By John Geirland
trailing Robert Blake down Ventura Blvd. Blake is looking sharp in a black
coat and a baggy pair of gray slacks. He sports thick black-frame glasses
that give him a surprisingly intellectual air. At his side is a middle
aged blonde woman, a bit on the frumpy side, dressed in a tan pants suit
that doesn't flatter her. She leans in on Blake as they walk, chattering
away. The blonde radiates happiness. She is trying to keep from bursting
into an uninhibited smile.
Blake is not so full of light. He strokes his chin and says nothing. He
avoids making eye contact with the blonde, staring down at his black leather
shoes as the two saunter down the boulevard in the direction of the Killer
Shrimp restaurant at the corner of Colfax and Ventura. He looks as if
he's trying hard to vanish into thin air.
Six months later, the blonde has a hole in her head and lays dying in
Blake's 1991 black Stealth Dodge. The hit occurs in my neighborhood on
the chilly evening of May 4, 2001. The Stealth is parked on Woodbridge
Street, a block and a half from Vitellos, an Italian eatery in Studio
City popular with the polyester crowd. Blake took his wife there for dinner.
He is a Vitellos habitué. The restaurant has a dish named in Blake's
honor (tomato and spinach pasta). You know the story.
Call the sighting on the Boulevard a prologue to my encounter with the
Blake murder case. File it under The Confessions of a True Crime Whore.
wasn't actually "trailing" Robert Blake -- star of Baretta,
In Cold Blood and the Our Gang series -- and his wife. It's
more like I happened to be barreling by the couple behind a two-seated
stroller loaded with my then two year-old twins. I don't get to prowl
anymore, so the strolls are essential for my mental health. As a domiciled
pater familias, I stay at home with the kids. My wife dons the suit and
I wave to her as she drives off in the Merc every morning. I work at home,
make lunches, slap bandages on my kids' "boo-boo's" and brood.
In my darkness I indulge in True Crime stories.
For the connoisseur of True Crime nothing beats a Hollywood murder. I
know all the cases. 1922 -- Paramount director William Desmond Taylor
is shot in his fashionable Westlake Park bungalow. 1935 -- Film comedienne
Thelma Todd is found in her Palisades garage slumped over in her Packard
convertible. 1959 -- boozy partygoers at George Reeves' Benedict Canyon
home find the original TV Superman sprawled across his bed buck-naked
with a bullet wound to his head. Then there was OJ. I've read all the
books, know every detail and nuance of the cases. Sometimes late at night,
after the wife and kids are asleep, I escape to my home office, open the
window to let in the night, pop the Doors into the CD player and morph
into a suburban James Ellroy.
So you can imagine how I felt on the morning of May 5, 2001, when I learned
that the next big Hollywood murder case had gone down the night before,
a mere 300 yards from my armchair.
called Max. He lives in the neighborhood, too. Max Marx is a successful
TV producer, my best friend, and a person with impeccable noir creds.
He knows Kenneth Anger, author of Hollywood Babylon. He's been
held at gunpoint for hours by a certain notorious entertainment figure.
He possesses a letter from Charles Manson. Brando's dogs viciously attacked
him. He has a removable gold tooth with a diamond in it -- how noir is
Max loves True Crime, too. During the OJ trial, he and I drove far out
of our way to take our weekly walk in OJ's Brentwood neighborhood, for
which we were deeply ashamed. Max Marx isn't his real name. He doesn't
want you to know who he is.
Max answered the phone, yawning. It was 9:30 am.
"I've been up for hours," I flustered. "Don't tell me you
just woke up."
"OK," he said. "I won't tell you that."
"Did you hear about Robert Blake?" I asked.
"His wife was murdered a block from Vitellos," I said.
"This is a good one, Johnny," he purred. "We need to take
reasons so trivial I no longer recall them, we didn't actually hit the
pavement until the next day, 36 hours after the crime. Max showed up at
my house wearing three layers of sweat clothes and a huge straw hat. He'd
applied several coats of sun block on the off chance that a ray of sunlight
might reach his face. He had a gob of it on the tip of his nose.
Max smiled. He was wearing his gold tooth with the diamond. "Let's
go crack this case," he said.
It was a cool, sunny morning. The air smelled like freshly baked bread.
The bees were buzzing happily in well-tended flowerbeds. Max and I were
filled with a joie de vivre we hadn't felt since the OJ walk. We took
broad strides in the direction of Woodbridge Street.
The murder occurred in a Studio City neighborhood called Colfax Meadows
-- which I always confuse with Carfax Abbey, Count Dracula's London residence.
Unlike Carfax Abbey, there's nothing creepy about Colfax Meadows, unless
you find something menacing about real estate agents hustling door-to-door
with sackfuls of promotional calendars. A lush and woodsy district of
modest '40s era single-family dwellings, the homes in Colfax Meadows are
rapidly being bought up, torn down and replaced with bloated Mediterraneans,
faux California craftsmen and towering Cape Codders.
"So I understand they haven't found the murder weapon," Max
observed. He'd come up to speed on the case since I'd called him the day
before. "I think that should be our mission."
"We'll collect clues and make inferences," I said. "We'll
"This could be big, Johnny," he huffed in a thick Brooklyn brogue.
"Very, very big."
We reached the spot where Blake parked the Stealth, a block and a half
from Vitellos. The homicide detectives had already packed up the crime
scene, but the place was bustling. Curiosity seekers strolled down the
street while others cruised past in SUV's. News helicopters hovered far
off in the sky.
"Look at those lookie-loo's," I said, pointing to the curiosity
Max shook his head. "It's disgusting."
We saw a makeshift shrine on the sidewalk near the spot where Bonnie Lee
Bakley had been killed. Passersby had left flower arrangements, votive
candles and handwritten notes in remembrance of a woman they didn't know.
On the street sat a rusty-brown dumpster that looked like it might have
once been a D-Day landing craft. The house nearest the murder site was
being torn down and would later be replaced with a behemoth Mediterranean.
We stopped. I pointed to the shrine.
I said. "The murderer is standing right here. He's done the deed.
He's got to dispose of the weapon because he's probably going to have
to face the cops at some point. What does he do with it? He can't eat
it or stick it up his ass. Where does it go?"
Max shot his thumb at the dumpster. "He tosses the piece in the dumpster,"
he said. "I bet it's somewhere under that pile of shit at this very
"I dunno," I said.
Max spread out his arms. "What's not to know? He plugs her and he
throws the gat in the trash. Simple as that."
"Maybe," I said.
"Climb in that dumpster," Max commanded. The diamond in his
gold tooth twinkled. "Go ahead. Climb in."
Max approaches most situations in life like the producer that he is: Walk
in. Take charge. Tell people what to do. Sit down and order sushi.
I took a closer look at the contents of the dumpster. It overflowed with
empty paint cans, shredded linoleum, crumpled roof tiles, sofa cushions,
bent nails sticking out of splintered wood, and other detritus of the
suburban good life.
"There's nails and stuff in there," I protested.
Max: "This is your chance to crack this case wide open. You'll be
in the papers tomorrow." He blocked out the headline in the air with
his hands. "'STAY-AT-HOME-DAD FINDS MURDER WEAPON IN BLAKE CASE.'"
"Writer, Max," I corrected. "WRITER finds murder weapon."
Me: "I don't think he threw the gun in the dumpster."
Max shook his head. "Johnny, Johnny. You're passing up a major opportunity
here. Step out of your little world."
"If you're so sure the gun's in there, why don't YOU climb in?"
I shot back with heat.
Max put his hand on his sacroiliac. "My bad back."
Let me stop here and say that Max Marks is one of the most pampered individuals
I've ever met. He sleeps nine hours a night. He meditates two hours a
day. He exercises another two hours. He stretches -- stretches, mind you!
He eats health foods and avoids fat like Superman avoids kryptonite. He
drinks eight full glasses of water. So I'm convinced he came up with the
bad back bit when he started dating his wife as part of a clever scheme
for avoiding household chores for the duration of his earthly existence.
"Max," I said. "I'll LIFT you into the dumpster."
He shrugged. "I don't want to get my Prada tennis shoes dirty. Besides,
this is your 15 minutes, Johnny."
me a wimp, but I didn't want to climb in the dumpster. So faced with the
prospect of wading through rusty nails and kitty litter, I came up with
an alternative theory.
"The killer only has one or two minutes to get rid of the gun,"
I began. "He had no storm drain to drop it in or large body of water
to fling it in. He has to find a temporary hiding place. So what options
are open to him? He looks up the block. He sees bushes and hedges near
I began to warm to my new theory, to bask in its logic and simplicity.
"People don't pay much attention to bushes and hedges," I continued.
"So he runs a full block up the street and sticks the weapon deep
in the foliage. He reasons that after things have settled down, and the
police aren't watching him so carefully, he can creep back in the middle
of the night, retrieve the gun and properly dispose of it. Well?"
"It's in the fucking dumpster," Max said evenly.
I grabbed Max's arm. "Come with me." I led him up the block.
There were hedges and bushes aplenty. I stomped and poked and picked through
them for half an hour. No gun.
"What now, Holmes?" Max said.
"Forget the gun. Let's go walk by Bobby Blake's house," I said.
took about ten minutes to reach the "Mata Hari Ranch," Blake's
name for his rustic domicile on Dilling Street. There was even more activity
here than at the murder site. We saw two squad cars and a crowd of onlookers
milling around the well-shaded street. Two media vans were parked in front
of the house with their fusili-shaped microwave antennas fully erect.
A camera was trained on the house 24x7 in case somebody came out of the
house. A technician sat in one of the vans reading a paper.
Blake lived in a brown ranch style house with iron bars on the windows,
two carports, a swing, and lawn chair. The place looked more like a Bakersfield
BBQ joint than a celebrity's home.
The scene inspired something in Max. A little light flickered behind his
eyes. "This would make a good TV movie," Max said, more to himself
than to me. We started walking on.
"I bet everybody in town is thinking about that," I said.
"You're right. The person who does this movie has to have connections
with the LAPD and District Attorney's office. That's not my turf. Which
" -- Max was thinking out loud here -- "
do a fictional account of the crime."
We dodged the lookie-loo's that now came cruising down the lane.
"You mean make up stuff?"
The hovering news copters we'd heard earlier were now directly overhead
and making so much racket that we had to shout.
"The question is who we get to play Blake," Max said, in full
producer mode as we put some distance between Blake's home and ourselves.
"Robert DeNiro?" I offered.
"DeNiro's good," Max said, savoring the name. "I could
call his office."
"Johnny Depp?" I said.
Max shook his head. "He'd never do it."
He had a look of deep concentration, like someone pondering a long and
complicated delicatessen menu. "Pauly Shore," he finally blurted.
"Pauly Shore? I like DeNiro better."
"Pauly Shore" -- Max wasn't listening to me -- "could be
fantastic. It could be a breakout role."
and I played with the TV movie idea for a few days. It started out as
a serious film. Then we decided it would play better as a comedy with
two additional characters (based on Max and I) befriending the main protagonist,
the Hollywood Actor, in order to sneak into his home and find evidence.
Of course, we never called Robert DeNiro's people -- or Pauly Shore's
people, for that matter. We got busy with other things and let the idea
Max and I followed the Blake case for a while, but it never rose to the
heights of the OJ case and we lost interest. Max went back to his other
TV movie work. I slapped Band-Aids on my kids and brooded.
Oh yes, one point I almost forgot. A few days after our walk, the LAPD
found the Bonnie Lee Bakley murder weapon. It was a Walther PPK, a double
action gun that fires both 38 and 32 caliber bullets.
It was in the dumpster.
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