Ronni Chasen Murder: Cops Try to Match Suspect's Suicide Gun to Publicist's Killing

Neighbor says deceased suspect bragged about killing publicist Ronni Chasen.

November 18, 2010, 6:41 PM

Dec. 2, 2010 — -- The Los Angeles Police Department is running ballistics tests on the gun a suspect in Ronni Chasen's murder used to kill himself, they said. They want to determine if it matches the gun used in the Nov. 16 killing of Chasen, a powerhouse Hollywood publicist.

Police also are reviewing surveillance tapes from the Harvey Apartments on Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood, the home of the suspect -- named Harold Smith, ABC News has learned -- and the place where Smith shot himself dead Wednesday night as police sought to question him, authorities said.

Smith's neighbors told ABC News that the man they knew as "Harold" bragged about killing Chasen.

"He was like, 'You know that publicist? I killed her,'" said Terry Gilpin, 46, a fellow resident who said Smith told her he was owed $10,000 for the killing.

Watch 'Nightline' for more on the Chasen case tonight at 11:35 ET.

Gilpin, and her husband, Brandon Harrison, 27, described an altercation with Smith two or three weeks ago during which he made threatening statements and took credit for the Nov. 16 killing of Chasen.

Authorities did not say how Smith might have been connected to Chasen's death, other than that he was a "person of interest."

Chasen, 64, who represented A-list movie stars and promoted some of Hollywood's top films, was driving home after attending the premiere party for the movie "Burlesque" when she was gunned down.

Harrison told the Los Angeles Times that Smith described himself to a neighbor as "an ex-convict who served two stints in state prison, the most recent for firearms and drug convictions," and "vowed he would never go to prison."

Sure enough, he shot himself late Wednesday as police came looking for him.

"While conducting that follow up, the person they were looking for showed up," Los Angeles police Capt. Kevin McClure said. "They attempted to talk to the suspect. When they did, the suspect produced a handgun and there was a self-inflicted wound, at that point."

Smith was pronounced dead at the scene, where Eddie Burke and his son also were staying.

"We left the building for a few hours," Burke said. "And then as we returned, we were a little more than a block away and all hell broke loose on Santa Monica Boulevard."

Investigators have struggled to identify a motive or suspects in Chasen's slaying. There were no witnesses.

A fellow veteran Hollywood publicist, Howard Bragman, noted that although Hollywood is a town of some famous feuds, "most people get over stuff."

He suspects Chasen was killed for money -- and Chasen certainly wasn't lacking cash. Her will, a copy of which was obtained by ABC News, showed she had a net worth of $6 million.

"When you talk about murder for hire, really three things [come up]," Bragman said. "Number 1, pride. I think 2 is romance. And I think 3 is money. And 99 percent of the time, it's about money. And I think there is a money trail, and I think the police are on the money trail and they will find out who did this."

The Los Angeles Times also reported that a tip from "America's Most Wanted" show might have helped Beverly Hills police narrow down the person of interest in the case.

The show's host, John Walsh, told the newspaper that authorities acted swiftly after the information was sent to police.

"I believe they responded to a tip that we had passed on. BHPD reached out to us," Walsh told the Times. "We have been working closely with Beverly Hills [police]."

Chasen's Killer: An Expert Marksman?

An initial coroner's report suggested that the shooter was an expert marksman.

According to the coroner, "There were three apparent gunshot wounds to the right side breast/chest area. There were two apparent gunshot wounds to the right shoulder. There was an apparent gunshot wound to the right upper back and the left upper back."

"One bullet was recovered from her back while at the hospital and is possibly a 9mm hollow point," the report said.

Detectives suspect the gunfire came from a SUV or truck pulling alongside Chasen's Mercedes Benz E530. Chasen was stopped at a red light at Sunset Boulevard and Whittier Drive when the shooting occurred.

"After being struck by gunfire ... she then made a left turn and drove for approximately a quarter mile before she crashed her car into a pole," the report said.

The killer, said police, knew what he was doing.

"Normally they turn the gun sideways, and this is something that was done with some skill," said Gill Carillo, who worked as a homicide detective 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."

No shell casings were recovered and only the car's right side passenger seats and windows were damaged.

Investigators told ABC News that the security cameras that used to monitor traffic at the intersection where Chasen was shot were removed several years ago to save money.

However, Beverly Hills police are seeking any surveillance video that may provide more clues in solving Chasen's murder.

On Nov. 18, The Hollywood Reporter, cited an unnamed Beverly Hills official who said police believed the attack "was planned in advance and not the result of road rage or a carjacking gone awry."

The Reporter's website also said there was "relevant footage" from at least one security camera near the site of the shooting. It said the video came from the home of Sherry Hackett, widow of the late comedian and actor Buddy Hackett, who lived down the block.

In addition to surveillance video, investigators are combing through computer hard drives seized from Chasen's office and listening to 911 calls.

"On the profile of this woman, you certainly have to look at the potential that somebody wanted to harm her," said former FBI agent Brad Garrett.

"My gut tells me that somebody contracted some else to kill the victim," Carillo said.

"If people are shooting other people, most times it's not to wound them. It's to kill them," Carillo added. "In this case, when you have the amount of shots that were fired into the body and where they impacted, there's no doubt in my mind that they intended to kill somebody. It wasn't intended to kill anybody else driving down the street. They were out to kill, in this case, the victim."

Chasen's funeral was held on Nov. 21 in Los Angeles.

Chasen started out as an actress and later moved on into public relations, promoting Hollywood movies and actors.

She worked on films that included "The Hurt Locker," "The Social Network" and "Country Strong."

"She was the Elizabeth Taylor of public relations," said a friend, Helaine Ross. "People wanted her because they knew she knew everybody."

ABC News' Devin Dwyer, Barbara Garcia, Ayana Harry, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events