LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - As the inquiry into the killing of Hollywood publicist Ronni Chasen enters its second week, prominent criminal investigators say that the apparent targeted nature of the crime makes the case solvable.
The Beverly Hills Police Department is not revealing details of the investigation, but a city official says the police’s working theory centers on the November 16 attack being planned, rather than a result of road rage or a carjacking gone awry. Despite suspicion that the late-night incident was organized, it remains unclear whether Chasen was personally targeted in the shooting.
Several high-profile investigators not involved in the case say the details that have emerged indicate that the killing probably was premeditated and perhaps tied to a soured relationship.
Robert Wittman, a former senior investigator for the FBI, believes that the murder -- Chasen was shot five times in the chest -- could have been a result of conflict in the publicist’s business or personal life.
“It would be a business-related situation or something that is personal, where she upset somebody or shrugged off a suitor, or a client who felt she did them wrong,” says Wittman, who spent 20 years with the FBI and specializes in art-related crimes. “It’s obviously a premeditated killing.”
But the potential personal nature of the murder could make it easier to solve, Wittman says. Michael Baden, a forensic pathologist, agrees.
“This sounds solvable because for somebody to go to the trouble of doing this and probably hiring somebody to do it means they know the person,” he says. “I’d imagine the police are looking into this, and there is a list of people they want to talk to.”
BHPD and city officials have emphasized the extraordinary amount of work going into the investigation. Councilman Barry Brucker says the case is a “very high priority” for the city.
“Knowing the superb detective work that we are used to, I am confident that this murder will be solved and those responsible will be brought to justice,” he says.
The police’s working theory centers on shots being fired out of a vehicle that pulled up next to the passenger side of Chasen’s Mercedes at about 12:30 a.m., as she drove home from the “Burlesque” premiere. It is believed the shooting occurred as, or soon after, Chasen made a left turn from Sunset Boulevard onto Whittier Drive.
Late last week, Beverly Hills Mayor Jimmy Delshad, who has been briefed by the police department, told reporters that police believed the shooter fired into Chasen’s passenger-side window from an SUV -- because of the high angle of the shots -- and not from the street or a sidewalk. Delshad later backtracked, telling media outlets the theory was his and not that of the police.
Other experts believe it was a planned shooting. Mark Fuhrman, the former Los Angeles Police Department detective who investigated the Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman murders, says that the shooting suggests Chasen was specifically targeted.
“If it’s a failed robbery or carjacking, you don’t pump more bullets into someone, and you don’t leave the car,” says Fuhrman, now an author. “Five shots -- they wanted her dead.”
Fuhrman dismisses speculation that the shooting was part of a gang-initiation ritual, a notion that has been bandied about since the publicist was killed.
“They aren’t that stupid,” he says. “That’s for movies. An initiation in a gang is a young gang member that wants to make his bones in the gang: He kills somebody in the gang so (senior gang members) don’t have to do it.”
Beverly Hills Police Sgt. Lincoln Hoshino has said the investigation is “wide open,” and the police department hasn’t “focused on any specific motive or technique.”
Media reports have noted an apparent absence of shell casings at the scene, but Fuhrman says that doesn’t suggest particulars about the nature of the incident. If shots were fired from another car into Chasen’s vehicle, he notes, it’s likely that spent shell casings would have landed not on the street but inside the shooter’s vehicle. It’s also possible -- but less likely, according to Fuhrman -- that a bag attached to the gun caught expired casings, preventing them from being left behind.
In terms of weaponry, Fuhrman believes that one of several types of guns could have been used in the shooting, though a 9mm semiautomatic handgun is a distinct possibility.
“The side window on a car just shatters -- it crumbles like china,” he says. “I would suspect this is an automatic because (with) an automatic, easily you could shoot five accurate rounds at close range in under a second.”
A 10mm semiautomatic handgun, a more expensive and sophisticated weapon, also is a possibility, according to Fuhrman.
“We know this: It was good enough to go through the window and put five rounds in her chest,” he says. “They were not going to use a weapon that would not be able to complete the task at hand.”
The incident has put Beverly Hills residents on alert. The neighborhood in which the shooting took place is filled with multimillion-dollar residences and is home to Hollywood luminaries.
Councilwoman Nancy Krasne says useful video footage could come from cameras at residences along Chasen’s suspected route, in addition to footage from businesses on the Sunset Strip. Sources have said police obtained relevant footage from one or multiple security cameras at the residence of Buddy Hackett’s widow, Sherry Hackett. The home is down the street from the intersection of Whittier and Greenway Drive, where Chasen’s black E350 coupe came to rest after striking a light pole.
“We have cameras all over this city, so wherever this car went throughout the city, it will have been seen -- and if this other car was near it or following it, they will know,” Krasne says. “The police department will be able to assess it and determine it.”
Although the murder occurred in a relatively conspicuous area -- on or just off of heavily trafficked Sunset -- Baden and Wittman don’t believe it was done there to send a message.
“They don’t worry about a message; it’s more about it being convenient,” Wittman says. “That moment, that’s where she was -- it’s not that detailed. That’s where they could get her.”