Starshine And Bloodshed: The Murder Of Bonny Lee Bakley

Bonnie Lee Bakley smiling
youtube | Eatie Lowe

News & Politics
Gabby Etzel

Hollywood is no stranger to glamorous love stories. When Bonny Lee Bakley headed out west to Los Angeles, she had fantasies of these stories dancing around her mind.

The love story that she got was nowhere near as attractive.

On paper, Bonny Lee Bakley’s murder remains unsolved. According to a civil court decision, though, the murderer is clearly a man who many film and TV buffs will recognize from his six-decade-long acting career.

Regardless of the enduring disputes about the case, one thing is certain: In 2001, Bonny Lee Bakley was shot and killed in Robert Blake’s car.

Before Bakley's Death

Bonnie Lee Bakley smiling with a friend
youtube | Eatie Lowe

Bonny Lee Bakley, a New Jersey native, set out to make her big-city dreams come true at the age of sixteen.

She found herself at the Barbizon School of Modeling in New York City. The institution taught her modeling and acting skills that she would scarcely put to use in the years to come. When the performing arts failed her, Bakley found another way to support herself that would soon get her into a bit of legal trouble.

She started up a mail-order business to sell nude photos of herself and other women. She would also place lonely hearts ads in local newspapers. She scammed the men who responded to the ads for “travel expenses” to go see them, and then would promptly ghost them.

To succeed at her scam, she had to open multiple post office boxes. She possessed multiple fake licenses and social security cards to do this. Between the fake IDs and drugs, she was arrested multiple times through the 80s and 90s.

Still, her scam-based lifestyle brought her an abundance of financial success. She owned multiple homes and was able to move to Hollywood to attempt what would become an unsuccessful singing career under the stage name of Lee Bonney.

Regardless, Hollywood proved to be an exciting endeavor for Bakley. Her friends and family often described her as “celebrity-obsessed,” and being in Beverly Hills gave her the perfect opportunity to pursue the male celebrities that she was infatuated with.

This included Dean Martin, Gary Busey, and even Frankie Valli, who had to come forward and refute Bakley’s claim that the two dated in high school. Jerry Lee Lewis, another one of Bakley’s celebrity obsessions, needed a paternity test to refute the claim that he fathered Bakley’s daughter.

While Bakley failed to ignite a relationship with these performers, she did succeed in marrying a certain starring actor in the TV show Baretta.

Bonny Lee Bakley And Robert Blake

Bonnie Lee Bakley and Robert Blake

Robert Blake was Bonny Lee Bakley’s tenth husband–However, the tenth time was not the charm. The two met in a bar in 1999, and the relationship that followed was a journey down a very rocky hill.

Despite his initial hesitance to believe it, Blake was the father of Bakley’s youngest daughter, for whom they had a custody agreement that Bakley’s attorney referred to as “lopsided” in Blake’s favor. Bakley’s priority, though, was the marriage to Blake, so she was quick to sign it.

The two were officially married in 2000, yet they did not live together, and never did. This was probably for the best, as there was a deep level of mistrust in the relationship. Blake even once hired a private detective to investigate Bakley, who found out that her lonely hearts ad scam was alive and well during the marriage.

With such a strained relationship, it is no wonder that the accusations against Blake were so fervent after the events of May 1, 2001.

Bonny Lee Bakley's Murder

Bonnie Lee Bakley as a child

On the first day of May in 2001, Robert Blake took his wife out for a nice dinner at an Italian restaurant in Los Angeles. The two enjoyed their meal and then returned to their street-parked car.

As they were about to leave, Blake realized that he had left his gun inside the restaurant. He quickly went back inside to retrieve it.

When Blake came back to the car, he was horrified at the scene in front of him. Bonny Lee Bakley had been shot through the head and killed.

The gun that Blake retrieved from the restaurant was confirmed by investigators to not have fired the bullet that killed Bonny Lee. So, whose bullet was it?

A Dead-Locked Court

Bonny Lee Bakley

Robert Blake was the primary suspect in Bonny Lee Bakley’s murder. Those who did not believe that he killed her himself believed that he hired someone else, namely his former stuntman to kill her.

This claim was not unfounded, as many of Blake’s associates stepped forward to tell the court that he had offered them money to kill her. Blake’s defense attacked their credibility, but not to any believable degree.

As a matter of fact, when the criminal court’s jury was deadlocked at 11-1 in deciding whether or not Blake was involved in Bakley’s death, the acquittal that followed enraged some perfectly well-seasoned JDs.

Los Angeles District Attorney referred to the jurors as “incredibly stupid” for this decision, punctuating it by calling Blake a “miserable human being.” Still, some lawyers believe that the prosecution did not present enough solid evidence of Blake’s involvement.

The criminal court may not have convicted Robert Blake, but he was not so lucky in civil court.

A Civil Conclusion

Robert Blake running his hand through his hair
youtube | Eatie Lowe

Civil court does not require unanimity, so the 10-2 vote from the jury in favor of Blake’s conviction was all that the court needed to force Blake to pay Bakley’s four children thirty million dollars.

Although, the jury had apparently wrongfully discussed the O.J. Simpson verdict as well as the Michael Jackson verdict. This was enough for Blake’s defense to take the decision to the appeals court, where they were able to get the cost cut to fifteen million dollars.

Either way, it was enough for the famed actor of nearly six decades to go bankrupt.

The civil court case yielded a Perry Mason moment that many believe to be the deciding factor in Blake’s guilt.

Bakley’s lawyer, Eric Dubin, called Blake’s bodyguard’s girlfriend to the stand to ask if she believed that Blake or her boyfriend were involved in Bonny Lee’s death. His bodyguard was also a very close friend of his, so his girlfriend was believed to have inside information. No one had ever formally asked her what she thought of the case before this moment.

She took her time responding. The jury was on the edge of their seat waiting for the answer.

Then, a very teary, “yes.”

Since the decision only occurred in civil court, many still believe the case to be unsolved.

Bonny Lee Bakley is at rest in Forest Lawn Memorial Park, but the questions surrounding her death may never find their peace.

Read more true crime stories here.