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Dangerous Game

Bonny Lee Bakley's obsession went beyond Robert Black. Here's how she (and others) became celeb predators

''Bonny,'' the voice asks, ''did you ever stop and try to figure out why you're only attracted to famous people?''

Exactly why Bonny Lee Bakley decided to record this particular phone call is one of the mysteries of this case that may forever go unsolved. The 32-minute conversation is mostly dull verbal doodling -- about money, favorite bar drinks, even where to find the best pizza (New Jersey, it's decided). But just as the call seems to be winding down, the man on the other end of the line -- apparently an old acquaintance of Bakley's who has not been identified -- drops his bombshell of a question.

Bakley's answer tells us nothing about who put a bullet in her head as she sat alone in a parked car near Vitello's restaurant in Studio City on the evening of May 4. The tape offers no clue as to whether her husband of less than a year, actor Robert Blake, was involved in the killing (at this writing, police are calling him a witness, not a suspect). But it does reveal something darkly fascinating about Bakley herself -- and about the town in which she lived and died, where a love affair with fame has claimed more victims than this one poignantly pathetic 44-year-old.

''Being around celebrities,'' Bakley answers her friend, ''makes you feel better than other people.''

Hollywood is filled with bonny Lee Bakleys, people who attempt to make themselves ''feel better'' by romantically pursuing the famous. They're not groupies: Groupies are merely overzealous, oversexed fans. They're not stalkers, either. Bakley's relationship with Blake wasn't imaginary -- their year-old daughter, Rose, is proof of that -- nor is she known to have ever threatened him with physical harm. And although her past was hardly squeaky-clean (her record includes arrests for possession of stolen credit cards and passing bad checks, and she got in trouble for selling nude pictures of herself through the mail), she wasn't simply a grifter. What Bakley pursued with meticulous and methodical precision wasn't so much cash as cachet, the reflected glory of being with a star. Any star would do -- even one like Blake, who hasn't shone for the better part of a decade.

There is no specific diagnosis for this disorder in the current psychiatric lexicon, but perhaps there should be, since celebriphilia, by any name, is a familiar enough condition to those trained to look for it. ''Celebrities don't like to talk about it,'' says Det. Thor Merich of the Burbank Police Department's Criminal Intelligence division. ''Stars are sensitive about it getting out, so a lot of times we bury it. But this happens a lot. The only thing that makes Bakley's case unusual is that she was successful. She married the guy.''

''I've been in this business 10 years, and these sorts of cases have been a constant,'' agrees John C. Lane Jr., a former police officer who headed an LAPD celeb protection squad and now works for the Omega Threat Management Group, a private Los Angeles agency that provides security services to stars. ''There has always been an undercurrent of inappropriate pursuit in the entertainment industry. Usually it gets dealt with behind the scenes.''

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