A police source close to the investigation into the murder of Ronni Chasen says that police have a fairly good idea as to who employed a Hollywood hit man to shoot the longtime publicist. Although the alleged hit man killed himself last night before police could take him into custody, authorities are still making progress in their investigation of Chasen's murder. Several sources confirm that police have a working theory that Chasen's murder was related to a business deal gone bad.
LOS ANGELES (AP); A man wanted for questioning in the slaying of a Hollywood publicist killed himself in the lobby of a dreary Los Angeles hotel as police closed in with a search warrant – the latest mysterious turn in a case that began on a posh stretch of Beverly Hills.
The death deepened the mystery into the slaying of Ronni Chasen, who was shot in her luxury Mercedes as she drove home from the premiere of an Oscar contender last month.
Residents and witnesses told various stories about the man. One resident said he bragged about the killing and was waiting for a $10,000 payment, but a man who worked in a nearby music studio was skeptical of a connection to Chasen's death.
Witnesses said the man appeared to shoot himself in the head Wednesday, splattering blood across the lobby of the Harvey Apartments, a residential hotel where people rent rooms by the month. The building is in a stretch of warehouses and small businesses next to a dive bar called Gold Diggers Entertainment.
Resident Anmmicka Sanders said Thursday when police let her back in the building Wednesday night, she saw blood all over the stairwell and a body covered by a white sheet.
The dead man was identified but his name was not being released because the next-of-kin had not been notified, Los Angeles County coroner's spokesman Craig Harvey said Thursday. He was a black male in his 40s and his last known place of residence had not been established, Harvey said.
Beverly Hills police Chief David Snowden told The Associated Press in an e-mail that the man "was a person of interest only" in Chasen's death in Beverly Hills. Police spokesman Tony Lee emphasized at a news conference that the murder investigation was not over.
The Los Angeles Times, citing four unnamed sources, reported Thursday that the man was a suspect in the case and had been under surveillance for some time.
Chasen, 64, was shot multiple times as she drove home from a party after attending the premiere of the movie "Burlesque," whose soundtrack she was promoting for an Oscar nomination.
The attack stunned Hollywood, where Chasen was well-known after promoting the Oscar-winning film "Driving Miss Daisy" and other major movies and stars since the 1970s. It came in the midst of award season, her busiest time of year, when she helped studios mount expensive promotion campaigns for films.
Police haven't released a possible motive in her slaying, and they remained tightlipped about progress in the investigation. The suicide Wednesday was first reported by the Los Angeles Times.
Residents of the Harvey Apartments knew the man as "Harold" but differed on his last name.
Resident Terri Gilpin, 46, said Thursday that she had heard him bragging about the killing and talking about how he was going to be paid $10,000 and was waiting on the money.
She said he told her, "You know that lady on TV, that publicist, I did it, I did it."
Asked why she didn't call police, Gilpin said she and her husband didn't believe him. Gilpin said the man always seemed paranoid, would ask if police were looking for him, and "had a screw loose."
Gilpin said she once called police on him because he wandered into her apartment.
On Wednesday, she said she was taking a nap when she heard a single shot fired.
"I thought it was backfire, but I was kind of half-asleep, in a drowsy state of mind," she said. "It was kind of like a pop."
Sammy Zamorano, who works in a nearby music studio and was in the apartment building within a minute of the suicide, said the body was slumped against a wall with arms on either side. He said he did not see a gun.
Zamorano said the man spent hours each day hanging around outside the building, always had a bicycle and usually wore gloves.
"To me he was mental, criminal, but not so sophisticated. He had very bad vibes. To me, this guy is not too honest. He looked a little disturbed," Zamorano said.
Zamorano said he did not believe the man could have carried out a seemingly professional hit.
Harvey Apartments tenant Brandon Harrison told the Times that the man described himself as an ex-convict who'd been sentenced to state prison twice, most recently for firearms and drug convictions.
"He told me several times, 'If it ever came back down to me going to prison, I would die first,'" Harrison said.
The man moved into the building three months ago, but was evicted, Harrison told the paper. He returned to the building often and asked Harrison and others if police had been looking for him.
He was waiting for a $10,000 payment, Harrison said, but told different stories about why – once saying it was for a job and another time saying it was from a lawsuit.
The building has about 170 units with rents starting at about $625 a month, 25-year-old resident Terry Pendergrass said.
Two blocks of Santa Monica Boulevard were shut down and dozens of officers and squad cars were gathered outside the four-story hotel, which was cordoned off with yellow police tape.
The events Wednesday left Chasen's friends wondering who the man at the hotel was and if indeed he was a hit man.
"A lot of people think it's a hit. A lot," said singer-songwriter Carol Connors, a friend of Chasen for more than 35 years. "It's really bizarre that he shot himself unless he really knew something."
Earlier Wednesday, a retired investigator who saw a preliminary coroner's report on Chasen's shooting said the killer was an expert shot who was able to squeeze off multiple rounds in a tight and deadly formation.
Gil Carrillo, who recently retired after 38 years with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, said he reviewed the document after it was obtained by KTTV Fox 11 News.
"The thing that stands out is the shots – where they were and the lack of hits anywhere else," Carrillo told the AP. "It's a good shot group."
The close grouping suggests the shooting was carried out by a hit man and was not a gang attack or road rage, Carrillo said.
KTTV said it appeared Chasen was shot three times in the right chest area and twice in the right shoulder.
Coroner's spokesman Ed Winter would not confirm the authenticity of the document cited by Carrillo, which apparently was written by an investigator before Chasen's autopsy. But Carrillo was certain it was genuine.
The document says a hollow-point, 9-mm bullet was recovered from Chasen's body, though Carrillo cautioned that ballistics tests could reveal the slug was a different caliber.
Associated Press writers John Rogers, Greg Risling and Raquel Maria Dillon contributed to this report.