Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Who Murdered Bonny Lee Bakley?

Bonny the Grifter

When Bonny decided that it was time to finally move on and began making preparations to leave Memphis with California as a desired destination in the back of her mind, she left her daughter, Jeri Lee, with her former husband, Paul Gawron. However, she sent money to Gawron on a regular basis to aid in supporting the girl. By then mail order scams involving solicitations to lonesome men were in full swing.

A closer scrutiny of Bonny's criminal history showed that she was first arrested in 1989 in Memphis on a misdemeanor drug charge and was fined $300. She got into trouble again seven years later, in 1995, on the charge of misrepresentation of the value of property. When the detectives dug deeper, they learned specifically what those charges entailed. Bonny had been caught attempting to pass two bad checks, one for $600,000 and another for $2,000, drawn on the account of a Memphis record company. After she plea-bargained the offense down to lesser charges, she was sentenced to three years doing weekend work on a penal farm and was fined $1,000. Three years later in 1998, shortly after completing her sentence in Tennessee, Bonny was caught in Arkansas with seven driver's licenses and five Social Security cards, all with different names. According to one of Blake's private detectives, Scott Ross, Bonny was using the fake identification to rent post office boxes at various locations around the country from which she could run her lonely hearts scams and bilk men of varying ages out of cash in amounts that ranged anywhere from $20 to $200, sometimes even more. It was through such scams, contended Blake's lawyer, that Bonny had made a lot of enemies over the years, some of who may have had a motive to kill her.

The detectives turned up information that showed that Bonny also advertised for male companions in a number of magazines. Those who responded were sent letters, many of them form letters that Bonny had set up, asking for money. According to private investigator Scott Ross, the police found dozens of envelopes containing small bills inside her bungalow from men around the country and from other parts of the world, some from Germany and the Netherlands. There were a number of the lonely-hearts advertisements that she had placed in magazines that described her as a "young single pretty girl." One of the ads read: "I can travel if you can't in order to meet. I'm sad and lonely due to a recent breakup with someone I was engaged to, need your letters to cheer me." On Saturday, May 5, the day after she was murdered and prior to the second police search, Federal Express delivered two boxes of mail addressed to Bonny.

The police also discovered nude photographs of a woman — they were not of Bonny — that Bonny had sent to a number of men claiming they were photographs of her. The police also found a number of handwritten lists detailing men's names, telephone numbers, addresses, and amounts of money that they had sent her. There were also memos written to herself beside the entries that included aliases that she had used in the letters to the men — reminders so that she wouldn't get them mixed up — and details of each man's likes and dislikes such as, "loves phone sex."

Less than two weeks before being murdered, Bonny sent one of her form letters to a 46-year-old man in Van Nuys, California in which she wrote that she was being evicted from her apartment and needed $150 to $200 for rent money. She added that she would accept $20, however, so that she could play the state lottery. She also wrote: "Don't worry, I'm not fat, I promise I never will be. I'm into sex with the right man who I want to have a relationship with. I do hope it's going to be you." She signed the letter, "Miss Lee Blakely." The Van Nuys man never bought her story and never sent her any money.

"This woman made a lifetime out of bilking lonely men," Ross said. "She had it down to a science."

Although it was obvious that the cops were still focusing on Robert Blake as their prime suspect in Bonny's murder, they agreed that the motive for her murder could lie in her past because of the number of enemies she had made over the years. With all of the evidence to that effect in her home, it would have been foolish to deny the possibility.

As the investigation into Bonny's murder continued, a more sordid picture of the slain woman began to emerge. From many of her letters it appeared as if she had a voracious sexual appetite that bordered on addiction. She was kinky, and bragged that she had participated in orgies, sadomasochism, and lesbian acts in order to satisfy her desires. She wrote that she was uninhibited and enjoyed nearly every type of sexual pleasure that could be imagined. She advertised as much, and set up dates with men interested in sampling her repertoire. She claimed that she had been raped during one encounter, and that had prompted her to stop providing her address and phone number to men.

Leading up to that encounter, she said that she had received a letter and a photo from a man who appeared to be nice. After setting up a date with him, she claimed that he was grossly overweight, had rotten teeth and lived in a filthy apartment. Although she had attempted to get away from him, she failed, and he forced her to do the perverted things that he wanted. When she was allowed to leave, she was badly bruised from having been beaten by the man.

That brush with danger didn't stop her, however. According to her many writings, she continued to contact men through ads and the mail, often boasting that she would try anything sexual at least once. She spoke of her many sexual toys, including a vibrating egg and other vibrators, and continued to talk about liking sadomasochism, bondage and dominance, ménage a trois, and sex with other women. She claimed that she was bisexual and liked to "swing" with couples where the woman was also bisexual. As was her custom she would ask the men for varying denominations of money, depending upon the sexual scenario. Often she would not show up for the dates that she had arranged and would keep the money that had been sent to her. According to friends, when she did show up it was only to satisfy her sexual cravings.  Friends said that she'd had hundreds of lovers over the years.

Information surfaced that indicated that Bonny also liked the club scene, and would hang out at nightclubs until the early morning hours. She even admitted to friends that she was leading a dangerous lifestyle, and said that she would probably meet a man one day who would end up killing her.

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