It was 20 years ago today that we all stopped what we were doing to watch a white Ford Bronco drive, slowly, around Los Angeles. Out of context it seems absurd, but O.J. Simpson's televised escape, and the subsequent trial, changed how we watch the world. And yet, the most important piece of the chase is gone. Where is that Bronco?
The chase happened on June 17, 1994. The white Bronco was driven by its owner, Al Cowlings, a college football pal of Simpson, who rode passenger. They, of course, were apprehended. Simpson was tried for the murder of his ex-wife and her companion. We got lots of pop-culture catchphrases. He was acquitted. The nation was divided. Several conspiracy theories have emerged. You know this story.
Certainly, celebrities have been in hot water before, and Simpson was hardly the first athlete to get in trouble with the law. But twenty years later, the chase remains relevant. About 95 million viewers were glued to their screens as the chase unfolded. The event made for must-see, of-the-moment TV. At the time, the chase cut into the NBA Finals, pizza orders went through the roof and many Americans got their first real tastes of split-screen news coverage.
For better or worse, the chase and subsequent trial (but particularly the chase) has shaped the media climate we live in now. We can't imagine living today without up-to-the-minute information as it happens. The trial we all watched at some point — it still is the most-watched trial of all time — laid the groundwork for live-broadcasting of other polarizing court cases (see: Casey Anthony, George Zimmerman, Phil Spector). And then there's the inescapable racial climate of the mid-1990s: Was the law unjustly going after a black man, trying to get him caught in the system as many believed? Or did he really do it?
Simpson is in prison, convicted of armed robbery in 2008. His lead attorney on the 1995 murder case, Johnnie Cochran, died years ago. So has one of his other attorneys, Robert Kardashian — though his legacy lives on in other ways, clearly. Judge Lance Ito still sits on the bench. Many attorneys in the case, like Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden, still practice law. Kato Kaelin, the roommate, became a failed reality star.
The particulars don't seem to matter. Every day in some market, somewhere, there's a police chase on television. (Especially in California. It's like their national pastime.) We know this because, if you follow the right people on Twitter, you'll get a link to a video from a local TV market of a calm anchor talking to a pilot in a helicopter following a car at the same low angle, noting the traffic ahead and how far/how many police are behind.
At Jalopnik we tend to watch, though not promote, these kinds of events in case anything newsworthy happens. They're all the same. You'd might think broadcasts that end in suicide would end our fascination, but no. Instead, when a chase ends, the TV cameras sometimes pull back wider just in case, as if anticipating some grisly end.
As with the O.J. Simpson chase, we like the drama of the chase but we don't actually want to see anyone get hurt — although what do you expect when cars dice through traffic at speeds exceeding 100 mph?
Yet, even with our modern and ceaseless fascination with the chase, there's one big mystery that remains unsolved: Where the hell is that Bronco?
To be sure, there are plenty of last-gen Ford Broncos running around the country; they're tough trucks and don't come cheap used. So Cowlings' perfectly fine, one-year-old Bronco wouldn't have been immediately banished to the scrap yard.
One collector offered Cowlings $75,000 for the Bronco in November 1994, but Cowlings backed out from the deal at the last minute, leading to a lawsuit. Instead, the Bronco was sold to a porn-producer friend of Cowlings and Simpson: Michael Pulwer.
News reports later described Pulwer as a collector. But Rachel Pulwer-Murray, one of Pulwer's cousins, said the family knows him as something else.
"He's a porn king," she told USA TODAY Sports. "My dad wouldn't really let me or my sister be around him when we were growing up because of the business he was in."
Michael Pulwer grew up in New Jersey and played lacrosse at Franklin & Marshall College, a Division III liberal arts school in Lancaster, Pa. He graduated in 1972, moved to Southern California and started selling pornographic novelties, magazines and movies, according to Stanley Loeb, who oversees Fantasy World, Pulwer's adult paraphenelia store in Las Vegas, and a business associate who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
In the 1990s, he started his own adult film company, Paradise Visuals, and produced more than 50 movies, which starred the likes of porn stars Traci Lords, Christy Canyon and Ron Jeremy. During a recent interview, Jeremy recalled sparking romance when he introduced Jennifer Peace, an adult film actress who went by the name "Devon Shire," to one of Pulwer's friends.
Did the Bronco find its way into one of Pulwer's scenes, then? Nope. According to USA Today, Pulwer declared bankruptcy in the late 1990s, all while the Bronco sat in an underground parking garage at his L.A. condo complex, its tires leaking air. At one point he considered raffling it off, but didn't feel he would get enough money for it.
A friend of Pulwer's told the newspaper that he put the Bronco on a car carrier and had it sent to a museum in Las Vegas. The truck has been seen publicly twice since the chase, both in 2012:
That May, the Bronco appeared in Las Vegas, outside the Luxor hotel on The Strip. It was there to help publicize the opening of SCORE!, a sports memorabilia museum and exhibit. Six months later, the Bronco appeared in Greenwich, Conn. It was at the Brant Foundation for an exhibit featuring artist Nate Lowman, who has used a topless picture of Nicole Brown Simpson in his work.
The CEO of SCORE! said he thought the Bronco was back with Pulwer in Miami. But another friend of Pulwer's claimed the truck isn't in Miami, or California.
Ahead of the anniversary of the chase, Pulwer told the New York Daily News that the Bronco is well taken care of, not sitting on the street. He said he hopes to have it in a museum or collection of famous cars someday, but in the meantime, he won't say exactly where it is or disclose its storage situation.
It doesn't matter. While no chase will probably, hopefully, never be as famous as that original Ford Bronco pursuit, we've had so many chases since then it's like we get a new Bronco every day.
Photo via AP, Top shot by Jim Coooke