Dateline NBC tonight, December 17, 2010 is going to look at the investigations and questions surrounding what now appears to be the senseless murder of Ronni Chasen by Harold Smith.
The views in Hollywood are varied, here is some of what I found that the famed Beverly Hills crowd are musing about.
In the extreme you have one “unnamed source” telling Deadline, “After listening to the details of the press conference, one of my police sources familiar with the investigation questioned the credibility of the investigation and quipped, “If I’m murdered and you find my body in Beverly Hills, please drag my body to LAPD. Even if you have to leave a bloody trail.”
I will be adding some additional details in a few minutes but Date Line NBC should be interesting and our favorite Hollywood PI, John J. Nazarian will be on talking with others. The Ronni Chasen case will not be covered with the whole show as there are other interesting crimes scheduled for tonight on the program.
The Beverly Hills police held a press conference on Wednesday stating that they believe that Harold Martin Smith, a career criminal who served time in state prison, shot and killed Hollywood publicist Ronni Chasen. Police announced that lab tests revealed a preliminary match between the murder weapon presumed to have killed publicist Ronni Chasen and the gun used by Howard Smith to kill himself. The Beverly Hills Police stated that Smith acted alone in killing Chasen and police don’t believe the murder was a professional hit, but rather a “robbery gone bad.” The police theory is that Smith was on his bicycle and intended to rob Chasen, but she sped off after he shot her.
The Daily Beast gives us a synopsis of facts and just how this murder might have been a random act.
Police believe Smith carried out the shooting on foot as Chasen waited for the light to turn. He could well have staked out the corner, waiting past midnight into the wee hours of Nov. 16, a weekday, when traffic is at its lightest. He would have waited for a clear stretch without other passing cars, then made his move for Chasen’s vehicle, goes the police’s theory.
Smith reportedly killed Chasen with a .38 revolver, which can take regular or hollow-point bullets. A revolver does not discharge cartridge casings, as has been endlessly speculated.
In the botched robbery, Smith unloaded five bullets at the veteran publicist, then dashed back to his seven-speed and fled the scene, police say. Chasen did not surrender her purse, jewelry, money, or car, but lurched leftward onto Whittier, where she crashed into a lamppost.
Questions were hurled back at the Beverly Hills Police Department. A black man cycled seven miles to Whittier and Sunset, a cornerstone of ivory-white Beverly Hills, and no one clocked him when police are famously alert to African-American men in the area? Not a snippet to be found on any of the security cameras at the grand homes along Sunset Boulevard? No spent cartridge casings in the street? In short, the general complaint went, a thief simply does not accost a Mercedes on the most famous boulevard in Southern California in order to rob its driver and take nothing for his efforts, all with just a bicycle for transportation.
Harold Smith, a lifelong drug and alcohol abuser who was in and out of prison for much of his adult life, was indeed crazy.
On that point, the denizens of the Harvey Apartments, the benighted rooming house worthy of a Raymond Chandler novel, on Santa Monica Boulevard near Vine Street, tend to agree.
“He was always wearing these over sized gray gardener’s gloves,” said his neighbor Robin Lyle. “I think it was some germ phobia thing of his. Even if he shook my hand, he put the glove right back on.”
John Kratzel, 60, a self described “survivor of Vietnam, the Marine Corps, and 14 foster homes” maintains a well-kept room down the hall “He was always roaming the halls trying to engage me,” said Kratzel, who added that he told Smith more than once not to come into his room. “He was troubled and he was in trouble. He had several different bikes, stolen bikes. He used to keep them next door by the Dumpster.”
A longtime employee of the Harvey said Smith had four or five bikes during the few months he lived at the Harvey. “All stolen,” he added. Smith’s favorite, and the one he kept in his room, he said, was a burgundy-colored seven-speed, which the LAPD have taken into evidence. “I saw him once on that bicycle with the banana seat and curled handlebars,” said neighbor Terri Gilpin, 46, who occasionally chatted with Smith, “and he was holding a can of soda in his right hand. And he could ride with both hands in the air.”
That’s where Smith ended his misery with a bullet to his skull with a .38 revolver on Dec. 1 at 6 p.m., when police arrived to question him. It was the same gun that police say is a ballistics match with the one used to kill Chasen.
About two weeks before Smith took his life, he showed up excitedly outside Robin Lyle’s door. He had received “a few thousand dollars” from a lawsuit filed on his behalf by personal injury law firm of Larry H. Parker, though he complained about the lawyers “taking most of it.”
Michael Baden, the chief pathologist for the New York State Police, never doubted that Chasen’s murder did not require a trained hit man. But the Beverly Hills Police Department’s press conference, he said, raised more questions than it settled: “What is the provenance of the gun?” asked Baden. “When did he get the gun? Was it a hot gun someone wanted to get rid of? Were there other fingerprints on the weapon? And most importantly, did the bike have trace evidence on it?
That said, “trace evidence,” in the words of one police source, was found at the intersection of Sunset and Whittier, referring to the shattered glass of Chasen’s passenger window. The source also clarified that the investigators were not suggesting that Smith accosted Chasen’s Mercedes on his bicycle—but rather on foot.
The blowback from “the industry” was fast and fierce: from the friends and clients of Chasen to her fellow publicists, and even the local newspapers, websites, and bloggers who had run with the assumption that a professional assassin or mob hit man was the killer. “I don’t believe it for one minute,” Kathie Berlin, longtime Chasen friend and fellow publicist, told KNBC. “And not one person I’ve talked to believes it. You’re going to shoot someone in the heart five times from a bicycle and then just ride off?” Chasen’s friend, the film producer Lili Fini Zanuck, was nonplussed: “Anyone watching CSI can do better. It’s from an SUV?! It’s from a bike?!” she said. “What the fuck?”
While “the industry” scoffs at the police’s resolution of Chasen murder, Hollywood’s tourist industry has found a way to embrace the tragedy. The Starline bus tour, which features the homes of the stars, now drives by Sunset and Whittier, with its bullhorn announcing the intersection as the famed murder site of Ronni Chasen.Tags: 38 revolver, Beverly Hills, Beverly Hills Police Department, burgundy-colored seven-speed, Celebrity Trials, chief pathologist, Dateline, Dateline NBC, Deadline, five bullets, Friday December 17th, gun preliminary match, Harold Martin Smith, Harold Smith, Harvey Apartments, he could ride with both hands in the air, High Profile Trials, Hollywood, Hollywood Criminal Justice, Hollywood PI, Hollywood Publicist, Hollywood's Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood’s tourist industry, ivory-white Beverly Hills, John J. Nazarian, John J. Nazarian P. I., John Kratzel, Kathie Berlin, KNBC, Larry H. Parker Esq., Lili Fini Zanuck, Michael Baden, mob hit man, murder random act, NBC, NBC Dateline, New York State Police, November 16 2010, oversized gray gardener’s gloves, preliminary match, professional assassin, professional hit, publicist Ronni Chasen, random act, Raymond Chandler, robbery gone bad, Robin Lyle, Ronni Chasen, Ronni Chasen Murder, Santa Monica Boulevard, Santa Monica Boulevard near Vine Street, Starline bus tour, Sunset and Whittier, Terri Gilpin, trace evidence, unloaded five bullets, veteran publicist, Vine Street, watching CSI, Whittier