The Ronni Chasen Murder Investigation moved in new and surprising directions Friday. Police are not ready to convict, or even accuse, the dead man. It could have been all talk.
A tip from producers of the television show "America's Most Wanted" led investigators to the Hollywood apartment building where a "person of interest" in the slaying of publicist Ronnie Chasen committed suicide, Beverly Hills police said Friday.
The man, whose name has not been officially released but has been identified in various media reports as 43-year-old Harold Martin Smith, shot himself around 6 p.m. Wednesday as Beverly Hills police approached him in the lobby of the Harvey Apartments in the 5600 block of Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood.
"Detectives have received numerous tips and theories from the public, all of which are thoroughly investigated," Beverly Hills police spokesman Lt. Tony Lee said in a statement. "One such tip was received from (the) 'America's Most Wanted' television show, which ultimately led the Police Department to the Harvey Apartments ...
"Undercover officers attempted to contact a 'person of interest' when he pulled a gun and took his own life," Lee said. "At this time, it is unknown if this individual was involved in the Chasen homicide."
"America's Most Wanted" host John Walsh told the Los Angeles Times that the show's staff "have been working closely with Beverly Hills" on the case.
Chasen, 64, was shot five times in the chest at close range at about 12:30 a.m. Nov. 16 while she was driving her Mercedes-Benz sedan near Whittier Drive and Sunset Boulevard in Beverly Hills, according to police accounts. Chasen, a high-powered publicist who represented stars including Morgan Freeman and worked on awards-season campaigns for films such as "The Hurt Locker," "Cocoon" and "Driving Miss Daisy," had just attended the gala premiere of the Cher film "Burlesque."
Los Angeles police, who are investigating the man's suicide because it occurred in the city, said Thursday they had obtained surveillance video of the shooting, and the tape confirms that Smith shot himself.
"The weapon used, which was a handgun, has been recovered by the Robbery Homicide Division and is pending ballistic testing," according to Officer Bruce Borihanh.
Beverly Hills police have been tight-lipped about the investigation. Four law enforcement sources told the Los Angeles Times that detectives considered Smith a suspect in Chasen's killing.
A resident of the Harvey Apartments told reporters that Smith had bragged about being involved in Chasen's murder. Others said he talked about how he was expecting a $10,000 payout, possibly from a lawsuit settlement.
Resident Brandon Harrison told The Times that Smith described himself to other residents as an ex-convict who served two stints in state prison, the most recent for weapons and drug convictions. Smith said he would never go back to prison, according to Harrison.
"He told me several times, 'If it ever came back down to me going to prison, I would die first,"' Harrison told The Times.
Some residents also said they didn't put much credence in Smith's claims.
A court hearing was held in Santa Monica on Friday, with a judge appointing special administrators of Chasen's estate to ensure the continued operation of her business. The administrators will also work to determine if Chasen had a more recent will.
On Thursday, the entertainment website TMZ.com published copies of a 1994 will, which estimated her worth at $6.1 million.
According to the will, Chasen left the bulk of her estate to her mother, but the woman died, so the inheritance passed to Chasen's niece, Melissa Cohen. A number of charities also were designated to receive money.
But another niece -- Jill Cohen, also known as Jill Gatsby -- was left "the gift of $10," according to the will.
"I have intentionally and with full knowledge of the consequences omitted to provide for my niece, Jill Cohen, also known as Jill Gatsby, except for the gift of $10," the will states.
A Beverly Hills police watch commander told City News Service he could not comment on whether anyone named in the will was being considered a suspect in Chasen's killing.