In a world where people are paid handsomely to create make-believe drama that mimics real-life horror, the true-crime story of a Hollywood publicist killed by a fusillade of bullets as she drives home from a movie premiere has left her friends stunned and searching for a script that can somehow help them make sense of a senseless act.
Officials in Beverly Hills, where veteran publicist Ronnie Chasen was gunned down shortly after midnight Monday, have offered few theories about her death other than to say police believe someone opened fire on her late-model Mercedes from another vehicle.
But that hasn't stopped Chasen's friends in Hollywood's tight-knit community of publicists and other behind-the-scenes people who help bring us the movies we watch from working overtime to develop their own theories:
Was Chasen's killing the result of a bungled carjacking by someone who stalked her through a rougher neighborhood until she reached a quiet Beverly Hills street? Or did Chasen, with fatigue setting in after attending a premiere and party for the movie "Burlesque," simply cut off the wrong person in traffic?
"I'm not a detective, I'm a songwriter. But I can't see it being road rage," said Carol Connors, a two-time Oscar nominee who co-wrote the theme to "Rocky," and who was a friend of Chasen's for more than 30 years.
"Who would you really aggravate in traffic at that hour?" Connors asked, her voice breaking. "Maybe it was a gang thing and one of the initiations is to find a really pretty blonde lady in a really high-powered car and take her out."
Laugh Factory nightclub owner Jamie Masada said Chasen's killing was the subject of dinner-table conversation when he met with TV executives earlier in the week. Others put forth road-rage theories, but he disagrees.
"Maybe I'm watching too much television, but you see all those shows like '48 Hours' where someone hires a hit man to kill their wife," he said. "Maybe someone hired a hit man. He says, 'My wife drives a Mercedes, she comes by here.' And the hitman mistook her for his wife."
With all the speculation, it's likely that sometime after Chasen's funeral on Sunday at Hillside Memorial Park — final resting place for such Hollywood notables as Milton Berle, Jack Benny and Al Jolson — her killing will be the subject of a crime show.
The producers of "Law and Order: Los Angeles" declined to comment about that possibility Friday out of respect for Chasen's family. But the show's executive producer, Dick Wolf, did note that the case "sure is a fascinating headline."
The 64-year-old Chasen, who was unmarried and had no children, was a virtual unknown outside the Hollywood community. But within it she was a celebrity of the magnitude of Morgan Freeman or Sylvester Stallone — people she represented over the years.
"In its way, it's almost like a Princess Di story," publicist David Brokaw said of her death. "She was a princess if not a queen in this community and to the people she worked with, and she was someone who met her demise way too early."
Her relentless promotion of her clients, in a way several reporters described as pushy but never rude, was credited with creating the buzz that resulted in much Oscar, Grammy and Emmy recognition for them.
"Ronni was my very first publicist and paramount to the success of my career," said actor John Travolta.
On the night she died, Chasen had been working the premiere and after-party for the movie "Burlesque," trying to build Oscar buzz for its soundtrack and also getting a word in for an Oscar nomination for Michael Douglas' performance in "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps."
"She had called me five times in the past five days," said veteran Hollywood reporter Nikki Finke, who recalled she spoke with Chasen by phone for an hour that night, making small talk and hearing pitches for Douglas and "Burlesque."
But despite that aggressive attitude, Chasen seemed to have no enemies, even among reporters she pestered.
"When it happened, when it was confirmed, I just burst into tears," said Finke.
That it happened in Beverly Hills — a city whose name is synonymous with wealth and where murders rarely occur — was all the more baffling.
Although authorities will say little about their investigation, retired Beverly Hills police detective Kieron Foley, who is not involved in the case, said the evidence released so far points to a professional hit. He discounted the Hollywood scenarios of gang-initiation killing, drive-by shooting or road rage.
Although street gangs from the neighboring Hollywood district have sometimes been a problem for Beverly Hills, he said, it's notable that no one in the multimillion-dollar mansions that line the street where Chasen was killed heard a car speeding away.
"Typically, those guys step on the gas and they get the hell out of there," he said.
Chasen was shot multiple times in the chest, at an intersection near a park where her killer could easily have hid in the bushes waiting for her, Foley said, adding that a partner following her could have alerted the shooter by phone to her approach.
"If she is the target and I am a bad guy, that is a great place for me to be," he said.
Afterward, Foley said, the killer could easily have fled quietly in a car, on a motorcycle or even on a bicycle.
That still leaves Chasen's friends with no end to the story, however. Why, they ask, would anyone do that to her?
"It just makes no sense whatsoever. It makes no sense. That's what nobody can understand," said publicist Kathie Berlin, a friend of 40 years.
"How do you go down a street in Beverly Hills that she's gone down a million times ... and you're shot dead?"