THR Learns Police Cased Apartment of Ronni Chasen Suspect Hours Earlier; Report ID's Him as Her Killer; Investigation Widens
A man police believe was connected to last month's murder of publicist Ronni Chasen shot and killed himself Wednesday night in the lobby of the Harvey Apartments, a former Hollywood hotel-turned-apartment complex.
Beverly Hills police were serving the man, identified as a "person of interest," a search warrant related to the case at the time.
Neither the name of the man, nor his exact connection to the Chasen killing, was immediately known. But KNBC in Los Angeles reported Wednesday night that Beverly Hills police believe the man is the same individual who murdered Chasen in Beverly Hills on Nov. 16. The station cited sources saying that the investigation also might reach beyond the deceased subject.
Capt. Kevin McClure of the Los Angeles Police Department's Robbery-Homicide Division said that Beverly Hills Police Department detectives "attempted to talk to the suspect -- when they did, the suspect produced a handgun and there was a self-inflicted gunshot wound at that time."
Lt. Tony Lee of the BHPD said at a press conference late Wednesday that his department's investigation into the Chasen shooting is ongoing. BHPD also issued the following statement: "At approximately 6 p.m. on 12-01-10, the Los Angeles Police Department responded to a call of 'Shots Fired' in the 5600 block of Santa Monica Blvd. When they arrived, a male subject (NFD) had sustained a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
"He was later pronounced dead at the scene. At the time of the shooting, Beverly Hills police 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," the statement said.
THR spoke with Harvey Apartments resident Eddie Burke, who said police had been casing the building during the day. Burke, 48, moved from Alaska with his son, an aspiring boxer, to the Harvey two weeks ago. After a visit to a local gym Wednesday, they returned to the property at about 1:30 p.m. and saw the building manager talking with two men in the lobby that Burke surmised were plain-clothes police officers.
"We figured out that they were attempting to identify this person they had a lead on and therefore were talking to the manager," Burke told THR. He and his son left the building and returned about two hours later, at around 4 p.m. Burke said police had assembled outside the building. "Everything made sense," he said.
A young couple, Kaisi Berick, 26, and girlfriend Rachel Lude, 29, who live together in a second-floor apartment at the Harvey building, said they were there when the shooting occurred but heard nothing. Lude said that shortly before 7 p.m., a police officer came to their door to question them. She said officers were going door-to-door asking if residents had heard or seen anything noteworthy.
The Harvey Apartments -- located at 5640 Santa Monica Boulevard, just east of Wilton Place -- offers units for rent on a month-to-month basis and is inexpensive. Berick said there is a good deal of tenant turnover at the building, a dingy four-story structure situated next to a strip mall, with some residents staying as little as one month. He said an array of "colorful people" live there.
"There are people on fixed income, people on government disability and families crunched into one place," he added. "It's slummy for this area."
Reports and speculation continue to surface at the scene and throughout Los Angeles.
"[It's an] interesting end to the story or perhaps the beginning," former LAPD detective Mark Fuhrman told THR. "Remember that the police had a search warrant in hand, which means they had sufficient probable cause that connected the suspect to the Chasen homicide.
"Certainly we can all agree professional hitmen usually don't commit suicide, or leave trails for the police to come knocking at the door," Fuhrman concluded.
The Los Angeles Times reported that some Harvey Apartments residents knew the deceased man as "Harold." One neighbor told the paper that "Harold" said he was about to receive $10,000, at one point saying it was from a job he did and another time saying it was from a lawsuit.
Hollywood publicist Chasen was murdered Nov. 16 when she was shot five times and crashed her car into a light pole in Beverly Hills while driving home from the Burlesque premiere afterparty in Hollywood. Beverly Hills Police Chief David Snowden called the shooting a "rare, isolated incident."
The 64-year-old longtime PR maven was buried Nov. 21 at Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary in Los Angeles.