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The Ronni Chasen Murder: Why We Need to See a Pattern

12/09/2010 11:24 am 11:24:28 | Updated May 25, 2011

It didn't take long after word spread of the murder of Hollywood publicist Ronni Chasen for the news media to start trying to connect the dots: Perhaps it was a professional hit, some wondered. Maybe it was road rage, others said. Or, it could have been related to a last will, still other outlets broadcast.

But what few apparently wanted to believe was that, perhaps, there were no dots to connect. Maybe Chasen's death was simply an act of random violence.

To some, that would be like trying to argue there was no conspiracy to kill JFK: that a lone gunman did manage to bring down a U.S. president without there being a sinister plot originating from Moscow or Havana or some Mafia clubhouse in Chicago.

And yet, that is exactly what Beverly Hills police seem to have concluded: that the killing of Chasen was the act of a former con, riding a bike through a rich neighborhood in search of someone to rob. That someone, the police appear to believe, happened to be Chasen, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

At a news conference Wednesday, police for the first time, and contrary to some earlier media reports, said they believe they can link the bullets that killed Chasen with the gun that Harold Martin Smith used to kill himself when police came to question him as a "person of interest" following a tip from a TV true crime show.

What's more, says David Snowden, the Beverly Hills Police chief, "We believe that Mr. Smith acted alone. We don't believe it was a professional hit."

The police said they have completed maybe 40 to 60 percent of their investigation, so more questions need to be answered.

But based on the news conference, it would appear that the police are satisfied that they have answered the key questions and have concluded the Chasen murder was random and that Smith was trying to hold her up when her car came to a stop before needing to make a turn.

And yet, listening to the reporters present hurling questions at the police, one can tell that the press is not satisfied and, my guess is, many people won't be either.

That's because, as many studies have shown over the years, we humans like to see patterns -- connect the dots, if you will, even when no patterns exist.

It is somehow more comforting, in a perverse sort of way, to think that Chasen was targeted for murder, perhaps by someone she knew, than to conclude that the victim could just as easily have been the driver of the car behind Chasen's, or the one making the turn just before. That makes people nervous; it makes the world feel much less secure. Targeted killings we can live with -- we know it could not have been us! But random murder chills us to the bone. It could have been you, me, our best friend, or our closest relative.

The police, of course, are wise in not totally closing the door, or their minds, to any new evidence that may emerge to change the picture considerably.

Some have pointed out that even if they can link Smith's gun to Chasen's murder, they still have not established that Smith even owned the gun the night of the killing. Guns, especially ones used for violent crimes, do tend to move around a lot. Is it possible Smith came to own the gun some time after the murder had already happened?

But, as in medicine, the most likely explanation is the most simple and logical one: If the bullets used to kill Chasen came from the gun Smith used to kill himself (not to mention, though I will, the not insignificant fact that Smith shot himself to death when the police came to talk with him!) there is a pretty good probability that Smith was the one who used the gun to murder Chasen.

No pattern. No dots. It just happened!

Charles Feldman is a journalist and media consultant and co-author of the book, "No Time To Think-The Menace of Media Speed and the 24-hour News Cycle." He has covered police and politics in Los Angeles since 1995 and is a regular contributor of investigative reports for KNX1070 Newsradio.