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Leads Pursued in Slaying of Actor's Wife

Investigation: Detectives say they've made 'significant progress' in the hunt for the killer of Robert Blake's spouse.

January 13, 2002|ANDREW BLANKSTEIN and ANNA GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

After an eight-month investigation that has taken detectives to four states, Los Angeles police officials say they have made "significant progress" in the search for the killer of actor Robert Blake's wife, but they are not ready to name a suspect.

The detectives have spent much of their time pursuing possible leads from videotapes, photographs, letters and other documents that belonged to Bonny Lee Bakley, who was shot to death on May 4 in Studio City, police officials say.

Most of the materials were provided by Blake's attorney, Harland W. Braun, who insists his client had nothing to do with the killing.

"Detectives have been working extremely hard and have made significant progress," said Capt. Jim Tatreau of the Los Angeles Police Department's Robbery-Homicide Division. "Significant work has been devoted to the large amount of material turned over to the detectives."

Bakley's Relatives Growing Frustrated

Prosecutors have worked alongside detectives since early in the investigation, said Sandi Gibbons, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles district attorney's office.

While the length of the investigation has frustrated Bakley's relatives, they understand that the police are being thorough, said family attorney Cary W. Goldstein. "They have no eyewitness and little physical evidence," he said.

Among the items Braun gave to the police shortly after the killing were nude photos of Bakley that she allegedly sent to lonely men in exchange for cash, plane tickets and bus fare.

Tatreau declined to comment on the investigation in detail, but said detectives have combed through Bakley's possessions and conducted follow-up interviews. The detectives have traveled to Arkansas, New Jersey, Montana and Tennessee as a result of the material that Braun provided, Tatreau said.

Bakley, 44, was shot as she sat in the couple's car a block from Vitello's, a Studio City restaurant where she and Blake had just finished dinner.

Blake told police he had left the car to retrieve a gun he dropped in the restaurant, said Braun, who added that his client carried the weapon for protection. Blake returned to find Bakley fatally wounded in the head, the attorney said.

Detectives questioned Blake and searched his Studio City home at least twice. They seized two handguns, ammunition, credit card receipts and other items, but said at the time that Blake was not a suspect.

By many accounts, Blake and Bakley had an unconventional relationship. They married only after paternity tests showed that Blake was the father of Bakley's daughter. The couple lived in separate homes on Blake's property.

Blake, 68, an actor since childhood who is best known for starring in the 1970s television series "Baretta," has since put the house up for sale and moved to the west San Fernando Valley to be closer to his adult daughter, who has been helping care for his and Bakley's infant daughter, Rose.

Braun said the investigation has become bogged down in "too much evidence." He said the delays bother Blake because they have left "a cloud over his head."

The attorney has floated several theories about the killing, most of them disparaging of Bakley. His latest is that a hit man hired by Bakley to kill Blake turned on her instead.

The police have not commented on Braun's speculation, which Goldstein dismisses as baseless.

Police Learn From Simpson Case

Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson said the LAPD is being painstaking in the investigation because of lessons it learned from the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Simpson's attorneys accused police of mishandling evidence and ignoring leads pointing away from the former football star. Simpson was acquitted in the killings of his wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ronald J. Goldman. A civil jury later found him liable in the killings.

"The post-O.J. syndrome is that the LAPD realizes that when you are dealing with celebrities, you better have all your ducks in a row and be ready to go the day you bring the charges," Levenson said.

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Times staff writer Jean Guccione contributed to this report.

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