There have been many examples in history of murders perpetrated or arranged by rich, privileged, and famous individuals. Recognition and fame attracts media attention, speculation and a wider interest. That involvement has on occasions influenced a legal outcome. Law enforcement, witnesses, lawyers, judges and juries are all placed in the limelight.

In this example I am going to present the case of a famous Hollywood actor, Robert Blake. He actually enjoyed a long life; he died at the age of 89 on the 9th March 2023. Not so his wife Bonny, who was murdered in 2001.

On the 4th May 2001 Bonny Lee Bakley the wife of Hollywood actor Robert Blake was shot to death whilst she sat alone in her husband’s car in an affluent and tidy Los Angeles suburb. The circumstances surrounding this murder were somewhat bizarre. Robert Blake was 67 at the time, a largely retired but very rich and successful Hollywood film star, famous for his role in the 1970’s TV cop series Baretta. Bonny Lee Bakley, his second wife was 44. Their daughter Rosie was just 20 months old.

The pair had been married less than a year, but it was a loveless union and their relationship had been deteriorating. Bonny Bakley had fallen pregnant soon after they had met in 1999. She had been married on nine previous occasions and had a reputation as a gold-digger and a con artist with a celebrity obsession, stalking the sanctuary and trappings of rich, famous and connected men. Robert Blake had initially fallen for her charms and was now in a difficult situation and regretting it.

On the night of the murder, he had taken his wife to his favourite Italian restaurant, Vitello’s on Tujunga Avenue, Studio City, an affluent and quiet suburb of Los Angeles. He parked his 1991 Dodge Stealth coupe just over 100 metres away from the venue on Woodbridge Street, a block and a half away. Parked on a wide open street, bordered by smart and sizeable properties there was nothing at all threatening about the environment, but it was surmised that this was not his typical practise. Blake apparently would normally valet park at the restaurant. He denied this during his Larry King interview in 2006 where he stated that he preferred to street park and regularly did so. Whatever his tendency and normal habit, on this particular night he wasn’t parked alongside or even close to Vitello’s and the situation he created coincidently gave someone an opportunity to murder his wife. He had parked his car alongside a vacant property that during the day was undergoing some construction. He actually parked his car behind a construction site dumpster.

The couple walked to the restaurant and spent an hour at Vitello’s. After their meal Blake claimed that he walked back to his car with his wife, got in the vehicle with her but then realised he had left his handgun in the restaurant. Just his gun however, not his wallet and clearly not his car keys. He generally carried a firearm for personal protection but stressed to investigators that on this occasion his wife had insisted he carried one because she was fearful of being recently stalked. Robert Blake had a legal gun permit and was apparently used to carrying concealed firearms for personal protection in public places. He also claimed to be used to carrying and handling them with the care and responsibility associated with handling guns. Who would doubt that.

Blake claimed that he left his wife waiting in the car in the passenger seat which placed her alongside the pavement/sidewalk and then walked back to Vitello’s, (rather than simply driving there, parking outside and keeping her close to him). He insisted that he re-entered the establishment, drank two glasses of water and retrieved his gun. Nobody in the restaurant saw him re-enter, drink the water, or retrieve his gun from the booth they had occupied. When he got back to the car, he found his wife mortally wounded; she had been shot twice and was slumped in the passenger seat; the window next to her was not smashed but wound down. Blake ran to a nearby property which belonged to Sean Stanek, a film and TV actor, producer and director and banged on the door and rang the doorbell. Stanek was surprised to find Blake on his doorstep. They called 911 then ran to the car. When they arrived Stanek got into the driver’s seat and pulled Bonny Bakley upright, she was clearly badly injured and was struggling to breathe. Blake ran off again and came back minutes later with a nurse he had apparently found in the restaurant. Paramedics and police were quickly at the scene, but Bonny Bakley died in the ambulance whilst the medics were trying to revive her. Blake remained on the kerb next to his car in a state of shock and didn’t accompany his wife to the hospital.

From the time the waitress had processed Robert Blake’s credit card in Vitello’s 17 minutes had elapsed to the time he had dialled 911 on Stanek’s landline. Unless the couple had taken a long time to actually leave the restaurant that is a staggering amount of time in the circumstances and the distances involved. The least amount of time should have been the duration spent retrieving the gun and returning to the car, realistically about 3 minutes. What was Blake doing?

The ensuing police investigation quickly found the murder weapon, a German military WW2 9mm Walther P38 semi-auto handgun which had been discarded amongst some waste in the dumpster truck that was parked in front of Blakes’s car. The original P38 was produced between 1939 and 1945 and it was very efficient. This 1944 example was covered in oil. No fingerprints or DNA could be lifted from it and it was not registered. There was a live round in the chamber but no other rounds in the magazine. Later tests concluded it was in bad condition. It would fire 3 rounds then malfunction; the perpetrator clearly knew this. The murderer chose to discard the weapon close to the murder scene undoubtedly unconcerned and perhaps confident that it would be quickly found. Why would that person do that?

The property immediately next to the couple’s car was undergoing some construction so there was nobody there. There was no sign of a struggle, the vehicle had not been broken into and nothing was stolen. Bonny Bakley’s front passenger side window was wound down implying that she might have known her attacker and wasn’t initially surprised or disturbed. Two spent 9mm cases were found in the car suggesting the perpetrator was very close to Bonny Bakley when he fired the weapon, the ejected 9mm cases were propelled from the ejection port on the right-hand side of the weapon into the car. One round had hit her in the shoulder and there was gunpowder residue on one hand suggesting she had held up an arm in defence. The second bullet had entered her brain cavity via the right side of her face, this was the fatal shot.

Of course, Robert Blake had to be considered and questioned as a potential suspect, but he was not initially arrested. The unregistered murder weapon could not be linked to him. His own gun, a .38 Smith & Wesson revolver which he had a legal permit for had not been discharged and he had no firearm discharge residue on his person; he was clean. It was dark at the time of the murder and there were no witnesses to the shooting.

One of the first people to offer him help and advice was the Hollywood actor and football star OJ Simpson who had been acquitted for the murder of his wife Nicole Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman in 1995. Simpson advised Blake to refuse to take a polygraph test, (because it was not a legal requirement), and not to publicly disrespect his late wife.

After a great deal of investigation and deliberation Robert Blake was arrested on the 18th April 2001 for the murder of his wife Bonny Bakley along with his long term bodyguard and personal friend Earle Caldwell who was charged with conspiracy in connection with the murder. Blake posted one million dollars in bail for Caldwell and he was released on the 27th April 2001. Blake however was detained in jail and incarcerated for almost a year finally being released on a 1.5 million dollar bail order but tagged and under virtual house arrest until his trial began in December 2004.  It was later concluded and confirmed that Earle Caldwell was out of town on the night of the murders, so he was subjected to no further proceedings. The prosecution however sourced two other witnesses, both former stuntmen. Ronald Hambleton admitted to the LAPD that Blake had attempted to hire him to kill his wife. Later Gary McLarty claimed that he had also been approached by Blake to perform the same deed. Both of these men had turned the proposal down.

Despite their testimonies these two witnesses were presented by Blake’s defence in court as unreliable. Both of these men had criminal records and had used drugs. The pair had a history of suffering from hallucinations and delusions. Their testimonies despite the very direct nature were weakened by the fact that they were both discredited. Nevertheless, these were strange confessions to make if indeed they were untrue, and Blake had used traced phone cards to make specific calls to both of them.

When the police searched Earle Caldwell’s property, they found a Mauser C96 ‘broom handle’ semi-auto. This was a German handgun produced between 1896 and 1937.This didn’t instantly infer involvement or guilt, but it did suggest he perhaps had a connected interest and leaning towards older European firearms like the P38 murder weapon.

Despite a clear motive, the strange manner and behaviour Blake had resorted to on the evening of the murder, placing his wife in a clear and vulnerable position then deserting her in convenient circumstances the jury really had no option but to find him not guilty. Their decision came as a result of the facts. There was no direct evidence that he had murdered her and insufficient evidence to suggest he, (and anybody else he was connected to), were involved in a plot to murder her. Like OJ Simpson, his fame and standing had a bearing and influence, he was a gifted actor who played the part of an unfairly victimised suspect despite not talking the stand. He had the money to pay for his choice of lawyers. Indeed, his wily defence played on Bonny Bakley’s messy reputation and past antics which they proposed was likely to have attracted any number of potential individuals who wished her serious harm. The lack of evidence however did not mean that Blake was not involved or indeed had carried out the murder. He was there.

Robert Blake was acquitted after 3 months in a criminal court for the murder of his wife Bonny Lee Bakley and found not guilty for plotting her demise. Rather like the trial of OJ Simpson the circumstances most definitely pointed at Robert Blake but his defence did not have to prove his innocence and the prosecution could not convince the jury of any guilt. However, it didn’t end there because exactly like OJ Simpson he was subsequently found responsible for the death of his former wife by a civil court in November 2005 and ordered to pay 30 million dollars to Bonny Bakley’s family. His defence appealed and the verdict was upheld but the amount was reduced to 15 million. Bakley’s family never received that amount. Robert Blake was supposedly bankrupted but he was always a clever investor. He was retired from films and TV at the time of the murder but if he ever considered making a comeback the studios never used him again.

Since then, he becomes angry and ultra-defensive when the subject of the murder is raised; he has even described this significant part of his life as now being ‘boring’. He prefers to completely detach himself from the event as if he wasn’t there. Rosie his daughter with Bonny Bakley is now in her early twenties. She was adopted after her mother’s murder and brought up by Blake’s older daughter. She lives with the quandary of not actually knowing if her father was actually involved in the death of her mother. Bonny Lee Bakley undoubtedly led a bizarre and rather sordid life, and she already had three children before she met Robert Blake. Whatever she was or had become, hers was a cruel fate and it is doubtful she ever imagined her end would be so sudden and brutal.

In all the interviews Blake has had with the likes of leading commentators, Barbara Walters, Larry King and Piers Morgan the basic theme remains the same. This hugely successful star cannot understand why people are suspicious of his actions. He considered that the police had conspired and set out to “rip his guts out and leave him in the gutter”. He is always emphasising how he has led a blessed life despite the trauma of his upbringing and God was always on the shoulder. His rhetoric is a constant shock tactic, self-absorbed, disarming, stage like and melodramatic. Most poignantly the murder of his wife he describes as not being the most significant event of his life. Complex unpredictable and angry. He could not agree that his behaviour and actions on the night of the murder were suspicious, not even oddly strange and highly convenient for a murderer. Even the supposed action of leaving his gun in the restaurant he considers as merely unlucky and unconnected.

In one interview Robert Blake bizarrely explained in a hypothetical manner how if he had possessed the predilection to murder his wife, he could have afforded to have Bonny Bakley murdered in a way that would have placed him far away from the scene and any suspicion. He described how he would not have had her killed in the manner she was murdered, that being in such close proximity to him.

Bonny Bakley was shot and killed during the only occasion when Robert Blake was not with her throughout the entire period of travelling to and visiting the restaurant that evening. This means that if it wasn’t Blake who shot her, and it was not another shooter he employed the actual perpetrator was an entirely random street shooter or someone who was targeting Bakley. If it was a random killer, why didn’t he attack when they were together because there would have been no way of anticipating Robert Blake’s sudden disappearing act at the crime scene. If the perpetrator was following the couple and loitering around the general location patiently waiting for an opportunity to attack Bakley this person would have had to accept that Blake would be alongside her at all times which might require him to shoot Blake too. What was the likelihood of that very significant 3-minute period offering a window of opportunity?

If Bakley had indeed expressed a fear to her husband, why did she even agree to go out. It would appear extreme that he was still prepared to take her out for a meal but specifically armed himself with a .38 revolver. Why would he leave her alone for a period on a darkened street to retrieve a gun he’s forgotten and was supposedly carrying to protect her with. Why having agreed to go out that night did she then sit alone in their car in the dark if she was that concerned for her safety. Unless of course Robert Blake had planned it all and was making it all up.

Perhaps Bonny Bakley had no reason to be concerned about going out that evening or sitting alone in the car while her seemingly dumb husband sauntered off to casually retrieve his gun from a restaurant they had just left, if indeed he actually ever left it there in the first place.

No other suspect for the shooting murder of Bonny Lee Bakley has ever been found.

In similar circumstances, no other suspects other than those that have been accused, (despite speculative conspiracy theories and no evidence), have ever been discovered for the following famous shooting murders.

Sir Jack Drummond in France, (along with his wife and daughter) – 1952, (Gaston & Gustave Dominici), John F Kennedy – 1963, (Lee Harvey Oswald), Mary Pinchot Meyer – 1964, (Ray Crump), Martin Luther King – 1968, (James Earl Ray), Robert F Kennedy -1968, (Sirhan Sirhan), Olaf Palme – 1986 (Christer Petterson), Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman – 1994, (OJ Simpson), and in Fulham, London UK, the TV presenter Jill Dando – 1999, (Barry George).

Those accused were either acquitted through lack of evidence, are still serving sentences or were eventually freed from custodial sentences after re-trials. One was murdered and five have since died.

I conclude with the South African athlete Oscar Pistorius, the famous Olympic Blade-Runner. He is now serving a prison term for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp who he shot to death in their home in February 2013. Despite the circumstances surrounding her violent death Pistorius has always insisted that he shot her in error. He will be eligible for parole in 2023.