Where Deceit Hides - Part I
In July 2003, Dianne Mattson, Christian Brando’s caretaker, came forward with evidence of a link between Ronald Duffy Hambleton, a stuntman who said Robert Blake solicited him to kill Bonny Lee Bakley, and Christian Brando, Marlon Brando’s son. Two defense motions were filed, one in 2003 and the other in 2004 claiming evidence of third party culpability based on Mattson’s and other witnesses’ testimonies.
Judge Darlene Schempp, Blake’s criminal trial judge, heard both motions and ruled that although the defense could not present third party culpability, it could use the witnesses named in the motions to impeach prosecution witnesses, in particular, the stuntman Hambleton.
Mattson testified in the civil trial on October 27, 2005. The crux of her testimony was that, while working as Christian Brando’s “adult babysitter,” she overheard a phone conversation between Brando, a stuntman named Jerry Lee Petty, a stuntman named Duffy, and a man described as “homeless” and “toothless.”
According to Mattson, Bakley and Brando were romantically involved. Bakley corresponded with Brando while he was in prison on a manslaughter charge. After his release, Bakley called and visited Brando, just as she did with Blake. At the time Bakley got pregnant, she was dating both men.
Bakley would send Brando money and phone cards. Once she sent him a cell phone programmed with her number. He traded the cell phone for drugs, and usually spent the cash and phone cards on drugs. Brando’s drug preference was methamphetamine.
Brando always used a speakerphone because, he told Mattson, when he was in prison on a manslaughter conviction they put tubes in his ears and it damaged his eardrums. It is unknown whether this was true or, as testified by Dr. Ronald Siegel, an expert on addictive drugs, prolonged methamphetamine use causes loss of hearing and teeth.
According to Mattson, Brando was a heavy drug user who would go on binges. He would become pyschotic and hallucinate. She said that he saw things in trees, would try to demolish his house with a sledgehammer, and drill holes in the floor. During one episode, Mattson said Brando thought the television was talking to him, so he unplugged it and took it outside in the rain, where it continued to talk.
Even Bakley may not have known whose baby she was carrying. When the baby was born in June 2000, she named her Christian Shannon Brando. It wasn’t until Blake obtained DNA tests in September 2000 that her parentage was confirmed.
Brando believed the child was his. Mattson overheard Brando tell his father, Marlon, that he wanted to get custody of the child. He told Mattson it gave him a “reason to make his father proud of him.” He asked her if she would help him raise the baby and keep off drugs.
Bakley continued to tell Brando the baby was his even after the DNA tests. During one conversation which Bakley recorded, Brando hears a baby crying in the background. He tries to soothe the baby by playing his guitar and singing a lullabye. The baby, however, is not with Bakley, who is in Arkansas, but with Blake in California. The crying baby, it seems, was a recording Bakley played in the background during their phone call.
In another recorded conversation, Brando scolded Bakley about her schemes to take money from her victims, and warned her, “It gets close. You’re lucky. You know, I mean, not on my behalf, but you’re lucky somebody ain’t out there to put a bullet in your head.”
Mattson overheard this conversation. She said she thought it strange that Brando added “not on my behalf,” and she wondered “why anyone would throw that in there.”
According to police transcripts of the same conversation, Brando confronted Bakley about “gaming” him, like she did to Jerry Lee Lewis and Robert Blake. At the end of Brando’s tirade, he adds, “It’s the last ones that are bitten by the dogs. Believe me.”
Brando had a close friend, Jerry Lee Petty, who was a retired stuntman and lived on Willow Glen in Los Angeles. Sometime in October or November 2000, Mattson overheard another conversation, this time between Brando and Petty. Petty told Brando that Bakley had “duped” him into believing the baby was his when DNA tests had proven it was Blake’s. This enraged Brando and when the conversation ended, Brando threw the phone and his toolbox across the living room, and threw the cat against the wall.
His anger and obsession toward Bakley seemed to be escalating. Sometime between late February and before March 15, 2001, Mattson again overheard a conversation where Brando made a threat against Bakley. On the phone were Petty, a stuntman named Duffy, and a man referred to as homeless and toothless, who was hard to understand. The men began discussing how Bakley had played Brando for a fool. It was then that Brando suggested “someone ought to put a bullet through that bitch’s head.” The men on the other end agreed. Mattson felt uncomfortable upon hearing this, and left the room.
When she returned, Brando had finished his conversation and was visibly upset. He became violent, breaking three windows, throwing the phone, and flinging tools around the living room.
It was around this same time that Bakley had finished her house arrest in Arkansas. Blake, Blake’s handyman Earle Caldwell, and Blake’s housekeeper Lidia Benevides told police that strangers started hanging around Blake’s Studio City home. Benevides testified that Blake was so concerned about security, that he told her to keep the front gate and door locked at all times.
It was also at this time that Brian Allan Fiebelkorn, who did not know Mattson, noticed certain events happening on Willow Glen, where he lived (The State's Conspiracy - Part I). Fiebelkorn told police that he saw a gun exactly like the weapon used to murder Bakley in the hands of a homeless and toothless man, Mark Jones. Jones worked around the neighborhood and at times lived at Petty’s house, which was just down the street from Fiebelkorn. Additionally, Fiebelkorn stated he had seen Duffy Hambleton, a key prosecution witness, several times on Willow Glen in the months before the murder. Fiebelkorn had also seen Brando and Petty together in the neighborhood. The defense has suggested that Jones was the homeless, toothless man and Hambleton the stuntman Mattson identified in the conversation she overheard.
The “bullet in the head” incident was not the first or the last episode of Brando’s “hair-trigger” temper. According to court documents, Mattson had seen him sledge hammer walls and turn over refrigerators. She testified that she kept a can of Spackle around the house so that she could repair the damages. She also said that Brando had threatened to put a gun to her head and her son’s. A neighbor of Brando’s, John Haynes, stated that he knew of Brando’s violent conduct and had seen him break phones and slam them against walls.
In 1990, Brando was sentenced to prison on a manslaughter conviction for shooting his half-sister’s boyfriend, Dag Drollet. Mattson testified that Brando had bragged to her that he had “gotten away with first degree murder” -- that he had shot Drollet in the back of the head.
Mattson wasn’t the only person to whom Brando told this.
A private investigator, Sharon Richardson, in court papers, said she had been hired by Bakley to investigate financials and provide Social Security numbers for both Brando and Blake. According to Richardson, Brando contacted her in 1999 and told her he was “very pissed off” at Bakley and then he talked about killing Drollet.
Further, Brando’s ex-wife, Deborah Brando, filed a complaint against him for domestic violence. In it she claimed that “defendant [Christian Brando] bragged … about the killing and told her that he went up to the back of the man who was watching television and eating a sandwich and went pop with a handgun. Defendant said Dag Droulet (sic) had it coming to him and that if he had the opportunity, he would do it all over again.”
Also in the complaint, Deborah Brando claimed that Christian Brando threatened to kill her, her daughter, and others. She stated that Brando had asked her to get a gun so he could kill his siblings.
The LA District Attorney’s office filed two counts of spousal abuse against Brando in 2005. Brando pleaded guilty and was sentenced to complete two months of drug and alcohol rehabilitation, complete a spousal abuse program, and serve three years probation. Deborah Brando settled her civil lawsuit out of court.
Petty committed suicide on March 15, 2001. According to Mattson, Brando was quite upset and surprised by this. The day before, Brando spoke to Petty who was planning to visit him in Washington state. Brando told Mattson that Petty had been in a “really good mood.”
The week before Bakley’s murder, Haynes said Brando was “very agitated and acted stranger than normal” and that “Brando’s anxiety was very high.”
On April 26, 2001, Mattson signed for a Fed Ex package for Brando. In it were $200, phone cards, and a package of pictures – pictures with Blake and the baby. There was a note in the package from Bakley that said she was in Texas, but the postmark was from Studio City, California. Brando was happy to get the money and the cards, but when he saw the pictures he went “ballistic.” Why would she send pictures of the baby with Blake, he wanted to know.
On May 4, 2001, Bonny Lee Bakley was murdered while she waited for Robert Blake down the street from Vitello’s restaurant in Studio City, California. Neighbors near the restaurant reported seeing suspicious activities while Blake and Bakley dined and shortly before she was shot.
In Kalama, Washington, Brando had sold his furniture and was planning to leave town, according to Mattson and Haynes. The only furniture left at his house was a folding cot and the telephone.
On the night Bakley was murdered, Mattson testified she was with Brando. Around 11:30PM, Brando’s phone began to ring. He did not answer it, and refused to let Mattson answer it. When it stopped, he unplugged it.
Mattson said she learned about Bakley’s murder the following day, when Deborah Presley called (Deborah Presley later became Deborah Brando.) Brando went through severe mood swings that weekend, first worrying about what would happen to the baby then saying that Bakley deserved what she got.
Where Deceit Hides – Part II