December 06, 2010 12:00 PM

Outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre at the Nov. 15 premiere of Burlesque, it was easy to see why Ronni Chasen earned a reputation as a ferociously diligent Hollywood publicist. Even as she jockeyed her client, songwriter Diane Warren, into shots with the film’s stars, Cher and Christina Aguilera, Chasen worked the red carpet, greeting reporters and anyone else who might prove useful to her clients. “Ronni,” says fellow publicist Vivian Mayer-Siskind, “loved every minute of what she did.” She did not, however, love every aspect of her life in L.A. While lunching recently with a journalist who was new in town, Chasen, 64, said she had been the victim of car theft many times-once at gunpoint. “Be very careful here,” Chasen warned. “L.A. is dangerous, especially for women.”

Hours after the Burlesque premiere, those words proved chillingly prophetic. As Chasen drove home from an afterparty, wending her way through an upscale residential section of Beverly Hills in her black Mercedes-Benz, she was fatally shot multiple times in the chest. So far, her murder has left more questions than answers. Was Chasen a victim of road rage? Did someone want her dead? On Nov. 18 Beverly Hills mayor Jimmy Delshad told a TV station that detectives believe she “was targeted” and was “shot through the passenger window.” Investigators, however, are being more circumspect. The shooting “is still very much a whodunit,” says Beverly Hills Sgt. Lincoln Hoshino. Police also don’t know if the passenger-side window was blown out by bullets or when Chasen’s car hit a lamppost.

Clients of Chasen, who was unmarried, are stunned and heartsick. Oscar-winning composer Hans Zimmer says Chasen “protected me fiercely and brilliantly in choppy waters.” John Travolta holds a special place in his heart for Chasen, who was his first publicist. “She was very nurturing, caring and effective,” he says. “I will always be thankful to her.”

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