polo white tees The photos that sent O
Simpson set the NFL’s season rushing record of 2,003 yards in 1973. The Buffalo Bills running back would become the boy’s hero in seasons to come. It was like that for a lot of kids growing up in western New York in the 1970s. Simpson was a shining light in rust belt Buffalo, its hometown claim on Hollywood glamour.
Fast forward to a moment almost 20 years ago when Flammer sat in a witness chair in Santa Monica, Calif., and offered testimony that would help convince a civil court jury that Simpson killed Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. Another jury had come to a different conclusion in the criminal trial. There, the gloves didn’t fit. Here, the shoes did and 30 photos Flammer took nine months before the killings proved it in a midtrial bombshell. “It was surreal, like he was trying to look straight through me.”
Flammer, who was a student at Canisius College in Buffalo when he took the pictures, is telling a full version of his story for the first time: How he came to shoot the photographs for a Bills booster club in 1993, how he rediscovered the negatives in a box in his parents’ basement days after Christmas in 1996 long after the criminal trial that ran from November 1994 to October 1995 and how his testimony early in 1997 helped a jury find Simpson liable for wrongful death and $33.5 million in damages.
Was Simpson’s menacing look an attempt at intimidation, an expression of anger, a display of defiance? Flammer, 43, thinks it was all that. But he says it didn’t bother him: He’d long since realized his boyhood hero had feet of clay. Now Flammer was offering evidence they’d been shod in size 12 Bruno Magli lace ups the rare style of shoe that left bloody footprints at the scene of the crime.
The criminal trial lives in the popular imagination because millions watched it on TV, a grisly soap opera with a daily parade of lurid particulars. This year the FX Network serial The People v. Simpson offered a vivid dramatization of that trial, avowing that today’s reality TV culture was born of the trashy spectacle of the double murder case.
The civil trial is much less well known. And for good reason: There were no cameras in the courtroom, no prison term at stake. “Who cares about the civil trial?” Flammer says. “It’s a footnote.”
But Flammer’s photos put feet in that footnote: They clearly showed Simpson wearing “those ugly ass shoes” the colorful phrase Simpson had used at his deposition to deny that he’d ever owned them. One other photo of him in the shoes had been offered at trial, but Simpson’s attorneys argued it was a fake. That contention was blown to bits with the discovery of Flammer’s photos 30 crisp color negatives, including 7 A, which had been published in black and white in an official Bills publication seven months before the killings.
Flammer took the photos to publicize a banquet that would commemorate Simpson’s greatest feat, that 2,003 yard season. Those shots of his Italian luxury shoes, set off against the green artificial turf where Simpson had run to records 20 years earlier, effectively ended his defense. Bitter irony rarely comes more neatly packaged.
Simpson posed with the organizing committee for the banquet five members of a Bills booster club, including Flammer’s father before a Miami Dolphins Bills game in 1993. Flammer snapped the photos quickly and stored the negatives in his darkroom in the basement of his parents’ home, where they were mostly forgotten for three years.
Then, in the days after Christmas in 1996, came a confluence of events: Flammer rediscovered the negatives. John Q. Kelly, an attorney for the estate of Nicole Brown Simpson, flew to Buffalo on a tip there were more photos of Simpson in Bruno Magli shoes. Bills publicist Denny Lynch showed Kelly an incriminating photo while expressing surprise no one connected to the homicide investigation had come to the team offices looking for evidence before then.
All this happened against the backdrop of a Bills wild card playoff loss to the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars. Quarterback Jim Kelly was carried off the field, like a soldier on his shield, and never played again and the Bills have not played another postseason game at home since.
It is a quirk of history that fateful moments in the Simpson civil trial coincided with Kelly’s last stand: The end of two eras, in a sense, coming on the same lost weekend.
Flammer got the photography bug as a freshman at Canisius High School in 1986, when he won a Canon 82 camera for raising the most money in a charity drive. Soon he was shooting photos for the Arena yearbook and Citadel newspaper; he did the same for the Azuwur yearbook and Griffin newspaper at Canisius College. By senior year there he was shooting games for Buffalo Bills Report, then the team’s monthly newspaper. That’s how he had a media credential for the Miami game Sept. 26, 1993.
Flammer got the assignment to shoot the Simpson photos for the Monday Quarterback Club because his father, Ed, was then president of the businessmen’s booster organization with roots to the beginnings of the Bills. Flammer remembers how excited he was to meet Simpson for the first time.
Flammer hurried through the photos in as little as 10 minutes. They are what’s known in the trade as grip and grin shots six guys lined up, looking directly at the camera, all smiles. There are individual shots of each man with Simpson, too. Every shot is full length. Grip and grins are often shot waist up. Flammer doesn’t remember why these all 30 are head to toe.
Simpson, in town as a broadcaster, wears a blue NBC blazer with gray pants and what experts will one day testify are Bruno Magli shoes, Lorenzo model. Club members in the photos include Flammer’s father as well as Jerry Flaschner, then publisher of a local monthly magazine for senior citizens, and Lynch, then the Bills director of public and community relations.
Flammer finished one roll of film and put it in his fanny pack. He took three more photos on a fresh roll and then shot the game. The next day, at Lynch’s request, Flammer made a black and white print that would run in the November issue of Buffalo Bills Report. Flammer also had a photo lab make color 5 by 7s for the club members in the pictures.
The dinner honoring Simpson and his 1973 offensive linemen called the “Electric Company” because they turned on the “Juice,” Simpson’s nickname was held in November. The slayings took place seven months later on June 12, 1994.
The following fall, Flaschner requested extra copies of a Simpson picture and told Flammer’s father he thought the photo “had something in it.” Flammer says he thought nothing of it when his father relayed that message because he knew Simpson was not wearing gloves in the photos. Flammer’s records show Flaschner, who died in 2006, was billed for one 8 by 10 and one 5 by 7 on Nov. 2, 1994. The jury in the criminal trial was sworn in the next day.
The civil trial began in October 1996. Then, on the day after Thanksgiving, Lynch called Flammer to ask if he still had the photos, according to notes Flammer wrote just weeks later to help him collect his thoughts before testifying at the civil trial. The following account, plus the something in it quote from Flaschner, are drawn from those notes.
Lynch asked if anyone had contacted Flammer about his photos. Flammer said no, and the conversation ended soon after. But Flammer wondered what prompted the question and called back.
On that call, Lynch asked Flammer if he knew Harry Scull Jr., who’d taken the photo that Simpson’s attorneys contended was fake. Lynch told Flammer that Scull had seen a Simpson photo at Flaschner’s office and said it could be worth a lot of money. (Scull’s photo of Simpson walking in the end zone at Rich Stadium, showing a distinctive waffle pattern sole under his right shoe, originally appeared in the National Enquirer, a fact Simpson’s attorneys used to discredit it.)
Flammer asked Lynch what he should do, and Lynch said he could help him contact lawyers in the case, if that’s what Flammer wanted. Then he warned Flammer to be careful, because someone could break in and steal the photos: “Stranger things have happened.”
For all that intrigue, Flammer didn’t go looking for the negatives and says now he doesn’t remember why. Then, two days after Christmas, he happened to talk to Jim McCoy, a photographer at The Buffalo News who’d been a mentor to him. Flammer told McCoy about Lynch’s call and McCoy said they should get together as soon as possible. This was Friday evening. They decided to meet Sunday, because the Bills Jaguars playoff game was on Saturday.
That night, Flammer went to his darkroom and found a sleeve of negatives marked “Bills Dolphins.” It had only the last three photos from the Simpson shoot; the rest of that roll was from the game. Flammer couldn’t find the other 27 negatives.
Saturday evening, Flammer got a call from Scull asking if he’d taken photos of Simpson. Flammer assured Scull that he had. Scull said they should get together, because the National Enquirer was willing to fly in within 24 hours with a cashier’s check for $50,000. (Scull says he vaguely remembers calling Flammer but says he did not discuss money with him.) Flammer told Scull he had to take a call on another line and would call him back, though he was really only trying to end the call. Then Flammer and his brother went to the movies “to avoid Harry and anyone else who might call.”
They returned home to messages from Scull, McCoy and Rob McElroy. McCoy had asked McElroy, the photo agent who had represented Scull in the sale of his photo, to help Flammer as well. McElroy and Flammer agreed to meet Sunday.