Hitman link to top Hollywood agent's murder

It was meticulously planned, and the person who pulled the trigger may very well have been a professional contract killer. Those are the sombre conclusions of police investigating the murder of Ronni Chasen, the veteran Hollywood publicist who was gunned down on her way home from a film premiere two weeks ago.

The 64-year-old was shot as she drove her Mercedes through Beverly Hills late at night. The initial coroner's report, which has been obtained by the Los Angeles television station KTTV, reveals her assailant used at least one hollow-pointed bullet, a type preferred by hitmen since it causes maximum internal damage.

At least four, and perhaps as many as seven, shots were fired into the passenger-side window from a vehicle which pulled up alongside Ms Chasen's car as she waited at traffic lights on the junction between Sunset Boulevard and Whittier Drive – a leafy area of the city just a stone's throw from the celebrity hangouts of the Beverly Hills Hotel and Rodeo Drive.

"After being struck by gunfire, she then made a left turn and drove for approximately a quarter of a mile before she crashed her car into a pole," said the report. Ms Chasen was subsequently declared dead at the nearby Cedars-Sinai Medical Center shortly after 1am on 16 November.

An autopsy revealed three gunshot wounds to Ms Chasen's right chest, and two wounds to her upper left shoulder. There was also damage to her right and left upper back, though some of the wounds may be exit holes. "One of the bullets was recovered from her back at the hospital and is possibly a 9mm hollow point," added the report.

The news adds to the intrigue surrounding the death of an old-school publicist who was regarded as part of the furniture in Hollywood, and whose funeral was attended by more than 1,000 friends and clients, including the actors Michael Douglas and Elliott Gould, and the composer Hans Zimmer.

Ms Chasen was an accomplished Oscar-season campaigner, who last year helped to mastermind the success of Jeff Bridges in the best actor category for his performance in Crazy Heart. She was killed on her way home from the premiere of the film Burlesque, starring Cher and Christina Aguilera.

Though her career frequently brought Ms Chasen into the spotlight, her private life was more opaque. Her closest-surviving relative is a brother, the film director Larry Cohen. Police are still searching for potential suspects and motives but have little evidence to go on: no bullet casings were recovered, and CCTV cameras which used to be at the scene were removed several months ago.

Lieutenant Gil Carrillo, a retired Los Angeles Police detective who has seen the leaked coroner's report, said yesterday that the tight shot pattern, along with the use of hollow-nosed bullets, indicated her assailant was a seasoned killer. "Looking at the number of times she was hit, and where she was hit, on the right side, I would draw that conclusion," he said. "There is a good shot-group pattern, in a small area. The place the bullets hit her, in the heart area, was very exact. It looks like the work of someone who was an expert in firing weapons, somebody who wasn't just a run-of-the-mill gangster."

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