Ronni Chasen Murder: Man Connected to Hollywood Publicist's Death Kills Himself
New details are emerging about the man who killed himself in connection with Hollywood publicist Ronni Chasen's murder—including that he was "agitated" for days about police.
In a rundown apartment house, located in a bleak part of Hollywood, the mystery of Ronni Chasen's murder deepened Wednesday night when a man police say they believe was connected to the publicist's killing shot himself around 5:30 p.m., as officers got ready to serve a search warrant. Neighbors said the man's first name was Harold.
A few hours after the shooting, Kevin McClure from the Los Angeles Police robbery homicide division appeared before reporters. He said that at 5:30 p.m., the Hollywood division had received a call from the Beverly Hills Police Department, saying they were going to attempt to talk to someone at the Harvey Apartments. When they went to his residence, he pulled out a handgun and shot himself, McClure said, adding that the man was pronounced dead on the scene.
Gallery: Ronni Chasen Murder Mystery
"There was blood all over the floor and it looked like brain matter," said Terri Gilpin, a neighbor, speaking of the scene in the lobby last night.
Though speculation Wednesday night was that Harold was Caucasian, which fit into some of the more elaborate Russian murder plot conspiracy theories floating around, multiple sources told The Daily Beast Thursday that he was African American. Neighbors' descriptions of him ran counter to a portrait of a man who could carry out the Chasen murder, which has confounded police.
On Thursday morning, a neighbor told The Daily Beast’s Claire Martin that Harold had said he was a two-strike felon, and had told this neighbor, who did not want to be named, “I messed up,” shortly after the Chasen shooting.
Robin Lyle, a second neighbor, who works at a Cadillac dealership, confirmed to The Daily Beast on Thursday that Harold had talked about receiving some money and had been waiting for $10,000, but that when it came it was much less—around $2,000.
Tony Lee of the Beverly Hills Police Department described the man as a "person of interest" only, and corrected himself when he used the word "suspect." He added that the Chasen "investigation is ongoing."
Lyle said that Harold, whose last name he believed was Smith, had a stutter, and rode a beach cruiser.(He had no car that Lyle knew of.) Harold, he said, wore gray gardening gloves whenever he went out: "He said it was for his protection.” Lyle described him as African American, 6 foot 3, with a thin build and a short afro. "He was a mellow guy, always pleasant. He blinked a lot. He said he'd been in jail a couple of times."
The anonymous neighbor said he thought Harold had been evicted but came back to the building, using a key he'd copied from when he lived here. He lived in room 329 here. "He was calm," the neighbor said, "But every once in a while he would get agitated and say, 'Have the cops been here, have the cops been here?'"
How the man might be linked to Chasen's murder is not yet clear. Four law enforcement sources told the Los Angeles Times that he was indeed a suspect but police would not give a name of the man—or even confirm that he was a suspect. Tony Lee of the Beverly Hills Police Department described him as a "person of interest" only, and corrected himself when he used the word "suspect." He added that the Chasen "investigation is ongoing."
But according to a local news report, the Beverly Hills Police say they believe the man who killed himself is the man who shot Chasen, and that they had him under surveillance for several days. According to that report, the man shot himself in the lobby of the Harvey Apartments, outside the manager's office.
Eddie Burke and Eddie Burke, Jr., a father and his son who have been staying at the Harvey Apartments for the past two weeks while Eddie Jr. embarks on a boxing career, said the building is a "transient building" with studios and small apartments in the $600-$700 range.
Earlier, the Beverly Hills Police Department had issued a statement saying, "At the time of the shooting, BHPD detectives were on scene conducting a follow-up investigation. There were no other injuries related to the incident. Due to the fact that this is an ongoing investigation, there are no further details available at this time."
Chasen, a well-known Hollywood publicist who represented a number of A-list stars and filmmakers, including the late Natalie Wood and Jaws producer Richard Zanuck, was gunned down around midnight last month near her house in a quiet, affluent part of Beverly Hills, after attending the premiere of the movie Burlesque. She was found slumped over the wheel in her Mercedes coupe, which had crashed into a telephone pole.
According to a leaked coroner's report, Chasen's killer fired at least four shots into her car, including at least one hollow-point bullet.
At least one former detective believes that the killer was an expert marksman, according to ABC News.
"Normally they turn the gun sideways and this is something that was done with some skill," said Gill Carillo, a former homicide detective who worked in Los Angeles for more than 20 years. "I carried a gun for 38 years and had to fire it quarterly. I don't think that I could shoot and hit that mass like that."
The murder baffled her friends and clients, and attracted widespread media attention. And the Beverly Hills Police Department dedicated almost half of its homicide investigation team to solve the publicist's murder.
While police have remained tight-lipped about their investigation, theories about the murder have been abundant.
Shortly after Chasen's killing, Sgt. Lincoln Hoshino of the Beverly Hills Police Department said that the department had served search warrants on Chasen's home and office, looking for clues.
"It is an extremely unusual crime for us," he said. "We don't have a crime like this on a regular basis. We are in the infancy stages of the investigation."
He went on to say that the police were conducting a forensic examination of Chasen's vehicle, and that, though a motive is not yet clear, "It is unlikely if someone is driving down the road, you can shoot them five times in the chest."
He suggested that the driver most likely walked up to Chasen and began shooting. Investigators later told The Daily Beast that her purse had not been taken.
Kate Aurthur is the West Coast Editor of The Daily Beast.
A former editor of Men's Journal, Claire Martin has written for Outside, The New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times magazine.