WHAT HEIDSTRA SAW
Robert Heidstra was an auto detailer that lived in Nicole's neighborhood and testified that on the night of June 12th he was walking his dogs in the vicinity of her condo at 10:30 to 10:45 and heard and saw things that might be of interest in better understanding the crime. I went to the same neighborhood in March of 1999 with a camera to document the situation he encountered. Although some things may have changed in the interval, the lay of the land is the same, I believe the houses are the same, and most of the trees and other landscaping are essentially as they were at the time of the crime. The front of Nicole's condo, however has been redone, and its address has been changed from 875 to 877 S. Bundy Drive.
HEIDSTRA'S REPORT: Figure 1 shows a map of the immediate vicinity. The neighborhood is cocked at an angle from north, but we will follow the convention there of colloquially referring to the direction toward the top of Figure 1 as "north." Heidstra lives on the north side of Dorothy St. very near to Westgate, which is a block east of and parallel to Bundy. He said that at about 10:15 he left his apartment with his dogs, went to Westgate, then a block north, and turned to go west on Gorham. He went down that into the dogleg of Bundy, but before he got to the straight part of Bundy he heard a dog farther on that alarmed him because it sounded "crazy" and "hysterical." Wanting to avoid an encounter with his own dogs, he backtracked a few yards to an alley (I have called it the "east alley") that would take him back to Dorothy St. without going down Bundy. He went through the alley until he got to a point "exactly opposite Nicole's condo" and their waited to listen to the commotion he could still hear from the street on the other side of the house he was behind.
He heard a young man yell, "hey, hey, hey," and he heard an older man's indistinct voice talk rapidly or argue (Heidstra used both terms). This continued for about fifteen seconds, and at some shortly later time he heard a metal gate clang shut. After Heidstra had been at that location for about a minute, he proceeded out of the alley, went left on Dorothy St. and to the second house where he stopped under a "big oak tree" where he continued to listen to the commotion of barking on Bundy, and now also watched in that direction. He was aware that there was a "white SUV" (Sport Utility Vehicle) facing Bundy (and him) at Dorothy. After a moment, that vehicle turned right and sped away south on Bundy at a high speed. Shortly later Heidstra returned home with his dogs.
HEIDSTRA'S VANTAGE POINT: I wanted to see if I could find the tree that Heidstra described as the location from which he saw the white SUV. In the first house east of the alley there are three young trees planted in the parkway, and these could have been different five years ago. But, in front of the second house from the alley, there is a very old and large tree, and although I don't think it is an oak tree, I believe it is the tree from which Heidstra watched. Beyond that, there are several houses without trees, and the next tree encountered is a palm, which could not be confused with an oak. Figure 2 [TREE_01] shows the tree that I have identified as the place of Heidstra's observation. This picture is taken from the south side of Dorothy, slightly west of the alley.
I went to that tree, and took a picture of the intersection as Heidstra would have seen it. This is Figure 3 [XSECT_14], and shows the situation in daytime (about 2:30 pm); we realize that when Heidstra was there it was night. We also must account for the fact that these pictures were taken in March, just before the parkway trees near the intersection began to leaf out; the crime was in June, when that process was fully developed. We notice that the trees in the foreground are growing in such a way that their branches do not obscure the intersection, even when leafed out. The picture was taken from normal height, just behind the curb, and without any particular effort to peek around objects. I should also mention that we are looking downhill in Figure 3. The far side of the intersection is almost 100 yards away, and quite a bit lower than the place from which the picture was taken. Bundy itself slopes more slightly down to the left, and it is slightly uphill on Dorothy continuing west from Bundy.
(A 9" torpedo level was put on the sidewalk halfway between the alley and Bundy, and showed a 17/32" gap between the west end of the level and the sidewalk when the bubble was centered. From this, the Bundy hill is a 6% grade and this grade effectively extends for a distance of about 200 feet. Therefore Heidstra's vantage from which he saw the intersection was about 12 feet higher than the intersection itself. The height difference when Heidstra was listening from the alley, between his position and the street on Bundy, is a little less - about 11 feet.)
There is a white car in Figure 3 about to turn right, as Heidstra saw the white SUV turn right. In Figure 4 [XSECT14A] I show a narrow view of that part of Figure 3. The car is somewhat indistinct, but it is clear that there is something on the far side of the intersection facing us, and from the context, it would be known to be a vehicle. Furthermore, although I have not shown it, as a vehicle turns and presents its profile, most people would be able to tell whether it was a car, an SUV, a pickup, or a delivery truck, I think. It would be an unusual person who would be able to tell a Bronco, from a Jeep Cherokee at this distance, however. Furthermore, I would say that no person would be able to tell -- even in the daytime -- whether a man or a woman was driving, though perhaps they could tell how many people were in the vehicle, even if it did not have tinted windows.
This leads to a comfortable resolution of one issue that was raised in the trial. Prosecutor Darden claimed that Heidstra had said in early conversations that he had seen a "white Bronco," but in court, he only said a "white SUV." I don't know what Heidstra may have told others in the days right after the crime, but if he said "white Bronco" he was somewhat overstating his observation, I think. If he had been closer to the intersection -- even at the alley -- such an identification might be barely credible, but from the actual observation place, I don't think that such a claim is very reliable, even for Heidstra, who knows cars.
WHERE DID THE WHITE SUV COME FROM? Although there is a clear view from Heidstra's vantage of Dorothy west of Bundy, for several blocks, the mouth of the alley behind Nicole's condo (the "west alley") can not be seen from this perspective. In fact, if a vehicle entered Dorothy from the right, it would be hard from here to tell whether it came from the alley, or from the next street, Gretna Green. So, under any circumstances, Heidstra could not reliably report this detail.
But, curiously, he did not give this as the reason for demurring on where the vehicle came from. Twice he was pressed on the point, and twice he said that he could not tell whether the SUV had come from the alley because it was too dark at the alley, the streetlight "does not go that far." And, indeed that is true. Both because of bad perspective and impossible lighting, Heidstra could not see an object at the mouth of Nicole's alley. And, we expect that the vehicle emerged onto Dorothy while Heidstra was watching, since he did not say, "I couldn't tell where it came from; it was already at the intersection when I first looked there." Furthermore, since he waited for a minute in the alley to listen to the commotion, then took a position at the tree to observe, we think that he may have been there for at least a little time before the vehicle appeared.
Now, under ordinary circumstances at night, it is not necessary to have a streetlight illuminate a car to tell where it has come from; the car's own headlights reveal its position. But, twice Heidstra was specific that he could not tell where the SUV came from because it was dark down Dorothy, the streetlight did not reach that far. The implication is that the SUV did not have its headlights on. This then would match with Shively's experience two minutes later when she nearly collided with Simpson's Bronco when it ran the light at Bundy and San Vicente with its headlights out. However, it is also possible that Heidstra was being imprecise with his language, and that the SUV's headlights were on, though I think they were not.
WHAT DID SIMPSON SEE? Until this analysis, I had assumed that if Heidstra saw the white SUV, the driver of the SUV could have seen Heidstra. This then would give a motive for Simpson (if he was the one in the SUV) to turn right instead of left: to confuse the observation of someone he knew was watching him. I show in Figure 5 [TREE_06] the view of Heidstra's tree from the perspective of the white SUV waiting to turn onto Bundy. The first thing one realizes is that a person is smaller than an SUV, and so at the same distance it is less conspicuous. Next, the intersection is a clear space with no other objects to distract or confuse the observer, whereas the place by the tree has much to look at: other cars, trees, and trash containers waiting for Monday pickup (these pictures were taken on a Sunday afternoon.) So, a person watching is not at all conspicuous.
To show this factor more acutely, Figure 6 [TREE_06A] is a narrow view of the same scene as in Figure 5. The tree can be made out, but it is doubtful if one could tell for sure whether there is a person standing beside it (there is not in this picture.) Furthermore, these pictures were taken in the daytime, and we see from Figure 5 that the Bundy/Dorothy streetlight is on the north-east corner, in the middle of the parkway. From this, we realize that an object on the same parkway (as Heidstra was when he was watching) is in the shadow of other trees between him and the streetlight. So, he is not illuminated. And, when I drove at night the presumed Simpson escape routes (see "Tooling Around Brentwood") I noticed that when I was in the same position as the white SUV, waiting to turn right, my headlights were pointed down into the Bundy pavement, not at all pointing farther up Dorothy. So, neither the corner streetlight nor the SUV's headlights (if they were on) would illuminate Heidstra. There is no other streetlight between Heidstra and the corner; however, there is a streetlight (north side of street) about 70 yards BEHIND Heidstra at the tree which would backlight him (the foliage allows this.) When the small amount of light is combined with Heidstra's inherent concealment, I think that he would have been very difficult to see by the driver of the SUV.
(While I was at the corner of Bundy and Dorothy, I also took a picture up Bundy, toward Nicole's condo for a sense of perspective. I show this as Figure 7 [CONDO_03]. It is taken from the southeast corner of the intersection. A white arrow points approximately to the place where Nicole's front walk came to the sidewalk.)
HEIDSTRA'S ROUTE: To get a better idea of Heidstra's experience, I retraced his route, and as I came down Gorham toward Bundy took the picture in Figure 8 [GORHAM_19]; at this point one is still about 50 yards from Bundy. As Heidstra came this way, he was walking somewhat downhill, but not on as steep a grade as Dorothy east of Bundy. The dogleg to the west for southbound Bundy traffic that is seen in the map of Figure 1, is seen here on the ground. Southbound traffic turns away from the observer, goes about 50 yards west, and then continues south past Nicole's condo. There is a boulevard stop for westbound Gorham traffic at Bundy.
The same situation is also depicted in Figure 9 [GORHAM_22], which was taken from the northwest corner of Bundy and Gorham looking south. A red line traces the dogleg in the street, and the entrance to the east alley is directly to the south. (If southbound Bundy traffic did not make the dogleg, they would go right up the alley.) The level of the alley is about six feet above the level of the Gorham sidewalk, and there is a steep ramp right at the entrance. (Notice in the skyline, center to right, of Figure 9 that there is a row of seven palm trees above the rooftops. The leftmost of these is across the street from Nicole's condo.)
We are led to understand that Heidstra at first walked passed this alley as he went along Gorham with his dogs, and when he got to about the place of the white vehicle in Figure 9 stopped because of the sound of the Akita, turned back and went to the alley. He went up the ramp, and down the alley itself.
When he stopped behind the house "exactly across the street from Nicole's" he was at the place shown in Figure 10 [ALLEY_16]. And, we know why he could be so precise that he was directly across from Nicole's condo at 875; the garage at this place has the address, "874" painted on the wall (orange circle.) I was surprised to see that the back fence at 874 does not come up to the alley, but that there is a recess for a parking pad in front of the garage. Because of this, Heidstra could have gotten twenty of so feet closer to Bundy than I had previously realized. I also notice that there are several outdoor lights mounted on the garage roof here, and the place may not have been completely in the dark for Heidstra. However, the landscaping along the back fence is dense and tall, and would have made it impossible to look into the yard, and also would have contributed to the problem of making out voices from beyond.
In Figure 11 [ALLEY_17] I show the view looking south from the alley behind 874 South Bundy. It is only a short distance farther -- about 30 yards -- to Dorothy Street. I also timed the route, at a slow walk, through the alley. Beginning at Gorham, I reached 874 at 1:02 minutes, Dorothy St. at 1:37 minutes, and the tree at 2:00 minutes. Although I was deliberately walking slowly, these times are about half of Heidstra's estimates when he was with his old dogs. I consider Heidstra's time estimates to be generous, but credible. I do not think that these segments took any longer than he said, and may have been somewhat quicker.
Finally, in Figure 12 [ALLEY_09] I show the entrance of the alley as it appears from the south side of Dorothy. Heidstra turned left here, and went 70 feet uphill to the tree, though I do not know whether he made that segment in the street (as I have shown) or on the sidewalk.
CONCLUSION: I think it is generally possible for Heidstra to have made substantially the observations he reported in the criminal trial. He could have seen and identified a "white SUV" although in the pink streetlight, there could have been a little uncertainty as to whether it was exactly white. He could probably not have determined whether it was a Bronco, and he certainly could not have identified the driver. From his position in the alley, considering the intervening structures, landscaping, and the fact that there was an 11 foot difference in elevation, it is surprising that he would be able to hear a voice, even a shout, especially with the racket of the dogs barking. I consider that the second man was probably talking loudly for Heidstra to have been able to hear at all, and I am not surprised that he could not make out what was being said. I think that Heidstra's elapsed times walking in and after the alley are maximum times, but represent close to the actual values.
For my scenario I have interpreted his testimony to mean that he entered the alley at 10:32, heard the "hey, hey, hey" at 10:35, and saw the white SUV at 10:37. I believe that he did not hear sounds associated with the crime being committed, but heard two motorists who had to stop because there was a "crazy" and "hysterical" dog running loose in the street, and blocking traffic. I also believe that the driver of the white SUV was O.J. Simpson, and that he had bloody Bruno Magli shoes on his feet at the time.
Dick Wagner Van Nuys, CA (4/02/99) NG_535