Murder In Hollywood: The Secret Life and Mysterious Death of Bonny Lee Bakley

Murder In Hollywood: The Secret Life and Mysterious Death of Bonny Lee Bakley

by Gary C. King

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429976282
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 08/20/2001
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 439,221
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

For the last twenty years, Gary C. King has been one of America's foremost crime writers. Over 400 of his stories have appeared in crime magazines across the United States, Canada, and England, including True Detective, Official Detective, Inside Detective, Front Page Detective, and Master Detective. His books Web of Deceit, Driven to Kill (which was nominated for an Anthony Award in the Best True Crime Book category at Bouchercon 25) and Blood Lust: Portrait of a Serial Sex Killer were chosen as a featured selection of the True Crime Book Club. He is also the author of Blind Rage and Savage Vengeance, co-written with Don Lasseter. A full-time writer, Mr. King is an active member of the Mystery Writers of America. He lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, with his wife and two daughters.


For the last twenty years, Gary C. King has been one of America's foremost crime writers. Over 400 of his stories have appeared in crime magazines across the United States, Canada, and England, including True Detective, Official Detective, Inside Detective, Front Page Detective, and Master Detective. His books Web of Deceit, Driven to Kill (which was nominated for an Anthony Award in the Best True Crime Book category at Bouchercon 25) and Blood Lust: Portrait of a Serial Sex Killer were chosen as a featured selection of the True Crime Book Club. He is also the author of Blind Rage, Savage Vengeance, co-written with Don Lasseter, An Early Grave, The Texas 7, and Murder in Hollywood. A full-time writer, Mr. King is an active member of The Mystery Writers of America. He lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, with his wife and two daughters.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

STUDIO CITY, CALIFORNIA, LOCATED ON THE NORTHERN foothills of the Santa Monica mountains, was named in part because of the movies and short features that were being made by Mack Sennett during the 1920s silent era. The Central Motion Picture District put up $20 million for a film alliance, that was aptly named Studio City. Sennett then began shooting short two-reel films such as The Keystone Cops. In 1935 Republic Pictures basically took over the area, and attracted such stars as Bette Davis, Ronald Reagan, Tony Curtis, James Stewart, Ray Milland, Jack Webb, John Wayne, Errol Flynn, and Roy Rogers, to name only a few. Even Alfred Hitchcock made his claim to fame at Republic during this time frame. Located some 15 miles from downtown Los Angeles, Studio City provided quick and easy access to Hollywood and Beverly Hills. The city soon had a reputation for being a safe place to live and a great place to raise children. The economy prospered over the years as businesses such as boutiques, banks, and fine restaurants popped up along Ventura Boulevard and elsewhere. By the mid-1980s, CBS and MTM Studios were producing such hits as Newhart, Thirtysomething, and Roseanne there, and even today, in the new millennium, with a population of only about 30,000 people, Studio City is considered one of the most desirable places to live within the City of Los Angeles and is often referred to as the Jewel of the Valley, a name it has kept since its beginnings. However, it has not been without its problems, including violent crime.

It was during the cool early evening hours of Friday, May 4, 2001 that actor Robert Blake, 67, a Hollywood carryover from those earlier years, and Bonny Lee Bakley, 44, his wife, parked their 1991 black Dodge Stealth on the south side of Woodbridge Street. The car faced east and sat beneath a burned-out street lamp and a few feet behind a Dumpster.

They strolled arm-in-arm a block and a half to Vitello's Italian Restaurant, located at 4349 Tujunga Avenue. It was a nice, clear evening, even if, at 60 degrees, a bit on the chilly side for Southern California. A slight breeze would have hit them on the short walk from the car to the restaurant.

Vitello's is a large, highly rated family-owned restaurant with a casual Mediterranean ambiance and fresco-painted walls, freshly baked bread, and some of the best Italian food in the San Fernando Valley. Reservations are rarely needed, and it was one of Blake's favorite restaurants. He was known to eat there frequently, often two or three times a week over the last 20 years, enough for the owners to name a tomato and spinach pasta dish after him, fusilli à la Robert Blake. On that particular evening, Blake and Bonny were there to discuss their future plans and their somewhat troubled relationship. Blake's grown daughter, Delinah, cared for their 11-month-old daughter, Rose, at her home in Hidden Hills.

After they entered Vitello's, Joseph Restivo, who co-owns the restaurant with his brother, Steve Restivo, seated the couple, not at Blake's usual corner booth, number 42, but at a booth near the rear of the restaurant that was still visible to the other dining patrons. Both Blake and his wife dined, Blake having his tomato and spinach pasta dish, and they enjoyed the restaurant pianist as he played Blake's favorite song, "I Remember You."

Halfway through dinner, however, while Bonny was drinking her third glass of red wine, Blake excused himself and went to the men's room where another patron reportedly witnessed him vomiting into a trash can, pulling at his hair, and mumbling to himself. When Blake walked out of the men's room, he appeared somewhat agitated, shaky and ill, according to the patron who saw him vomit. Blake did not drink any alcohol that evening, and he did not complain to his waiter or to the owners about the food. He simply returned to his booth, paid with a credit card, left their waiter a 25 percent tip, and exited the establishment sometime between 9:30 and 9:40 P.M. Together, he and Bonny walked back to the black Stealth. After letting Bonny into the car, Blake realized that he had left a handgun at the restaurant. (He had begun carrying it recently because of Bonny's fear for her safety.) He told her that he would be right back and purportedly walked back to Vitello's to retrieve it.

When he returned to the car minutes later he found Bonny slumped over in the passenger seat, unconscious and bleeding from a wound to her head. Unable to revive her, Blake ran to the home of filmmaker Sean Stanek, located directly behind Vitello's and just across the street from the car. This marked the beginning of a case that would rock Hollywood like it hadn't been rocked since O. J. Simpson was accused of killing his wife, Nicole, and her friend, Ronald Goldman.

Shaking and vomiting, Blake pounded repeatedly on Stanek's front door and rang his doorbell until the filmmaker opened it. He recognized Robert Blake, dressed completely in black and wearing a black cap, having seen him frequently in cafés and restaurants in the neighborhood, including Vitello's. At first Stanek thought that someone was playing a prank on him, but when he saw the anguish and terror in Blake's face he knew something was terribly wrong.

"She's hurt! I need help!" yelled Blake in a highly agitated state. "Dear God, someone please help me!" As Stanek tried to calm him down, the actor, crying and shaking, told Stanek that his wife had been hurt and asked him to call 911, which Stanek did. Afterward, they ran across the street to Blake's car. By then it was 9:50 P.M.

When they got to the car, Stanek took over while Blake claimed that he ran back to Vitello's to try and seek medical help, to see if there was a doctor or a nurse inside the restaurant. A nurse reportedly got up from her table and accompanied Blake outside to see if there was anything she could do to help, but Blake did not return to the car to check on his wife's condition.

While Blake was away, Stanek noted that the car's passenger window was rolled down, and there was no sign of shattered glass. The inside of the car was covered with blood. Bonny, however, was still alive. She was making gurgling sounds and was gasping for air, and her eyes were rolling backward. Stanek listened intently on his cellular phone as he received first-aid instructions from a 911 operator who told him to try and stop the bleeding by pressing a towel against the wound on her head. Cradling her head in his arms, covering the wound with a towel that was fast becoming blood-soaked, Stanek could see that she was still breathing. But his efforts to save her appeared hopeless. He began speaking to her in an attempt to elicit a response from the gravely injured woman.

"Can you hear my voice?" Stanek asked. "If you can hear me, please squeeze my hand." However, there was no response.

Paramedics arrived at the scene seven minutes after receiving the 911 call from Stanek. They took over and performed CPR in an attempt to revive her, to no avail. Blake did not go near his wife while the paramedics were treating her, possibly because he did not want to interfere with their work. After treating her as best they could at the scene, the paramedics loaded her onto an ambulance and sped to a nearby hospital ten minutes later. However, despite everyone's best efforts to save her, Bonny Lee Bakley was declared dead on arrival at St. Joseph's Medical Center in Burbank.

When the police arrived, Blake was sitting on the street curb, crying and vomiting. A policeman sat down and put his arm around him in an attempt to console him. When Blake was composed enough to provide a statement, he told the police officers that he and his wife, whom he identified as Leebonny Bakely, had dined at Vitello's. When they had gotten back to the car, he said, he realized that he had forgotten something, a handgun licensed to him and that he carried because Bonny feared that she was being stalked. He said that the weapon had apparently slipped out of his waistband and onto the seat of the booth that they had occupied. He had gone back to the restaurant to retrieve it. When he returned to the car, he found that his wife had been shot once behind the right ear and once in the shoulder. That was when he ran to Stanek's home to call the police, according to LAPD spokesman Guillermo Campos.

Blake declined to take a polygraph test that evening, contending that he was much too distraught. Blake also purportedly said that he feared that he would fail the test because, as in the O. J. Simpson case, he had dreams of killing her and that alone might cause him to fail the test. He also reportedly said that he blamed himself for her death for leaving her alone in the car.

"He was falling apart," Stanek said. "He was incoherently in shock, guttural agony cries ... he was sick. He was throwing up. He was shaken up. He was crying ... he was really messed up."

The shooting that had occurred on Woodbridge Street that night was totally out of character for this San Fernando Valley neighborhood comprised of mostly modest older homes, some of which have been remodeled or are in the process of being remodeled. It had always been a quiet neighborhood.

"This is the most peaceful, beautiful neighborhood," said a resident of Woodbridge Street who came out to see what all of the police and paramedic activities were about. "This is not the type of neighborhood where things like this happen."

When police detectives arrived on the scene they interviewed Blake about the evening's events in an interview that took some five hours to complete. The police released few details afterward, and stressed that they had interviewed Blake only as a witness to a homicide and not as a suspect. They worked throughout the night and into the next day trying to put the pieces to this most unusual homicide puzzle together.

Among the people that investigators talked to in the hours after the slaying were neighborhood residents Andrew Percival and his wife, who had been dining at Vitello's on Friday evening during the same time frame that Blake and Bonny had been there. Percival, who said that he and his wife had left the restaurant at about 9:30 P.M., told the investigators that he had seen a man dressed in black and who looked like Blake inside the restaurant. After Percival and his wife paid their bill and began walking toward their home, located nearby, they saw the same man dressed in black walking "very, very briskly" past them in the middle of the street and toward the car parked behind the Dumpster. Percival remarked that crime was uncommon in the neighborhood.

"This is a really nice neighborhood," Percival said. "Crime just isn't an issue around here."

As they pressed on with their inquiry the investigators spoke with Vitello's co-owner, Joseph Restivo, and found what appeared to be a major hole in Blake's account of the evening's activities. Blake had initially told the police that he had returned to Vitello's once to retrieve the gun, and then went back to the restaurant again to seek medical assistance for his gravely wounded wife. However, according to what Restivo told investigators, Blake only returned to the restaurant one time, apparently following the shooting.

"He ran in here saying something had happened," Restivo said. "He asked for a glass of water. He first said his wife had been hurt, then he said she had fallen down. Finally he said she had been shot ... he was saying that she had been mugged or got shot and asked me to call 911." Before Restivo could complete the call, Blake told him it wasn't necessary. "'It's okay, it's already done,'" Restivo quoted Blake as having said. "He asked for water, drank it here, and left ... the guy was nuts." Blake reportedly drank two glasses of water while inside the restaurant.

Steve Restivo, who owns Vitello's along with Joseph, left the restaurant for the evening before Blake and his wife. He later told investigators that Blake and Bonny seemed happy and relaxed that evening. Having seen Blake sipping his soup, chicken broth without vegetables, directly from the bowl, Restivo said that he quipped that Blake appeared more Sicilian than his own father, to which Blake responded that the soup had helped keep him from catching the flu all winter.

The investigators learned from conducting interviews with restaurant employees that Blake's table was bussed within two minutes of his departure, but no gun had been found there. Furthermore, there were no employees or customers who saw him return to the restaurant at the time the shooting was believed to have occurred. Witnesses only remembered seeing him at the establishment after the shooting when he came in asking for help and drank the two glasses of water.

Because the spouse of a murder victim or the last person to see a victim alive is nearly always placed at the top of the suspect list Blake would, naturally, be looked at closely. The apparent incoherence in Blake's account of the events of that evening only served to make him even more of a suspect in his wife's death. But before the investigators could draw any conclusions about the identity of Bonny's killer they knew that there was much more to be looked at in this case. Blake, for example, would have to undergo gunshot-residue testing to determine if there were traces of gunpowder on his hands and clothing. That would establish, hopefully, whether or not he had fired a gun recently.

Another potentially troubling aspect of the case was the fact that Blake had been coming to Vitello's for 20 years without making reservations. Vitello's normally did not require reservations, but on the evening of May 4, Blake made a reservation for the first time. He was also known to use the restaurant's valet parking service, which he did not utilize that night, instead choosing to park a block and a half away and walk to the restaurant with his wife. He also introduced Bonny as his wife to the staff that evening, even though he had brought her to the restaurant on prior occasions. No one at the restaurant recalled knowing that Blake was even married.

What did it all mean? Nothing at this point. These were just some among many interesting facts that further served to place a cloud of doubt over Blake's situation. The police knew that much more than circumstantial evidence would be needed if they were going to make a case against Blake. They would need hard physical evidence, scientific evidence, and, ideally, an eyewitness to the murder. There was much to be done before they could draw any conclusions about Blake, and they would soon learn that their investigation would take them in many different directions. They would learn in the coming days that any number of people out of Bonny's past might have wanted her dead, an eventuality that could ultimately shift their focus away from Blake, and rightly so. Just because Blake was her husband and was believed to have been the last person to have seen her alive didn't necessarily mean that he killed her. It was of paramount importance that all avenues be investigated to ensure that they nailed the right person.

Nobody, at this juncture, wanted to see Baretta, the TV cop hero, arrested for murder.

CHAPTER 2

IN THE MEANTIME, THE LOS ANGELES POLICE DEPARTMENT, foreseeing the intense public scrutiny that this case would receive because a celebrity was being questioned, assigned its top detectives from the Robbery-Homicide Division to the investigation, a team of 16 investigators that would be led by Captain James Tatreau. Because of problems associated with the Rodney King case of the early 1990s, the O. J. Simpson case, and the more recent Ramparts Division Scandal, Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard Parks and the police commissioners were going to make certain that this case was handled methodically and by the book, with their every move made with the consultation of the district attorney's office. There could be no slipups or mistakes associated with this case.

On Saturday, May 5, 2001, the team of detectives from LAPD's Robbery-Homicide Division converged on Blake's rustic Mata Hari Ranch, on Dilling Street in Studio City, about five minutes from Vitello's. The brown, ranch-style home was in need of repair and a paint job, and included two carports added on at some point in the house's history. The longer of the two carports had an older model station wagon parked beneath it and the shorter one apparently was being used as a lounge area and was equipped with a cushioned swing and a lawn chair. An older-model van was parked on the grass, and lawn tools were propped up against the front of the house. An upside-down five-gallon bucket lay near the front door. A five-foot fence and gate covered in wire mesh, similar to chicken wire, enclosed the property. And Blake, a bird lover, kept an aviary outside his home.

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "Murder In Hollywood"
by .
Copyright © 2001 Gary C. King Enterprises, Inc..
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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