BREAKING NEWS!… UPDATE WITH MORE DETAILS: As Deadline told you last week, that down and out “person of interest” Harold Martin Smith who killed himself at the Harvey Apartments in a seedy part of Los Angeles was likely the shooter of Hollywood film publicist Ronni Chasen as she was driving home from a movie premiere around 12:30 AM on November 16th. A firearms lab made that discovery and delivered the ballistic report just this afternoon, according to Beverly Hills Police department Chief Dave Snowden giving his first press conference about the murder. “The gun used to shoot Ms. Chasen is the same gun used by Harold Martin Smith to commit suicide,” Snowden said, later describing it as a “match”. “We believe that Mr. Smith acted alone. We don’t believe it was a professional hit. And it’s an open and active investigation.” Snowden added that his BHPD detectives “are going to continue this investigation until we can call you again out here and tell you with definitive proof who exactly the person who shot Ronnie Chasen was. And we do believe that we have a pretty good lead on this guy.”
A detective at the same press conference, BHPD’s Sgt Mike Publicker, echoed that Smith acted alone and he did not know the Hollywood publicist. Publicker said a lot of media reports filled with elaborate backstories were “not accurate” and went on to say, “This was a random act of violence. With Mr. Smith’s background, we believe it was most likely a robbery gone bad… Through the interviews and information we received, that leads us to believe he was at a desperate point in his life and was reaching out and doing desperate measures.”
Police said the TV crime-fighting show America’s Most Wanted “played a crucial part in this investigation”. A tip came into the AMW studio and the show put BHPD in contact with the tipster who wishes to remain anonymous. ”And we’re going to respect that, as is America’s Most Wanted,” Publicker said. ”There is the possibility that the tipster will be entitled to the reward money.”
Responding to media questions, Publicker also gave more information about Smith and the crime. “We believe that his mode of transportation was by bicycle,” said the sergeant, who indicated that the police theory at present is that Smith was riding a bicycle — his only means of transportation, according to his neighbors — when he shot and killed Chasen in a robbery gone horribly wrong. The police said they don’t think Smith ever even came into the car or touched Chasen’s purse after she crashed into the lightpole, so he came away with no money. Publicker did reveal a bicycle was found at Smith’s suicide scene and it was taken into custody by the Los Angeles Police Department and will be turned over to BHPD. “Preliminarily, we believe it was a random act and we believe that Ms. Chasen was going to be the victim of a robbery,” Publicker added. He agreed with one reporter’s scenario that Smith came up alongside Chasen on a bicycle and shot her at the corner of Sunset and Whittier in Beverly Hills around midnight. “It’s still an ongoing investigation, but we believe he was intending to rob her,” Publicker noted.
The police probe is about “60%-70% done” as of today, said Publicker but there is a lot of information that still needs to be obtained. “We want to eliminate every possibility that other people were involved.” But Publicker also said about Smith that “the detectives were able to do numerous interviews, and from the information obtained in the interviews, it appears that he did act alone.” the sergeant also noted that “there was a question posted earlier whether Mr. Smith knew Ms. Chase. It does not appear at this time that there’s any connection between the two. … And we do not believe he was a paid hit man, no.” However, what is surprising is that Smith had the presence of mind to cover up his involvement in the crime because, Publicker noted, ”there were no shell casings found at the scene of the crime.”
Editor-in-Chief Nikki Finke - tip her here.