Ballistics evidence in the Ronni Chasen murder case, which professional crime investigation sources say suggests a murder-for-hire, is being processed by the crime lab of the L.A. County Sherriff’s Department, widely regarded as one of most effective forensic departments in the country. The evidence will be compared to the handgun used by a man described as “a person of interest” in the Chasen case who committed suicide Thursday night as police investigators confronted him in the lobby of the Harvey Apartments, a low-rent residence on the edge of Hollywood. In a news conference at the scene, however, police emphasized that the man was not necessarily a suspect in the killing, and that the case remained open.
The man known to neighbors as “Harold,” whose suicide was captured on security cameras, hardly fits the profile of a professional hit man. Neighbors told news reporters that the man rode a bicycle around town, did not own a car, said he was an ex-convict and owned a gun, and often made extravagant claims, including being a hit man who had been involved in the killing of Chasen. News accounts suggest that someone called in a tip to the “America’s Most Wanted” TV show, which passed along the tip to the police. Whether the suicide gun matches the murder weapon in the Chasen case is unknown. It is in the possession of the Los Angeles Police Department, which, like Beverly Hills Police Department’s leading detectives on the high-profile case of the 64-year-old Hollywood publicist, has been extraordinarily tight-lipped. “We are not releasing any aspect of the investigation, whether it’s ballistics questions or whatnot — that’s part of the investigation. None of that will be disclosed,” BHPD’s Lt. Tony Lee told the Forward.
Lee’s statement sidesteps what gun experts are speculating — that the weapon used in Chasen’s November 18 murder was a rare 9mm 5-shot revolver, either a SP101 manufactured by Ruger, or the equally rare Smith & Wesson 940. Unlike automatic handguns, both weapons use cylinder clips that retain bullet casings. No casings were recovered from the murder site on a quiet Beverly Hills street where Chasen was found. She had crashed her Mercedes into a light pole and was bleeding from five bullet wounds in the chest and right arm, according to a leaked coroner’s report. While the lack of such evidence may be due to the shooter’s care in collecting the casings, or the BHPD’s failure to find them, the use of a small-caliber weapon is often typical of professional assassinations, says a Forward source.
Chasen, 64, was a Hollywood insider’s insider who, during a 40-year career, developed a special niche of helping films and actors win Academy Awards.
Meanwhile, Hollywood is buzzing about the will filed by Chasen in 1994 with L.A. County Superior Court under Chasen’s original last name — Ronni Sue Cohen — that marked donations from her estate valued at $6.1 million at that time to various charities, but only $10 to her niece. The will unearthed and posted by TMZ.com marks the largest single donation, $20,000, to the Hole in the Wall Gang Fund, created by actor Paul Newman to allow seriously ill children to attend a special summer camp maintained by the fund. Another $10,000 was marked for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, $5,000 to the Women’s Cancer Research Foundation, $5,000 to the American Film Institute, $2,500 to the Gilda Radner Cancer Program. Chasen, who was active in her synagogue, donated $5,000 to the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Chasen’s niece, aspiring actress/musician Jill Gatsby, who is the daughter of Chasen’s writer/director brother, Larry Cohen, was left $10 “intentionally and with full knowledge of the consequences.“ A posting on the horror film fansite fangirltastic.com said recently: Jill Gatsby, daughter of cult filmmaker Larry Cohen (“The Stuff”, “Maniac Cop II”), is trying her hand at directing and writing a feature horror film, in which she will also star! “The Torture of Delva Mills” is in production and we should expect to see it out in 2010. In 2005, Jill directed “XIS”, a terrifying short horror film about a serial killer and his victims, and she co-produced the horror movie “Captivity” in 2007.
Larry Cohen has told the media that he expects that a will his sister signed more recently will be discovered and executed.
Rex Weiner is a Brooklyn-born, third-generation journalist who from 1992 to 1997 covered the entertainment industry as a staff reporter for Daily Variety, where his column, Lost and Found, appeared weekly. His articles have appeared in Vanity Fair, the Los Angeles Times Sunday magazine, The New Yorker, The New York Observer and LA Weekly, and he contributes regularly to Rolling Stone Italia. His screenwriting credits include “The Adventures of Ford Fairlane” (20th Century Fox), and he was one of the first writers of the TV series “Miami Vice.” He is a founding editor of High Times magazine and a co-author of The Woodstock Census (Viking, 1979), one of the key texts analyzing the impact of the ’60s generation on American society. He is currently based in Los Angeles and in the town of Todos Santos, Baja California Sur, Mexico, where his fluent Spanish and capacity for tequila come in handy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.