The casino at the Palms Resort is world-famous for its size, excitement and a collection of hundreds of slot machines and gaming tables surrounded by hundreds of thousands of flashing lights that create 24-hour excitement.
But, for two days this week more than 10,000 people snaked through the huge casino and headed for the LAPD's evidence diplay of notorious crimes, "Behind the Scenes, The LAPD Homicide Exhibit". As they say in Sin City, the attraction killed.
California Homicide Investigators Association President Dennis Kilcoyne was amazed at the response. Conceived originally as a private exhibit to help boost the morale of homicide investigators from 115 police agencies, he had decided after speaking with his friend George Maloof, owner of the Palms, that it could be opened to the public for two days, but only for a few hours a day. He figured interest would be limited.
"This is not a freak show or Halloween," he says. "This is a respectful and professional presentation."
For many, however, it is breathtaking. There is a century of murder portrayed in the 8,000 square foot room. The crowds glance at the 1947 "black and white" in which a detective was killed in the early 20th century and quickly head to the exhibit of the murderous Manson Family.
There is a respectful silence as they gaze at the video of a beautiful actress Sharon Tate on a screen mounted above a case holding two of the weapons used in her murder. It is next to the case bearing the rope with which she and others victims were tied.
More controversial is the display of the Robert Kennedy assassination. It originally included the bloody suit that RFK was wearing when he was gunned down by Sirhan Sirhan, but it was removed after the Kennedy family angrily objected.
"We mean no disrespect at all," said Kilcoyne.
All of the evidence on display in Las Vegas is on loan from either the Los Angeles Superior Courts or the District Attorney's office. They have been preserved because of their place in history. Much of it is the history of the rich and famous.
Marilyn Monroe, Brando, and OJ Simpson
A photo of Marilyn Monroe's body lying in her bed where it was found is along one wall. A few feet away is the Symbionese Liberation Army, best remembered for kidnapping newspaper heiress Patty Hearst. One of their unexploded bombs sits in a case.
There is the evidence chart labeled "Murder of Baretta's Wife" about the case against actor Robert Blake Descriptions of the deaths of music icons Marvin Gaye and Michael Jackson have their own cases. There is an enlarged copy of "Just the facts, ma'm" Dragnet actor Jack Webb's 44 cent postage stamp. "Death in Marlon Brando's House" shows evidence in the shooting of 26 year old Dag Drollet, how his 20-year-old girlfriend Cheyenne Brando fled to Tahiti and that 32-year-old Christian Brando entered a guilty plea on charges of voluntary manslaughter.
And then, there is the big attraction – OJ Simpson. The disgraced Hall of Fame football star is currently serving a prison term in a Nevada prison a couple hundred miles away. But, at this exhibit it is 1994 and all the evidence is again fresh.
People stand and stare for minutes at a time. There are the gloves. "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit," defense attorney Johnny Cochran famously proclaimed. There is the black cap. And, at the bottom of two evidence charts are two stark statements that demonstrate why investigators still say they believe Simpson was guilty.
Accompanied by evidence photos, the first says; "The analysis of five droplets of blood on the walkway proved to be OJ's. The bloody shoeprints were consistent with the sole pattern of a size 12 Bruno Magli shoe. OJ Simpson wore a size 12 shoe."
The adjoining chart ends: "The analysis of the blood on the glove proved to be from OJ, Nicole and Ron Goldman. The blood found on the Bronco (remember the infamous white Bronco in which Simpson fled?) likewise proved to be from OJ, Nicole and Ron Goldman. The blood on the socks in OJ's bedroom proved to be from Nicole."
Along with the SWAT Team display of armaments, the bomb squad robot and the helicopter crews, the warmest reception went to two veteran street cops.
On Feb. 28, 1997 then patrol officer Loren Farrell was riding with his partner. There had been stakeouts in place for several weeks hoping to catch a pair of bank robbers who had taken $1.2 million in several heists. They were suspected of killing a Brinks driver. The stakeouts ended because, it seemed the robberies had stopped.
LAPD's "Behind the Scenes" Exhibit
Out of the corner of his eye, Farrell saw two men "dressed for battle" entering a Bank of America in North Hollywood.
"I could not believe it. I told my partner 211 in progress," Farrell recounts.
" 'Are you sure?' he asked me and I said, put it out!"
They pulled their cruiser into a lot to watch the door and for the next 44 minutes all hell broke loose. Farrell took cover as he heard shots being fired. The SWAT team arrived, including Officer Steve Gomez.
"It seemed like hours," says Gomez. The bandits were wearing body armor making the pistols and shotguns being wielded by Farrell and others useless. Even the high-powered rifles like that issued to Gomez were of limited use.
"They drove up the street, spraying machine gun fire everywhere, and bullets were coming through the car I was hiding behind," recalls Gomez.
Lying on the ground under his car, he spotted the ankles of gunman Emile Matasaranau and opened fire. Matasaranau fell and then suffered more shots which proved mortal.
A half-block away, his partner, Larry Phillips shot himself in the head just as a police officer fired a "kill shot" that severed his spine. It was over.
"It was the happiest day of our lives," says Gomez. "We all survived."
"We all survived, but I always tell officers, remember, it can happen to you," said Farrell, who is now a lieutenant.
Surrounded by piles of spent ammunition recovered that day and a pair of bullet-riddled cars, it is a lesson they shared with any officer who came by.
After visiting the exhibit, Palms owner George Maloof said, "This has been a great success. There is clearly a huge public interest. The LAPD has put together an amazing display."
"I was afraid I'd be here at 2 in the afternoon and the room would be empty," says Kilcoyne. The line stretched out of the building as several thousand waited their turn. They stayed open late and still, some did not get in.
As they say in Vegas, always leave them wanting more.