Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Who Murdered Bonny Lee Bakley?

The Ex-Wife

In 1961 Blake married actress Sondra Kerr. They had two children together, Noah and Delinah.  Noah, now 36, is a singer and an actor, and Delinah, now 34, is studying for her doctorate degree in psychology. Sondra gave up acting for approximately six years after the children were born, but eventually returned to work. People at the time didn't think the marriage would last six months.

Sondra Kerr, Blake's ex-wife
Sondra Kerr, Blake's ex-wife

"Our marriage started out as a fuckin' 14-carat disaster," Blake once said. Despite a good deal of fighting and arguing, it looked like they might make it, for a while.

"...We'd get into terrible, sick fights and days of torturing each other with a lot of unhealthy dependency," Blake said. "Because we weren't able to live our own lives, we were being consumed by our neurotic needs rather than by our love. I expected all the things I didn't get as a kid from her, all of the things she needed, she expected from me. And, indeed, I tried to give them to her."

Nonetheless, the marriage didn't work, although it lasted longer than most Hollywood marriages. They separated in 1982 and were divorced the following year.

"The nature of their relationship was up, down, up, down," their son, Noah, said recently.  "They were both very opinionated. It wasn't like Ozzie and Harriet."

According to those who knew Robert Blake and his first wife, Sondra Kerr, Sondra was terrified of her husband and lived in near constant fear of him. This seemed especially true during their final years together after Blake accused her of having an affair with actor Steve Railsback when they made the television movie Helter Skelter together in 1976, and in which Railsback portrayed Charles Manson.

"It was the only time she broke her marriage vows after nearly 20 years as a devoted and loyal wife despite Blake's affairs with many actresses," a friend of Sondra's told reporters. "But he couldn't take it. I think the idea of her in the arms of another man drove him crazy. She forgave him for all his waywardness, but he couldn't forgive her."

According to Sondra's friend, their 1982 divorce dispute was bitter, and was centered around alimony and custody of the children, as most divorces are. But their battle was short-lived, purportedly because Blake had intimidated Sondra into giving up the children and most of the marital assets as well.

"He soon persuaded her to see things his way," the friend alleged, according to the Globe. "He simply terrorized her into giving him total custody of their two kids. Once, when she told me that she tried to see them, he forced a gun in her mouth and then to her head, and screamed, 'If you try to see them again, I'll blow your head off!' She was absolutely terrified of him because he had threatened to kill her on more than one occasion. I think he got his way over custody and the divorce settlement by pure intimidation. He kept the kids and barred her from seeing them again and kept virtually all of their assets."

On another occasion Blake purportedly held a loaded gun to Sondra's head and forced her to tell their children that she did not love them and that she wanted them to remain with their father.

"Not being able to see her children broke Sondra's heart," her friend said. "Blake poisoned their minds, convincing them that she was the cause of their breakup because of her infidelity with Railsback. He told them their mother was a whore and they must never see her again."

According to Sondra's friends, the physical and mental abuse that purportedly was inflicted upon her by Blake over the years nearly destroyed her, both spiritually and financially.

"Sondra says that from the time the kids were just babies, things were not well with her and Robert," one of her friends told reporters. "He cheated on her and treated her terribly. He was using drugs, abusing alcohol and trying to come to grips with his fame. All the while Sondra was at home, trying to protect their babies. But she didn't want to leave him. It was a classic case of keeping the family together for the sake of the children."

Prior to their divorce, Sondra had a promising career in television and the movies. After the divorce, however, her career took a nose-dive from which it did not recover. She rented a small apartment in Studio City, not far from where Bonny Lee Bakley was murdered, when the children were still small so that she could try and keep an eye on them and occasionally see them if they happened to pass by. She was otherwise not allowed to see them, and didn't push the issue out of her fear of Blake.

"To this day, Sondra is scared to death of Robert," said one of her friends, according to the Star. "She speaks about him only in very hushed tones. She's worked at a series of odd jobs and appears in small theater productions, always getting rave reviews. But she's never been able to put her life back together after what Robert did to her... Sondra told me that when she heard the news about Blake's new wife being murdered, a chill went down her spine. She said, 'I knew all along something like that could happen to me.'"

Shortly after the reports of Sondra's abusive relationship with Robert Blake came out, she called a news conference at the offices of her attorney, Gloria Allred. She said that she was not the source of all of the stories that had described her marriage as an abusive relationship, but would neither confirm nor deny the validity of those stories.

"I think it is important that it be known that I did not tell those stories," Sondra told the reporters at the news conference. "I'm not denying or saying they're true."

Often appearing near tears, Sondra said that the fact that she would not confirm or deny the reports, most of which appeared in supermarket tabloids, should not be taken as lending credibility to those reports. Allred stepped in and said that if her client commented on the abuse allegations, it could cause problems.

"She's not going to open up a Pandora's Box," Allred said, but did not elaborate.

Prior to the news conference, Sondra had appeared on NBC's Today show and had recalled what her marriage to Blake had been like in vague detail.

"It was a lengthy marriage," she said, "and like all marriages it had its ups and downs." She would only say that there were "significant reasons" why the marriage failed, but she maintained that she wanted to keep those reasons private. "I do not wish to speak about my personal relationship with Robert, at this time."

Despite the probing of reporters, Sondra refused to comment on her thoughts about whether Blake was innocent or guilty in his new wife's death. Instead, she would only say that it was a "horrible tragedy."

"I was in shock," she said of the murder. "It evokes deep sadness and upset. My heart goes out to the baby and to the family."

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