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Person of Interest in L.A. Publicist's Murder Bragged About Killing Her, Neighbor Says

  • Scene: LA publicist murder suspect kills self

    Dec. 1: Los Angeles and Beverly Hills police stand outside the apartment building where a man thought to be connected with the murder of Ronni Chasen shot himself. (AFP/Getty Images)

  • Ronni Chasen

    Ronni Sue Chasen (AP)

The man who killed himself as police zeroed in on him as a "person of interest" in the murder of Hollywood publicist Ronni Chasen had bragged about killing her and said he was set to receive $10,000 for the hit, a neighbor said.

The Beverly Hills Courier identified the man as Harold Smith Thursday, citing a law enforcement source. Residents at the apartment complex previously identified him as Harold. 

Law enforcement officials told The Los Angeles Times that detectives considered him a suspect in the Nov. 16 killing. The identity of the man was not released because the next of kin had not yet been notified. 

Terri Gilpin, 46, a resident at the Harvey apartments, where the Smith lived and shot himself, said Thursday that she had heard him bragging about the killing and talking about how he was going to be paid $10,000 and was waiting on the money.

She said he told her, "You know that lady on TV, that publicist, I did it, I did it."

Asked why she didn't call police, Gilpin said she and her husband didn't believe him. Gilpin said the man always seemed paranoid, would ask if police were looking for him, and "had a screw loose."

Gilpin said she once called police on him because he wandered into her apartment. On Wednesday, she said she was taking a nap when she heard a single shot fired.

Neighbor Robin Lyle told FoxNews.com on Thursday that he knew the suspect for roughly four months, and he never left the apartment building without wearing gray gardening gloves.

"He said it was for his protection," Lyle said. "I never knew what that was all about."

Lyle said he didn't suspect his neighbor was capable of killing someone, although he indicated that he had previously served prison time for a violent crime.

"I guess you never know," he said. "I would've never suspected him."

Another neighbor, Brandon Harrison, told the Los Angeles Times that Harold described himself to other tenants as an ex-convict who served two stints in state prison, most recently for firearms and drug convictions.  He vowed that he would never return to prison, Harrison told the newspaper.

"He told me several times, 'If it ever came back down to going to prison, I would die first,'" Harrison told the Times, adding that his neighbor said he was supposed to be getting $10,000, at one point saying it was for a job he did and on another occasion saying it was from a lawsuit. Harrison had no way of validating those claims, however.

"I don't [know] if anything he told me was true," Harrison told the newspaper. "The man was very strange."

A clerk at a shop nearby told FoxNews.com that Smith rode a beach cruiser style bicycle, could not drive and appeared mentally ill. The shop owner also said he doubted the man was capable of murder.

"He came in once a week or so to buy cigarettes. He bought Rave, sometimes other brands that he would bring to disabled residents in the building," the clerk said. "He was always talking about crazy stuff. Long before the shooting in Beverly Hills, he would talk about getting $10,000 in some sort of settlement. He would panhandle and walk all the way to the 99 cent store on sunset to save a few pennies on candy. He was always eating candy."

"The police have the wrong guy," the clerk said, noting he doubted the man could aim a gun much less carry off what appeared to be a professional hit on Chasen.

Law enforcement sources told the Los Angeles Times that detectives obtained information suggesting that the man would be in his apartment Wednesday evening. He had been under surveillance for some time.

When police officers approached the man in the lobby of the Harvey Apartments on Santa Monica Boulevard at about 6 p.m., he backed up and refused their orders to raise his hands. He then pulled out a pistol and shot himself in the head. He died at the scene, the Times reported.

Sammy Zamorano, who works in a nearby music studio and was in the apartment building within a minute of the suicide, said the body was slumped against a wall with arms on either side. He said he did not see a gun.

Zamorano said the man spent hours each day hanging around outside the building, always had a bicycle and usually wore gloves.

"To me he was mental, criminal, but not so sophisticated. He had very bad vibes. To me, this guy is not too honest,"  Zamorano said. "He looked a little disturbed."

Zamorano said he did not believe the man could have carried out a seemingly professional hit.

Chasen, 64, was shot in Beverly Hills as she drove her Mercedes Benz 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. And 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. 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 is now under a security hold, which means police must approve its official release.

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.

Snowden said there have been only four homicides in Beverly Hills in the past five years, with three occurring this year. On July 20, the son of movie producer Fuminori Hayashida was found stabbed to death outside his home. In 2008, actor Mark Ruffalo's brother Scott Ruffalo died from a gunshot wound to the head. The death was ruled a homicide.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Click here to read more on this story from The Los Angeles Times.

Click here to read more on this story from the Beverly Hills Courier.

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