By The Associated Press
LOS ANGELES (AP) — A man wanted in the slaying of a Hollywood publicist killed himself in the lobby of a dreary Los Angeles hotel as police closed in to question him — 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 premier of an Oscar contender last month. Police have been investigating whether it was a hit or some other type of attack.
Witnesses said the man appeared to shoot himself in the head Wednesday, splattering blood across the lobby of a residential hotel where people rented rooms by the month. The building is located in a blue-collar stretch of warehouses, tailors and travel agencies, and is next door 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 up by a white sheet.
The dead man has been identified but the coroner has not released his name because the next of kin has not been notified, Los Angeles County coroner’s spokesman Craig Harvey said Thursday. He is a black male in his 40s and his last known place of residence has 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.
Someone shot Chasen, 64, 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 a revered figure 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.
Terri Gilpin, a building resident, 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.”
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.
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 as a lieutenant 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 Associated Press. “It’s a good shot group.”
The close grouping suggests the shooting was carried out by a hit man and was not the result of a gang attack or road rage, Carrillo told the AP.
KTTV said it appeared Chasen was shot three times in the right chest area and twice in the right shoulder.
“Whoever was shooting was aiming for center mass, and they got center mass,” Carrillo said.
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 said he 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.
Investigators believe Chasen was shot as she waited to turn left from Sunset Boulevard to Whittier Drive, a road she could have taken to get back to her home in West Los Angeles. After she was shot, she drove about a quarter mile down Whittier before crashing into a light pole.
Chasen was later pronounced dead at a hospital.