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Jacqueline and Clarence Avant The Wallis photo by Alex Berliner

Suspect in Avant Murder Arrested

The Beverly Hills Police Department announced the arrest of a suspect in the murder of long-time Beverly Hills resident Jacqueline Avant, 81, on Dec. 2. Avant was shot and killed at her home in the Trousdale Estates neighborhood in the early morning of Dec. 1. Avant, wife of music executive and producer Clarence Avant, was a prominent figure and philanthropist in the Beverly Hills art and culture world. 

“To the Beverly Hills Community, let me reassure you, this is one of the most protected and patrolled cities in the world. Crime of any kind will not be tolerated here. Let this be a message to anyone thinking of committing a crime in Beverly Hills–you will be caught and brought to justice,” Chief Mark Stainbrook said at a news conference on Dec. 2. 

The suspect, 29-year-old Aariel Maynor of Los Angeles, was discovered by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) later the same early morning of the Avant shooting allegedly burglarizing another home in the Hollywood Hills, according to Stainbrook. In a moment of proverbial irony, law enforcement said that Maynor shot himself in the foot in the course of the burglary, incapacitating himself. Stainbrook said that the gun used in both cases was the same caliber. Stainbrook said that Maynor has an extensive criminal record and was currently on parole. 

“Multiple surveillance videos, including city cameras, showed the suspect’s vehicle heading eastbound out of Beverly Hills shortly after Mrs. Avant was shot early Wednesday morning,” Stainbrook said. 

Stainbrook previously confirmed that Avant’s husband and a private security guard were present at the time of the shooting, neither of whom were injured. He declined to state a possible motive for the crime. 

“I think it’s too early in the investigation to get the motive,” he said. “It may have been targeted. And for what purpose? We don’t know. We’re still looking at that.”

Stainbrook said that evidence suggests that the suspect was working alone and that the department believes “there is no further threat to public safety.” 

At another press conference the day before, Stainbrook read a statement from the Avant family. “The entire Avant family wishes to thank everyone for their outpouring of love, support, and condolences for Jacqueline Avant,” the statement said. “Jacqueline was an amazing woman, wife, mother, philanthropist, and a 55-year resident of Beverly Hills, who has made an immeasurable positive contribution and impact on the arts community. She will be missed by her family, friends, and all of the people she has helped throughout her amazing life.”

“The Avant family’s contribution to the world of entertainment and to better communities across Los Angeles are unmatched. There are no words to express our profound sorrow for this immense loss for Jacqueline’s husband, Clarence, their children, and the entire Avant family,” Stainbrook said.

Early in life, Avant modeled for the Ebony Fashion Fair, a traveling fashion event that exposed Black communities to high-end fashion. She married Clarence in 1967. The couple had two children, Nicole and Alex. 

She was an active philanthropist, serving as the president of the Neighbors of Watts, the support group for the South Central Community Child Care Center, in 1975, the entertainment chairman of the NOW benefit auction, and she sat on the board of directors for International Student Center at UCLA in 1980. She sat on the board of The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.

Clarence, nicknamed the “Black Godfather,” is a titanic figure in the music industry who has worked with artists including Bill Withers, Sarah Vaughan, and Babyface. Their daughter Nicole served as U.S. ambassador to the Bahamas under President Barack Obama and is married to Ted Sarandos, co-chief executive officer and chief content officer for Netflix.

Susan Strauss, a former Design Review commissioner, knew Avant for 40 years, living near her in Trousdale at one point. The two worked together as docents at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and served as board members on The Wallis. She described the news as “devastating.”

“She was generous of spirit and kind and a wonderful friend,” Strauss told the Courier. Strauss remembered her as a devoted mother and wife of over 50 years who preferred to remain behind the scenes. “She was somebody who did her own thing in her own way that helped the community and a lot of people.”

As a Beverly Hills resident for over five decades and a lover of the arts, The Wallis had a special place in Avant’s heart, Strauss said. Strauss recalled that for Avant’s 80th birthday, she requested that friends make donations to The Wallis in her honor. On Dec. 1, The Wallis Executive Director and CEO Rachel Fine and Artistic Director Paul Crewes announced news of Avant’s death at the opening night of “LOVE ACTUALLY LIVE” and held a moment of silence. Fine noted that Avant and her husband would likely have been sitting in the audience and dedicated that night’s performance in her honor. 

“Jacquie was the kindest, most beautiful, humble and generous soul, who loved and appreciated The Wallis. Both she and her remarkable husband, Clarence, have been passionately involved with The Wallis since its earliest days, well before our campus opened to the public,” said Fine.

Outside The Wallis, the American flag and the California state flag flew at half-mast.

As shock rippled across the Beverly Hills community and beyond, people took to social media to express sorrow over the tragedy.

“A heartbreaking day in the history of Beverly Hills,” Vice Mayor Lili Bosse said in a Facebook post. “Crime of any type will never be tolerated in Beverly Hills. I, as well as our community, send our love and deepest sympathies to the Avant family.”

Stainbrook has sought to reassure the community during a moment of heightened anxiety over crime.

“Beverly Hills remains one of the safest cities in the United States…and we deploy a lot of resources to keep it safe. This type of crime, in general, is extremely rare. This type of crime in Beverly Hills is extremely rare,” he said.

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