Open Mic

December 2010

Chasen Murder May Be Solved, But Questions--And Fears--Remain

Hillary Atkin Posted December 10, 2010 at 1:45 PM

It has only been a few days since the stunning announcement that the Beverly Hills Police Department had in essence solved the murder of Ronni Chasen, a case that has riveted Southern California and particularly the entertainment industry.

Since she was gunned down in the early morning hours of Nov. 16, the case has had many false leads and taken a series of twists and turns promulgated by people who probably shouldn't have been speaking about it--but who wanted the airtime.

Just hours after the announcement I had the opportunity to have a candid one-on-one with a Beverly Hills police officer, hoping to get some inside scoop or a least some insight into what happened. Just a week earlier, the department had distanced the case from the gunshot suicide of a transient with a long rap sheet in a seedy Hollywood residential motel--calling Harold Martin Smith a person of interest and not even a suspect, as LAPD did.

Doubts surfaced--huge ones, at that--about whether Smith was involved at all, or was just a crazy laying claim to the killing, as often happens in high-profile cases. Until Wednesday afternoon, when BHPD, breaking its weeks-long silence on one of the few murders in its gilded jurisdiction, announced it was bullets from the same gun that killed Chasen, that Smith was on a bicycle, and that it was a robbery attempt gone awry. What?

First, the veteran officer, who’s going to be left unnamed for several obvious reasons, bragged about how great the department was, and that they solved the crime within a few short weeks--obviously overlooking the fact that it was a tipster to the Fox show “America’s Most Wanted” who provided the crucial piece of the puzzle, not any great police detective work. More on that in a minute.

I questioned how weird it was that someone would be biking down Sunset Boulevard late at night--in all my thousands of trips down Sunset, I have never once seen a bicyclist, probably because the road is so intrinsically dangerous through the Beverly Hills--Bel-Air--Westwood--Brentwood stretch. Much less that someone on a bike would be looking to rob someone late at night, miles away from any commercial establishment.

Put yourself in a criminal mind. Wouldn’t you want to be outside a restaurant or bar waiting for potential victims rather than cruising a desolate stretch of road just hoping that someone might become your prey? I’ve seen sketchy guys on bikes near nightspots in Venice, and it’s obvious they’re cruising to rip off women’s purses as they get into their vehicles. So beware.

But back to Beverly Hills. “No one’s been killed on Sunset Boulevard in the 30 years I’ve been with the department,” the cop told me. “And no one else will be killed for another 30 years.”

When I told him how many people, especially women, have been frightened by the horror of Ronni being murdered while driving home late at night he said: “Don’t be scared. He’s dead.”

A shocking summation. But perhaps, the Beverly Hills way of assuring its citizenry that nothing else of the sort will ever happen within its borders.

There are still many big questions left to be answered, and BHPD admitted the investigation is not complete. Because so many other things don’t make sense, the least of which might be why a low-life guy riding a bike wasn’t stopped in Beverly Hills for DWB. Forget the political correctness--it happens.

BHPD debunked two other myths that grew to great prominence: that Ronni’s killing was a hit and that the perpetrator was an expert marksman. I never bought into either one.

Now, the focus--and some rage--is turning toward the tipster. There are calls for the person to donate the $125,000 reward from “America’s Most Wanted” to charity. Why? No one outside of John Walsh and people at the show--which ran a segment on the Chasen murder Nov. 20-- knows who this person is and what their circumstances are, and I hope their anonymity is retained. That person did the right thing, and was apparently concerned about their own personal safety in revealing the information.

Personal safety--a concept that was brutally violated when Smith murdered Ronni Chasen, driving innocently down one of the nation’s most beautiful boulevards through one of its wealthiest neighborhoods. Don’t be scared, but always be vigilant.

Season Finale of 'Boardwalk Empire': Now THAT'S a Cliffhanger

Hillary Atkin Posted December 6, 2010 at 3:17 PM

In HBO’s just-concluded first season of “Boardwalk Empire,” the characters and the milieu are haunting, an intermingled stew of real and fictional political and criminal personages--and innocents caught in their web--from a bygone era that still resonate today.

If you didn’t know any different, you could be excused for thinking that last week’s episode was the season finale, culminating as it did with Enoch “Nucky” Thompson heading to a fortune teller on the Atlantic City boardwalk, thus indicating the deep uncertainty of his future after all that had transpired.

Previously on “BE,” (spoiler alert) a shocking series of revelations and plot twists. The Commodore is Jimmy Darmody's real father, who knocked up his mother Gillian when she was all of 13, brought to him from an orphanage by … drumroll … Nucky. Jimmy's wife, Angela, is in love with Mary Dittrich, demonstrated by some hot girl-on-girl action, and ready to leave him to go to Paris with her, taking their young son along. Mrs. Schroeder finally leaves Nucky, after Agent Nelson Van Alden clues her in on his ordering her husband's death--and as she realizes he was using her to influence women who had just gotten the vote to put his mayoral candidate in office--and keep his power intact.

Speaking of Agent Nelson, we learn he’s a total freak in the barroom and the bedroom--succumbing to the drunken charms of Lucy Danziger and even more shockingly--an unrepentant murderer of his underling, Agent Sebso, who was revealed to be on Nucky’s fat payroll.

In that astonishing murder scene, with dozens of witnesses on a riverbank in broad daylight, Nelson is now exposed as the most terrifying character on the show--a man who professes to be a God-fearing Christian righting the wrongs of society but has himself surrendered to man's basest instincts.

The season finale, entitled "A Return to Normalcy," opens with Nelson telling an outright lie--that Sebso died of a heart attack--and then smacking an agent who dares to talk back to him.

And this is how things start to appear to go back to normal in the well-imagined Atlantic City, N.J., of Prohibition days, a resort town that was Sin City decades before Las Vegas existed, a place that was known in the 1920s as the world's playground and featured nightclubs and entertainment that rivaled Broadway’s.

Even Al Capone is mending his immature, disrespectful ways, and Arnold Rothstein seems contrite about being indicted in the scandal over fixing the World Series--until he comes up with $1 million in cash to make it go away.

At the center of it all still swirls the dapper and dangerous Nucky, who barely misses a step after Margaret Schroeder moves out of his suite at the Ritz Carlton and therefore down many notches in the social structure--a fact that is brought to her seemingly newly aware consciousness by an old Irish superstition that says your destiny is determined by what you find in your piece of cake.

Mrs. Schroeder has become friendly, in the superficial sort of way of women with young children, with Warren Harding's mistress, who is under the delusion that Harding will bring her and their newborn baby to the White House after he wins the presidency. Looking at her with barely disguised contempt at this notion, Margaret is making vague plans to move to Margate and become a shopgirl--again. Until she bites into that fateful piece of cake, and finds the rag.

We don't realize that she has bought into the notion that it represents a lifetime of poverty until she shows up at a post-election soiree in a stunning golden gown she could've only gotten from the French shopkeeper on the boardwalk--and sets her sights straight on Nucky. He falls under her glistening spell, and they end up under the moonlight. Will it last this time? It looks like Margaret will be biting the bullet, after uncovering a secret of Nucky’s past that makes him seem more human than machine in her eyes.

And just like in any great gangster pic, bullets are flying and throats are slit all the while, revenge killings for the attempted hit on Nucky by Rothstein's allies, the D’Alessio brothers. Meanwhile, after the climactic gruesomeness (and homage to “The Godfather”) of Darmody’s barbershop slay, a roadside gangster summit amongst Rothstein, Chicago’s Johnny Torrio and Nucky cements an uneasy truce to end the carnage.

But the greatest intrigue is yet to come, from another front. Nucky’s brother Eli, seriously gunshot-wounded while trying to collect a take at a casino and forced to give up the sheriffship and then re-crowned with it after the election, is starting to pull a Cain and Abel on Nuck.

We've seen his limitations, especially those on the intellectual side, but he's brought in some big guns in the form of the Commodore, who's recovering quite nicely from arsenic poisoning by his maid, and trying to seduce Jimmy into the plot.

But we as the audience know that Jimmy considers Nucky much more of a father than the Commodore ever was, or could be. Or do we?

Now that's a cliffhanger, and what better way to end the brilliant first season of "Boardwalk Empire." Oh, and did we mention: Lucy’s pregnant with the devil’s child.