The killing of Ronni Chasen is shaping up to be the tragic story of a chance encounter between two people from very different worlds — a publicity maven surrounded by the glamour of showbiz and a career criminal who found himself in increasingly desperate straits.
Beverly Hills police said Wednesday that Chasen’s slaying appears to have been a random “robbery gone bad.”
At a news conference at Beverly Hills Police Dept. headquarters, police said the preliminary
ballistics tests indicate that the gun used in the suicide last week of Harold Martin Smith matches the weapon used in the Chasen slaying.
“We believe he acted alone,” Beverly Hills police chief Dave Snowden told reporters.
Based on the caliber of the gun and the accuracy involved, Sgt. Mike Publicker added that law enforcement officials concluded the Nov. 16 shooting was most likely a “random act of violence” and was “not a professional hit.”
The first official word on details of the case may quiet the storm of speculation about possible motives for the Nov. 16 murder that stunned showbizzers. Chasen was found with multiple gunshot wounds in her Mercedes-Benz near the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Whittier Drive, a residential area of Beverly Hills.
Smith committed suicide in the lobby of the Harvey Apartments in Hollywood on Dec. 1 as Beverly Hills police attempted to serve him with a search warrant, shooting himself in the head as officers approached.
The focus on Smith as the shooter casts the case as a Raymond Chandler-esque tale of L.A. crime, as Chasen appears to have been killed while on her way home from red-carpet duty at a movie premiere by a man who lived in a low-rent hotel in a seedy part of Hollywood.
“Interviews we’ve conducted lead us to believe (Smith) was in a desperate point in his life,” Publicker said. “We believe he intended to rob her.”
Police said there did not appear to be any prior links between Chasen and Smith, though Snowden repeatedly emphasized that the investigation was ongoing.
Residents of the Harvey Apartments said Smith, who had lived in the Santa Monica Boulevard building until recently, was often seen with a bicycle. Publicker said police believe Smith used the bicycle as his “mode of transportation” during his encounter with Chasen. Police do not believe that Smith entered Chasen’s car after the shooting.
Chasen, 64, a veteran publicist known for orchestrating Oscar campaigns and for repping film composers, was driving to her home in Westwood following the premiere in Hollywood of Sony’s “Burlesque” at the time of the shooting. She was pronounced dead at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center shortly after 1 a.m. on Nov. 16.
Police said the initial tip on Smith came through the long-running Fox reality series “America’s Most Wanted,” which ran a segment on the Chasen killing on Nov. 20. “AMW” host John Walsh told Daily Variety that shortly after the episode aired, the show received a tip from someone who lived in the Harvey Apartments building. Residents of the building told media outlets after last week’s suicide that Smith had bragged about killing Chasen.
“I hope this is the final chapter for this case,” Walsh said. “There are still questions on why he did it. Was it just violence or road rage? Did he try to rob her? Hopefully that will all unravel.”
(Cynthia Littleton and Michael Schneider contributed to this report.)