Philip Vannatter, retired LAPD officer and county resident, passes away

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Philip Vannatter, who as a Los Angeles police detective helped lead the investigation of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald L. Goldman in 1994 and who was a major prosecution witness in the failed attempt to convict O. J. Simpson of the crime, died on Friday, January 20th, in Santa Clarita, California. He was 70.

The cause was cancer, said his wife, Rita.

Detective Vannatter was a 25-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department and no stranger to high-profile crimes – he arrested the film director Roman Polanski in 1977 on charges of having unlawful sex with an under-age girl – when he was called before dawn to the home of Ms. Simpson in the Brentwood neighborhood on June 13th, 1994. There he found the slashed bodies of Ms. Simpson, the former wife of Mr. Simpson, the football star and broadcaster; and an acquaintance, Mr. Goldman.

Philip Lewis Vannatter was born on April 18th, 1941, in Griffithsville, West Virginia. His father was a coal miner who died when Philip was a boy. He moved with his mother to Culver City, California, when he was 14.

He went to Santa Monica College and later Humboldt State University, where he played football, but left after his junior year. He was working at an auto parts store when he met a nurse, Rita Freeman, and soon married her. He served in the Army in South Korea, and after his discharge in 1968 he enrolled in the Los Angeles Police Academy.

Mr. Vannatter lived in Santa Clarita and in Vevay, Indiana, where he and his wife moved after his retirement to help care for her parents in nearby Cincinnati. He worked for three years as chief deputy for the Dearborn County police in Indiana.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by a brother, Joe; a son, Matthew; a daughter, Donna Thomas; and five grandchildren.

Arrangements were handled by the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood Hills, California.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that memorial donations be made in Philip Vannatter’s name to the: Police Memorial Foundation, Los Angeles Police Department, 1880 North Academy Drive, Los Angeles, California, 90012. Donors should include Philip Vannatter’s name. Donations may also be made by phone by calling (213) 847-4239.

(Editor’s note: Information for this article was in part obtained through The New York Times.)

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One of Philip Vannatter’s friends here in Switzerland County was Kip Meyerhoff, who graciously agreed to pen some thoughts on the loss of his friend:

I lost a friend the other day, something that is happening more frequently as I trudge further down life’s road. Many of you knew my friend, and most of you who didn’t certainly knew of him. The news accounts of his passing and the many obituaries written will recount his professional career and cases that pushed him into the national spotlight, but little will be said of the personal side of the man.

I met Phil Vannatter in 1972. He was a new detective and I a new Sergeant, both assigned to the Wilshire Division of the Los Angeles Police Department. We were but two of the 7,000+ officers policing a city the size of this county, with many millions of inhabitants. So, although we were ‘Brothers of the Badge’, we weren’t more than acquaintances, until he showed up in Vevay some 30 years later.

For the next nine years we hung out when we could, drinking lots of coffee and listening to each others’ stories, not about our exploits, but of the people we knew and how they enriched our lives. We were glad to be where we were in life, convinced it was less to do with the location, but more about the journey to get here. We were happy to be at a time and place in life that allowed us to enjoy these memories.

On one of those occasions, we were seated in my living room, having one of those remembering so-and-so conversations, when Phil’s cell phone interrupted. It was Geraldo Rivera’s producer, saying Geraldo wanted Phil on his show to get Phil’s take on the latest O.J. episode.

“Tell Geraldo I could care less. I’ve put that so far behind me he’s not even a spot in my rearview mirror, Say goodbye to Geraldo for me!” he said.

Often the ‘what’ get confused with the ‘who’, the mingling distorting our perception of others. Who was Philip Vannatter? I will always remember Phil as my friend.