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20 years


April 22, 2002

By Jon Christian Ryter
Copyright 2002 - All Rights Reserved
To distribute this article, please post this web address or hyperlink

     Well, it took eleven months. And, what most of America expected to happen on May 5, 2001 finally happened on April 18, 2002: former Baretta TV star Robert Blake was arrested for the murder of his estranged wife, Bonnie Lee Bakley after her cold-blooded murder on May 4, 2001, Bakley was shot to death in Blake’s car a block and a half from the Studio City restaurant where the unhappily married couple had dined minutes before.
     As the Los Angeles police department began to investigate the murder of Bakley on the night of May 4 the ghost of the O.J. Simpson “investigation” shrouded it like a gray cloud of doom. It was, after all, another celebrity murder—even though Blake, who has been long out of the public limelight for several years, is a celebrity only because the nostalgic satellite TV network TV Land has made him one by airing old reruns of his popular TV series, Baretta, to a generation that never knew him.
     Then as the LAPD prepared to arrest Blake (something they should have done a day after the murder when his alibi fell apart) they wanted to make up for the bad press they received from their much publicized arrest of football great O.J. Simpson—so they went public. By going “public” the LAPD leaked information to the media that they were about to arrest actor Robert Blake and his former body guard Earle Caldwell. Caldwell was arrested after being stopped in his white RV in a made-for-TV event that was somewhat reminiscent of the famous “slow speed” O.J. Simpson car chase. Blake was apprehended in his new home in the gated community of Hidden Hills—almost like he thought the “gates” would keep the LAPD out when they came for him.
     It’s hard to believe that Blake could have, even for a moment, imagined that his celeb-status would protect him from being arrested even though he had to think, for eleven months, that it had.
     Caldwell, who was taken into custody under the glare of helicopter mounted news cameras, has apparently confessed to the LAPD that his former boss and friend had tried to hire him to kill Bonnie Lee Bakley because Blake was afraid if he divorced her that she would gain custody of their daughter. Since it is now clear that Bakley was operating a “soft porn” business from Blake’s home—and also operated a telephone sex business—the odds were very good that, with a good lawyer, Blake would have had little trouble securing custody. Now Blake will need a very good lawyer just to keep from getting the death sentence for her murder.

The LAPD is Nervous
     The LAPD is understandably nervous since they do not fare well in celebrity murder trials. (Americans idolize their athletic heroes and movie stars to such a degree that they can forgive them of just about everything.) During the Vietnam War communist-sympathizer movie actress “Hanoi Jane” Fonda went to Hanoi to offer comfort to the Viet Cong. Had she been Betty Sue Smith or Billy Bob Smith from Podunk, Mississippi, the common ordinary citizen would have been arrested, tried and convicted of treason—or at least, providing aid and comfort to an enemy of the United States. But, because Fonda was a celebrity from a celebrity movie family, she escaped unscathed. Admittedly, Jane Fonda never took a gun and shot a loved one, or took a knife and stabbed and slashed anyone to death. She is, however, a celebrity who escaped retribution for an act deliberately initiated against her country during a time of war solely because she was a celebrity. That is wrong. All of us, celebrity or invisible citizen, is responsible for the actions we commit; and if those actions violate the laws of this great nation, then we must be held to task for those misdeeds.

The Difference Between Then and Now
     There is a major difference between what will become the Blake Murder Trial and the “Trial of the Century” where football great and second-rate movie star O.J. Simpson was arrested and placed on trial for the June 12, 1994 bloody murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and her lover, Ron Goldman, outside Nicole Brown Simpson’s Brentwood condominium.
     Even though 90% of “White America” believed Simpson was guilty of the stabbing/slashing deaths of his ex-wife and Goldman (and 90% of the nation’s African-American population is convinced he was innocent), logic suggests that O.J. Simpson was systematically being framed by an overzealous LAPD investigative team that was so convinced of his guilt from the first minutes at the crime scene that they manipulated the evidence to agree with their theory. Added to that was a prosecutorial team which knew the “crime of the century” would serve as a boost to their careers—not to mention the money that would be made from book deals once Simpson was found guilty.
     And, while the “evidence” as presented by the LA Prosecuting Attorney’s office screamed that Simpson was guilty, logic shouted just as loudly that he was being framed. Nobody, however, listened to the logic since America has been conditioned to believe that the “scientific evidence” never lies. That is, unless the scientific evidence is planted.
     Anyone who listened closely during the preliminary hearing, when evidence was offered to support the prosecution’s contention that O.J. Simpson killed his estranged wife and restaurant server Ron Goldman who was returning Nicole Simpson’s glasses to her that evening, realized that the police had arrested the wrong person based entirely on the testimony offered by one individual during that hearing when Simpson was bound over for trial before Superior Court Judge Lance Ito. That testimony was ignored because as anyone who has ever fished for trophy-sized fish knows, you never bait your hook for a minnow when you can snag a marlin.
     And, when bureaucratic careers are at stake, and the media has already convicted the accused, you are all but obligated to prove the media is right.

The Case Against Blake
     The media in this case took care not to brand Blake as the murderer even though any astute Agatha Christie mystery fan had already concluded he was. Six hours after the murder the police found the murder weapon—a vintage German .38 caliber pistol. The serial number had been filed off and was not visible to the naked eye. However, technology being what it is today, the police lab was able to use acid to retrieve it. The gun was traced to Blake. However, ever-mindful of the Simpson debacle, the LAPD bided their time and amassed what was reported to be 500 pieces of evidence that would prove, without a doubt, that Robert Blake did, with malice of forethought, plan and ultimately execute, his wife Bonnie Lee Bakley expressly to assure his custodial rights of their daughter.
     The State slowly and meticulously gathered the evidence they needed to arrest Blake. In their search they found at least one person other than Caldwell whom Blake tried to hire to kill Bakley. Bakley, who suspected that her estranged husband was planning to have her killed, alerted every friend and family member she had that if anything happened to her that the police needed to look no farther than her husband to find the killer. Very likely that was why Blake sought “outside” help that would allow him to establish an alibi by which he could prove he was elsewhere when the unfortunate tragedy occurred.
     That triggered a series of events which would likewise point the finger of guilt in his direction when doing nothing would have helped blur the question of that guilt.
     Blake, who ate at Vitello’s Restaurant in North Hollywood once or twice each week, never made a reservation before showing up. And, in all of the time that Blake—a celebrity—dined there, he never had to wait for a table. Yet, on May 4, 2001 he called and made a reservation for dinner. Further, everytime Blake arrived at the restaurant (that was located six blocks from his North Hollywood home), he used the valet parking. On May 4 he parked a block and a half away from the restaurant in an alley beside a dumpster that blocked his car from sight from any passersby. And Blake who, according to Bakley’s friends, had not a kind word to speak to Bonnie Lee in almost a year, treated her lovingly throughout dinner. (One could almost imagine that he wanted her “last meal” to be a pleasant experience since the aftermath would not be.)
     Since he knew he would likely come under suspicion for her death, Blake appears to have been trying to circumstantially establish that he and Bakley were coming to grips with their problems and that they were attempting a reconciliation of their marriage for “the sake of the baby,” thus eliminating any motive he might have for wanting her dead.
     The evidence presented by the Prosecuting Attorney will likely show that when Blake and Bakley returned to their car, Bakley got in on the passenger side. Blake perhaps even started to get in, facing her across the seat. At that moment the prosecution will likely attempt to show, Blake pulled his handgun and shot and killed her. He then walked another block or so and disposed of the murder weapon. He then returned to Vitello’s Restaurant and asked for a glass of water. No one at the restaurant remembers Blake saying he inadvertently left his handgun at his table, or that anyone searched for it. Yet, in his story to the police, Blake said he left his handgun in the restaurant and, leaving Bonnie Bakley in the car alone, he returned to Vitello’s to get his gun. When he returned to the car he discovered that Bakley had been shot.
     During their investigation, the LAPD learned that, during the meal, Blake left the table where he went to the men’s room and began to vomit. He then returned to the table and continued eating his dinner. What’s wrong with that picture? If you have ever gotten nauseated during a meal to the point that you were forced to throw up what you were eating, you know you don’t return to the table and eat more. Yet, Blake did. It is the conclusion of the LAPD that Blake, knowing that he was only minutes away from killing his wife, became nervous and threw up his meal.
     Returning to the table, and needing to keep up the charade, he sat down and finished his meal. He knew he could pull it off because he was, after all, a polished movie actor. And, this was going to be the Academy Award winning performance of his lifetime.
     As in the O.J. Simpson case—but for entirely different reasons—Blake was the only viable suspect in the Bakley killing. And, unlike the Simpson case where the police investigators never looked beyond the former football great, it is beginning to appear that, over the past eleven months, the LAPD traveled to 20 States to conduct interviews with those on Bonnie Lee Bakley’s sex mailing list to see if it appeared that Bakley had been blackmailing any of them—as suggested by friends and attorneys for Blake (based on statements argued by Blake and Caldwell.

The LAPD’s Biggest Investigative Boondoogle
     There is no doubt that the Nicole Brown Simpson murder investigation was the biggest, most expensive investigative boondoogle up to that time, and the LAPD wanted to make sure it did not repeat it’s past errors. Thus far, with all the travel-related expenses spent to physically investigate, and then eliminate every possible “suspect” before arresting Blake, the Los Angeles police racked up the biggest tab ever spent to investigate an LA County murder—exceeding the amount spent for the DNA testing of the Simpson-Goldman crime scene and OJ’s Brentwood mansion, and the high profile witnesses that were used to rebut the witnesses for the defense.

The Warning Flags
     Great big red warning flags went up during the six day preliminary hearing in the municipal courtroom of Judge Kathleen Kennedy-Powell, but nobody noticed because the media had already concluded that O.J. Simpson, in a jealous rage, killed his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and restaurant worker Ron Goldman when he stumbled into the crime scene while returning Simpson’s eye glasses which she inadvertently left at the restaurant.
     Traditionally, prosecuting attorneys do not expose more evidence than they have to during a preliminary hearing that binds the defendant over for trial in Superior Court. Thus, the DNA evidence that the State would present as conclusive evidence that O.J. Simpson killed his ex-wife and an unfortunate visitor to her home somewhere around 9 p.m. on June 12, 1994 was not presented in the preliminary hearing. All the State had to show was that a preponderance of the evidence presented suggested there was reason to hold the defendant over for trial—not that he was innocent or guilty. In this case, one of their star witnesses was a young freeloader named Brian “Kato” Kaelin who lived in a bungalow behind O.J.’s house. What is interesting is that prior to moving to O.J.’s estate, Kaelin was a house guest/former lover of Nicole’s. Kaelin’s testimony was needed to show that O.J. had “disappeared” from his home long enough—and at precisely the right time—to have committed the crime.
     But Kaelin’s testimony, supported by the other witnesses during the preliminary hearing—but not presented during the actual trial—initially raised the warning flag that perhaps there had been a rush to judgment, and the State should have been investigating other people...perhaps the lovable Kato Kaelin.
     In establishing his own “alibi” where he was during the critical 9 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. time slot when the State maintains the crime had to have been committed (since O.J., who was seen by Kaelin at 9:36 p.m. at Simpson’s Rockingham Drive mansion, was waiting on a limo to take him to the airport for a flight to Chicago where Simpson was scheduled to represent Ford Motor Company at a golf tournament) Kaelin told police that he was talking to a couple of his girl friends on the telephone from around 9 p.m. until shortly around 11 pm except when he saw Simpson—wearing a dark sweat suit—in the yard of his home at 9:36 p.m.
     But, what was interesting was a small portion of Kaelin’s conversation with the girl friend at around 10:45 p.m. As they were talking, Kaelin suddenly asked the girl: “Was there just an earthquake?” The girl said there was not. Kaelin replied: “That’s strange. I just heard three loud thuds on the back wall, and the picture on my wall moved about six inches.” First, earthquakes don’t produce thuds. They produce tremors which are not visible only on one wall, but everywhere. Kaelin, who had lived in California long enough to experience more than one tremor, would have known that. His question, then, is suspect. Had it ended there, Kaelin’s question could have been dismissed as Kaelin stupidity, an act he tried hard to project. But it didn’t end there.
     When Allan Park, the limo driver showed up around 10:45 p.m. to pick up Simpson, it was Kaelin who opened the gate and admitted him to the property. Not content with his girl friend’s assurances that there had been no earthquake, Kaelin then asked the same question of Parks: “Was there just an earthquake this evening?” Parks, like Kaelin’s girl friend, said there had not been. And, once again, Kaelin said: “That’s strange. A few minutes ago, I heard three loud thuds on the back wall of my apartment, and the picture on my wall moved about six inches.” Park assured Kaelin that, to the best of his knowledge, there had been no tremors.
     Kaelin apparently belonged to the old “Readers’ Digest” school of adage that says if you like a word, use it three times and it’s yours. Kaelin appears to have wanted to convince someone that an earthquake had happened, or that the three thumps on his back wall signified that someone had been behind his apartment—a narrow walkway that was shrouded with overgrown vegetation—and had bumped into the window air conditioning unit and perhaps then had fallen against the back wall of the building as they were disposing of something back there.
     At least, that is what LAPD Detective Mark Fuhrman thought when he and Detectives Tom Lange, Philip Vannatter and Ron Phillips invaded the Simpson mansion without a search warrant because Fuhrman was convinced from the moment he realized that the victim was Simpson’s ex-wife, that Simpson was the killer. Fuhrman knocked on Kaelin’s door. And, almost before Fuhrman could explain what he was doing there, Kaelin asked: “Was there an earthquake this evening?”
     Fuhrman, like Kaelin’s girl friend and Allan Park, said there had not been. By this time it should have been obvious that Kaelin was not trying to convince himself that an earthquake had occurred, but was attempting to convey information. And Fuhrman, who was already convinced that Simpson was guilty, was ready to receive any information that would help him prove it. And, obligingly, Kaelin helped. “That’s strange. When I was talking to my girl friend an hour or so ago, I heard three loud thuds on the back wall, and the picture on my wall moved about six inches.”
     But what was most strange of all is that back wall Kaelin kept mentioning was constructed from concrete block. It would have taken an Israeli bulldozer to move that picture. But, nobody was interested in that fact. Fuhrman took the bait and made his way behind the building, brushing aside cobwebs (that should have suggested there had been no one there) as he worked his way through the overgrowth and found the incriminating bloody glove that would be a key piece of evidence against Simpson since both Nicole Brown Simpson’s and Ron Goldman’s blood was found on it. As far as Fuhrman, Lange and Vannatter were concerned, they had their man.
     While several books have already been written by advocates on both sides of the O.J. flap, reams have been written on the comedy of errors committed not only by the crime scene investigators, but by Dr. Sathyavagiswaran Lakshmanan the LA County Coroner who not only destroyed volumes of evidence, but mishandled the autopsy which was necessary to establish the time of death of Goldman and Brown-Simpson. There was also a well-founded suspicion that Detective Philip Vannatter actually planted blood evidence in order to further incriminate Simpson.
     When Simpson returned home on June 13, he was handcuffed and taken into custody by the LAPD (but not arrested). While being questioned, Simpson was asked for a blood sample for DNA purposes. Simpson was told that if he was innocent, his blood would not match any of the samples found at the crime scene. Simpson voluntarily gave a vial of blood. Present was Vannatter. Instead of the lab techs turning the blood over to the CSI technicians across the hall, Vannatter put the vial of blood in his pocket and took it to both Brown-Simpson’s condominium and Simpson’s Rockingham residence. When he returned it the CSI technicians later that day, there were 3ccs of blood missing. This single piece of evidence was so damning on the State that they refused to present either the CSI technician or the tech who drew the blood during the trial.
     Surprisingly, Judge Lance Ito allowed the tech who drew the blood to testify via video tape, without allowing the defense to cross examine him, why 3ccs of blood was missing from the vial. A speck of Simpson’s blood showed up on the incriminating glove—which shockingly did not fit Simpson when the prosecution forced him to “try it on” in open court, and a couple of drops of Simpson’s blood showed up on the 13th on the sidewalk outside Brown-Simpson’s apartment, and two drops showed up at Simpson’s Rockingham home. But the most damning, and easiest piece of tampering to prove came from the “socks” in O.J.’s bedroom that did not show up when the CSI photographer videotaped the room, but showed up a couple of hours later on the floor in front of O.J.’s bed. The infamous sock contained blood stains belonging to both Ron Goldman and Nicole Simpson.
     The State argued that the blood ended up on the sock when Simpson killed his ex-wife and her guest. The problem was, as was proven by forensic expert Dr. Henry Lee, the blood stain was artificially dabbed on the sock and the stain penetrated the inside fibers on the other side of the sock—something that could not happen if a foot was in the sock when it was splattered with blood during the commission of the crime.
     While uncovering the fact that much of the evidence against Simpson was manufactured does not prove that O.J. Simpson was innocent of the crime, it did wave a series of red warning flags that the LAPD and the Prosecuting Attorney chose to ignore because convicting a celebrity would have enhanced their careers. The onus was on the State to prove, with untainted evidence, that Simpson did orchestrate the deaths of his ex-wife and Ron Goldman.
     Looking at the O.J. investigation in retrospect, someone at the LAPD had to be thinking that possibly Kato Kaelin should have been questioned more as a suspect and less like a “gift horse.” Fuhrman, under oath in the trial testified that he did look in Kaelin’s garbage to see if he had thrown away bloody clothes. It is, however, unlikely that the LAPD will ever re-open the Simpson case not because, as they say, because they know they got the right man, but because of the embarrassment it would cause them—after destroying O.J. Simpson’s life—to have to admit they prosecuted the wrong man. It’s a safe bet that if someone walked into police headquarters and tried to confess to the crime, they would not record the confession nor take the person into custody.

Why an Eleven Month Investigation
     And that is the reason the LAPD has taken eleven months investigating the Bonnie Bakley murder. They were convinced, on May 5, 2001 that Baretta star Robert Blake was the killer. But they cannot afford, once again, to be accused of a rush to judgment. For that reason, they took the time to nail down every facet of the case before taking Blake into custody. It is not, as has been suggested by the media, that the State of California has a “weak” case and, other than the murder weapon, only weak circumstantial evidence.
     I think the State will be able to easily convince a jury that Blake, who failed in at least two attempts to hire the job done, finally took it upon himself to plan the deed and execute his wife on May 4, 2001. The defense will argue that because of Bakley’s seedy lifestyle, that any number of her porn clients—some of whom, they suggest, were blackmailed by Bakley—could have killed her and that, in fact, that was Blake’s fear...and the reason he carried a handgun. He wanted to be able to protect her from those potential (although invisible and likely fictitious) assailants.
     Blake’s biggest problem was that he has always snubbed his thumb—or forefinger—at society. He believed he was smarter than those who would naturally look in his direction, and since he wrote the script for the final days of Bonnie Bakley’s life, and then acted it out on center stage, he was convinced the movie-going public would buy it—and his grief over the loss of a woman he detested but was afraid to divorce.
     You might say that Blake was caught by Baretta.
     If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.



Just Say No
Copyright 2009 Jon Christian Ryter.
All rights reserved