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General News

Robert Blake arrested in wife's murder

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Mar 16, 2005 | 4:08pm EST

Actor Robert Blake was placed in segregated housing at the Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles today to await charges of murder in the slaying 11 months ago of his wife, Bonnie Lee Bakley.

The Emmy-winning actor was arrested on live television by detectives of the LAPD's Robbery-Homicide Division yesterday, culminating what police Chief Bernard Parks called the most expensive investigation in the department's history.

Police said Blake shot his wife to death on a Studio City street to end a marriage to a woman he loathed.

"We believe the motive is that Robert Blake had contempt for Bonny Bakley," said Robbery-Homicide Captain Jim Tatreau. "He felt that he was trapped in a marriage that he wanted no part of, and quite frankly the entire situation was not one of his liking at all."

Blake, 68, surrendered peacefully at the home of his daughter in Hidden Hills, and was driven in handcuffs to LAPD headquarters in downtown Los Angeles. In sharp contrast, his 46-year-old bodyguard was stopped by police while driving in Burbank and ordered to stretch spreadeagled on the ground before he was cuffed and taken away.

Earle Caldwell was booked on suspicion of conspiracy to commit murder in connection with Bakley's death. Bail for Caldwell was set at $1 million.

For Blake, accused of a capital crime, there was no bail. Parks said police will ask prosecutors to charge Blake with one count of murder for the slaying of his wife, as well as two counts of solicitation of murder.

The charges are expected to include the special circumstance allegation that Blake was lying in wait, which could make him eligible for the death penalty, said Robbery-Homicide Capt. Jim Tatreau.

LAPD officials were expected to present their case against Blake and Caldwell to prosecutors today, with a filing decision expected to be announced Monday, said Sandi Gibbons of the District Attorney's Office.

As of this morning, Blake was scheduled to appear in a Van Nuys courtroom at 8:30 a.m. Monday, according to the sheriff's department.

Booking information provided by the sheriff's department reflected that Blake was booked in the jail at the LAPD's Parker Center headquarters at 11:55 p.m. yesterday. He was transferred to sheriff's department custody a short time later.

At 12:50 a.m. today, Blake arrived at the sheriff's Inmate Reception Center at 450 Bauchet St. A visit to the reception center includes processing into the jail system, being informed about jail rules, undergoing a medical screening and receiving jail clothing, said sheriff's Sgt. Joe Efflandt .

At 2:52 a.m., Blake was transferred to the hospital floor of the Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles, sheriff's officials said.

He is being held on the hospital floor because segregated housing is available there, Efflandt said, adding that Blake was not suffering from any emergency medical condition.

Efflandt said inmates in all high-profile cases are placed in segregated housing, kept separate from the general jail population to minimize the risk of assault.

Blake was not under suicide watch as of this morning, a Men's Central Jail deputy said.

"The Bonnie Lee Bakley case is solved," Parks said yesterday at a news conference at police headquarters, adding that all other suspects had been "investigated and eliminated."

Parks, asserting "physical and significant circumstantial evidence" against Blake has been developed, said detectives traveled to 20 states as part of the most expensive investigation in the department's history.

Police believe Blake pulled the trigger, and that Caldwell was out of town at the time of Bakley's death, Tatreau said. Police would not discuss Caldwell's alleged role in the crime.

Tatreau told reporters that evidence presented by Blake's attorney, Harlan Braun, contributed to the time it took to come to a conclusion about Bakley's death.

"These leads had to be resolved,"he said. Now, he said, "We believe we have an excellent case."

Braun defended the move to ask police to investigate other leads surrounding Bakley's background, saying that Bakley "had an extensive history and there were people in her past" who needed to be investigated.

Blake has been under a cloud of suspicion for a year, since his 44-year-old wife was shot to death while sitting in the couple's car outside a Studio City restaurant called Vitello's.

He told police he had gone back to the Italian eatery--a pasta there on the menu was named for the regular customer--to retrieve a handgun that had slipped out of his waistband while he was eating. He said when he returned to his black Stealth he found his wife fatally shot.

Later, a German-made .38-caliber Walther PPK was found in a trash bin near where Bakley was shot. A truck driver who hauled away the bin said detectives told him the gun was well-oiled and covered in dust.

Bakley was described by friends as a celebrity seeker. She initially believed that her latest child, who was born June 1, 2000, was fathered by Christian Brando, son of actor Marlon Brando.

But DNA testing showed Blake was the father, and the two were married in November that year. They lived separately at his Studio City property, which he called "Mata Hari Ranch."

Before marrying Blake, Bakley reportedly had to strike a deal with her parole officer in Arkansas, where she had been convicted of possessing fake identification. She signed an agreement with Blake not to conduct any criminal enterprises out of his home, but may not have kept her part of the bargain.

The Morristown, N.J., native had a criminal record for a 1989 drug-related arrest in Tennessee, where she associated herself with singer Jerry Lee Lewis and his sister.

Bakley kept extensive records, including recorded telephone conversations with Blake in which he accused her of lying to him about birth control and getting pregnant on purpose to get him to marry her.

In the past, she had made a living selling nude photographs of herself and others to men nationwide in exchange for promised visits, officials have said. Blake has steadfastly denied any connection with Bakley's killing, and theorized that the killer could have been someone from her checkered past.

The actor moved away from his Studio City home following his wife's slaying and had been living with his eldest daughter while caring for his daughter with Bakley, "Rosie."

Wearing a white sweatshirt and a green baseball cap, a handcuffed Blake was placed into the back seat of a white unmarked Ford Crown Victoria about 6:25 p.m. yesterday, then driven from the gated community of Hidden Hills some 30 miles to the police headquarters downtown, where he arrived at 7:12 p.m.

Best known for his role in the old TV cop series Baretta, Blake gained his early fame as the cold-blooded killer Perry Smith in the film of Truman Capote's nonfiction novel, In Cold Blood, about the murders of a rural Kansas farm family.

He also appeared in Our Gang movie shorts as a child, portrayed a Mexican boy in Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and played Little Beaver in 32 of the Red Ryder cowboy films.

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