The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Ronni Chasen: Dark theories over her slaying

WireImageHollywood is a notoriously contentious place, where everyone has a different opinion about which movie is the true Oscar favorite or which actor’s career is totally on the downhill slide. But improbably, it seems as if everyone in town agrees on one thing: the Beverly Hills Police Department’s explanation that Hollywood publicist Ronni Chasen was killed by a small-time crook in a botched midnight robbery is utter hogwash.

As New York publicist Kathie Berlin, a longtime friend of Chasen’s, told my colleagues Andrew Blankstein and Harriet Ryan in a story on Sunday: “It’s ridiculous, just ridiculous. It doesn’t add up and I haven’t talked to anyone who thinks it does.”

The police have said ballistic evidence clearly shows that Harold Martin Smith shot himself to death on Dec. 1 with the same gun used to kill Chasen on Nov. 16. But that hasn’t brought any closure. Over the weekend, I spoke to a variety of showbiz insiders who cast doubt on the official explanation, proposing a variety of alternative hypotheses about what happened. Hardly anyone believes that Smith acted alone; they are certain that darker, more conspiratorial forces were at work.

Each theory is more outlandish than the last. There’s one about Chasen being in the middle of a case involving a painting sold to a Russian mobster and another that involves alleged gambling debts. At first, I chalked up all this zany speculation to the age we live in, where TV and the Internet are so riddled with tales of questionable veracity that there is rampant skepticism about almost any famous person or event. After all, if millions of Americans believe that President Obama is a Muslim (he’s not), isn’t it possible people will question anything?

But as I kept reading websites full of breathless questions that claimed to shoot holes in the police explanation (“If this was simply a random crime, then why did Smith shoot Chasen so many times if he didn’t even know her?”), another question kept popping into my head: Wasn’t there another time in American history where everyone scoffed at the lone-gunman theory?

For decades, people have argued that Lee Harvey Oswald was anything but the lone gunman in the assassination of John F. Kennedy, believing that the president was actually the victim of a mob hit, a CIA putsch or some other far-fetched, Oliver Stone-style scenario.

But that’s hardly the first time people scoffed at a simple official explanation for a high-profile death.

Marilyn Monroe died of an overdose of barbiturates, but do you know anyone who buys that? Not when far more provocative theories are available, largely centering on the Kennedy clan, who supposedly needed to keep Monroe quiet after she threatened to reveal that she’d had an affair with Jack or Robert Kennedy — or both, depending on which account you read. As early as 1973, Norman Mailer was on the case, suggesting that Monroe’s death was a murder staged to look like a drug overdose.

In an exchange that was surely a portent of scattershot blogger reporting to come, Mailer told Mike Wallace on “60 Minutes” that he couldn’t interview an important possible witness — Monroe’s housemate Eunice Murray — because Murray had died before he started work on his book, prompting Wallace to respond that Murray was actually alive and listed in the Los Angeles phone book.

As a new biography of Sal Mineo points out, when the “Rebel Without a Cause” costar was stabbed to death near his West Hollywood apartment in 1976, the event was treated in much the same way as the Chasen affair. It was said that Mineo, who was gay, was the victim of a jilted lover or a hate crime. Homophobic cops supposedly sabotaged the case. In fact, the assailant had no idea who Mineo was.

But this is clearly not even a modern phenomenon. Stacy Schiff’s new biography of Cleopatra reminds us that ancient historians tried to establish Cleopatra as a central figure in the events leading to the murder of Julius Caesar, claiming she had aroused Caesar’s greed and imperial ambitions. As Schiff writes: “Those assertions made for a better narrative than did the plain fact that Caesar had plenty of enemies for plenty of reasons, few of which had anything to do with either Egyptian queens or the Roman constitution.”

Schiff seems to have hit on an essential truth that clearly applies to speculation surrounding Chasen’s senseless death. We are always looking for a better narrative, a story that would supply a more satisfying explanation for the cruel, often arbitrary events in life. It is human nature for any of us, starting with Chasen’s true friends, to need to imagine that her death wasn’t a matter of chance — because if she was just the victim of a random robbery, we’d all be equally in danger. We’d all feel less safe than if there were some personal reason for her killing, something specific that caused her to end up in the cross hairs.

There are legitimate questions to be raised, since police haven’t fully addressed some key issues. But some of the conjecture has been laughable. One blogger, noting the absence of shell casings at the scene, raised the seemingly compelling question of how a killer could have managed to pick up all the casings without being apprehended. But as Blankstein pointed out, the weapon used was a .38-caliber revolver, a gun whose casings remain in the chamber after the bullets are fired.

People have also scoffed at the notion that Smith, an African American, could have been riding a bicycle at midnight in Beverly Hills without attracting attention. In fact, police say that bicycles are often a much less conspicuous means of transportation for criminals, since a bicyclist is much less likely to be pulled over than a motorist driving a beat-up car with a missing tail light or a bad paint job.

When I spoke to Blankstein on Monday, the veteran crime reporter said he was frustrated by the public’s rampant skepticism about the case. “We came up against an overwhelming doubt,” he said. “At the same time, when you consider the lack of vetting of these rumors before they were put into the public domain, you can see why theories suddenly become fact, especially in a town full of smart people with vivid imaginations.”

I thought of our hyperbolic reaction to Chasen’s death when I saw a clip on TV from “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” a John Ford western where we discover that the story behind a fabled killing isn’t as straightforward as it had seemed. When a newspaper editor is asked if he plans to reveal the truth, he replies: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

It feels as though after all those years, we still prefer it that way.

-- Patrick Goldstein

Photo: Ronni Chasen, in an undated photo, who was shot and killed last month in Beverly Hills. 

Credit: WireImage

 

 
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Still no explanation of the Town Car on the Zayon/Schaeffer CCTV tape. The tape wasn't even made public knowledge until Schaeffer went to the media two weeks after the BHPD picked up the tape.
Why didn't the "tipster" go directly to the BHPD instead of "problem" phone calls to America's Most Wanted, a process that consumed two weeks of the investigation.
As for another partially revealed fact, is the murder weapon a stolen police service revolver? For this and above details, see:

RONNI SUE CHASEN

http://kidpaparazzo.com/chasen.html

With crimes like these no wonder there is a huge demand for Criminal Justice professionals get a degree from "United Forensic College"

Rather than preach like a rebbe your hackneyed authoritarian concepts must supercede the facts, Goldstein, stop whining about responsible people desiring justice for those murdered before their time and try looking at the evidence, you know, that stuff your philosophizing falls short of being?

A perfectly reasonable scenario (to me) would be that he was out on his bike with his gun, his life is generally in a desperate or shambolic state, and she almost hit him, almost ran him down by accident -- they may have exchanged insults, who knows she may have given him the finger, and he went ballistic. Then fled.

There's no definitive answers, but I'd find that believable, including the multiple gunshots being indicative of someone in a brief uncontrollable rage. The police have previously put forward road rage and I've seen it many, many times with drivers and cyclists.

More believable to me than a Russian Mafia, Renaissance-painting mafia hit.

hey it is time for the media to out their sources or at least admit that their sources sux because the original reports were the gun did not match.

Were the sources from inside the BHPD ?

Did Harold Smith have a screw loose, or was he murdered?

 The police have been known to murder people - Douglas Zerby more recently, and Ron Settles in 1981.

Has as anyone seen the footage of Harold Smith committing suicide?

 The problem is that once a finger is pointed at someone - by Officials who listen to others, If they jump to conclusions, and frame the person, carrying out their own special kind of "justice" shooting first & then asking questions later when Harold was dead - then it became far easier to pin Ronni's murder on him once he was dead since Harold could no longer defend himself.

Also Harold Smith having a criminal record, is not conclusive evidence that Harold Smith was the person who murdered Ronni Chasen. And as far as the gun - it could have been planted by the police. In Los Angeles this must be factored in to the possible conspiracy theories.

This article attempts to obfuscate the simple reality that very few of the conclusions of the BHPD make a hoot of a bit of sense. Yes, there have been some over the top theories about the murder of Ronnie Cohen, but that doesn't change the fact that what the BHPD expressed last Wednesday simply defies any credulity or credibility and fails entirely to place the purported suspect Harold Martin Smith anywhere near the scene of the crime.

The lack of shell casings is easily explained by the shooter(s) using a revolver which does not eject shell casings but retains them in the revolver. I don't know why so many people comment keep making an issue about shell casings given this very obvious and straightforward fact.

What the BHPD needs to do is to come up with witnesses and security tapes that place this suspect at or near the scene of the crime. That really shouldn't be hard to do given the fact the he allegedly traveled around 15 miles total that night on his bicycle according to the policy going to and from the crime scene. Multiple must have seen him, but if nobody saw him at all, then it is nearly impossible that he was the shooter.

What is the history of the gun confiscated from Harold Martin Smith? Obviously it wasn't licensed to him as he was a convicted felon and wouldn't have been eligible to have a gun. Did he steal it? Does it have a serial number? Where was the ammunition purchased (or stolen). Was brand of gun was it? How many rounds did it hold, i.e. 5 or 6 or more? Did the BHPD talk with local gun shops? Did they run traces in state and federal gun databases? Was the gun ever used in another shooting based on ballistic matches?

One of the most incredible aspects of this case was how on earth two BHPD officers could go to the Harvey Apartments in LAPD territory outside of Beverly Hills on December 1st to confront the suspect, Harold Martin Smith, without coordinating this with LAPD and without being prepared with guns drawn since they were operating under the information that Smith was the perpetrator of the murder based on the tip communicated to them by America's Most Wanted. How could they just walk in, confront him by saying something like "Halt, Police" (without even properly identifying themselves) and then stand there while he drew a gun from his pocket and moved his arm up to his head and then pulled the trigger?

Standard police procedure would require that those officers protect themselves when confronting a murder suspect. What if Harold has pointed the gun at the head of one of the officers and pulled the trigger rather than pointing it at his head and pulling the trigger? Surely the two BHPD officers were aware of that possibility before they even confronted the suspect. So, why did they just walk in on him - especially after having him reportedly under surveillance for nearly 1 week - in a lobby in which people were coming down the elevator and that wasn't closed off to the people in the building? That entire confrontation makes absolutely no sense and represents major violations of common sense and standard police procedure on many counts.

The way this entire shooting has been handled from the very beginning by the BHPD raises a huge array of questions, and the questions are going to keep intensifying until the BHPD does some reasonable and legitimately explaining.

Did Harold Smith have a screw loose, or was he murdered?

 The police have been known to murder people - Douglas Zerby more recently, and Ron Settles in 1981.

Has as anyone seen the footage of Harold Smith committing suicide?

 The problem is that once a finger is pointed at someone - by Officials who listen to others, If they jump to conclusions, and frame the person, carrying out their own special kind of "justice" shooting first & then asking questions later after Harold was dead - then it became far easier to pin Ronni's murder on him once he was dead since Harold could no longer defend himself.

Also Harold Smith having a criminal record, is not conclusive evidence that Harold Smith was the person who murdered Ronni Chasen. And as far as the gun - it could have been planted by the police. In Los Angeles this must be factored in to the possible conspiracy theories.

Notice the BHPD promotes only a bipolor spectrum of theories by carefully highlighting their lone gunman theory ONLY against the most extreme cinema-worthy conspiracy theories: Why? It makes it easier for us to reject the latter. 'Cause that would make us all collectively nuts, right? When In fact, most of real life — especially crimes — exists in the muddy grey areas where somebody would actually have to do their job and do some digging in the far less neat and glamorous pursuit of the truth. This is PR Manipulation 101 folks.

Patrick Goldstein writes: "But as I kept reading websites full of breathless questions that claimed to shoot holes in the police explanation..."

As the relative of a murder victim, I winced when I read this clumsy and inappropriate phrasing. It's bad enough that the writer, describing a street crime, fumbles around for wildly numb-skulled references -- the JFK asassination? "The Man who Shot Liberty Valance"? Seriously? -- but it's just crass to use the "shoot holes in line."

Stick to the celebrity interviews kid you're out of your element in the real-world crime reportage.

 
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