Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Who Murdered Bonny Lee Bakley?

The Bodyguard

It was at his Dilling Street home where Blake met Earle Caldwell, an electronics installer and sometimes handyman who had been sent there to install a car stereo for Blake. The two immediately hit it off, and before long Blake and Caldwell had become close friends and Caldwell found himself working as Blake's bodyguard. Caldwell was known to accompany Blake on trips, and later both Bonny and Blake. In fact, Caldwell accompanied Bonny and Blake on their final vacation together when they went to Sequoia National Park on April 27, 2001, for a weekend getaway. They checked into a $240 per night two-bedroom cottage at the Gateway Restaurant and Lodge, not far from the park. According to published reports, Caldwell stayed in one room while Bonny and Blake occupied the other. Blake reportedly slept on the queen-sized bed while Bonny slept on a cot. According to Gary Tomlin, a guide that Blake hired to take them into the park, the couple did not appear happy together.

"Robert totally ignored her, never held her hand and insisted they sleep in separate beds at their motel," Tomlin said. "There would be total silence between them as they walked. He never touched her or did anything romantic."

Bakley and Blake on vacation
Bakley and Blake on vacation

When Tomlin took them into the park, one of their points of interest was Hospital Rock, which has steps that lead to the top. Following their stop at Hospital Rock, their excursion went frighteningly awry, according to a county official.

"Mr. And Mrs. Blake, Caldwell and a guide decided to climb Hospital Rock," reported Mike Davidson, Battalion Chief of the Tulare County Fire Department. "They all climbed the rock, which has 400 steps to the top, and then came down. But Mr. Caldwell decided he wanted to run to the top and down again. By the time he got back, he was feeling sick. And that night, back at the motel, he was short of breath, dizzy, had ringing in his ears and high blood pressure."

According to a bartender at the motel, Blake ran into the lounge shouting that his bodyguard had collapsed. The bartender said they called 911 for him. Paramedics checked him out a short time later and suspected that he was suffering from altitude sickness. To be on the safe side, the paramedics took him by ambulance down the mountain some thirty miles to a hospital, where he was treated and released a short time later.

"Robert wouldn't go (with them)," Tomlin said. "He said he was too tired and was going to bed. Bonny had to drive down the mountain herself... if Robert says he was so concerned about her safety that he had to carry a gun at all times, why did he make her drive alone at night down a dark winding road in his large van?"

Although Blake had originally reserved the cottage until April 30, they checked out a day early.

Blake's attorney, Harland Braun, and bodyguard Earle Caldwell painted a different picture of Blake and Bonny's last outing together. When questions about the trip arose, Braun told the media that Blake and Bonny enjoyed each other's company that weekend and Caldwell, in an appearance on the Today show, told Katie Couric a similar account of the trip.

"They were having fun," Caldwell said. "They were in the river, splashing around, swimming, having a good time."

Again there was a different portrayal of Blake and Bonny's relationship and their time spent together, and again it boiled down to who could be believed. Caldwell, in the meantime, became Blake's closest ally and staunchest supporter in proclaiming his boss's innocence.

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