Publicist buried amid rumours of contract killing

As Hollywood said its farewells to Ronni Chasen, the popular publicist who was gunned down at the wheel of her Mercedes as she drove home a week ago from a glitzy premiere party, sombre speculation continued as to whether she was the victim of a random shooting or a contract killing by professional assassins.

More than a thousand friends, colleagues and relatives, including Michael Douglas and the composer Hans Zimmer, gathered at a chapel in Hillside on Sunday for a memorial service. A second celebration, with a classical music quartet, followed at the nearby studios of Sony Pictures with a roster of guests that included the actor Elliott Gould.

Ms Chasen, 64, had attended a hotel rooftop party last Tuesday after a premiere of the film Burlesque starring Cher when residents on Whittier Drive near Sunset Boulevard heard gunshots and the sound of her car hitting a lamppost. Ms Chasen was rushed to hospital but declared dead on arrival with gunshot wounds to her chest.

While Ms Chasen's professional mission was to thrust her clients into the spotlight, she was apparently meticulous about keeping her private life screened off. For now nobody who knew her or who is involved in the investigation seems able to provide any hint as to who might have wanted her dead. "This is a real Hollywood whodunit," said William Bratton, a former Los Angeles police commissioner.

But clues that point to professional killing may be accumulating. A friend of the late publicist claimed that in March she had spoken about being followed by an unknown person and had admitted to being afraid. And those who heard the shots said the shooting seemed too clean to be a drive-by killing.

"I was up late when I heard the shots, it sound like a hammer. They were immaculately timed," Beverly Hills resident Claude Dauman told Fox News.

The police chief is trying to reassure residents of the normally sheltered part of Los Angeles that the attack was a rare, isolated incident and that the Beverly Hills community remains "one of the safest in the nation".

Friends who saw Ms Chasen in the hours before her death said they saw nothing to indicate trouble in her life. "I saw her Saturday at the Governors Awards. She was taking her friend, director Chris Nolan, to meet one of his heroes, George Lucas... and she was glowing," Mr Zimmer said in his eulogy to Ms Chasen at the memorial service. "And we had a great talk. Had I known what would have happened, I never would have let her go."

Harold Copus, a former FBI special agent, told Fox that if no shell casings have been found and descriptions of the shots being evenly spaced are accurate then he would indeed suspect a premeditated killing.

"It seems to be somebody who knows exactly what to do with no hesitation, somebody familiar with military or weapons who was watching their target closely," Mr Copus said, who wondered if a failed romance might have been involved. "It sounds as though it was more a crime of passion than anything else."