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UPDATED: Beverly Hills police believe that Ronni Chasen‘s murder was likely the result of a random, botched robbery attempted by Harold Smith, possibly on a bicycle.
“We believe Mr. Smith acted alone; we don’t believe it was a professional hit,” Beverly Hills Police Chief David Snowden said at today’s 3 p.m. news conference in Beverly Hills.
Smith killed himself Dec. 1 in the lobby of a Hollywood apartment building just as police were attempting to question him in conjunction with the slaying of the 64-year-old publicist. Smith had been referred to by police as a “person of interest” in the Chasen investigation. Snowden said that preliminary police ballistics tests confirm the gun used in Smith’s suicide and Chasen’s murder is the same weapon.
“This was a random act of violence; we believe it was most likely a robbery gone bad,” said detective Mike Publicker.
Publicker added that Smith, 43, may have been riding a bicycle when he attacked Chasen, though that has not been confirmed. The detective said that based on interviews police have conducted, Smith, an ex-convict, was at a “desperate point” in his life at the time of the attack.
A bicycle believed to have belonged to Smith was found at the apartment building — called the Harvey Apartments — where he committed suicide. The Los Angeles Police Department has possession of the bike, and it will be transferred to the Beverly Hills Police Department, Publicker said.
Chasen was killed Nov. 16 after attending the after-party for the premiere of Burlesque. It is believed the publicist was driving home to her Wilshire Boulevard residence when she was attacked. Chasen was shot at or near the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Whittier Drive. Beverly Hills residents called police at 12:28 a.m. on Nov. 16 to report gunshots.
Publicker’s statement that Smith possibly rode a bicycle to carry out the attack is contrary to news reports that indicated police believed Chasen was gunned down by a shooter who fired out of a vehicle that pulled alongside her car while she was stopped at a traffic light at Sunset and Whittier.
Snowden said that the investigation is not complete. It is expected to take two weeks for the full ballistics tests to be completed. Also, the coroner’s report has yet to be finalized, Publicker said.
Beverly Hills City Councilman Barry Brucker said that while the preliminary ballistics findings are encouraging, the case “continues to be active with many questions yet to be answered.”
“Our superlative BHPD team should be congratulated for its methodical and professional approach to this criminal investigation,” Brucker said.
At least one resident of the Harvey Apartments, the onetime home of Smith, told reporters that Smith had bragged about killing Chasen and was expecting to receive a payment of $10,000 — in one instance saying the money was for a job and at another point saying the money stemmed from a lawsuit.
Snowden and Publicker declined to discuss video surveillance footage obtained by police. Last week THR reported that the police had reviewed video taken from a home on Whittier that shows Chasen’s black Mercedes-Benz driving southbound down the street, slowing but not stopping at a stop sign at North Linden Drive, and continuing on briefly before crashing into a light pole.
Josh Zayon and Robbie Schaeffer, the residents who turned the surveillance footage from their home over to police, said that besides a Lincoln Town Car that can be seen driving past the accident scene moments after the crash, no other people or cars can be seen in the video.
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