And then there were the men who answered her classified ads and fell for her "I'm sexy and lonely" line, only to realize after they had sent her money that they'd been taken - there had to have been hundreds of not thousands of them just in the last years of her life. Even Bonny Lee Bakley herself was known to confide to acquaintances that she lived dangerously and one day might encounter that rough client who would end her life.
It was ironic, in fact, how many of Bonny's cohorts and "lovers" warned her about the potentially deadly consequences of her reckless life. In a taped phone conversation between Bakley and alleged lover Christian Brando (right), released by Blake's then-attorney Harlan Braun in early August of 2002, Brando asked why Bakley persisted in her porn business (answer: for money) and then warns her that the rip-offs could have deadly consequences: "You're lucky somebody ain't out there to put a bullet in your head," Brando says in a converation recorded by Bakley around the time of the prenuptial negotiations with Blake. (3)
But the media loved the story. It had a certain film noir fascination to it. There was the ageing actor in what first seemed like a real-life "Sunset Boulevard" story. And then there was the Bakley the Bitch, the unapologetic slut who seldom bothered even to go through the pretense of a "marriage" with her elderly prey, a faded and obese middle-aged woman who would, according to acquaintances back in Tennessee, do anything to anyone to get what she wanted.
And "Leebonny" had a history that included a lot more than merely being a swindler and a career producer what one writer has called "gutter erotica." She has an interesting and varied criminal history - drug possession and attempting to pass bad checks (over $600,000 worth), among other things. But perhaps most interesting is the federal extortion investigation that involved Bonny and other Bakley family members.
The FBI case is especially interesting because it sheds light on the competition among family members for a piece of the action and, perhaps even more because it reveals that Bakley was not above prostituting her own thirteen-year-old daughter to please an especially generous client.
The story begins shortly after Bakley received a susppended sentence on the check charge, and is described in detail by Dennis McDougal and Mary Murphy in Blood Cold, a paperback that is more a biography of Blake and Bakley than a crime story. The information was taken from actual agency records.
...Bonny just could not seem to stay out of trouble. Before her county case of bad checks had cooled, she and most of her immediate family, along with her half brother, Peter Carlyon, became the focus of a federal extortion case....
Bonny could not be slighted for turning her back on family. When Margerry needed a job, she put her to work on the phones, and when Peter needed employment she welcomed him into the inner sanctum of her mail-order operation.
Beginning in the summer of 1994, Bonny provided Carlyon with the names and numbers of many of her clients so that he, too, could bilk money from them. They agreed that for his work Peter would get $25 an hour plus a percentage of any contribution over $100. Bonny, being the thoughtful big sister, even gave Peter a special device to mechanically feminize his voice on the phone. From his very first client call, Peter was able to become that perfect sexy woman - the kind of femme fatale that subscribers to low-grade sex magazines desperately sought out.
Right off the bat, Peter, gloriously transformed into "Dorothy Shields," developed an amazing rapport with one of Bonny's establish clients, a visiting college student from a wealthy Taiwan family.
For several years, the student had been one of Bonny's better clients. Living in Irvine, California, while he attended college, he relieved the pressures of a brutal study schedule far from home by perusing swinger magazines. Finding Bonny's ad, he wrote and, over time, Bonny bilked him for thousands. Unlike many of her marks, however, he was eventually gratified by a three-way home delivery. As Bonny recalled to the FBI, in the early summer of 1994, Bonny, her sister, Margerry, and thirteen-year-old daughter, Holly, all visited the client in Irvine, California. During the visit, all three "dated him," as she delicately put it. (4)
In other words, Bonny Bakley and her sister Margerry, by Bonny's own admission to FBI investigators, had taken thirteen-year-old Holly to California in order that the girl could have sex with a well-heeled patron. But things started to spin out of control when half-brother Peter (a.k.a. "Dorothy"), an amateur in the bunco business, decided he wanted a bigger share of the money. The McDougal-Murphy book continues:
Later that summer, however, it was “Dorothy Shields" making the power play for the client's prurient interests, convincing him to send $1,200 to a truck stop in West Memphis after her car supposedly broke down. It was also "Dorothy Shields" who was rapidly growing dissatisfied with the percentage of money she was getting for all her hard work and ingenuity on behalf of her big sister's business. After several months of making the calls for Bonny, Peter Carlyon concluded he could increase his income substantially by launching an independent venture.
So Peter set up his own shop, using Bonny's database. The client continued to be Peter's top client, which greatly disturbed Bonny, who had never consented to such an arrangement.
Bonny had no choice but to break the news to the client: "Dorothy Shields" was no lady. But he was in no mind to accept reality and continued sending "Dorothy Shields" money. Peter told Bonny that he'd made over $50,000 that year in his new operation, most of it from the client.
In April 1995, he [client] traveled to Memphis to finally meet his mystery love. Peter was ready. He got his wife, Tammie, to pose as Dorothy, and Peter posed as an amiable relative who befriended the client and showed him the sights and sounds of Memphis. Peter introduced him to drugs and a friendly prostitute, and by the end of June, the trap was set. Peter and three friends cashed in on the client's lost weekend in Memphis by posing as Memphis police. They "fined" him $6,871 for illegal activities and he dutifully wired the money as soon as he got back to California.
Peter and pals regrouped a week later and gave the client another call. This time they were the FBI and he owed an additional $32,126.49 in federal fines. Once again, the client complied. Western Union asked why he was sending so much cash and the client replied truthfully - at least as truthfully as he understood it: he was paying FBI fines.
Pete's gang faced a snag when they tried to pick up the money. Western Union demanded FBI ID to cash the moneygram. None was provided, and the money was returned to the client. Now they had to come up with a new strategy. Peter was stumped. It was time to call in the big guns. He called Bonny. (5)
Bonny was still furious that a back-stabbing Peter had essentially "stolen" her business, and the scam was edging closer and closer to potentially serious prison time. Still, the money was so much that Bakley was unable to resist. She agreed to take over the FBI swindle under the condition that she got a fifty percent share of the loot. But at the same time she made clear - to her mother, no less - that if she had any more funny business out of Peter, she intended to shoot him:
For half the money, Bonny agreed to step in and show her little brother how the big dogs worked. If she wound up with anything less than her $15,000 however, she told her mother she would settle the matter with a gun. (6)
But even the genius of low-life porn proved less than professional when she created a scarcely-credible "front" and put together a letter that contained an odd and almost pun-like misspelling. According to the same book,
Bonny crafted a letter, creating a bogus federal "Department of Immigrations," which purposed to speak on behalf of the FBI. The letter detailed the client's offense: "aid and abedding (sic.) prostitution." If he didn't pay fines of over $32,000 immediately, he faced deportation. United once more, brother Peter and sister Bonny traveled out of state to mail the letter safely so that it could not be traced.
The Client finally began to grow suspicious. On July 12, 1995, he contacted the Memphis FBI office and told his story. After the father of one of Peter's pals in the Memphis police scam called the FBI with the same story, the bilking was over.
In the investigation that followed, FBI agents seized stacks of nude photos, pistols and a Samsonite briefcase from Bonny that contained liquid Demerol, prefilled morphine hypodermics and a vial of Dilaudid... Under this kind of nonstop law enforcement pressure, Bonny found it was getting harder and harder to play the dewy-eyed innocent.... (7)
Not only was Bonny's fleecing venture starting to catch up with her, she was also getting older. McDougal and Murphy describe her has having by then become the image of "someone's frumpy housewife trying desperately to pretty herself up at the makeup counter at Wal-Mart." It was time for Bakley to muster all that she had left in pursuit of her ultimate goal, nabbing herself a rich Hollywood husband before it was too late. (8)
So how did this none-too-glamorous seductress manage to hook up with someone like Blake in the first place? Was he so desperate that he would settle for someone like her? As usual, there are to conflicting versions of the story. According to Bonny's sister, they met at a jazz club when they immediately "saw each other from across the room." Bakley thought, in the words of her sister, "Don't let this one get away, because this is the one you're going to marry." There and then began what Bakley's sister called "a courtship."
This tale brings derisive laughter from Blake's attorney. "He didn't know her fucking name. He didn't even have sex with her in the home," he says. "He had sex with her in the back of a truck. They were only together six or seven times." (9)
But what finally sealed the relation-ship-made-in-hell was Bonny Bakley's pregnancy. True to character, Bonny did not know who the father was. But she claimed that she was also having a sexual relationship with Christian Brando, son of Marlon. And she was determined that one of them would be named the father. And so when a baby girl was born on 2 June 2000, Bakley named her Christian Shannon Brando. Christian was listed on the birth certificate as the girl's father. Nonetheless, at one point she told Blake that she wasn’t sure if the child was Brando’s or Blake’s, prompting Blake to insist that DNA tests be performed." The tests proved Blake was the father. (10)
It is known that Blake had come to thoroughly detest Bakley. What had been an indiscretion, an anonymous pick-up for what was considerably less than a one-night stand, had turned into something more like extortion. Simply stated, Bakley conspired to become pregnant in order to trap Blake. The ultimate irony is that while Blake proceeded to have "unsafe" sex with Bakley without even asking her name, he did ask her if she was using birth control. In other words, it would appear he was more inclined to take precautions to avoid pregnancy than to protect himself from disease. A phone conversation between them that took place during her pregnancy (taped by Bakley without Blake's knowledge) is especially revealing in this respect. (11)
At one point, Bakley admits she intentionally got pregnant to "be with" Blake and did so because she knew he didn't want to be involved with her:
Bakley: No, forget it then. If you don't want me out here, I won't.
Bakley: See, the thing is, why - why does it have to depend on that? I mean, if you really wanted to be around me you wouldn't care if I had it [the baby], as long as I didn't bring it around you.
Blake: You scare me to death.
Blake: Because you lie about really, really, really important things. You have a whole program going on in your head, and nobody knows about it but you.
Bakley: ... That's not true. I just wanted to be with you.
Blake: Yeah, that's why you got pregnant.
Bakley: Yes. (12)
Blake makes it clear in the conversation that he doesn't want Bakley having his child, but also implies that if she just goes away and leave him alone, everything will be all right:
Bakley: Well, I figured you might not ever want to see me again, so I figured...
Bakley: I just wanted to be with you again, that's all.
Blake: But you know you're going to get that, eventually,I'm going to know. And then all those lies about 'No matter what, you don't have to worry, Robert, I promise you I'll have an abortion' - all that stuff? You swore, my God, what kind of.. How can you do that? How can you do that?
Bakley: Why can't I just get an apartment here and bring somebody with me to watch it [the baby] and see you sometimes like I do now?
Blake: How can you lie to me like that?
Bakley: I figured as long as, I don't know what I was thinking. I just wanted you, that's all. Don't do this.
Blake: I'm not doing anything, sweetheart. It's all okay. You go ahead. Go to Florida, call me if you want to. Let me know where you are, if you want to. If you don't want to, you don't have to. Go ahead. Live your life. (13)
Bakley's remarks about the baby - at this point she has no idea whether it's Blake's, Brando's, or whose - are especially pathetic. At one point she argues, "I told you I just won't bring it around you. If you want, I'll leave it in Memphis with my mother." Blake answers,
Blake: What, and move out here and leave the baby there?
Bakley: Why, yeah, if you don't want me to have it around you I would.
Blake: "Nah, you just have to go ahead and do whatever you gotta do. Anyway...
Bakley: But then that means you don't want to be with me at all. (14)
However, rather than letting the matter go, Blake was the one who initiated the paternity test. No information has been made public that clearly explains what lead him to do so. But on Court TV's Hollywood at Large, former Blake attorney Harlan Braun stated that Bakley had shown him the baby on two occasions, suggesting that she found in the baby another chance to get to her disinterested celebrity lover, the accomplishment of a lifelong dream. According to Braun, on the first occasion, the baby was constitpated because of medicine given to her by Bakley to avoid diaper changes. On the second visit, Blake found the baby at a transient hotel in San Diego where she had been left with Bakley's brother, Joseph, a convict with an outstanding bench warrant for his arrest. Joseph Bakley has since been jailed (see photo, above right).
The same allegations about abuse of the baby were aired on the CBS news magazine, 48 Hours. According to an online story, a friend said she had been taking fertility pills with the goal of becoming pregnant. “When Robert Blake saw the child at about three months, it was in very bad shape,” it says, quoting Braun. “The back of her head was flat from not being handled, laying down. And Robert saw Bonny putting Kaopectate in her formula, so that she wouldn’t go to the bathroom as much." Moreover, says the news report, Bonny admitted to one Christina Scheier that she was using the baby to nab Blake, saying that she had threatened at one point to just take the baby away if he didn't give her money. (15)
Blake and Bakely were married on the 19th of November 2000, five-and-a-half months before she was fatally shot.
(1) "No suspects ruled out...." (previously cited). See also Sharon Waxman, "Baretta and Bonny Lee: A Whodunit - Murder of Actor's Wife Reveals A Woman of Many Mysteries," Washington Post, 10 May 2001.
(2) See "Bakley's Memphis Attorney Speaks Out About Her Past", originally aired on WMC-TV Channel 5, Memphis.
(3) "Defense Lawyer: Blake's Slain Wife Taped Prophetic Phone Call," aired on Los Angeles KABC television, 2 August 2002). See also Washington Post, 2 Aug. 2002, "Lawyer: Blake's Wife Was Warned" and "Blake lawyer releases taped call between slain wife, Christian Brando," CNN (2 August 2002).
(5) McDougal and Murphy, Blood Cold, same as above, at pages 202-203.
(6) McDougal and Murphy, Blood Cold, same as above, at page 203.
(7) McDougal and Murphy, Blood Cold, same as above, at page 203.
(8) McDougal and Murphy, Blood Cold, same as above, at page 151.
(9) See David Grann, "Robert Blake, Bonny Lee Bakley, and the Misery of Celebrity: To Die For," The New Republic, August 2001 (no longer available without paid subscription).
(12) See Transcipt at page 8.
(13) See Transcript at page 5.
(14) See Transcript at page 4.
(15) See A Question of Guilt (Part II); the series begins here. The matter of Bakley taking fertility pills to improve her chances of getting pregnant has been reported by several media sources, including a Fox News story, "Tapes Provide Inside Look at Blake Wife's Celebrity Quest" (15 May 2001). There is a reference to Bakley's alleged use of fertility pills in a news story based on Blake's first interview after his arrest (see second story on page). See also CBS News, 48 Hours.