrown off" in a struggle)
11 cases, bounced completely off plant
8 cases, completely on top of plant
1 case, landed on edge
11 cases, completely under plant
19 cases, ambiguous, over some leaves, under others

DROP (Simulated "dislodged" in very nearby struggle)
13 cases, bounced completely off plant
17 cases, completely on top of plant
3 cases, completely under plant
17 cases, ambiguous, over some leaves, under others

The crime scene plant was known to be disturbed while it was still dark (the famous Fuhrman-points-to-glove photo) and could have been disturbed by investigators even earlier. Therefore, witness descriptions of the cap and the glove being "under" the plant are observations that were made in the dark, and by flashlight. Subtleties in the relative position of cap and leaves could be overlooked under those conditions. For example, if the cap was on top of two leaves and under three leaves, this could easily be recognized as "under" the plant even though it would be more correctly described as "in" the plant. However, we can believe that gross differences, such a cap that was completely laying on top of all the leaves, would not be misreported. For this reason we will consider that half of ambiguous cases would be reported as cap being "under" the plant, and half of them would be reported as "on" the plant.

In this way, we interpret the result of the "Toss" experiment as giving 28-1/2 cases (57%) that would not have been described as "cap under the plant" and 19-1/2 cases in which that result could have been described in the dark. For a similar reason, the "Drop" experiment gives 38-1/2 cases (77%) that would not have been described as "cap under the plant" and 11-1/2 cases in which that result could have been described. Of the "Fling" experiment, we can say that it is almost certain (98%) that a flung cap would appear to later investigators to be "under the plant."

THE FRAGILE AGAPANTHUS: These experiments caused me to closely examine an agapanthus over some period of time. This is really a more fragile plant than is usually realized. If one of its slender leaves is stepped on it will form a crease at the place of the injury, and the distal part will usually die off. In each of the series of experiments, a general deterioration in the plant was visible after 50 hits with a relatively slow moving and soft knit cap. In the last series, a central leaf that was vertical at the beginning had become broken, and was leaning over by the 20th trial; at the end of the experiment it was broken in two places. Several other leaves were also permanently broken. There was no other trauma to the plant than contact with the knit cap.

We recall that the place of the agapanthus in Nicole's yard was that it was at the end of a piece of fence that ended at the front gate. If one passed the agapanthus going east he proceeded from the yard to Bundy Drive. If he passed it going north, he entered the little alcove where Goldman's body was found. The entrance to that alcove is fairly narrow: less than 20 inches. The prosecutor tells us that Simpson and Goldman were struggling as they moved through that space, and we can be sure they were not trying particularly to be careful of the plants there. And yet, there is no indication in the Fuhrman-points-at-glove photograph that the agapanthus had been damaged. From my experiments I can say conclusively that this means that the agapanthus was not touched in the slightest by that struggle. Considering the tight space, this is most remarkable. In fact, I can not believe that a life and death struggle progressing through that small space would not have contacted the plant; indeed, I would expect that there would have been such flailing around that some foot would have hit it squarely, and the result would have been a completely destroyed plant. Since this was not seen (and for other reasons), I believe that the attack on Goldman did not proceed past the agapanthus plant.

CONCLUSION: I had quite frankly hoped that the result of these experiments would be to show that the cap could not have come under the agapanthus plant (as the investigators found it) as a result of having been lost in a nearby struggle. The experiment does not show that. Since we do not know whether the "Toss" or the "Drop" series approximates the situation that might have existed, I take the average of the two and find that there is a 33% probability that a cap lost in a struggle can fall through the leaves of the plant and end up "under" the plant. Correspondingly, there is a 67% probability that a cap lost in this way will not give the appearance seen. That is, it is twice as likely that a cap lost in a struggle will not give the indication ("cap under the plant") seen as that it will. However, it is virtually certain that if a person deliberately "flings" the cap at the ground beneath the leaves, it will show the indication seen.

Furthermore, we conclude that because the agapanthus plant is as fragile as crystal, the fact that it showed no damage after the crime indicates that it was not touched during the attack on Goldman. Considering the close quarters in the vicinity of the plant, this leads to the further conclusion that the attack did not proceed into the alcove.

Does this "prove" anything? No. But it should make us suspicious that the cap was not under the agapanthus because it fell there during a nearby fight. It is more likely that it was there because it was deliberately planted to frame Simpson.

It is just one more reason to slow down, and think again.

Dick Wagner • Van Nuys, CA (7/18/98) AGAPANTH.TXT