'America's Most Wanted' tip tied Smith to murder
In a case of the industry taking care of its own, the key clue that helped police crack the mystery behind the murder of a woman who spent her life in showbiz came through the enduring Fox reality skein “America’s Most Wanted.”
Beverly Hills police acknowledged Wednesday that the show played a major role in leading police to Harold Martin Smith, the man they believe shot publicist Ronni Chasen multiple times as she drove through Beverly Hills on Nov. 16.
“America’s Most Wanted” raced to produce a segment Nov. 20 on the slaying that rocked showbiz, at the behest of numerous industry insiders, including Twentieth Television prexy Greg Meidel.
“I don’t think in the 23 years that we’ve been doing this show that we’ve gotten so many calls from the entertainment industry,” “AMW” exec producer and host John Walsh said. “So many people in the entertainment business out there knew Ronni Chasen.”
Walsh said police were stumped in the case at the time they worked with “AMW” producers on the segment.
On Wednesday, Beverly Hills police said a preliminary ballistics report showed a match between the gun Smith used to commit suicide last week and the weapon used in the Chasen killing.
Walsh said that “AMW” received the tip right after the episode aired from someone living in the Harvey Apartments building in Hollywood, where Smith had once lived and ultimately committed suicide as police approached him with a search warrant on Dec. 1. After the suicide, residents of the building told media outlets that Smith had bragged about killing Chasen.
Walsh said the male tipster called quickly but offered little information. “That tipster didn’t call us with an address, and didn’t call us back for four days,” Walsh said. Eventually the person did call back with more information, including the time frame when Smith was expected to be back in the building.
Walsh said he spoke with the tipster several times, calling him a “hero” who wants to remain anonymous. “When we told him the news (of the ballistics match), he broke into tears. He had been having second thoughts, saying, ‘I hope this was the guy, I hope I did the right thing,’ ” Walsh said.
The apparently random nature of the Chasen crime is a harsh reminder that violent crime can happen anywhere, at anytime, he added.
“You can be a crime victim anywhere in America,” Walsh said. “I think everybody was surprised that it was Ronni and that it happened in Beverly Hills. But the reality is it doesn’t matter if it’s the Twin Towers or Bill Cosby’s son or Michael Jordan’s father. That’s part of the reality of living in today’s world.”
“AMW” has helped in the capture of 1,136 wanted felons over the years.