Tuesday 23 January 2018

Murder of celeb publicist like plot of movie thriller

Philip Sherwell and Nick Allen

It Is just a few blocks across Hollywood from the glitzy new W hotel where the famous sip cocktails to the shabby foyer of Harvey Apartments.

But these two very different Los Angeles worlds are now enmeshed at the heart of a real-life murder mystery.

Ronni Chasen, a celebrity publicist, was driving home along Sunset Boulevard after a film party at the W with Cher, Christina Aguilera and Jane Fonda, when she was shot dead on November 16.

On Wednesday, the plot gained a second body when a down-and-out former convict, who according to one report boasted that he had killed Ms Chasen for $10,000, shot himself in the head of the foyer of the Harvey as police arrived to question him.

It seemed initially that the detectives may have got their man. But in a story with all the twists of a Hollywood script, doubts soon emerged that the death of Harold Martin Smith had in fact solved the case.

If a Tinseltown figure with a grudge wanted the 64-year-old dead, then Mr Smith, 43, did not seem the obvious hitman. He was a career criminal with a record of gun and drug crimes.

At around 6pm on Wednesday, police arrived at the building to speak to him. But Mr Smith had also said that he would kill himself rather than go back to prison. With two felony convictions to his name, he would have faced a life sentence under California's three-strikes law. His suicide may just have been the final act of a man fearing he was heading back behind bars.

Tests are being conducted to determine if the gun with which he killed himself matched the weapon used to shoot Ms Chasen.

In the meantime, the imaginations of residents, many of whom spend their days working on film scripts, have run wild.

Was the killing ordered by a failed Oscar contender who had lost out to one of Ms Chasen's clients? Or a Russian gangster she had crossed? Did a relative have gambling debts, or was she a victim of mistaken identity? Was a recent burglary at her home linked?

Despite Ms Chasen's prodigious networking, her private life was a mystery.

Another possibility is that she was simply a victim of road rage. Her brother, Larry Cohen, a screenwriter, has backed that theory, angrily denying that he had run up gambling losses.

After the attack, Ms Chasen managed to drive about a quarter of a mile before crashing into a street light. The scene is already a grisly addition to tour bus routes.

© Telegraph

Sunday Independent

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