Hollywood publicist Ronni Chasen was a woman of unanticipated means, accumulating an estate worth more than $6 million that included jewels, furs, paintings by Picasso and David Hockney — and no immediate heirs with whom to leave it.
If whoever killed the veteran Hollywood publicist was after money, there is certainly a substantial amount to go around.
On Thursday, as new details trickled in about the "person of interest" who shot himself in a seedy Hollywood hotel the night before, TheWrap obtained a copy of Chasen's will, originally signed in 1994 and filed in Los Angeles Superior Court this week.
It's possible that the document has been superseded by a 2006 will: Her brother, Lawrence Cohen, The screenwriter, who believes his sister was the victim of road rage, according to ShowBiz411, has a key to a safe-deposit box that may contain the more recent filing.
"The contents of the safe-deposit box are unknown," wrote lawyer James Murphy in the recent filing, "but it is suspected that a more recent will of the decedent may be contained in said safe-deposit box since I prepared a new will for her in 2006."
Murphy did not return messages left by TheWrap seeking further explanation.
The document hit the courts along with a “petition for probate,” a legal move in which the nominated estate executor — in this case her brother Lawrence — asserts his intention to fulfill that duty.
Chasen listed her personal property as worth $4.7 million, her investments at about $500,000 and real-estate holdings at about $900,000.
Additionally, TheWrap has learned that Chasen’s estate included paintings by Picasso, Hockney and Sam Francis. Though owning such works certainly could have put her in the ranks of serious art collectors, a smattering of prominent area art dealers told TheWrap over the past couple of weeks that she wasn't known in those circles.
Correspondingly, not a lot of information is publicly known at present about the man Beverly Hills police were attempting to serve with a search warrant when "Harold," as some residents of the Harvey Apartments in Hollywood said the man called himself, apparently shot and killed himself.
As reports swirl, in the Los Angeles Times and others, of there being surveillance video of the shooting now in the hands of police, claims by John Walsh, the host of "America's Most Wanted," that a tip from the show assisted BHPD in their investigation and allegations that Chasen's murder by gunfire in the early morning of Nov. 16 was the result of a business deal gone wrong, all that is certain publicly is that the man who was a "person of interest" to police was an African-American in his 40s.
The name "Harold Smith," according the Beverly Hills Courier, is being pinned to the man, as are stories of prison time and even unverified claims by residents of the Harvey Apartments that the man bragged of killing Chasen. However, at present the LA Country Corner's office has not given out any definitive name — pending contacting next of kin and a security hold on the case requested by police. The LAPD are conducting a death investigation as to what occurred at the Harvey Apartments on Weds evening when the man shot himself, but, as one officer told TheWrap Thursday, they "do not consider the location a crime scene."
The Beverly Hills police, as both LAPD and BHPD officials made clear through out the day, is in charge of the whole Chasen investigation.
As her death is investigated, Chasen's 1994 will reveals much of her life and her priorities.
Chasen had no children and was only briefly married once, in her twenties. She was the sole owner and operator of publicity firm Chasen & Co., using her personal bank accounts to keep the business running, according to the will.
“Ronni was a very smart investor, she was very smart with her money,” said one close friend who declined to be identified.
She was also very specific about where it would wind up in the event of her death, setting up multiple contingencies that first favored her mother; then her brother Lawrence and Melissa Cohen; and with a sprinkling of gifts of money, jewelry and other items to various friends and family members.
The 1994 document, first obtained by TMZ, shows that the bulk of her estate was to go to her mother, Carolyn Cohen — but she has since passed away, leaving the biggest chunk to a favorite niece, Melissa Cohen.
>> A list of people, in order, who get to choose one of her paintings (not clear if the Picasso was available). They are Warren Cowan (the famed publicist and friend of Chasen’s, now deceased); Raymond Katz (deceased); Peter Spengler (friend); Michael Viner (record executive, now deceased) and Deborah Raffin; Sandy Littman (friend); Martin Katz (friend); and David Chasman (friend).
>> Her collection of film memorabilia goes to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which is to display it as “From the collection of Ronni Chasen.”
>> One piece of jewelry each, selected by her executor, to nine different women who are family members and friends.
>> $50,000 to Melissa Cohen, who also receives a hefty trust and other residuals from the estate that would’ve fallen to her mother; and $10,000 apiece to two friends and a few family members.
>> A lump of coal for one niece: “I have intentionally and with full knowledge of the consequences omitted to provide for my niece, JILL COHEN, also known as JILL GATSBY, except for the gift of ten dollars.” No further explanation was provided, though Gatsby did a bizarre guitar-and-vocals performance for TMZ, saying at the end with a smile that the song was “For you, Ronni.” TMZ says she is trying to sell her story.
There were some unfulfilled requests: She asked to be buried at the family plot in Pleasantville, N.Y., but was buried at a ceremony last weekend in Culver City. She also asked that Cowan write the release on her passing and give it to the trades – but that it not mention her age.
She also left specific amounts to several charities, including Hole in the Wall Gang, Make a Wish Foundation and the American Film Institute.
Pamela Chelin and Josh Dickey contributed to this article.