Longtime Publicist Ronni Chasen Murdered, Casting Directors Threatened: What the Hell is Going On in Hollywood?

Earlier today the entertainment world was shaken by the murder of 64-year-old Hollywood publicist Ronni Chasen. Chasen died of multiple gunshot wounds to the chest received as she drove through Beverly Hills a little after midnight. Responding to calls about gunfire in the area, police arrived at the scene to find Chasen slumped in her Mercedes, which had struck a lamppost.

Chasen, who had represented the likes of composer Hans Zimmer and producer Richard Zanuck, had just attended the premiere and after-party for BURLESQUE, a new film featuring Cher.

Little is known about Chasen’s death at the moment, save that she was shot at least 5 times and police have yet to determine a motive for the crime.

The events are probably unrelated, but this item was published today by Backstage.com: “Casting Directors Receive Death Threat.” An excerpt from the article, written by Daniel Holloway:

On Nov. 7, five casting directors in the Los Angeles area received death threats via their office telephones. The recipients reached out to Teamsters Local 399 and were encouraged by the union to alert security personnel at the studios where they work and the local police.

Teamsters business representative Ed Duffy, who confirmed to Back Stage that the threats had occurred, sent a mass email to members of the L.A. casting community warning them of the phone calls and encouraging anyone else who has been threatened to come forward. On Monday, Duffy was contacted by a sixth casting director who had been threatened.

So just over a week ago, a number of LA-area casting people receive death threats. (Is this common? It’s hard to tell from the article.) Then very early on Nov. 16, Ronni Chasen, a high-powered publicist, was brutally murdered.

Again–the chances are these things are unrelated. Casting directors and publicists often deal with opposite ends of the movie-making timeline–the beginning of shooting and the premiere, respectively–but at the moment the death threats seem at the very least like an interesting coincidence.

[NYT]

Jennifer Mee, the Hiccup Girl, Accused of Murder

Hey, you remember Jennifer Mee? Kind of a creepy, flat demeanor, uninflected speaking voice, constant hiccups, a very annoying 15 minutes of fame in 2007? She’s been arrested for murder.

Mee, now 19, allegedly lured 22-year-old Shannon Griffin to an apartment where he was robbed and murdered by Laron Raiford, 20, and Lamont Newton, 22.

Police say Mee, Raiford and Newton have all admitted to their roles in the crime. The charge: 1st-degree murder.

At least the hiccups cleared up.

[MyFoxTampaBay]

Is Edward Wayne Edwards The Zodiac Killer?

Retired homicide detective John Cameron believes the 77-year-old Edwards is indeed the Zodiac. Cameron, currently working for the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole, spent his summer researching the ailing Edwards, who is incarcerated in an Ohio corrections institute for a 1977 double murder.

There have been worse suspects. The more one studies what is known about Edwards, the more viable he seems. John Cameron told the San Francisco Chronicle that Edwards may well be “the most prolific serial killer that ever was.”

I’ve put out a message to Mr. Cameron to talk about the case, possibly to cover it for another online publication. If I can’t sell them on it, I’ll cover it in fuller detail here, later.

Meanwhile, John Cameron’s Facebook wall gives some hints at what he’s been up to.

NY Fox Reporter Charles Leaf Accused of Sex Assault Against Child

According to the Cliffview Pilot, 41-year-old investigative reporter Charles Leaf has been accused of “digitally penetrating a minor and masturbating in front of the youngster several times in recent weeks.” The Pilot reports that the victim is only 4 years old.

Leaf has been a fast-rising reporter in the Fox News organization, going from the hinterlands in places like Mobile, AL to WNYW in the New York market in just over a decade. He’s been featured on the O’Reilly Factor, The Fox Report, Fox & Friends, Greta Van Susteren’s show and Geraldo at Large, just to name a few. While with the New York affiliate Leaf has specialized in hot-button issue cases like the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” and the Bernard Madoff investigation.

Accusations of being pushy and overly-aggressive have dogged Leaf, a former Marine, throughout his career. The following comes from an article about Leaf published in a Denver paper over 5 years ago:

Leaf, who’s in his mid-thirties, sees himself as a crusader. Yet several previous on-the-job incidents raise questions about his aggressive style. During a stint at a station in Mobile, Alabama, he was the focus of a 1999 lawsuit that impugned him for a “willful physical attack” against a local councilwoman; the case was eventually settled. Two years later, while working in Detroit, a man told police that Leaf spewed homophobic obscenities and tried to attack him after the reporter was pelted with eggs while covering a story. And Bobbi Barrow, spokeswoman for Denver Health Medical Center, believes Leaf misrepresented himself to get an interview with her boss, Dr. Patricia Gabow, at an event last November. “What he did was unprofessional,” Barrow says.

For his part, Charles Leaf has always claimed that these incidents were overblown, even though he left the Mobile station not long after the alleged assault there and that station settled with the councilwoman in question. When interviewed by Denver Westword for the article quoted above, he said, “If what took place in Mobile hadn’t happened, you wouldn’t be talking to me about someone in Detroit throwing eggs at me.”

The Detroit incident was, on one level, more understandable than Leaf’s alleged assault on the councilwoman in Mobile–Leaf had, after all, just had an egg smashed on his head. However, he may have let his mouth run away with him:

[Accuser Sebastian] Graham according to the police report, alleged that Leaf called him a “cocksucker” and a “faggot.” He also alleged that he was hit in the face by the news crew during an ensuing scuffle. Graham said he kicked one of the alleged attackers, and that was enough to get them to back off, allowing him to shut the door and call police.

Overblown or not, none of these events actually predicted the kind of accusation now leveled against the crusading reporter.

Charles Leaf is being held in the Bergen County Jail in Hackensack, NJ on $250,000 bail.

Reports of a shooter on the campus of UT Austin

Image Source

UPDATE

An ongoing liveblog of the situation here.

UPDATE

These events are fluid. Reports will change constantly. That said–multiple reports from news sources in Austin as well as cable news (CNN, specifically) say the shooter is dead, a suicide. The campus, however, is being evacuated and police may be seeking a second shooter. Twitter reports are both fascinating and unreliable.

Here’s what UT Austin prof. Randall Wilhite told CNN–the gunman was dressed in a business suit and wearing a ski mask. Wilhite saw the man running and randomly shooting on the campus “just a little bit after 8 a.m.” Wilhite confirmed to CNN that the gunman was heading directly for the PCL, the library where he supposedly took his life.

Wilhite described the gunman as a white male wielding what appeared to be an assault rifle, 6’2″ and in good shape, possibly young but it was hard to tell due to the disguise.

ORIGINAL POST

An active shooter has been reported in a library on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin. One (unconfirmed) Twitter report indicates as many as 7 people have been shot.

UPDATE: A UT spokesperson says no one else was injured when the shooter opened fire. The gunman took his own life.

The same campus was the sight of one of the worst and first campus shootings in the U.S., when Charles Whitman climbed into the campus bell tower and picked off 14 people before he was killed by police.

This post may be updated.

Kristin Rossum, The American Beauty Killer, Wins New Hearing

Kristin Rossum was convicted of poisoning her spouse Greg de Villers with fentanyl. Owing to the dramatic nature of de Villers’s death on Nov. 6, 2000–Rossum staged the scene as a suicide, complete with rose petals sprinkled over de Villers’s body, a supposed homage to his favorite movie, American Beauty–Rossum’s story has been a staple of tabloid and true crime TV ever since she was convicted. Since this is “true” crime, though, the story isn’t over. The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has granted Rossum a new hearing, agreeing that she was, in the words of the Court, “deprived of her Sixth Amendment right to the effective assistance of counsel.”

The question once again comes down to fentanyl. Rossum told the Court that she had inneffective counsel because her lawyer didn’t seek to have de Villers’s autopsy samples tested to see if her husband had in fact ingested the heavy-duty painkiller or if the fentanyl could have come from post-mortem lab contamination. From the decision granting Rossum’s new day in court:

The fentanyl levels in de Villers’s autopsy samples were extraordinarily, even unnaturally, high. While these elevated concentration levels suggested that death was immediate, they were at odds with medical evidence which indicated that de Villers lingered in a state of unconsciousness for several hours before he died.

Rossum and her new counsel believe that there was plenty of potential for de Villers’s samples to be contaminated in the lab. After all, both Rossum and the man with whom she was having an affair when her husband died were employees of the San Diego County Office of the Medical Examiner.

It looks like TruTV and Investigation Discovery have at least another half-hour to go on the American Beauty Killer, after all.

Read the full court document if you have a moment. It lays out all the facts, including the known narrative of the case up to Rossum’s conviction. There are still plenty of elements in her narrative of events that don’t track; but legalities are legalities.

CrimeSlam Open For Business Again

I have worked hard in the last year or so to shed the crime blogger label. I think I’ve mostly succeeded, since I’ve published work on respectable sites that wasn’t crime-related at all (okay, the Daily Beast article was, but I digress). I think it’s time to go ahead an own the fact that I like writing about crime again, though, and that I sometimes see the need for it. Hence this–the cessation of fiddling with other blogs and the resumption of posting here. I still don’t see myself updating this blog daily, but I’ll be posting often enough. This time I may add a new element, make it a little more interesting for me than the standard murder of the week fare.

This is my only solution to the fact that I dislike so much crime coverage out there these days.

Keep checking back. I’ll see if I can make this work in my head again.

 

‘Better Than D.B. Cooper?’ The Unfolding Saga of the ‘Where’s Waldo Bandit’

Ryan Homsley wrote the following Facebook update sometime on Wednesday: “ db cooper was a great man….the wheres waldo bandit will be better….see ya gys in seattle next.” Homsley, by his own admission, had just become a bank robber. In the process he also acquired a nickname, one he readily embraced: “the Where’s Waldo Bandit.” Surveillance photos made of the 29-year-old Portland, Oregon artist made it clear as to why he’d been equated with the bespectacled cartoon character with the distinctive striped shirt–Homsley looked just like “Waldo,” minus the jaunty hat.

Police believe Ryan Homsley entered a Key Bank branch in Bridgeport Village in Southwest Portland on Sept. 21 with what he said was a bomb. He demanded cash from the teller. Surveillance photos helped police identify Homsley by the following Wednesday.

And on Wednesday night, Ryan Homsley doubled down by taunting cops on his Facebook page. He made the surveillance image of him in his ‘Waldo’ sweater his profile photo. Homsley said he was doing it to pay medical bills and that he was heading up to Seattle.

Homsley also had a MySpace account:

http://www.myspace.com/jesusridingadinosaur

He was still actively using the account up till Sept. 18, posting status updates:

drinking an Orange Crush and chilling out on some dilaudid I just got from OhSU thanks to Dr. King in the Internal Medicine department
Mood: mung

4 days ago

acid casuality with a reposessed car…vietnam vet playing air guitar…just watching the sun so far
Mood: edgy

2:52 PM Sep 3

i think of the immortal words of Socrates who said “I drank what?”
Mood: Romanesque

1:46 PM Sep 2

feeling pretty good today….made some money…hanging out with April today….wondering where my shades are at
Mood: core

5:10 PM Aug 29

Homsley blogged a bit on MySpace. It was hard to make heads or tails of many posts. They looked like collages of his own writing mingled with unattributed, copied text. One blog entry from March this year did seem too personal to have been written by anyone but the blogger:

I am becoming more and more numb to the fact that tomorrow I will wake up and I’ll be 60. That one day I’ll realize that all of this sorrow I feel now is really pain management for the future. That every day I am put through the crucible again and again to understand that I AM NOT SPECIAL. I should have been an arsonist because I am very talented at burning the world around me. I am almost creative when it comes to new and unique ways of burning the lives around me. My life has become the end of happiness for those around me. Maybe we were born not to live our lives, but better those around us. If that is true than I am death, the desroyer of worlds. I just want to live. I want to become the bright lil love of your life. I want to know what it’s like to have purpose. I just want to love, but I’m, incapable…so now I drink.

A year before the post quoted above, Ryan Homsley wrote another blog entry that spoke of “hopelessness and agression towards the state of things.” He continued:

As hard as I try it’s not good enough. I am once again without shelter and, even though I am not in pain due to my stash of vicodin provided by my good doctor, I am in a rut of not being able to find work. No matter what the situation is I seem to end up a rope burning from the bottom. The sunlight pisses me off and it’;s because I spent the whole nite wandering up and down Holgate street due of the situation I’m in. It’s my own fault. I sometimes get the notion that I’m destined to live in this shit for the rest of my yank. Doomed to wander like a loud Radiohead song and forced to feel like a derelict in a giant outdoor insane asylum called PORTLAND. Fuck all of this. Fuck the world, fuck the pills, fuck the job.

A month before Homsley’s ‘fuck everything’ blog post, the artist published another entry that is too ironic in light of what he’s accused of to not quote in its entirety (still worth noting that it really is hard to tell in his MySpace blog where Homsley is speaking and where he’s quoting–he wasn’t often concerned with sourcing):

robber masks
Many of you laughed at me when I put ski masks on the great big list of things that make me angry. Many of you disagreed with my stance that they are a public menace with no redeeming qualities. Many of you thought my campaign to have them renamed “robber masks” was a waste of time. But at least one public official has joined the fight against ski masks (albeit a full year after the campaign began). Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton has proposed stiffer sentences for criminals who wear ski masks when committing crimes. The chief proposes adding two years or 25 percent of the sentence, whichever is more, for wearing a mask…

Homsley is probably too busy avoiding the FBI and Portland authorities to respond, but a message has been sent to him asking about the nature of his illness, among other things. Mr. Homsley, if you read this, let us know.

Waldo, of “Where’s Waldo” fame

Back on Facebook, a couple of Ryan Homsley’s friends have already acknowledged his posts about committing the robbery by either liking the status or responding. Commenting on Homsley’s “im now a bank robber” status, a friend named Nikki simply said, “somehow, i am not surprised.”

There is a reward for information leading to Ryan Homsley’s arrest. If you think you can help call the FBI at 503-224-4181. If the situation is dangerous, call 911.

Ryan M. Homsley

 [ThePortlander]

Stanley Neace Was Particular About Eggs

Police rural Breathitt County, KY have a massacre on their hands. The AP reports it started over eggs.

Stanley Neace, age 47, killed 5 people today, then turned the gun on himself. A relative of two of Neace’s victims say everything began when a fight erupted between Neace and his wife over the way she was cooking eggs.

His wife fled to a nearby trailer. Neace followed, 12-gauge in hand. He shot his wife, stepdaughter and three others. Then he returned to his mobile home and took his own life. Neace allowed one potential victim to run away.

The rugged part of Kentucky where the murders occurred is no stranger to violence.

A search for past news about Stanley Neace revealed an odd coincidence. In 1941 another Stanley Neace from Hazard, KY, just up the road from Breathitt, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for murder. In that case the motive was revenge, not eggs.

[AP, see also]

Female Shooter Barricaded in NE Philly Nabisco Factory

A woman has allegedly shot 3 people, killing two, in the Kraft Foods Factory in Northeast Philadelphia. The alleged shooter is said to be barricaded in an office inside the building. Police have surrounded the facility.

UPDATE

CBS Philadelphia reports the armed woman started shooting around 9 o’clock tonight inside the factory. It took police about 40 minutes to bring her into custody. Via Twitter it has been reported that the assailant is 43 years old. Her motivations are unknown.

Female workplace shooters are pretty unusual.

[NBC Philadelphia]