MEZZALUNA AND THE GLASSES
In March and April of 1999 I visited Brentwood to photograph the exterior of the building which housed the Mezzaluna Restaurant in 1994, and its environs. It is still a restaurant, but now called "Fuzio, Universal Pasta Company." (It sounds like a joke name to me.) As I will describe, the building itself has been somewhat remodeled with the new ownership, but the location and the lay of the land is the same as it was then.
THE NEIGHBORHOOD: I think there is no question that Brentwood, and particularly the commercial district of Brentwood Village, is one of the most charming places in the world. In Figure 1 [C_MAP] I show a map of the neighborhood. Nicole's condo, where the crimes occurred, is on the right as "CONDO," the Mezzaluna restaurant is shown as an orange triangle two blocks east. The locations of witnesses Shively, Heidstra, Pilnak, Storfer, Stein, and Fenjves are shown in blue. The Aaronson/Mandel route is in green, Heidstra's route is in blue, and Siimpson's presumed route of flight is shown in red. Goldman's apartment is in pink, and Starbuck's coffee shop is black. (It has been said that Nicole sometimes met Goldman for coffee there in the morning after her jog, and it was her plan when she talked to her mother to get the glasses from Ron there on Monday morning. It's proximity to the Mezzaluna and to Ron's apartment is clear on the map.) Ben & Jerry's ice cream parlor (where Nicole took the children after dinner), and the Westward Ho Market (where Jill Shively was bound when she nearly collided with Simpson at 10:39) are also shown in black.
Notice that the Mezzaluna is of a triangular shape, because it is at the end of a block bounded by streets (San Vicente and Gorham) that intersect acutely. In 1994 the very tip of this lot, at the corner, was not inside the structure, but was an al fresco dining area bounded by a low fence and a gate. As described in testimony, there were two entrances to the place at the time, the main (San Vicente) entrance and the side (Gorham) entrance. Considering the difficulty of finding a parking place in that neighborhood, it would hardly be worth Goldman's effort to drive to work in order to spare the 100 yard walk from his apartment. (In fact, you can see the Mezzaluna from the street in front of Goldman's apartment.) However, the parking restrictions are not in effect on Sunday, and so the issue of "feeding the parking meter" is not relevant on the day in question.
THE BUILDING: Figure 2 [MEZZA_04] shows the front entrance of Fuzio from across San Vicente. Notice that the 1930s-era building is generally a two story structure of wood frame and stucco construction, with offices on the second floor. A doorway to the right of the Fuzio entrance leads to a stairway that serves the second floor. Directly in front of the Fuzio door there is a parking meter, a parking restriction sign (No Parking 7AM to 9AM weekdays) on a pole, about a 5 foot space to the east of that, and then three closely spaced news racks. There are small trees planted in openings in the sidewalk at about 50 foot intervals.
In Figure 3 [MEZZA_14] the perspective is looking down Gorham from Barrington across San Vicente. The restaurant is on the right, and Bundy is two blocks farther on, out of sight in this view. Gorham is slightly down hill beyond San Vicente, and conspicuously up hill behind the viewer. San Vicente is very slightlyl downhill to the left through here. About half a block behind where this picture is taken is Goldman's apartment house.
In Figure 4 [MEZZA_12] we see the front entrance of the restaurant from the perspective of eastbound San Vicente traffic. From this we see that shortly beyond the three news racks there is a solid wall of nine more, reaching all the way to the corner. There are two reasons for this. The first is that newspaper sellers think that a restaurant is a high traffic area where sales will be good. The second is that local traffic laws do not allow news racks where cars park, since they obstruct passengers alighting on the right side of the car. From this, we are led to expect that parking is not allowed from the Fuzio front door to the corner, and in fact visiting there we find that the curb is painted red in that entire stretch. So, after 6 pm, the last car that is parked in that part of San Vicente is in the position of blue-gray car seen in the lower right corner of Figure 4. The space immediately in front could be occupied momentarily by people coming and going to the restaurant, and beyond that the space would be used by cars positioning themselves to turn right at the corner. I believe the portion of the restaurant building beyond the arrow in Figure 4 was added after 1994.
OTHER SHOPS: It is difficult to portray Ben & Jerry's ice cream parlor with a photograph taken in the afternoon; the front of the place is in deep shade. In Figure 5 [B&J_11A] a view of the row of shops across Gorham from the Mezzaluna is shown, and digital enhancement has been tried to bring out the detail hidden in shadow in the original. Although this version does not show realistic colors, it is possible to see the several signs on the front of the place, a large neon ice cream cone, and the Ben & Jerry's sign across the top on the leftmost store front.
The Starbucks Coffee shop is shown in Figure 6 [STARBUCK] looking north across San Vicente from about Ben & Jerry's. The grassy median between eastbound (foreground) and westbound traffic is seen, and one of the median trees (a variety of fig, I believe) of which the locals are very proud, is also shown. In Nicole's original conversation with her mother, she expressed the idea of picking up the glasses after jogging Monday when she went for coffee at Starbucks. Presumably, she would get them then from Ron Goldman. But in the map we see that it is really no farther to go to Starbucks than to go directly to the restaurant, and we wonder why she did not plan to get the glasses directly from the restaurant. But, maybe it was a matter of timing; maybe the restaurant would not be open when Nicole expected to be in the neighborhood.
In Figure 7 [ALL3_13] we see nearly all of the points of interest near the Mezzaluna in one photograph. This is taken from the median and shows Ben & Jerry's on the extreme left, the Mezzaluna in the middle, and the Westward Ho Market on the right. (Westward Ho Market has since been changed to Whole Food Market.) If the person viewing this scene were to stick his right arm out sideways, he would be pointing nearly at Starbucks Coffee shop.
Some people have asked about the back side of the restaurant (the Gorham side) and in Figure 8 [ALFRESCO] I show this from a position on the south side of Gorham. Notice that there are planter boxes enclosing an al fresco dining area from the corner down along the south wall of the restaurant. They extend for about 50 feet beyond the left edge of the picture. The tables are sheltered from the sun by umbrellas. A dining party can be seen under the blue umbrella on the left. Behind the driver's position of a parked white SUV is a glass paned door leading from the restaurant into this outdoor dining area. This door is raised above street level, there is a little porch, and the black railing for steps to that is seen to the left of the door. It is believed that the one-story part of the building has been added since 1994, and that at the time of the crime this whole area was outdoor dining, enclosed by a low fence and hedge, rather than planter boxes. However the back door seen in this picture is in the two story (original) part of the building, and may be the "side door" referred to in testimony.
Figure 9 [WEST] is a view west along the sidewalk from just east of the front door to the restaurant. Note the strollers approaching, and the people-watchers sitting in front of a nearby shop. San Vicente through Brentwood Village is a popular promenade on sunny afternoons and evenings. In the mornings, the conspicuously fit younger members of the community show off their bodies by jogging on the median strip, mostly to the west from here at Gorham. There are only two signaled intersections (Montana and Bundy) going in that direction before leaving the commercial area.
Figure 10 [EAST] is taken from the same location as the previous picture, but looking in the opposite direction. The last of the planter boxes enclosing the outdoor dining area can be seen at the end of the building. Going in this direction, one can cross the street, go down three shops on the right, and be at Ben & Jerry's ice cream parlor.
JUDITHA'S GLASSES: A critical element of the crime was the fact that Nicole's mother, Juditha Brown, lost her eyeglasses during a visit to the restaurant for dinner early in the evening of June 12th. If she had not lost the glasses, Goldman would not have gone to Nicole's to deliver them, and he would not have been killed there. If Goldman had not paged Nicole from her front gate, Nicole would not have gone outside of her condo to admit Goldman, and would not have been vulnerable to the killer. So, the losing of the glasses was an event that launched both murders, and the circumstances of the loss and discovery becomes interesting.
Several people testified that when Nicole's dinner party got to the restaurant, the car carrying Juditha pulled up at the front door to the restaurant, Juditha and others got out, and the car was taken away to be parked (whether by Lou Brown or a valet, I am not sure.) We see in Figure 11 [MEZZA_10] the sign on the parking meter directly in front of the restaurant front door. That space is normally a metered parking place, but from 6:00 pm to midnight it is a passenger loading zone only. The position of that parking meter can be seen in Figure 2 to be about 8 feet to the west (right) of the red news rack in front of the restaurant.
The remaining east end of the street from this parking meter in front of the front door is No Parking. In Figure 12 [REDZONE] we look back to the west from near the Gorham / San Vicente corner and see that the curb is painted red all the way to the white car, which is parked in the space where the parking meter of Figure 10 is located. (After 6:00 pm the space where the white car is located would be empty.) The row of twelve news racks is also conspicuous.
Karen Crawford (Mezzaluna manager on that night) testified that at about 9:40 she walked straight out the front door to the restaurant and found the glasses in the street, where Juditha had alighted from the car at about 6:45. She said they were on the asphalt of the street a few inches beyond the concrete gutter, and that because they were "muddy" she wiped them off before putting them in an envelope for delivery to Nicole. In Figure 13 [GLASSES] we see a reconstructed scene with a pair of wire frame glasses lying in that same place. (I have added an orange arrow pointing to them.) The sidewalk is 12-1/2 feet wide from building to curb, and the gutter is an unusually generous 24 inches wide. On the date of the crime, the south side of the street would have been in direct sunlight from about the time the party arrived until sundown at 8:10, and would still be in twilight for another 20 minutes or more. Although the glasses are not terribly conspicuous, they would be seen by anyone who was looking at the ground, and was within a couple of yards of the spot. In particular, it was implied that there was a parking valet at the restaurant, and such a person would be hovering near there for the entire time.
Furthermore, the glasses are fragile, and would have been destroyed by contact with the tire of any car passing over that spot. Cars use that space not only for restaurant patrons coming and going, but also as a right turn lane at Gorham. And the neighborhood is busy at the time Nicole's party left; not only was the Mezzaluna open, but so was Ben & Jerry's (and many other eating establishments nearby.) San Vicente is also a main thoroughfare for thousands of residents that live in the area, and gets considerable traffic even when these places are closed. It is therefore surprising that the glasses lying in front of the restaurant for three hours were neither discovered by a passer-by nor run over by a car.
"MUDDY" Karen Crawford's description that the glasses were "muddy" when she found them is also surprising. We do not expect that they were muddy when they left Juditha's possession, and so they must have contacted mud during the three hours they were missing. I wondered if this might not have happened because the sidewalk was washed off by a restaurant employee during the three hours, and water and dirt accumulated in a depression in the street in which the glasses coincidentally fell. I went to the restaurant after a rain, and did not see that there was any puddle in front of the restaurant, and there is no depression in the street more than normal surface irregularities in old asphalt (a quarter inch or so). Also, I looked for a hose bib on the outside wall of the restaurant (or a little door concealing one) and did not see any such thing. (That does not mean there is not a water connection that is not seen from the sidewalk, however, or that water from a neighboring shop might not be used by prior arrangement.)
But, even if there was water, where would the dirt come from to make mud? Everything seems thoroughly paved around the front of the restaurant. I noticed the small trees planted at about 50 foot intervals, and wondered if there might not be dirt exposed at the base of those. In Figure 14 [GRATING] I show one of those, and we see that there is a grating, and gravel under that. There is no exposed dirt at the base of the trees.
The only place today where I could find a source of dirt or mud was in the planter boxes around the east and south ends of the restaurant. I show another view of this in Figure 15 [POINT]. Today, the planter boxes put dirt at about the position of a standing person's hand. But, in 1994 the configuration here may have involved hedges planted in the ground, rather than planter boxes, so we can not be sure of the exact situation then. But, it seems likely that there was dirt there at some level, and it was the closest source for mud to the front door of the restaurant. Of course, for the glasses to have come in contact with mud in any planter bed or box implies deliberate relocation of the glasses, since these places are away from where the glasses would be presumed by Juditha's version to have been undisturbed throughout the period.
MEZZALUNA IN 1994: In Figure 16 [MEZZAL_1.JPG] is shown a news photograph of the Mezzaluna restaurant from the time after the murders. It is taken from the point where Gorham and San Vicente meet, looking across the patio, and through the east and north windows of the restaurant to traffic on San Vicente. Notice the large potted palm outside the railing; this could have been the source of the mysterious mud on the glasses. This is a particularly interesting location, since it is accessible to a person inside the restaurant who walks into the patio (still a part of the restaurant, though outdoors) to stash them, and later accessible to a person who is outside the restaurant to retrieve them and plant them in the street.
JUDITHA'S VERSION: As I have pointed out before, the actual way in which Juditha's glassses escaped from her possession is completely unknown. In a stipulation offered at the criminal trial she says she lost them when she alighted from the car upon arriving at the restaurant. But, we know this must be her conclusion, and not a matter of actual observation. If she knew when she dropped the glasses that they were in the street, and not in her purse, she would have picked them up then. So, she is concluding from the fact that the glasses were found in the street that she lost them there. Furthermore, we know from testimony (hers and Denise's) that Juditha was aware that her glasses were missing at the time they left the restaurant, because before they left they looked in the Jeep for them. According to her actual knowledge, the glasses could as well have been stolen from her purse after she got into the restaurant as lost in the street.
And, at the time she called the restaurant, Juditha apparently did not assume that she dropped the glasses in the street, but only knew that they were missing. Whatever she said to Karen Crawford caused Crawford to look first around the table where the party had dined and then ask the bus boys if they had seen them, and only upon failing to find the glasses inside the restaurant did she go outside and look in the street. (However, in the civil trial, Juditha claims that she told Crawford that she "thought she dropped the glasses in a little puddle in the street in front of the restaurant," but Crawfords actions seem to contradict this. Like Juditha's claim that she "lost the glasses in the street," I think that the "little puddle" is a reconstruction, this time based on Crawford's grand jury description of finding the glasses.) Also in the civil trial she says that "as we arrived home" she was concerned about the glasses, "And I went on the phone and I called Mezzaluna," implying that she called immediately as she got home.
Also, there is something strange about Juditha's attitude concerning the glasses. From the depositions, she cared a good deal about them -- enough so that she lamented about them in the car, and then immediately called the restaurant when she got home. But, she did not look for them farther than the Jeep before she left. This is consistent with her having been assured at the restaurant that if she called later they would be found and returned to her.
CONCLUSION: I believe that the glasses were purloined from Juditha after she was inside the restaurant, and she was persuaded to call about them after she got home, rather than look for them at the time. I believe that the conspirators then kept the glasses safe until about 9:15 when they put them into the gutter, anticipating the call from Juditha, and that Crawford would find them. The place and way they were kept explains the reason for the mud, but I am not sure what this was. It is also possible that the glasses passed through the hands of two people during the subtrafuge: one stole the glasses from Juditha and put them in the muddy place, and the other took them from that place later and put them into the street.
Dick Wagner . Van Nuys, CA (4/22/99) NG_536