Bonny led an almost-unimaginably raunchy sex life. Even Dominic Dunne, author and TV personality who has made victims' advocacy a vocation, had to stand back in horror when Bakley's past was revealed. As he wrote back in August of 2001,
Another wife of another formerly famous star came to an untimely end on May 4, possibly at the hands of a husband who hated her, but there has been no arrest. Through a pre-emptive strike, word quickly spread on what a low-class bitch the wife had been, and - opposed as I am to the blame-the-victim defense - the unattractive allegations made against Mrs. Blake appeared to be justified. (2)
Bakley would place multiple advertisements in "swinger" magazines soliciting men for sex under different aliases. "Men wanted - any age from anywhere," read a typical Bakley ad. Those who wrote to her under her various aliases would receive "personal" letters from her that often included (or promised) a pornographic photo similar to the partially-covered one (top left) which she submitted a quarter of a century ago to Hustler magazine. Typically, her note would promise sex in exchange for small amounts of money. "Don't just look! You can touch me," said one letter, used against and again. "All I need is $30 for gas money and I can be at your side." (3) In her later years, however, Bakley began substituting photos of younger, prettier models, but continued her letter-writing business, promising sex and asking for money to all who wrote to her many rented mail addresses.
The "lonely hearts" scheme was by no means a small operation. Bonny Bakley made a profession of it. Not only did she raid the bank accounts of her unsuspecting mail order husbands, pocketing $350,000 in one case, but she did it incessantly for about 20 years. In fact, she had bilked so many men out of money that she reportedly owned more than a half-million dollars in real estate at the time of her death, including houses and undeveloped tracts of land in Tennessee and California. (4)
Blake became aware of the sex business when he hired a private detective to investigate her, if not before, and when he finally agreed to marry for the sake of the baby, he drew up a formal agreement that called for her to cease all such operations while on his premises. (5) The written agreement, which refers to Bakley as "Mother" and the baby as "Shannon" (the name she was given by Bakley when she claimed the child was Christian Brando's), also states:
Mother shall not conduct any business on Father's property and shall not inform Father of any business and/or business activities that she conducts at any time and shall make certain that no business arrangements of Mother shall involve Father at any time. Mother shall not conduct any business on any property on which Shannon is present. Mother shall not associate with known felons while with Shannon nor allow Shannon to be in the presence of illegal drug use. (6)
It also provided that...
Mother shall not consent and to the best of her ability not permit her friends, family members or convicted felons to be on Father's property without Father's written consent. If any such visit occurs, Mother shall immediately notify Father of said visit. Mother's other minor daughter can be on Father's property without his permission up to four (4) days per month, with Friday afternoon to Sunday evening defined as two (2) days. (7)
Once the wedding took place, Bakley openly violated her no-business agreement with Blake, moving the headquarters of her "lonely hearts" scam into the rear bungalow she was provided by Blake as a residence. One report of about the property search that was conducted following her murder (see photo, right) describes the evidence found in Bakley's rear house:
The detectives turned up information that showed that Bonny also advertised for male companions in a number of magazines. Those who responded were sent letters, many of them form letters that Bonny had set up, asking for money. According to private investigator Scott Ross, the police found dozens of envelopes containing small bills inside her bungalow from men around the country and from other parts of the world, some from Germany and the Netherlands. There were a number of the lonely-hearts advertisements that she had placed in magazines that described her as a “young single pretty girl.” One of the ads read: “I can travel if you can’t in order to meet. I’m sad and lonely due to a recent breakup with someone I was engaged to, need your letters to cheer me.” On Saturday, May 5, the day after she was murdered and prior to the second police search, Federal Express delivered two boxes of mail addressed to Bonny.
The police also discovered nude photographs of a woman - they were not of Bonny - that Bonny had sent to a number of men claiming they were photographs of her. The police also found a number of handwritten lists detailing men’s names, telephone numbers, addresses, and amounts of money that they had sent her. There were also memos written to herself beside the entries that included aliases that she had used in the letters to the men - reminders so that she wouldn’t get them mixed up - and details of each man’s likes and dislikes such as, “loves phone sex.”
Less than two weeks before being murdered, Bonny sent one of her form letters to a 46-year-old man in Van Nuys, California in which she wrote that she was being evicted from her apartment and needed $150 to $200 for rent money. She added that she would accept $20, however, so that she could play the state lottery. She also wrote: “Don’t worry, I’m not fat, I promise I never will be. I’m into sex with the right man who I want to have a relationship with. I do hope it’s going to be you.” She signed the letter, “Miss Lee Blakely.” The Van Nuys man never bought her story and never sent her any money.
“This woman made a lifetime out of bilking lonely men,” Ross said. “She had it down to a science.” (8)
Any of the men duped by Blake into sending money could have been angry enough to have had her killed, Blake's attorney has consistently argued since the night of the murder. Then there were the elderly "husbands" - no one knows quite how many - whom she habitually bilked for really significant amounts of money. Any of these might have been motivated to do something like that and, more importantly, would be unlikely to seek justice by any other means. For one thing, if they actually believed themselves to be legally married to Bakley (and there was probably no reason not to), it would technically not be a crime for her to withdraw a few hundred thousand dollars from his bank account and then to disappear, as she is known to have done in at least one case. Furthermore, the "crime" - if a "husband" were to consider it one - is the sort of thing that most men would be too embarrassed or humiliated to make public. Hence, they or possibly even their heirs, might be likely, if they sought revenge, to go about it in other ways. And while most evidence in the case has been sealed by court order, it has been reported that one man, who asked to meet Bakley, sent her a warning: "I had a hit out on my ex-wife's boyfriend. Don't even bother if [extortion is] your motive." (9)
By early October of 2002, Blake's defense team turned its sights to convicted felons in several penal institutions. The lead apparently came from materials turned over by the prosecution as part of pre-trial discovery. According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, letters and other records kept by Bakley show that she had been in contact with more than 100 inmates, including "serial child molesters and murderers." According to the report, Blake's attorneys speculate that Bakley "probably wrote to many more prisoners over the years but kept only the most recent letters." In one case, a letter sent to one Eduardo Madera, a convicted bank robber, was returned to Bakley with a note from the Federal Correctional Institution in Loretto, Pa. which said: "The enclosed material(s) contain(s) sexually explicit information or material or features nudity and is being returned to you." The letter from the institution is dated 16 February 2002, just two and a half months before Bakley was shot, and explains that the prison prohibits the mailing of pornographic materials to inmates. The same news report notes that investigators working for Blake have now documented more than 130 aliases and addresses which Bakley used in her scam business, spanning more than 13 states and Canada. These recent revelations further illustrate the volume of Bakley's sex-for-sale racket, its proximity to the murder date, and the fact that she had no qualms about seeking out involvement with violent criminals. It isn't clear why Bakley would have such an interest in incarcerated men, as she could not expect to extract money from them. But it is conceivable that past relationships with convicts may have continued after prison, perhaps even at the time of her death. (10)
Then there is the tape (Bakley apparently habitually recorded telephone conversations) between Bakley and Blake in which she acknowledged that someone was "stalking" her. The recording, released by ex-Blake defense counsel Harlan Braun in early August of 2002, "is absolutely concrete corroboration from her that she was afraid of something, and that something was not Robert Blake," Braun said. (11)
Indeed, in a letter to an Arkansas probation officer, Bakley described herself as "driven" to seek fame and wrote that because of her wild life, "I've almost been killed a half-dozen times." (12)
Another theory mentioned by Braun is that Bonny herself had found off a hitman to go after Blake and something went wrong (another fraud?) that caused him to kill her, instead. "If Blake was killed, she would get $13,000 a month in child support," the attorney told Fox News. He added that Blake bodyguard and confidant, also a defendant in the case, believed from the beginning that Bakley "hired someone to kill Blake and the guys thought she was so unstable that they killed her instead and kept the money." (13)
But far more promising was the revelation that Bakley was paying premiums on a secret $400,000 life insurance policy of which she was the beneficiary. Writes Gary C. King in his Murder in Hollywood:
While examining Bonny's personal papers and belongings authorities came across information related to a life insurance policy in the amount of $400,000 on which Bonny was paying premiums. The policy was listed on the pre-nuptial agreement that Blake had put together but which was never signed, and it listed Bonny as the beneficiary but said nothing regarding the name of the insured.
Braun said that he suspected the insurance policy might have been taken out on Blake, which caused him some concern because she had not revealed in her papers who was named on the policy. In order to take out a life insurance policy on someone, there must exist a legal interest, such as a relationship by blood or marriage. For a policy in that amount, the issuing company would likely have required a medical examination and medical records.
"He was the father of her child," Braun said. "She was marrying him. Why not disclose who the insuree was? Why was she hiding it."
The investigators also learned that Bonny had taken out a previous life insurance policy on a man they believed might be one of many ex-husbands. There was also information that indicated she might have impersonated a doctor in order to certify that the insured person was healthy. The detectives discovered credit cards, airline frequent-flyer cards, a Tennessee bank account, and other identification bearing the name of a Dr. Christina Carol Scheier among Bonny's papers.
Further investigation showed that Scheier was one of Bonny's many aliases, which they tied to the Studio City post office box that Bonny had rented in April while living at Blake's home. However, they learned that Sheier was not a fictitious name. Scheier was a real person and a longtime friend of Bonny's. Scheier told investigators that she believed that Bonny had stolen her birth certificate at one point. (14)
Making the whole mess even more intriguing are reports to the effect that Bakley, before her marriage to Blake, threatened the actor in letters she wrote to him. Says one news story:
Bakley ... misspelled a common anti-Semitic slur as she railed against Blake's lawyers while complying with his demand that she put in writing her promise to give up her scamming ways - with one condition. "Unless of course ... Robert Blake intends to be unfaithful in this lifetime," she added. "Then who knows what I might be capable of." (15)
And as a matter of fact, Bakley did accuse Blake of cheating. Says the same source, she wrote "angry" letters accusing Blake of having an affair with a woman in New York while she was pregant. (16)
And there were even more indications that Bakley at least threatened to do violence to Blake. Frankie Jean Lewis, sister of Jerry Lee, disputes the claims of Bakley kin that Bonny feared Blake. According to Lewis, it was Bonny who had plans to harm the ageing actor. “She said she hated him so she was going to kill him,” Lewis told CBS news. “She couldn’t stand him.” (17)
Indeed, Bonny not only defrauded her lonely-hearts "pen pals" and her many "husbands," but turned on virtually everyone. Linda Gail Lewis, another sister of singer Jerry Lee, befriended Bakley briefly until she found Bakley having sex with her husband. Linda Gail divorced him soon afterward. (18) Another supposed "friend" of Bakley, Christina Scheier - the same one whose name appears as "doctor" on insurance papers for another man - said on CNN's Larry King Live (6 May 2002) that she, like everyone else, had been ripped off by Bakley when the latter "stole her identity" in order to run up bills in her name. Scheier reported the incident to the police but apparently declined to pursue the case when the two reconciled. Scheier, who claims to posses Bakley's telephone book cell phone records, and never-before-seen photos and letters, is reportedly cashing in on the case by writing a book. She also claims that Bakely told her, "I married Blake to extort money." (19)
Police investigated the case for nearly a year before they finally decided to charge Blake with the murder. Then, at exactly 6:21 p.m. on 18 April 2002, Robert Blake was put in the back seat of a white police vehicle at the home he shared with daughter Delinah at 23842 Long Valley Road, Hidden Hills, and driven from the to police headquarters where he was booked. The long ride, with Blake in a white police car, was carried live on television screens across the country in a manner reminiscent of the O.J. Simpson "Bronco chase" of June 1994. His bodyguard and close friend, Earle Caldwell, was arrested at approximately the same time as Blake.
And the media, which had pretty much ignored the case in the wake of 11 September (and because of slow police action in the matter), again had a celebrity murder to cover.
(1) See ABC News, "A Hollywood Mystery," 11 May 2001. The quote appears in a pop-up window under the "tangled web" link, then, in window, at the Lonely Hearts option and in this New York Daily News report.
(2) Dominic Dunne, Vanity Fair, August 2001, at pages 80, 81, 82.
(3) See Gary C. King, Murder in Hollywood, previously cited.
(4) See Jim Crogan, "Slain Grifter Built Big Estate With Scams," NY Daily News (10 May 2001). Bakley's name is on the deed to a house at 2731 Calle Olivo, Thousand Oaks (Ventura County), California (see Photos), as well as two in the Memphis, Tennessee area - one at 1304 Greenland Drive and another at 7032 Daneman Drive, Shelby County. Two additional homes in the Memphis area are held in the name of Bakley's mother, Marjorie Lois Carlyon. They include one at 6676 Hartford Drive in Memphis and another, a condo, at 1736 Fox Hunt Lane, unit 26, in Bartlett, Tennessee, a Memphis suburb. The condo has apparently been sold, but was listed under Marjorie Carlyon's name through mid-summer 2003.
(5) See Custody Agreement.
(8) See Crime Library (previously cited).
(9) See E! Online, "Another Blake-Bakley Bombshell," (23 May 2001).
(12) David K. Li and Edmund Newton, "Bonny Bakley's Life of Danger", New York Post, 12 May 2002 (payment required for story; abstract free).
(13) See Fox, "Blake Lawyer: Busey on Bonny's Scam List."
(14) See See Gary C. King: Murder in Hollywood: The Secret Life and Mysterious Death of Bonny Lee Bakley, at pages 139-140 (available from Barnes & Noble online). See also "Many Names, Many Husbands?" ABC-TV, 24 May 2001 in reference to the use of Scheier's identity to rent a postal address.
(16) See "Grifter's Angry Letters: Accusations, threats, fears in notes to Blake," (cited above).
(17) CBS 48 Hours, "A Question of Guilt (part II), 5 August 2002.
(18) Fox News, "Robert Blake Murder Mystery Thickens," 19 May 2001.
(19) NewsMax (at bottom of page); Publisher's Marketplace (listing at mid-page); see also transcript of program. The comment about extorting money from Blake originally appeared in a 2002 news release from Silvercreek, the text of which is no longer on the web.