In 2002, Robert Blake was charged with Bakley's murder, solicitation of murder, conspiracy and special circumstance of lying in wait. In March 2005, a jury found Blake not guilty of the crimes. Seven months later, Blake was found liable in a wrongful death lawsuit brought against him by Bakley's children. Bakley's murder remains officially unsolved. Bonnie Lee Bakley was born in Morristown, New Jersey to arborist Edward J. Bakley and his wife, Marjorie Lois Bakley. Bakley had three siblings: Margerry Lisa Bakley, Joe Bakley, and her half-brother Peter Carlyon from her mother's second marriage. She was raised by and lived with her grandmother in Glen Gardner, New Jersey while her mother operated an antique business at 6 Kossuth Street in Wharton, New Jersey. Bakley dropped out of high school at age 16 and decided to go to New York City to pursue a career in modeling and acting at the Barbizon School of Modeling. She was married at 21 to her first cousin Paul Gawron and had two children with him: Glenn and Holly. The couple divorced in 1982.
In an effort to support herself, Bakley began a mail-order business sending nude pictures of women, including herself, to men. She also ran "lonely hearts" ads in magazines advertising for a "male companion". After communicating with the men who answered her ads, she would ask for money for rent or travel expenses. Bakley's business and scams eventually afforded her enough money to buy several houses in Memphis and a house outside of Los Angeles. She was unsuccessful, however, in her Hollywood career as a singer and actor under the stage name Leebonny. Due to the nature of Bakley's mail-order business and other dealings, she was arrested several times. In 1989, she was arrested in Memphis for drug possession and fined $300. In 1995, she was arrested for attempting to pass two bad checks from an account of a Memphis record company. Bakley was fined $1,000 and sentenced to work on a penal farm on weekends after she plea bargained down to lesser charges. In 1998, she was arrested in Little Rock, Arkansas for possessing five driver's licenses and seven Social Security cards with different names. She used the IDs to open various post-office boxes in order to run her "lonely hearts" scam.
Bakley had a history of pursuing celebrities. Her friends and relatives described her as "celebrity-obsessed." Tapes of Bakley's phone conversations reveal that she was starstruck and determined to marry someone famous. "Being around celebrities," she once said, "it makes you feel better than other people." In 1990, she moved to Memphis and began pursuing singer Jerry Lee Lewis. Bakley eventually did meet Lewis and even became close friends with Lewis' sister Linda Gail Lewis. In 1993, Bakley claimed that the daughter she gave birth to, Jeri Lee, was Lewis' child. However, DNA tests later disproved her claim. After Jeri Lee's birth, Bakley decided to relocate to California. She left Jeri Lee with her first husband to raise, but continued to financially support the child. While in California, Bakley pursued other celebrities including Dean Martin, Frankie Valli (Bakley claimed they dated when she was a teenager. Valli denied the claim), and Gary Busey. In 1991, Bakley became interested in Christian Brando. Christian, the eldest son of Academy Award-winning actor Marlon Brando and actress Anna Kashfi, became a media fixture when he was tried for the murder of his half sister's boyfriend Dag Drollet. Brando pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to ten years in prison. While he was in prison, Bakley began writing him and sending photos. After his release in 1996, Brando and Bakley began a romantic relationship. In 1999, Bakley discovered she was pregnant and initially thought that Brando was the child's father. In June 2000, she gave birth to her fourth child, a daughter she named Christian Shannon Brando.
While Bakley was involved with Christian Brando, she was also dating actor Robert Blake whom she met at a jazz club in 1999. After the birth of daughter Christian Shannon Brando, Bakley told Blake that she was unsure of the child's paternity and that he might be the father of the child. Blake insisted on a paternity test which later determined that Blake, not Brando, was the father of Bakley's youngest child. After paternity was established, the child's name was legally changed to Rose Lenore Sophia Blake. Blake agreed to marry Bakley under the condition that she sign a temporary custody agreement. Under the agreement, Bakley agreed to monitored visits with Rose and to get written permission for her friends and family to visit Blake's property. The agreement also stipulated that if either spouse decided to end the marriage, the other spouse would retain custody of Rose. Bakley's attorney advised her not to sign the document as he thought it was "lopsided". Eager to marry Blake, she ignored her attorney's advice and signed the agreement on October 4, 2000. Bakley and Blake were married in November 2000.
Although they were married, the couple never lived together. Bakley and Rose lived in a small guest house beside Blake's house in Studio City of the San Fernando Valley. The relationship was reportedly rocky; Blake was distrustful of Bakley and hired a private investigator to find out more information about her. Blake later found out that Bakley had continued to operate her "lonely hearts" ad scam during the marriage. Before her marriage to Robert Blake, Bakley was married nine times (many of the marriages were short-lived with one lasting a single day). She had four children, a son and a daughter with her second ex-husband Paul Gawron; a daughter named Jeri Lee Lewis (born July 28, 1993 whose father remains unknown); and daughter Rose Lenore Sophia Blake (born in 2000 and initially named Christian Shannon Brando) with actor Robert Blake. On May 4, 2001, Blake took Bakley to an Italian dinner at Vitello's Restaurant on Tujunga Avenue in Studio City. Afterward, Bakley was killed by a gunshot to the head while sitting in the car, which was parked on a side street around the corner from the restaurant. Blake claimed that he had returned to the restaurant to collect a gun which he had left there, and was not present when the shooting occurred. The gun that Blake claimed he had left in the restaurant was later determined not to have fired the shots that killed Bakley.
She was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills Memorial Park in Los Angeles. On March 16, 2005, Blake was found not guilty of the murder of Bonnie Lee Bakley, and of one of the two counts of soliciting a former stuntman to murder her. The other count of solicitation was dropped after it was revealed that the jury was deadlocked 11-1 in favor of an acquittal. Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, commenting on this ruling, called Blake a "miserable human being" and the jurors "incredibly stupid." Blake's defense team and members of the jury responded that the prosecution had failed to prove its case. During the trial, the defense alleged that Bakley was a drug addict who used her daughter for prostitution. On November 18, 2005, Blake was found liable for the wrongful death of his wife in a civil trial. Bakley's three eldest children sued him, asserting he was responsible for their mother's death. The trial included a famous Perry Mason moment. The jury ordered him to pay $30 million. On April 26, 2008, an appeals court upheld the civil case verdict, but cut Blake's penalty assessment in half.