The woman on the stretcher was Bonny Lee Bakley, born in June of 1956 to a troubled, lower working-class family. She had come to an end that many thought was ironic, if not inevitable. She had been shot twice at close range as she sat in a car belonging to her reluctant movie-star husband, Robert Blake. And with the news media clamoring to cover the latest Hollywood shocker, her name would finally be known across the country.
Fame was Bonny's first obsession. "I was the kid that everybody hated in school because I was poor and I couldn't dress good... Everybody always made fun of me because I was a real loner type. So you grow up saying 'I'll fix them. I'll show them. I'll be a movie star.' And it was too hard because I was always falling for somebody. And I figured, why not fall for movie stars instead of becoming one?" So said Bonny in a taped conversation that was widely aired on national television in mid-May of 2001, just days after the shooting. (1)
The star-struck Bonny who was, in her words, "always falling for somebody," was incredibly enthusiastic and not particularly discriminating when it came to the pursuit of men. The record is unclear how many husbands she had. There were at least nine that are acknowledged by the family, but there could be as many as 100. (2)
It was not just the number of her "marriages" that is so impressive, but the type of marriages. Bakley was first married at age 15 to a young Greek national by the name of Evangelos Paulakis. Paulakis needed to marry in order to secure the INS "green card" that would permit him to remain in the US, and he offered Bonny money for the favor. Bakley was already living the fast life by that time. She met Paulakis as part of her "modeling" work in Union City, New Jersey. According to younger brother Joseph Bakley, "[Bonny] used to tell me they had all these orgy parties out there and everything when I was still a little kid. Sounded so good, I wanted to go, too." (3)
Within weeks of the marriage, Bakley decided she'd had enough, and somehow managed to get Paulakis deported. Sister Margerry Bakley claims it was because Paulakis beat her. But in any case, it was during those early years that Bakley got into the habit of taping her personal phone calls. Among the tapes seized as evidence after her murder, at least two were labeled "Evangelos." (4)
She married one of her husbands, Joseph Brooksher, in 1992. But the marriage lasted only the night. By morning she had disappeared, Brooksher says. A televised report stated that she had met him through a singles ad six months before they got hitched in Memphis. "Abandoned on his wedding night," said the report, "Brooksher claims he was even sent to prison for four years because Bonny wrote bad checks in his name. And Joe’s sad saga doesn't end there. According to Tennessee court documents obtained exclusively by “Extra,” Brooksher and Bonny may have never officially divorced. She apparently didn't follow through with it." (5).
Another of Bonny's many husbands was E. Robert Telufson, who married Bonny Lee when he was 83 years old. The marriage lasted for six weeks before Bakley disappeared. According to a story broadcast by a Memphis, Tennessee news station, Telufson remarked, "I understand there may have been as many as a hundred marriages." (6)
Her marriage to another Florida man - William Weber, who died in 1999 - lasted but two days. Then, after the second night, says Weber's son, also named William, Bonny and her sister "bolted out a second floor window from his Port Charlotte, Florida condo... All of a sudden the bank calls me up and says he's drawing everything out." But, in fact, it was she who was the one taking the money from the elderly man's bank account. Says the Memphis broadcast, "A Florida judge appointed a guardian for William Weber, Sr. and froze his bank accounts. But by then, $350,000 was gone, and so was Bakley." (7)
One of Bakley's oddest and most interesting marriages was to one DeMart Besly, an old Navy man and retired sheriff in Darby, Montana (1990 population: 625). Besly was retired, four years a widower, and lonely when he first crossed paths with the notorious "Lee Bakley," as she called herself in letters to the now-deceased victim. Besly, shown in an old black-and-white photo (above right) was the subject of a Court TV exclusive aired 12 July 2002 on the network's "Hollywood At Large" series. Program host Wendy Walsh interviewed the man's niece, Dawn Dupré, who described how her elderly uncle began corresponding with several women who advertised in a "swinger" magazine, supposedly-different women with different names and descriptions. All of them, however, later turned out to be Bakley.
Besly was taken in by a woman calling herself "Lee" whom he not yet met personally, and he sent her money to travel to Darby. Besly was actually a bit relieved when he saw that Bonny was less attractive than she advertised, thinking he had a real chance for a relationship with the seedy-looking stranger. This account of their initial meeting, based on the text Besly hiself composed before his death, appears in the book Blood Cold: Fame, Sex, and Murder in Hollywood by Dennis McDougal and Mary Murphy (see photo on right):
When she showed up at the Darby bus station, she was shorter, more shabby and dumpier than her photos had led Besly to believe. At 140 pounds, the five-foot-three-inch Bonny did not match the sexpot image of her crotch shots. Her clothes were strictly Salvation Army and her cardboard luggage was cracked. Her toiletries consisted of towels stolen from the Ramada Inn and tiny bars of soap lifted from motels and hotels across America. Instead of discouraging him, however, the real Bonny gave him hope. Besly was not so naive as to believe that a babe was going to marry him, but a down-on-her-heels bimbo like Bonny just might. (8)
Bakley was, of course, smart enough to know she had to present an image consistent with the hard-luck stories she sent her thousands of "pen pals." While Bakely undeniably raked in millions from her rip-off schemes and quickie marriages. it is also a fact that she lavished money on people whenever she needed friendship or assistance and splurged on travel and self-promotion. Thus, she had little to show for her luctrative porn business until she began investing in real property some time after she first contacted Besly.
According to Dupré, despite sending nude "tease" pictures to Besly (see Court TV image above), Bakley insisted on her Montana trip that she could never sleep with a man before marriage. So she and Besly took off for Nevada where they were married in a civil ceremony. From there, he took her to a hotel and casino, and at some point she excused herself to go to the ladies room and simply disappeared.
Up to this point, Bakley apparently gained little more than small change from her "marriage" to Besly. But she wasn't done with him yet. Following the wedding, Bakley broke into Besly's home, stealing a variety of things ranging from clothing and personal items belonging to Besly's late wife to "lots of jewelry," in Dupré's words. But most importantly, "he found his gun missing," Dupré (left) told Court TV.
But that wasn't the last of it. When Besly's next property tax bill arrived in the mail, he discovered that the deed listed Bonny's name as well as his own. The ex-sheriff quickly learned that Bakley had forged his signature on a legal document making herself a "co-owner" of the home. The forged document had been notarized by a Memphis used-car salesman whom Bakley later acknowledge that she'd been "shacked-up with at the time." (9)
The retired lawman was not one to take the scam lightly, and he set about investigating her. The results of his work became a manuscript, the first page of which was shown on the Court TV program. Headed, "Ubiquitous Bonny: Mistress of Sham, of Lust, Greed and Deceit by D.C. Besly," it began by referring to a story about her that appeared in 1989 in the supermarket tabloid, Globe. The pictured text continues:
Any male who has ever thumbed through most swinger's and girlie publications has no doubt seen Lee Bakley in all her naked glory, legs spread wide, the finger of one hand spreading the lips of her juicy man-trap... If there's a sleazy magazine she hasn't advertised in, it probably hasn't been published, as by her own admission she has appeared in most of them, sometimes twice with her diverse identities and addresses in order to "double responses from drooling suckers," as she once gigglingly admitted. (10)
In the Court TV interview, Dupré was also asked about Bakley's dramatic death.
Walsh: If your uncle were living today would he be surprised to learn of the violent end of Bonny Lee's life?
Dupré: Not in the least. He predicted it.
Besly's foresight today seems almost uncanny. When he died on Christmas of 2000, he left most of his property to a young Darby, Montana couple who moved in and cared for him in his final months. But niece Dawn Dupré inherited several manuscripts Besly had written. One was the story of his relationship with the soon-to-be-notorious Bonny Lee Bakley. To that one, Besly had attached a prophetic note that promised: "This may be worth something someday." (11)
Dupré told Court TV that her uncle had left boxes of old letters and photographs of Bakley which, she hopes will be made into a book and ultimately help "clear Mister Blake's name." But to program host Walsh, the gun was especially interesting:
If Bonny Bakley was in the habit of stealing guns, she could have stolen one of Blake's and someone else could have taken that gun and killed her. Dawn says, 'add that to Bakley's rather long list of enemies and you get reasonable doubt.'
Perhaps the most durable relationship Bakley had was with one Paul Gawron, who eventually ended up raising the three children Bakley had prior to her run-in with Robert Blake - Glenn Paul Gawron, Holly Lee Gawron, and Jeri Lee Lewis. Bonny married Gawron, her first cousin, in November of 1977. The marriage was one that brought disapproval even from Bakley's family. Gawron and his sister were raised in foster care, never sure whether they had been abandoned because their mother didn't want them or because she was too poor to care for them. According to Bakley's uncle George Hall, Gawron always seemed a bit crazy. "He was abusive with his remarks and physically, too, at times," Hall says. "I guess she thought a lot of him, but he never acted very normal to me. He broke her nose one time. He was insulting in public and used very foul language." (12)
Authors Dennis McDougal and Mary Murphy give some insight into Bakley's attraction to Gawron and her propensity to engage in daredevil sexual escapades:
Paul admitted to being an irresponsible hothead when he was younger. Bonny liked that in a man. She had developed a knack for picking men with a violent streak and then provoking them. Once, Bonny told her mother, she taunted group of truck drivers into gang-banging her at a Pennsylvania truck stop. She continued to traffic with tough guys the rest of her life - a habit she inherited from both her estranged mother and [maternal grandmother Margaret] Hall." (13)
"I don't know for sure if any of these kids are biologicallly mine," Gawron says about Bakley's three oldest children. But he soon grew comfortable with the idea of raising them while Bakley kept him supplied with cash. Indeed, Gawron remained an associate after their divorce, helping Bonny run her the successful "sucker-trap" that netted her a substantial income, from her growing collection of mail-order spouses and from still more one-nighters contacted through sexually-explicit lonely-hearts ads in "swinger" publications and even a phone sex "hot line" she operated for a while. (14)
Even a misfit like Gawron had occasional scruples at first about the way Bakley ran her business. "There were times," he said, "that she would have her porno spread out all over the table, with the kids walking through the room. She didn't care if they saw the pictures or not. I hated it, but I was just a laborer. When I worked I could make maybe $150 a week, and she was pulling that much and more out of envelopes every day." (15)
Typically, Bakley's classified ads would carry a picture of her naked in a suggestive pose, seeking interested men to write to her. She created scores of fictitious personalities, keeping careful records as to which "character" was writing to which man. She would usually ask for a gift of $100, $150, or even $250, explaining that she needed it to pay her rent or for travel fare to come and meet her new "friend."
But she also added in letters to new correspondents, that if they could not afford to help her, a gift of even $20 would be very much appreciated. She would send explicit photos and promise sexual favors to those who were kind enough to help her out of her "troubles." As she grew older and more unattractive, she turned to using photos of younger, prettier models. (16)
Over the years, Gawron and Bakley maintained their twisted relationship. Says the most recent book on the murder case, Gawron was "more like a low-rent butler than a husband" to Bakley. "He grew used to her sleeping with other men - sometimes right in the next room." (17)
And sex of every kind was one constant in Bonny's life, an adventure, a hobby, a compulsion. She liked calling herself "trisexual," meaning that she would try anything. And her vast experience with "unusual" sex situations taught her the subtle clues that she used for categorizing potential scams. Thus she learned to "personalize" her mail order solicitations. According to McDougal and Murphy:
At the same time that she catered to private sexual fantasies, she studied her clients's entire personality. "She had this psychological insight making it seem less like the postal equivalent of phone sex and more like a relationship," said [attorney Jonathan] Kirsch [who represents Belsy's niece, Dawn Dupré]. "It's one thing to say to somebody, 'I'll send you dirty pictures and dirty letters if you send the money.' That forces the person on the other end of that bargain to admit that they're paying for sexual gratification in the most impersonal sort of way. It's quite another thing to say, 'You're going to help me. I'll be grateful to you. You'll be my benefactor and my savior, escalating to actually standing in front of a minister and getting married. It was the ultimate sham." (18)
But it was more sophisticated even than that. According to Blake private investigator Scott Ross, Bonny used a system that consisted of eight separate levels of form letters. Says Ross, "The letters ranged from sending nude photographs and videos for money at the lowest level to offering to visit the 'client' at the higher levels... The higher the level of letter, the large the amount of money requested. The highest-level letter was a request that the 'client' add Bonny to his will." (19)
And, as always, there were suckers who fell for it, either naming her as a life insurance beneficiary or an heir. In 1980, for example, an elderly man in Pasadena, California changed his will to state: "All the rest, residue and remainder of my estate, of whatsoever kind and nature wherever situate, I hereby give, devise and bequeath to my fiancee, Bonny Lee Bakley." Bakley was also named administrator of the elderly man's estate. The 'client' in this case, one Philip Wright Worchester, happened to have two adult children - son Stephen Worchester and daughter Linda Merlo - who essentially saw their inheritance snatched away - unless, of course, Bakley died before their father did. Bakley got lucky again in 1993 when Timothy Larkins, a widower living in Oregon, replaced his son Randy with Bakely in a will that likewise left his "residuary estate to Leebonny Bakley." In this case, there was no mention of marriage. And, as in the Worchester case, the younger Larkins could only have inherited his father's property in the event Bakley died while the elder Larkins was still alive. (20)
The lonely hearts business was grisly, to to say the least. Former Blake attorney Harland Braun, who has reviewed the enormous amounts of mail and records that Bakley kept in her living quarters behind his house, described on Court TV's "Hollywood At Large" program in May the sort of mail that Bakley was sending to men all over the country: "closeup scenes of intercourse, literally graphic scenes of intercourse, with her love letter written across - 'This is what's waiting for you.' I mean a picture of a man's penis in a woman's vagina. Just that's all there is. ... Her note to this guy [named] all the sex acts she's going to do to them if they only send her $80 for bus fare. It's beyond description." And the scams continued up until her death. On Saturday, May 5, one day after she Bakley was shot, two boxes of mail were brought to her by Federal Express. Scott Ross, a private investigator working for Blake, reported finding envelopes containing mail and money from men around the country and even from Germany and the Netherlands. (21)
Bakley was vulgar and bold, and she obviously enjoyed flaunting her deviant lifestyle. In the Besly case, Bonny tried her best to keep in touch even after she ditched her husband-of-one-hour. Barely a week after that wedding-day vanishing act, she called from Memphis, shouted into the phone, "I love you," and hung up. A week later, she again wrote to Besly, vowing her love and begging him to send his service papers so that she could qualify for military wives' benefits. Even after Besly obtained a divorce, Bakley persisted in calling and writing, asking him for money and other favors. "Between promises of coming back to Montana, she talked about affairs and three-ways and lesbian love fests," says the DcDougall-Murphy text. In one letter, she asked him to buy her "one of those vibrators that squirts liquid like a man coming in me." (22)
Crime writer Gary C. King, in a book about the life and death of Bakley titled Murder in Hollywood: The Secret Life and Mysterious Death of Bonny Lee Bakley, wrote that she seemed to have "a voracious sexual appetite that bordered on addiction." He adds, "She was kinky, and bragged that she had participated in orgies, sado-masochism, and lesbian acts in order to satisfy her desires. She wrote that she was uninhibited and enjoyed nearly every type of sexual pleasure that could be imagined. She advertised as much, and set up dates with men interested in sampling her repertoire." Even though she was beaten by some of the thugs she arranged to meet, she was undaunted. According to King, "she continued to contact men through ads and the mail, often boasting that she would try anything sexual at least once. She spoke of her many sexual toys, including a vibrating egg and other vibrators, and continued to talk about liking sadomasochism, bondage and dominance, ménage a trois, and sex with other women. She claimed that she was bisexual and liked to 'swing' with couples where the woman was also bisexual. As was her custom she would ask the men for varying denominations of money, depending upon the sexual scenario. Often she would not show up for the dates that she had arranged and would keep the money that had been sent to her. According to friends, when she did show up it was only to satisfy her sexual cravings. Friends said that she’d had hundreds of lovers over the years." Bonnie also was fond of bars, according to the same book, and "would hang out at nightclubs until the early morning hours." Ironically, King adds, she spoke to others about the "dangerous lifestyle" she lived, and even "said that she would probably meet a man one day who would end up killing her." (23)
(2) See, i.e., ABC News, "Many Names, Many Husbands" (24 May 2001); Court TV: "Baretta star's real-life murder rap" (30 April 2002); E! Online: "Another Blake-Bakley Bombshell" (23 May 2001); and Entertainment IAfrica, "Blake's wife married 100 times?".
(3) See Gary C. King, Murder in Hollywood: The Secret Life and Mysterious Death of Bonny Lee Bakley, St. Martin's Paperbacks, 2001, at page 141. See also Dennis McDougal and Mary Murphy, Blood Cold: Fame, Sex, and Murder in Hollywood, Penguin Books, 2002, at page 118.
(4) See Blood Cold, at pages 118-119.
(7) See WMC-TV 5, Memphis, cited above. A television program aired 12 November 2003, 48 Hours Investigates (CBS), reported the figure at only $80,000. The man's niece, Andrea Weber, appeared on camera for the program, describing Bakley as "a rotten person."
(9) McDougal and Murphy, Blood Cold, cited above, at page 176.
(10) See, i.e., Besly papers (images)
(11) See Blood Cold, at page 221.
(12) See Blood Cold, at page 133.
(13) See Blood Cold, at page 134.
(15) See Crime Library (same as above).
(16) See Murder in Hollywood, at page 143.
(17) See Blood Cold, at pages 136, 137.
(18) McDougal and Murphy, Blood Cold, cited above, at pages 174-175.
(19) McDougal and Murphy, Blood Cold, cited above, at page 176.
(20) McDougal and Murphy, Blood Cold, cited above, at pages 137, 177.
(21) See Crime Library (same as above).
(22) McDougal and Murphy, Blood Cold, cited above, at page 175.
(23) See Gary C. King: Murder in Hollywood: The Secret Life and Mysterious Death of Bonny Lee Bakley, at pages 65-66 (available from Barnes & Noble online); see also Crime Library.