In the years when Bonny was raking in money from her tawdry sex business, she never lost sight of her appetite for celebrities. Indeed, her pursuit of country musician Jerry Lee Lewis (at left) is one of the most bizarre chapters of her life. The singer, a cousin of disgraced televangelist Jim Swaggert and now in his late sixties, was popular on radio stations in the 1950s, and made appearances at such venues as the Steve Allen Show and even in concert overseas during 1958. But his star quickly lost its luster after a scandal over his marriage to a 13-year-old cousin. His records were dropped by radio stations and he ended up, in the words of a fan web site, doing "an endless string of one-night-stands." Said Lewis, "From $10,000 a night to $250 is a hell of a disappointment." (1)
But even thirty years later, Lewis had one devoted fan - perhaps "obsessed" is a better word - in the person of Bonny Lee Bakley. She set out to get him any way she could, literally stalking him anywhere he went. She reportedly went so far as to bribe a travel agent for information about flights he was planning to take, then booked seats next to his. When Bakley gave birth to a daughter in 1993, she proudly claimed the baby had been fathered by Lewis, even succeeding in getting some tabloid newspaper coverage for her story. (2) Not surprisingly, she named the little girl (pictured with Bakley at upper right) Jeri Lee Lewis. Numerous press reports have stated that tests were done, however, and they revealed the baby was not his.
But that wasn't the last chapter in the bizarre Lewis saga. After years of throwing herself at him, she eventually realized nothing would happen, and she settled for fantasy, calling herself "Bonny Lee Lewis" and sending out Christmas cards with a picture of the two of them and an inscribed signature: "Happy Holidays, Jerry Lee and Bonny Lee."
Altogether, Bakley spent more than 10 years pursuing Lewis, says an article in Entertainment Weekly. It quoted the singer's former road manager, J.W. Whitten: "She was all over us ... She would always stay in the same hotels we were in. She popped up at one of his birthday parties. Once she offered me money to tell her where he was. She actually thought she had a shot at being Jerry's girlfriend." (3)
After Bonny's killing made headlines around the world, Lewis issued a statement to disassociate himself from the woman. "I want to make it clear that I have never fathered a child by Mrs. Robert Blake," said the statement, which referred to Bakley as a nuisance who had gone so far as to threaten to kill Lewis's son if he did not take her as his lover. (4)
The statement added:
"She [Bakley] moved to Memphis in the hope that I would leave my devoted wife, Kerrie, and our son, Jerry "Lee" Lewis III, and marry her; merely a figment of her own imagination. Mrs. Blake then went on to cultivate friendships with my relatives and friends, hoping somehow this would help her cause. However, her stalking of my family, as well as her threats to kill our son, landed her in a Memphis courtroom. As a last-ditch attempt to form a relationship with me, in 1993 she charged she was carrying my child and stories to this effect appeared in the tabloids. This claim was thrown out of a Memphis courtroom as our lawyer proved, with my passport, that I was out of the country longer than her records claimed she was pregnant. Since she had no records to show she had left the country, the case was over before it began... I do hope the child who has my name and has been told I am her father learns that I am not the father and that I am very sorry that she has had to suffer this lie..." (5)
The reference by Lewis to threats by Bakley "to kill our son" are in themselves stunning enough. Even more recently, however, it was revealed that Bakley may also have discussed the murder of Lewis's wife. During a televised 27 August 2002 pre-trial hearing before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lloyd Nash, news headlines called attention to another of Bakley's taped phone conversations in which she reportedly talked about just that. On that date, the judge agreed to a defense request to delay the preliminary hearing until November on the grounds that prosecutors had earlier in the month turned over some 7,100 pages of new evidence in the case to Blake's counsel. It was in the context of this "new evidence" that the revelation about the alleged plot to kill the singer's wife emerged. [See photos of court proceedings, including captions from Fox News, below.] (6)
If Bonny Lee Bakley was deluded about her "relationship" with Lewis, as everyone connected with him has claimed, she was no less imaginative when it came to other, bigger, celebrities. Bakley either targeted or claimed to have had encounters with everyone from Elvis Presley, Dean Martin, Red Foxx, and Gary Busey to former televangelist and Lewis relative Jimmy Swaggart. According to some reports, her address book had entries for no less than 17 stars she was intended to pursue. It included an old (now-isconnected) answering service for Robert Redford in New York, Sylvester Stallone's address without a phone number, and the home phone of comedian Chuck McCann. And there were still more. According to Entertainment weekly:
Bakley cast a wide net in her search for famous lovers. The names in her address book range from Oscar-winning actors (De Niro) to pop stars (Prince). Most of the listings, though, have a certain shabby je ne sais quoi to them. Disgraced Pentecostal preacher Jimmy Swaggart is in her book, as is Hustler publisher Larry Flynt, who received a note from Bakley last December ("Something like 'Hi, I just married Robert Blake, we need to get together,'" Flynt's assistant remembers). Dukes of Hazzard star James Best makes an appearance, as do comedians Pat McCormick and Will Jordan and singers Chuck Berry, Lou Christie, and Frankie Valli (whom Bakley claimed to have dated in her teens). Bakley had the late Dean Martin's number, too, perhaps scribbled in the book the same night she took a picture with him at Hamburger Hamlet in Hollywood, where the aging crooner occupied the same table every Sunday evening for the last decade of his life. (7)
Bakley financed her extravagant trips, the nightclubs, hotels and favor-buying not only by means of her mail order sex and marriage hoaxes, but by means of credit card and identity theft, fraud, and even trumped-up lawsuits. The book, Blood Cold, notes:
By the mid-1990s, Bonny Lee Bakley was roving ever further out of control. She slept all day and played all night, and always let someone else pick up the check. She had a scam for every occasion. Need a free meal? Go with Bonny for seven courses and you wouldn't even have to pay for coffee? Need gasoline? Pick a card, any card - they all worked at the pump, no matter whose name was printed on them.
She received Social Security checks in all sorts of different names. It was just a matter of getting them cashed, and all that required was ID.
... Bonny found that lawsuits were another way to supplement her income. She would pop into her attorney's office fairly regularly with a possible personal damage action - everything from getting popped in the nose to falling down in a convenience store and injuring her tail-bone. (8)
While her sex and porn racket remained "Bonny's bread and butter," according to the same book, her phoney credit card habit is one that can cause long-lasting misery to victims. And Bonny wasn't the only Bakley involved in identity theft. Brother Joseph (right) financed his life the same way. According to Paul Johnsen of the San Diego District Attorney's office, the younger Bakley "worked his way across the country" using the names and social security numbers of former friends and acquaintances. With this identification, he would apply for credit cards in those names. And, because the bills were sent to Joseph's address in San Diego, the victims were never aware that their credit was being gradually ruined. (9)
Identity theft not only ruins credit. It can - and often does - result in false imprisonment. As one on-line news agency explains it, "There’s nothing new about criminals using aliases to evade the law — criminals often try to give their buddy’s name, address, and date of birth to dupe police. But the explosion of identity theft, and the ready availability of stolen digital dossiers on innocent victims, makes it just as easy for a criminal to give a stranger’s personal data during an arrest. Once police book a suspect under a fake name, that mistake can plague a victim for life." (10)
The news report describes the case of a man, typical of many who have been victims of identity theft, who has been repeatedly arrested for crimes committed by an impersonator who posted bail and vanished, leaving the court to issue a bench warrant. The man in this case was arrested for alleged drug dealing (a charge against the impersonator) when stopped for a minor traffic offense. Though the matter was cleared up quickly, he still lost his job for failure to report a "criminal record." But that wasn't the end. A year later, it happened again. He was jailed for another offense committed in his name by the ID thief. Then came a third arrest. Police came to his house, armed with three arrest warrants, and handcuffed him. Before leaving, officials at child protective services were called to take away the man's children, but a relative arrived in time to prevent the state taking custory. Even though that charge, too, was eventually cleared up, the impostor remains at large, says the report, and continues to commit crimes in the man's name. The victim in this case has at last concluded that his only recourse is to obtain a legal name change and a new social security number. (11)
Indeed, one of Bakley's victims came forward in February of 2004 to talk about what happened to her after Bakley got her hands on an old ID. The woman, 46-year-old Sylvia Simon, says her credit rating was destroyed along with her good name. As it turns out, Sylvia Burks Simon was once married to Bakley associate Robert Stefanow. She divorced him in about 1982, after which Stefanow traveled to Tennessee and became the seventh husband of Jerry Lee Lewis's youngest sister, Linda Gail. After Bakley seduced Stefanow, Lewis tossed him out. Among the things Stefanow left was an old ID of Sylvia's. Bakley paid Linda Gail $500 for it, and proceeded to run up an assortment of bills, including an unpaid debt of more than $1,200 at the French Riviera Spa in Memphis.
For years, Simon was aware of the ID theft problem and even reported it to the sheriff's department at Deltona, Florida in 1999. But nothing could be done. Even though Bakley was arrested with a false ID in the name of Sylvia Stefanow, Simon only learned it was Bakley when her name surfaced as one of Bakley's false identities at the time of her death. "Using my name, driver's license, Social Security number and date of birth, Bonny had been able to obtain a new driver's license for herself, set up bank accounts, rent mailboxes, operate an escort business and order credit cards," she says. "If I could tell Bonny just one thing, it would be that she ruined my lfe." (12)
Given the extreme consequences of identity-theft and the difficulty one has clearing one's name and credit, it is certainly not hard to imagine that someone whose name was used fraudulently by Bakley might be angry enough to have a motive for murder. Indeed, it is known that Bakley preyed on "friends" when in her ID fraud exploits, and that at least some whose identities were stolen were aware of Bakley's culpability. (13)
Celebrity stalking may seem relatively innocent compared to ID theft, but it is not. The stalker is not to be confused with some quirky, obsessed, anad overzealous "fan." Beatle John Lennon fell to an assassin's gun in Manhattan on 8 December 1980, shot by a star-stalker named Mark David Chapman to whom Lennon had, only moments earlier, given an autograph.
Eight years later, another deadly celebrity-hound made the news when he shot to death Rebecca Schaeffer, an young actress who starred in a TV sitcom. Robert Bardo, Schaeffer's killer, spent considerable time and effort to find his prey, reported hiring a private investigator at one point and then tracking her through computer data banks. He lurked in front of her apartment for hours at a time. And when one day a delivery-person dropped off a package for her, Barto went to her door. She turned him away, he became agitated and went back to her door, and then, without saying a word, fired the fatal gunshot.
Director Steven Spielberg was harrassed by one Jonathan Norman, described after his 1997 arrest as a deadly, sex-crazed psychotic. Police found duct tape, handcuffs and a utility knife, as well as pictures of Spielberg, his wife and his seven children. A security guard testified at the Normal trial that Norman had been attmpting to enter Spielberg house on June 29th and again on July 11th, when he was was arrested.
Madonna, too, barely escaped harm at the hands of a psychotic celebrity hound named Robert Hoskins who managed several times to get onto her property and once got within ten feet of her. Hoskins was shot in a struggle with a bodyguard and in March of 1996, after a trial during which Madonna testified that he had threatened to kill her for rejecting his marriage proposals, Hoskins was sentenced to ten years in prison.
Late night comic David Letterman is another who had close encounters with an irrational admirer. 46-year-old Margaret Ray succeeded in breaking into Letterman’s Connecticut home when he was away, even sleeping in his bed, driving his Porsche, and claiming to be his wife. She was committed to a state mental institution and in October of 1998, not long after her release, commimtted suicide by placing herself in the way of a speeding train at Hotchkiss, Colorado.
The truly determined stalker is no mere nuisance but more often a deranged pursuer vicious enough to do serious harm. But in the case of Bakley, the tables were turned. It was she, not the star she managed to snare, that ended up dead.
And the "grieving" Bakley relatives - who didn't even bother to attend Bakley's California funeral - scarcely acted like a family that had lost a loved one. Their stories popped up in tabloids as fast as publishers could write checks. And instead of saying kind things about dear departed Bonny, they gave rambling and often conflicting stories about Blake, from whom they hoped eventually to collect money in a wrongful death civil suit.
"When someone dies, usually you start thinking, 'She wasn't really a bad person,'" ex-hubby and long-time partner Paul Gawron told the Enquirer. "But the truth is, Bonny really was." (14)
Bakley's own mother, Marjorie Lois Carlyon (left), was equally frank when she recalled an incident in which Bonny had submitted a crotch photo of herself to Husstler magazine in Carlyon's name. Bonny, said her mother, "has no shame." (15)
But ex-husband DeMart Besly - the retired Montana sheriff who fell for a typical Bakley con - was even more provocative in his assessment of the Bakley character. Bonny Bakley, he wrote in his memoir, would "fuck a snake if someone would hold its head." (16)
(1) See Jerry Lee biography online.
(3) Benjamin Svetkey with Allison Hope Weiner, "Dangerous Game: Bonny Lee Bakley's Obsession Went Beyond Robert Blake," 22 June 2001, issue no. 601. Print edition. The text of the Entertainment Weekly reort can be found on the left hand column, several screens down, at the Lou Christie fan page.
(4) North Carolina Times - The Carolinian, "Police: No suspects ruled out in killing" (Associated Press, 10 May 2001). Text no longer online.
(5) Gary C. King, Murder in Hollywood (previously cited), at pages 61-62.
(6) See also McDougal and Murphy, Blood Cold, previously cited, at page 189. This book also discusses in detail Bonny Bakley's obsessive dealings with Lewis and his entourage, including her expressed wish to "do in" Lewis's then-wife, Kerrie.
(6) See McDougal and Murphy, Blood Cold, previously cited, at pages 197-198.
(7) See Entertainment Weekly, as in note 3 above.
(8) See McDougal and Murphy, Blood Cold, previously cited, at pages 197-198.
(12) Jennifer Thomas, "Stolen Identity?" Palatka Daily News, Palatka (Putnam County) Florida, 19 February 2004 (cache: here). See also, Patricia Towle, "Robert Blake's Bonny Lee Stole my Identity!" National Enquirer, 10 February 2004, page 8. See also Steve Barnes, "On the Lam from Arkansas," 18 May 2001; re: Bakley and Stephanow, see Fox News, "Robert Blake Murder Mystery Thickens," 19 May 2001 and Linda Gail Lewis Biography (Google cached page).
(13) See Joal Ryan, "No Bail for Blake," E! Online, 1 May 2002. See also: Web Page on Bakley.
(15) McDougal and Murphy, Blood Cold, at page 120.
(16) McDougal and Murphy, Blood Cold, previously cited, at page 175.