Life of Bonny Lee Bakley, Murdered Wife of Actor Robert Blake

Bonny Lee Bakley smiles warmly in a PR photo, surrounded by angelic blond curls

Ho / Reuters

Bonny Lee Bakley was not a good girl. She was a con artist who used sex and deception to bilk men—many of the rich and famous—out of their money, and their children out of their inheritance. She was shot to death in May 2001 and her husband at the time, actor Robert Blake, was charged with the crime. Still, there was a long list of other people with a motive.

Bakley's Childhood Years

Bonny Lee Bakley was born June 7, 1956 in Morristown, New Jersey. As a young girl, her dreams were similar to others her age, to one day become rich and famous. Perhaps her impoverished home helped to drive these fantasies. Or, perhaps the desire to leave her hometown and begin her road to stardom grew deeper after she suffered from sexual abuse by her father. Whatever the cause, her drive for stardom became a blind obsession.

Marriage for Profit

It is believed that Bakley felt ostracized as a child for being poor. She grew to be an attractive teen. She decided to try modeling, and she signed on with a nearby agency. Through the agency,​ she met an immigrant named Evangelos Paulakis, who was desperate to stay in the U.S. and needed to get married to do so. Bakley agreed to marry him for a price, but not long after the two shared "I dos," Bakley, with the money safely tucked away, ended the marriage, and Paulakis was picked by the authorities and deported.

After high school, Bakley headed to New York to begin her climb to stardom. She started calling herself Lee Bonny. She managed to get various small modeling jobs, and even worked as an extra in a few movies. But her goal of becoming a star was not happening. So, she set her attention on other ways to achieve, if not stardom, the fortune that came with it. Her focus switched from becoming a star to marrying one.

Bakley's Sex Scam Business

In her mid-twenties, Bakley married her cousin, Paul Gawron, a laborer who was street tough and prone to violent behavior. They had two children who Gawron mainly cared for while Bakley worked toward her new endeavor, a mail-order business that focused on scamming lonely men out of money. Had Bakley not chosen a less-than-desirable avenue, her entrepreneurial spirit mixed with her ability to market, organize, and profit in a highly competitive industry could have been admirable.

Gawron and Bakley had a twisted and volatile marriage. Bakley, who was busy scamming money from men, sometimes in the couple's bedroom, was satisfied to let Gawron stay home. He seemed to enjoy not having to work. But, by 1982, the marriage ended. Bakley's obsession to be in the inner circles of the famous mixed with the fact that she was not getting any younger. This motivated her decision to leave her kids in Gawron's care and head to Memphis, Tennessee, to the door of musical artist, Jerry Lee Lewis.

Bakley Stalks Jerry Lee Lewis

Bakley's money-making sex schemes coupled with her use of stolen credit cards and identification kept her mobile, and she was able to fly to locations where Jerry Lee Lewis was performing. Bordering stalking, Bakley would often crash parties and show up at performances just to get in closer to Lewis. Finally, the two met around 1982, and a friendship developed.

Jerry Lee Lewis and Bakley remained friends until Bakley became pregnant and told everyone that the child's father was Jerry Lee Lewis and that he was leaving his wife to marry her. When the child was born, Bakley named her Jerry Lee and put on the ​​birth certificate, "father undetermined." The friendship between Lewis and Bakley ended and baby Jerry Lee was sent to live with Bakley's ex-husband and her other children. Later it was discovered that Bakley made death threats against Lewis's wife.

Bakley's "Anything Goes" Policy

Bakley's address book filled up with names, some famous and some just rich. Names such as Robert DeNiro, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Jimmy Swaggart were found among the list. Bakley's sex business became bolder, and she advertised in sex magazines that she was a "tri-sexual," meaning she would try anything once and her preference was sadomasochism, couple's sex, and bisexuality. She swindled men out of hundreds of thousands of dollars with her "anything goes" claims.

Bakley was arrested for trying to write bad checks to the tune of $200,000 and was sentenced to report to a penal farm on weekends for three years. In Arkansas, she was arrested for carrying more than 30 fake identifications and was placed on probation. When she completed her sentence in Tennessee, and her friendship with Lewis was over, she decided it was time to leave the South, and she headed to the land of fame and stardom—Hollywood.

Bakley and Robert Blake Tie the Knot

Bonny continued running sex scams in magazines, and dating a few stars, one being Christian Brando. How she and "Baretta" star Robert Blake met, depends on who you ask. Bakley's sister said they met at a jazz club and bonded from across the room. Blake's attorney said Robert Blake did not even know her name and they had sex in the back of a truck, never in his home. Whatever is the truth, one thing was for certain; it was not a match made in heaven.

Shortly after the affair began, Bakley told Blake that she was pregnant. Sources say Bakley was taking fertility pills as a way to trap the star into her web. When the baby was born, she named her Christian Shannon Brando and listed Brando as the father. A paternity test later proved the father to be Blake. Bonny Lee and Robert Blake married in November 2000, and Bonny moved into a guest house on the property.

Bakley's Murder

After only six months of marriage, in May 2001, Blake and Bakley went to dinner at Vitello's Italian Restaurant, where Blake was a regular customer. After dinner, the two walked to their car. According to Blake, he realized he left his revolver at the restaurant and left to retrieve it. When he returned to the car, he found Bakley with a gunshot wound to her head, dying in the front seat. Blake ran for help, but Bakley soon died.

After a year of investigations, Blake was arrested and charged with the murder of Bonny Lee Bakley. On March 15, 2005, a jury of seven women and five men deliberated for more than 36 hours before returning a verdict of not guilty in the murder of his wife and not guilty on one count of soliciting someone to murder her. 

Although acquitted in criminal court, the "Baretta" star was not so lucky in civil court, where a verdict does not need to be unanimous. A civil jury decided 10 to 2 that the tough-guy actor was behind the slaying and ordered him to pay Bonny Lee Bakley’s four children $30 million.

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Montaldo, Charles. "Life of Bonny Lee Bakley, Murdered Wife of Actor Robert Blake." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Montaldo, Charles. (2023, April 5). Life of Bonny Lee Bakley, Murdered Wife of Actor Robert Blake. Retrieved from Montaldo, Charles. "Life of Bonny Lee Bakley, Murdered Wife of Actor Robert Blake." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 6, 2023).