A man a neighbor said had bragged about killing Hollywood publicist Ronni Chasen fatally shot himself as authorities descended on his residence in a Hollywood residential hotel Wednesday night, authorities said. Late Thursday he was identified as 43-year-old Harold Mark Smith.
Friday morning there was speculation that he was not a suspect but rather a possibly deranged man. A neighbor told Fox 11 News, "To me he was a little slow in the head."
Former neighbor Terri Gilpin told reporters at the scene on Santa Monica Boulevard near Wilton Place that the dead man had "bragged all the time that he was the one who killed the publicist, and he was always talking about how he was going to get paid $10,000 for it.''
Fox 11 News reported that the someone tipped off the Fox show America's Most Wanted about the subject because he had been bragging about having killed Chasen. That tip apparently inspired authorities to stake the man out.
The Los Angeles Times had described the man as a "suspect." Beverly Hills police had gone to the scene to serve a search warrant and might have been staking the building out in plain clothes when the subject approached and, seeing the cops, put a rifle to his head and pulled the trigger about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.
LAPD Robbery-Homicide Capt. Kevin McClure told reporters at the scene that Beverly Hills cops came to the residence at the Harvey Apartments building (5640 Santa Monica Blvd.).
"The person they were looking for showed up," he said. "They attempted to talk to the suspect. The suspect produced a handgun and it was a self-inflicted gunshot wound."
The man had yet to be identified.
Fox 11 News' Tony Valdez reported that the cops showed up in plain clothes and that the confrontation apparently happened in a hallway or lobby of the building, which is on a seedy stretch of the boulevard known for its transvestites.
Meanwhile KTLA News' Cher Calvin and Associated Press spent some time with former sheriff's homicide star Gil Carillo, a retired detective who helped solve the 1980s "Night Stalker" case.
He told reporters that whoever killed Chasen as she drove down Whittier Drive in a tony part of Beverly Hills near the Los Angeles Country Club after midnight Nov. 16 was not only a pro but could be a marksman.
Carillo said she was appeared to have been shot in the chest and shoulder as her car was moving, something your average criminal probably would have had a hard time pulling off.
Chasen was known for handling Oscar Award campaigns for major movies and was headed home to Westwood following a screening that night.
The man at the apartment building was described as an ex-con who had been evicted.
A coroner's official told the Weekly they know who the man is but could not release his name based on two factors: 1 - His next of kin had yet to be notified of his death. 2 - Regardless, the Beverly Hills Police Department put a hold on the release of the man's identity. A coroner's document states, "No information to be released - ongoing investigation," we were told.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reports that the man's suicide was captures on security video and that police were taking a look.
Beverly Hills police told Associated Press the man, described by the service as being in his 40s, was a "person of interest" and not a suspect.
On Thursday the LAPD issued a statement saying the department had video of the man's suicide and that it also took possession of his gun, which it stated would undergo ballistic testing -- ostensibly to see if there's a match with the weapon used in Chasen's murder.
RHD [Robbery-Homicide Division] is in possession of video from inside the lobby of the Harvey apartment building, taken the night of the suicide. Detectives have reviewed the video and are confirming that this incident is a suicide due to a self inflicted gunshot wound to the head by the victim. The weapon used, which was a handgun, has been recovered by RHD and is pending ballistic testing.
Update: Beverly Hills police on Friday confirmed that a tip to America's Most Wanted sent them to Harvey Apartments.
Apparently, Smith killed himself as soon as undercover officers arrived.
Lt. Tony Lee stated that, "At this time, it is unknown if this individual was involved in the Chasen homicide."
That leaves some ominous clouds over the case. If Smith wasn't their man, and the BHPD sent out the cavalry to find him based on a tip because he had been bragging, perhaps fantastically, about his role in the Chasen slaying, then it would appear investigators were reaching for straws and don't have much to go on in the case.