Twenty years ago tonight, 25-year-old Buffalo Grove native and Stevenson High School alumnus Ron Goldman finished his shift as a waiter at a Los Angeles restaurant and set off to return a pair of glasses left behind by a diner's mother.
Goldman's body was found shortly after midnight in a pool of blood next to Nicole Brown Simpson outside her condo. The ex-wife of former professional football star and actor O.J. Simpson had her throat slit almost to the point of decapitation. Goldman, a friend of the woman, suffered fatal stab wounds to his neck, chest and abdomen and deep cuts on his hands, indicating he had tried to defend himself, and perhaps the other victim, against a vicious knife attack.
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What followed was a spectacle -- part reality TV, part soap opera, part outrageous farce -- that became ingrained in society's collective memory: The slow-speed chase, the white Bronco, TV news footage that trumped the NBA Finals, the O.J. mug shot darkened for effect, O.J.'s hunt for "the real killer," the birth of court TV, the hapless Kato Kaelin, smooth-talking attorney Johnnie Cochran's assertion that "if it doesn't fit, you must acquit," prosecutor Marcia Clark's makeover, cop Mark Fuhrman using the N word on tape, DNA evidence, Jay Leno's wildly inappropriate "Dancing Itos," and the naively innocent wondering if defense attorney Robert Kardashian had a family.
During the nine months of trial, the sensational not guilty verdict and the nonstop rumors and racial tension that played out on our TV screens, Goldman often was reduced to "a male acquaintance," a bit player in a drama boasting a cast of thousands for tragedy, comedy and personal gain.
"It's such a huge part of our pop culture now," Kim Goldman says during a telephone interview on the eve of the anniversary of her brother's murder. "We learned very early on not to take some of these things personally. For us, it was just about my brother."
Author of a new book, "Can't Forgive: My Twenty-Year Battle with O.J. Simpson," Kim Goldman is a mom with a 10-year-old son, an advocate and requested speaker for crime victim organizations, a longtime volunteer with charities and the executive director of a not-for-profit agency for teenagers in her California community. Ron Goldman was just a young man with lots of friends, an optimist with plans for his future, when his life was snuffed out.
"My brother was a goofball in high school, but for me, he was always my protector, my big brother," Kim Goldman says, pausing before adding with a chuckle, "He always kept me around until his friends starting thinking I was cute."
Reducing him to the "male acquaintance" in a double murder isn't fair.
"Nobody knew what kind of guy he was. He was a great kid. He was a classy kid," remembers Ronald DeBolt, whose family once lived next door to the Goldmans in Buffalo Grove. "Ron and Kim actually baby-sat my kids. He would have become a great individual."
DeBolt's daughter, Tiffaney, now a teacher, thought so much of the young man that she organized a Buffalo Grove candlelight vigil in his memory on the anniversary of Goldman's murder.
"We'll light up the sky for Ron," the 18-year-old Stevenson High School student said at the time, moving the focus on the ubiquitous trial coverage back onto the young man who had been killed. "We just want to light it up because he was a great guy. If we got people together to honor him, it's something that might help everyone through this tough thing."
Frozen in time as the 25-year-old murder victim, Ron Goldman was just finding his way in his new California home and had plans to start his own business, his sister says. He never got that chance.
"That's incredibly painful," Kim Goldman says, explaining how she tries to imagine her brother married with kids and a successful career. People can talk about how the O.J. Simpson "circus" changed TV, the justice system, race relations or even late-night humor, but that pales in comparison to the way it ended Ron Goldman's future.
"I wonder if all those dreams would have manifested themselves into something fantastic," Kim Goldman says. "That breaks my heart."