O.J. Simpson: Infamous Ford Bronco used in car chase now part of crime museum

Ford Bronco

PIGEON FORGE. Tenn. — The death of O.J. Simpson on Wednesday rekindled memories of the brutal murder of his ex-wife and her friend, and the “trial of the century” that resulted in an acquittal for the former football star.

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It also brought back images of the scene that riveted more than 95 million television viewers on June 17, 1994. Simpson rode in the back seat of a white Ford Bronco with a gun to his head, while his friend Al “A.C.” Cowlings drove for two hours on freeways in the Los Angeles area with police following in a low-speed chase. Networks interrupted programming, and even Game 5 of the NBA playoffs was preempted, The New York Times reported.

Simpson, who died from prostate cancer at age 76, had been charged with the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson; and her friend, Ron Goldman. Both were found dead on June 12, 1994. The tense chase five days later finally ended at Simpson’s Brentwood estate.

The trial that followed became seared into memory as “must-see” television. The verdict would reveal a huge divide among Americans. Simpson, a Pro Football Hall of Famer, movie star and advertising pitchman, was acquitted of both murders in 1995 but was later found liable for their deaths in a civil lawsuit several years later, according to the Times.

But whatever happened to the Bronco? It has been part of the Alcatraz East Crime Museum in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, since 2016, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported.

Situated four miles from Dolly Parton’s theme park, Dollywood, the museum contains several notorious vehicles, according to the Times. The Bronco sits near the 1968 Volkswagen Beetle that was owned by serial killer Ted Bundy, the 1933 Essex-Terraplane used by bank robber John Dillinger and the “death car” from the 1967 film “Bonnie and Clyde,” the newspaper reported.

“There are events in history that will always stick in people’s minds, and I think the O.J. chase is one of those for a large number of people,” Ally Pennington, the artifacts and projects manager for the museum, told the Times.

How did the vehicle, which was owned by Cowlings, get from Southern California to the Smoky Mountains? It passed through several hands, and one could say it went from a porn mogul to “Pawn Stars,” with other stops in between, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Here is the Bronco’s long and winding road.

Cowlings sold the Bronco

Police confiscated the Bronco after the chase ended and eventually returned it to Cowlings, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Understandably, Cowlings did not want the vehicle anymore and asked Don Kreiss, a friend who worked for a sports agent, to locate a buyer. Memorabilia collector Michael Kronick reportedly offered $75,000 for the Bronco but also wanted 250 autographed photographs of Cowlings driving it, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The deal was supposed to be closed in November 1994, just before jury selection for Simpson’s trial was to begin. Cowlings apparently got cold feet and did not show up to exchange his keys for a check, USA Today reported.

Kronick sued Cowlings for damages totaling more than $200,000, and they reached an undisclosed settlement in 1996, according to the newspaper.

Cowlings’ attorney, Stanley Stone, announced two months after the settlement that the Bronco had been sold, USA Today reported. Stone did not initially identify the buyers, but the Bronco wound up with Michael Pulwer, another one of his clients, according to the newspaper.

Al Cowlings

‘Porn King’ takes possession

Pulwer, known as “The Porn King,” owned Paradise Visuals, an adult film company, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Pulwer reportedly told a cousin that he bought the vehicle to help Cowlings, who filed for bankruptcy in 1997, USA Today reported.

Pulwer kept the Bronco parked in the underground garage of his luxury condominium in Southern California, basically hiding it in plain view for more than a decade, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

In May 2012, the Bronco reappeared outside the Luxor hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, USA Today reported. It helped publicize the opening of SCORE!, a sports memorabilia museum. Six months later, the Bronco appeared in Greenwich, Connecticut, for the Brant Foundation, It was part of an exhibit featuring artist Nate Lowman

Appearing on ‘Pawn Stars’

In August 2017, the Bronco was featured in an episode of the reality television show “Pawn Stars,” the Times reported.

Mike Gilbert, a former agent for Simpson, said he bought the vehicle from Cowlings, in part to keep it from being used by a tour company, according to the newspaper.

He rejected a $500,000 offer, stating that he would not sell it for less than $1 million, USA Today reported.

The Alcatraz East Crime Museum declined to say who allowed for the display of the car, according to the Times. Officials cited privacy concerns.

O.J.’s death likely to spark interest

Alcatraz East Crime Museum

Simpson’s death will probably spark an increase in visitors to the museum, Pennington told the News Sentinel on Friday.

The Alcatraz East Crime Museum taped a label acknowledging Simpson’s death on a case next to the Bronco on Thursday, the Times reported.

Officials had already planned a temporary exhibit for this summer to mark the 30th anniversary of Brown Simpson and Goldman’s deaths, with items curated before Simpson’s death, according to the News Sentinel.

It will include a few dishes owned by Brown Simpson and ties worn by Simpson during the 1995 trial.

“It’s a passion of mine to preserve the past, but also with artifacts like these, we do work closely with law enforcement and we work closely with victims. We actually worked with Nicole Brown Simpson’s sister on an exhibit regarding her a few years back and we’re bringing back parts of that exhibit this summer to honor the 30th anniversary of their deaths,” Pennington told WATE-TV. “I think in honoring sort of the people who were hurt in all of these crimes, especially something as brutal as what is associated with the Bronco, it’s important for us to work with law enforcement and get the facts, of the case, and then also work with victims and and their families and tell their stories as well.”

Thirty years after that 40 mph car chase on the freeway, the Ford Bronco has been tucked safely away in the foothills of the Tennessee mountains.

“I think with the fact that O.J. Simpson is such a well-known name and this is such a well-known case that, yes, we will likely see an uptick in interest in the museum, just because it is the white Bronco from the O.J. Simpson chase,” Pennington said.

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