Hollywood publicist murder was random act by a lone petty thief

Police say gun used by suspect to shoot himself matches weapon that killed Ronni Chasen

The murder of Ronni Chasen, the Hollywood publicist whose mysterious death sparked fear and intrigue in the entertainment industry, was a "random act of violence" which occurred when a botched robbery went wrong, police have claimed.

Detectives in Beverly Hills, where the 64-year-old publicist was shot as she drove home from a film premiere last month, say that a gun owned by Harold Smith, their leading suspect, was almost certainly the murder weapon.

Smith, a convicted criminal, committed suicide when police tried to question him in relation to the crime last week, discharging a loaded pistol into his own head when officers turned up in the foyer of the Hollywood apartment building where he rented a home.

At a press conference on Wednesday, police announced that a preliminary ballistics test on the suspect's pistol indicated that it was the same gun which killed Chasen. Smith was not a hitman, they said, and appears to have been acting alone.

"We believe that it was most likely a robbery gone bad," said detective sergeant Mike Publicker, a spokesman for the inquiry. "He was at a desperate point in his life and he was reaching out and taking desperate measures."

Smith had come to their attention after the TV show America's Most Wanted featured the murder of Chasen, a well-connected film industry figure whose company specialised in running Oscar season "campaigns". A neighbour, who will now receive a $125,000 (£79,000) reward, phoned the makers of the programme, saying that Smith had boasted of being paid $10,000 to carry out the crime.

The broadcast of the show and subsequent breakthrough came amid heated speculation that Chasen had been the victim of a contract killing. A leaked coroner's report suggested she had been shot multiple times by an accurate marksman who used hollow-nosed bullets, a favourite of professional hitmen.

The fact that Chasen died on Sunset Boulevard, in one of LA's most exclusive postcodes, as she drove her Mercedes home from a premiere party for the film Burlesque, starring Cher and Christina Aguilera, only added to the intrigue that surrounded her case.

A series of extravagant theories surfaced about the case. Some friends and colleagues believed she had been bumped off after a business deal went bad, citing the Pellicano affair of the LA private detective jailed for multiple offences, as evidence that Hollywood still has a seamier side; others wondered if she was simply the victim of a road rage attack.

Police now believe, however, that Smith was simply a psychologically unstable robber who intended to steal her purse and jewellery, and possibly her luxury car. He had previously been convicted of drug offences along with a string of robberies which had female victims.

Smith also had money problems, and concocted his hitman tale to appear glamourous to neighbours, they believe. He is thought to have been riding a bike when the attack took place, though no one has yet explained why he neglected to relieve his victim of any of her valuable possessions.

Though detective sergeant Publicker is anxious to give the impression that the case is more or less solved, he conceded that it is still an "ongoing investigation" and that just 60-70 per cent of police lines of inquiry have yet been fully pursued.