Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Who Murdered Bonny Lee Bakley?


Robert Blake was born Michael Gubitosi at 8:30 a.m. on September 18, 1933 in Nutley, New Jersey, to an abusive alcoholic father and a mother who showed him little affection. He was soon dubbed "Mickey," a name that would stay with him until executives at a major motion picture studio later in life advised him to change his name to Robert Blake. Blake's parents, James and Elizabeth Gubitosi, performed a song and dance routine to try and make ends meet, all the while holding onto hopeful dreams that they could put their children into show business and that their children's successes, particularly Mickey's, might replace their own failures. It was in that vein that they decided to move Mickey, still a toddler, and his two older siblings, a brother and a sister, to Los Angeles where they were determined to get them into the movies.

They succeeded, but it wasn't until 1939, while Mickey was still five-years-old. He began appearing in MGM's Our Gang series of short features as "Little Mickey," and was billed under his own name of Mickey Gubitosi. As he began to grow up in a poor Catholic community, he worked regularly for a few years until he had grown out of the child role that the Our Gang series had called for. However, he was more fortunate than most child actors in that he continued to work, albeit sporadically, despite the problems he faced at home. Sexual and physical abuse, not to mention the psychological abuse that went along with them, was regularly inflicted on his young, impressionable mind and body by his parents. Beatings were a regular occurrence, creating a life of desperation and disparity for young Blake.

"They locked me in a closet and left me there all day long," Blake told a reporter in the early 1990s. "They made me eat on the floor like a dog... my parents were committably insane."

His father died at age 48, and when he grew older Blake became estranged from his mother and had no communication with her for 30 years. She died in the late 1980s without ever patching things up with her son.

"My father was a sadistic madman and alcoholic who killed himself when he was 48 years old," Blake said. "My mother was equally bad, if not worse, because she saw what was happening and did nothing about it. She even encouraged him to lock me in closets for days, to tie me up like a dog, to make me eat on the floor, to sexually abuse me... My whole life was being a whipping boy for a very diseased, terrible household... I lived in a terrible asylum, and they wanted me dead. That's where I came from... Every time anything good happened to me," Blake said, "I had to throw it away and say, 'Don't worry. I'll be garbage. Even in your grave you don't have to worry. I'll remain garbage so you'll be happy.'"

Unable to cope with his anguish, anger, and pain, Blake enlisted in the army as a mechanism to try to leave his past life behind. His deep-seated anger was still there, however, and it gave rise to more problems for the young man trying so desperately to find himself.

While stationed in Alaska, a lieutenant ordered him to clean up his messy footlocker. Blake refused.

"Watch this!" Blake recalled telling the lieutenant as he picked up the heavy footlocker and heaved it out of an upstairs barracks window. "Then I started laughing like a madman... I picked up the gun and was suicidal, so they put me in the nut house."

During his tour of military duty in Alaska, Blake fell deeply in love with a 16-year-old girl who lived near the base. Because of the girl's father's disapproval over the relationship and the fact that her father wanted Blake prosecuted for statutory rape, Blake, again by his own admission, began plotting her father's murder.

"I know firsthand how it feels to have the mind of a killer, because I nearly became a murderer myself," Blake said. "...I went crazy. I just didn't know I was crazy. In a sense her father wanted to take my life. So in my mind, I decided to take his first."

Robert Blake
Robert Blake

After he had made the decision to commit the murder, Blake began stalking the girl's father, watching him at every opportunity.

"The night I went to do it," he continued, "I felt perfectly sane. I arrived at the trailer just before dark and sat inside, freezing to death, just waiting. I kept thinking, 'No one will know I did this.' Finally he came out, walked down the path and around the car. My heart raced with excitement. He put his keys in to open the door and had his back to me, no more than 30 feet away. I raised the gun and put my finger on the trigger. My hand was as steady as could be. I was going to kill him."

With his intended victim clearly in his gun's sights, Blake said that he saw the door of the house open, and out stepped the girl that he loved.

"She walked down the path and handed her father a Thermos he'd forgotten," Blake said.  "And then she put her arms up to his shoulders and kissed him. The moment she kissed him, I said to myself — 'She loves him.' And something made me put the gun down. (She) went inside, her father drove off and I went back to my barracks. It was over. But I have no doubt that if she'd opened the door three seconds later, I would have killed him."

Blake was 21 when he got out of the army and that, he said, is when "the shit really hit the fan." His childhood, what little he had of it, was by then legally over, and the few good memories he had of his early days that kept him going had faded away. In his own words he claimed that he "was as close to being in a living hell as I ever want to get." He began to withdraw into himself, and would spend days at a time locked inside a room by himself, afraid to have contact with anyone and fearful of doing anything. Blake began to hate himself, and began having thoughts of suicide.

"I couldn't even get myself to go into a drugstore and buy a pack of razor blades to cut my wrists with..." Blake told Playboy magazine in an interview several years ago. "...I hated myself, hated everything. I felt useless and worthless, had no friends, no love, no career, no education, no parents and no tomorrows. It all added up to nothing."

In his efforts to stop hurting himself and to try and develop self-love, something he had rarely if ever experienced, Blake entered psychotherapy. Although it was somewhat intensive, results did not come quickly. Blake was so drawn inward that his accomplishments came about in small steps. Although progress came slowly for Blake, it did come. By the time he was in his third year of therapy, Blake had overcome much of his fear and had established enough confidence to go into a restaurant to eat on occasion.

"When I was finally able to go into a restaurant and feel like I had a right to pick up a menu and order a meal," Blake said, "Christ, it was like becoming a brain surgeon. I started doin' that and a whole lot of other things in the middle of my second year of therapy, and comin' into the third year, I was strokin'. I was studyin' acting full time, doin' plays, workin', goin' to college at night and fuckin' everything that walked. I was cookin'!"

After he made significant progress in getting his life back together, Blake returned to television where he found work in supporting roles on Fireside Theater and other similar shows, all while he was still in his twenties. He also turned out a very fine performance in the 1959 film, Pork Chop Hill, and another in 1961's Town Without Pity.

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