Open Mic

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.