TODAY   |  December 06, 2010

Publicist murder case back at square one

The Beverly Hills police department is back at square one in solving the murder of well-known Hollywood publicist Ronni Chasen as the one lead they had appears not to be connected to the case at all. Martha Smilgis, friend of Chasen, talks to TODAY's Matt Lauer.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> there are new twists and turns in the investigation of hollywood publicist ronni chasen 's murder. in a moment we'll talk to one of ronni chasen 's long-time friends. but first nbc's george lewis has the latest on the case. george, good morning to you.

>> reporter: police aren't saying much about where the three-week old investigation stands but after following what seems to be a huge false lead, it now appears that that investigation is back to square one this morning. a few days after ronni chasen was murdered in this beverly hills neighborhood.

>> she was rushed to the hospital but died an hour later.

>> reporter: a tipster called the tv show "america's most wanted" called the tf show to say that he did it. after the show's produceders alerted the police and they confronted him, he killed himself . in a friday press release, the beverly hills police department says, quote, at this time it's unknown if the individual was involved in the chasen homicide. it's now been widely reported that ballistics tests that he used to kill himself was not the gun used in the chasen murder.

>> the chasen investigation has gone back to its roots now, it's a mystery, the digging, the ground pounding, the researching of her past, all has to come up again and they have to go back to square one.

>> reporter: chasen 's brother, writer/director larry cohen offered his own theory about the killing, he told the "new york times," i still think this was most likely a case of road rage . but friends say she was a careful driver and not likely to be a road rage target.

>> this could easily have been a flukish type of crime. noting? that was preplanned. i don't think we should rush to the judgment either way in a case like this.

>> reporter: because of the high profile nature of this case n a community that averages one homicide a year, the pressure is on the beverly hills police to solve the chasen murder. some of the experienced investigators we have been talking to say it's entirely possible the chasen murder may never been solved especially if it was a random act.

>> this was a personal friend of ronni chasen and the co-executive of her willing. our condolences to you.

>> i could imagine you must have asked yourself 100 times in the last few weeks who would wand to kill ronni chasen , have you come up with any types of answers for that question?

>> no, and it's very difficult because ronni was really beloved. hundreds of people showed up at her funeral. she helped many women. she was very good at what she did, she worked with the press and in showbiz, and many people that are in support groups, she made a terrific living, she was a great investor, our relationship involved stocks and we talked business all the time, along with, you know, men, and all the usual things women talk about. but she didn't have -- she never mentioned any extreme enemies, even any -- i never saw her lose her temper, ever. i never saw her lose her temper.

>> you described her as a throw back, someone who may have been from another era. were there two sides to her? was the person that perhaps hollywood saw in politic, at parties and events, not the same person that you knew away from the limelight?

>> yes, in that he was more -- when you're in hollywood , she understood appearances and the whole thing of looking good, getting her clients out there, dealing with the press and the television et cetera . but she actually had a quiet side, she was more intellectual than anybody would ever believe. she wanted to honest to god go into archaeology and do a dig in turkey and i laughed at her and i said i can't see you sifting through sand. she was 64, she wanted to start changing her life a bit. and she was very interested in money. and i mean on the megascale.

>> wshe invested wisely, she had very good investors and advisors in los angeles , but i also have to say that she followed it. and i'm a day trader and whatnot in later years and i found that she was remarkable. she didn't read all the press that i read and she knew the copper market was going to be corner.

>> she made you a co-executor of her will back in 1994 , and in the last year or so, she was talking about revising her will. did she give you any reasons for that?

>> in september. no, but every four years or so, she started talking about a will. and in september, she started talking about, i'm going to make you the executor again, i said, w why? why don't you just give me your car or your hair brushes or something. and that was kind of a joke. she was talking about dolling it or adding to it or whatever so this was kind of an ongoing -- i didn't feel there was any premonition here of her death because she was talking about her will. it was just a thing to do.

>> it seems that so many people martha are now looking for some kind of hollywood plot in all of this and yet in your mind do you think perhaps, do you agree with her brother that there could be no plot at all, that this could be a terrible and tragic case of road rage ?

>> when we were walking in the park, this summer we did some walking, she parked her beautiful new merced does next to my old honda, i told her her car was a target with her blond hair , because i have been through a lot and i say, you know, a car like this at night, even in beverly hills , it's dangerous, the hair, the car. she was a good driver. she was not reckless. this was a person who was totally risk averse, she was concerned about her body, her hair, her clothes. she in no way would take a chance, but the car was very flashy in my mind, and i think believe it or not, there are nut cases many of them, and they're out there driving around at night, they have guns. it very well could be that. and the rumors are flying because it's the movie business and i hear russian mob , i hear gambling debts. first she did not gambling, forget that. everybody was above board in the business. but there are rumors, ronni could be tough about money, but again, she really virtually had no enemies.

>> martha, i thank you for your perspective this morning. we appreciate you joining us.