Tales from the vivid imagination and uncanny instincts of Opus, the crime-writer hamster
01 June 2004
Tonight the world has a bit less light, and the heavens shine far brighter. Shortly after 6 p.m, east coast daylight time, the legendary Opus, crime-writer hamster, husband, and father of sixteen, crossed over the bridge.
Opus was loved by all who knew him. It is with great humility that I have agreed to take his position as recorder of the official hamster perspective on the criminal system. I thank my father for his trust in me, and I thank all those who cared about him during his long life and career. God bless each and every one of you.
25 May 2004
Last Will & Testament
I, Opus Hamster, being of sound mind and unsound body, want to know that my little crime blog will continue after these last says of my life. Therefore, it is my wish that my lovely daughter Domino should continue writing this blog. I am growing very old and feeble, and can scarcely lift my paw to press the letters on the keyboard. I know I shall soon join my illustrious parents, Tennham and Vladka, in that Happy Hamster Wheel in Heaven. And I thank all who have followed and appreciated my sometimes-scattered thoughts on the case of Robert Blake. When I reach my heavenly reward (assuming I am deserving), I shall put in a few words for that good man, Mr. Schwartzbach, and wish Mr. Blake an easy, speedy acquittal. Few things are worse, in my opinion, than the wrongful accusation of an innocent person.
Let me turn to my lovely daughter for a moment. She's more than knowledgeable about this case. In fact, she brings to it insights that are far more profound than mine. You see, she herself has been falsely accused. It happened when she was still quite young. She's one of a litter of sixteen hamster babies born to my wife Yofah and me. Most of our family went to a pet store near where we live. And long after the rest had found good homes, Domino remained in the store. Finally, a good woman who worked there came to one of the humans we keep as pets and said that Domino was a "mean" hamster and that nobody wanted her.
We were shocked. Yofah and I raised our children to be gentle and polite. How could anyone claim our young Domino was mean? Well, of course, it almost goes without saying that she wasn't. She was merely homesick. She came back to live with us, and immediately made it clear that she was one of the friendliest, sweetest youngsters of the whole litter. And she was smart enough to figure out how to turn off potential hamster owners, knowing that they'd send her home again. Smart kid we have, don't you agree?
I am sure you will adore Domino. But I hope her stories will occasionally remind you of your old friend, Opus, the ancient, one-eyed hamster who cares about justice.
Please stay tuned. And never forget ... I love all of you!
12 March 2004
The Brando Alternative
It was love at first sight. Never mind the fact that he's gay, or at least bisexual. She was irresistible - sore, red eyes illuminating a wind-burned, ruddy complexion; frazzly hair protruding like tumbleweed in every direction; a mouth that sagged as if to say, "been there, done that" a thousand times.
The faded, overweight porn queen was the human equivalent of every man's dream - a dented and dulled 1982 Toyota hatchback with bald tires and leaky hoses and 650,000 miles on the odometer.
He had to have her.
From the moment he rushed into her hefty arms - arms filled with cashiers' checks and phone cards and a fresh supply of meth - it was three days of unrelenting passion. Even when his mind spun out of control and he ordered her off his dirty sheets and out of his life, he knew it wouldn't be the end.
"Besides the money and stuff, I'll let you have my daughter," she pleaded on the now-famous tape-recorded phone conversation she left to heirs and tabloids. "She's thinner and younger, but she knows the ropes."
"How old?" he anxiously asked.
"She'll be 18 in November," came the answer.
"You're setting me up for a probation bust, ain't ya?" he bellowed into the phone.
"She couldn't figure out how to do that. She's every bit as dumb as me," the desperate woman wailed.
He took a deep breath and growled into the phone, "I'm not takin' your calls anymore!"
But his instincts proved right. It wasn't the end. Between temper tantrums, he tossed and turned in his sleep, devoured from the inside by shame and jealousy. How many guys is she with tonight? How many yesterday? The questions were never far from his mind.
Then came the terrible news - like one great body slam after another. The bouncing baby girl he thought he fathered wasn't his. She was marrying a real movie star, not the ill-famed son of one.
"You breathe a word of this to anyone," he shouted at his terrified caretaker, "and I have Joann tear holes in your throat." He gestured toward a restless rottweiler crouched in the corner.
"But that's not Joann," the woman answered in a frightened voice. "She's in the pantry. That's the dog."
"This dog, that dog - what's the difference?" he shrugged, still glaring as the woman retreated and headed toward the door.
His world had been shattered. He reached for the phone. It was time for The Godfather Solution.
"Duffy," he began. "I got your name from Jerry. We got to put a bullet in her head."
The voice coming over the speaker phone sounded tired, bored, defeated. "Whose head?"
"Hers!" the angry man insisted, unable momentarily to remember her name. "The old hooker that's been paying for all the stuff I've gotten from your people, that's who!"
The elderly man with the tired voice spoke again. "Why you want her dead?"
"There's nothing I wanted more than to have a beaten-down old party girl sue me for child support," he answered, gradually regaining his composure. "And she made a fool of me. I almost had it and now it's all gone. She put my name on the birth certificate and then had it changed."
"Lucky you," the older man answered, saracastically.
The younger man was growing impatient. "You want the money or not?"
"How much money?"
"I'll give you a hundred grand."
"What do you want me to do?"
There was a long silence. "I already told you. Put a bullet in her head."
"Can be done. Can be done."
Months went by - months filled with suspense. There had been one attempt. Two attempts. Then three. All had failed. The plot to ruin the brakes on her blue Mercedes bore no fruit. Neither did the poison scheme. It was back to the original idea - the ambush with an old gun.
Finally, he got the word. It came as a coded message that was left on the answering machine of a friend of the family. "Don't forget to buy bananas. We ran out last night at 9:45."
The troubled man hastened to verify the news. "We're completely out of bananas?" he asked in a hushed voice over the phone.
"Not a single banana left," he heard.
He knew that meant the hit had been deadly.
"Have Duffy call that actor," the angry young man demanded. "Make the old b@@tard return one last phone call, okay?"
And he settled back and turned on the television. "Police questioned the actor Robert Blake in connection with the fatal shooting of Bonny Lee Bakley who was found dying in his car last night in Studio City, California...."
A smile flickered across his lips. Revenge is sweet.
And he turned to the rottweiler pacing the dirty floor. "Am I the world's greatest lover or what?"
31 January 2004
Playing Car Games
By now, everyone knows about it. The Motion that the defense filed in opposition to one the prosecutor filed in opposition .... to, well, you know. That's lawyer talk. Basically, the prosecution has a bunch of stuff - their stuff, the evidence kind of stuff - that they don't want to use at the trial of Robert Blake. In fact, their own evidence is so bad that they filed a motion not to allow the defense to use it, either. They want their own investigation banned. Sounds like sour grapes to me.
I found this hard to believe. So I looked at the motion and ... well, one look and I believed. This may well go into the Guinness Book of Records as the strangest piece of police work ever.
I got curious. And I contacted some of my Los Angeles rodent friends, the ones who climb through heat and A/C ducts at Parker Center at night and can find all kinds of information not available to the public.
It seems that the detectives on this case couldn't figure out how Blake would have fired the gun that killed Bakley that night. So they invented a preposterous theory - that Blake had concealed the murder weapon, the old Walther handgun, under the hood of his car. Mind you, there was no evidence whatever that he'd done so. But that kind of technicality would never be allowed to stall a runaway investigation like this one.
Now here's where it gets weird. The detectives got an expense allowance to buy a car just like Blake's - a 1991 Dodge Stealth. They tried a lot of stuff. They put the gun into the lining of the hood so that they could argue that Blake did that. But the hood wouldn't close. They tried again. They ruined the hood lining and insulation and had to replace the entire hood once and the lining several times. It must have been funny to see. Sometimes the car wouldn't start, once they even lost the gun!
Still crazier is the fact that the detectives played their little car game from February of 2002 (when they first requested money to buy the Dodge Stealth) until at least June of 2003. That's 17 months. Imagine that! Hours of billable overtime were spent devising ways to hide a gun under the hood of that car. All this instead of looking for the real killer.
I thought I should investigate, so I got in touch with my good friend Otto, a tough, sturdy, gray Norwegian rat with a lot of experience raiding trash cans and files at LAPD downtown headquarters. "Get me whatever you can about the car caper," I told him.
"No problem," was his cheery reply. "How soon do you want it?" I answered that I wanted something as soon as possible. "I'll raid tonight," the wise rodent replied.
And sure enough, by morning a slew of small pieces of paper came pouring in on my fax machine - all small notes and memos that the detectives had written each other. Otto retrieved them from one of those brown folders that people use to keep miscellaneous notes in one place. It was labeled "Robert Blake Case: Car Project." I pulled all the notes off the fax and tried to arrange them in a logical way. Most weren't dated. But I did the best I could.
First there was this curious reminder, scratched in red ink on one of those pink phone memo papers, and initialed "JT":
About the gift certificates to the spa ... return them today! That money was authorized to purchase dark blue Dodge Stealth, 1991 model, similar to vehicle owned by Robert Blake. Please read check authorization notes before spending LAPD money. Need all receipts for spa refunds.
Then I found this, which is most bizarre. It's a typed full page memo addressed to B.T. and folded over twice to fit into the folder.
Dohi at DA has learned about improper use of Dodge Stealth car purchased for Bakley case investigation. Department has not authorized use of car by minor children of Homicide Div detectives. Have acquired special funds to cover $1200 repair of dents sustained when car hit embankment at Long Beach hotdog stand. Automobile was recovered with condoms on back seat. Please turn in all extra keys before leaving desks this evening.
Car must remain on lot under canopy when not being used for testing. The vehicle is LAPD property, not a motel. This is an order!
Here's another strange one. It's scrawled and barely legible and appears to have been written on the back of a restaurant receipt. It is unsigned.
We got the gas allowance increased for the Blake car clone [picture of smiley face]. You can use the gas ration slip this weekend since you're going to Bakersfield, but I want my turn next week. Have fun, you naughty little thing, you [another smiley face].
Another typewritten memo, this one on a half sheet of paper, undated:
RE: Tuesday Meeting
Robert Blake case
It has occurred to me that any attempt to place gun inside hood insulation proves nothing if insulation is altered or ripped in the process - unless we can prove hood insulation in Blake automobile was in similar condition. Please give this some thought. Possible solutions will be discussed at meeting. Be prepared to contribute.
Ref - hand burns and fund to cover treatment. Ofcrs are to report minor injuries sustained in car testing to B.D. who will assign cover stories. Allocation of special funds will also be discussed.
There is a barely-legible handwritten note in the margin that seems to say, "Don't mention what happened Thurs if Cap Jim present."
Just as odd was another one, scrawled by hand on a blank piece of white paper with little pinholes that suggest it may at one time have been posted on a bulletin board. It says:
"Will the wiseguy motherf'cker who put a bumper sticker on the Dodge Stealth please remove it? Now!!!!!"
Then comes what appears to be a photocopy of a time sheet with margin notes. It lists 4 hours spent on a Wednesday afternoon (undated) at car compound, and lists activity as "speculation." Another 6 hours is billed the next day for two detectives to "adjust brakes, return original tires, repair lock on trunk."
Finally, there's a full page piece of paper advertising "Madame Leone, Psychic, Crime-Solving Specialist" It offers the services of one "Hungarian born mystic" whose credentials include such accomplishments as "turn water into wine," "replicate fingerprints of the dead," and "bladder stones." Bladder stones? Two tiny holes in the top right corner suggest that the ad was stapled to a piece of correspondence, a memo, a request for funds, or a receipt. But the accompanying piece of paper was nowhere to be found.
Then there's the strange pawnshop receipt that can no longer be read. Something was evidently sold or hocked. But it's the note on the pawn broker's attached business card that puzzles me. It says, "failed luminol testing." Imagine that!
I thanked my friend Otto, and am now negotiating with several tabloids for the rights to my exclusive. Watch the newsstands for this one! It's a bombshell!
19 January 2004
Motion to Exclude
Superior Court Case LA040377
California v. Robert Blake
Prosecution Motion to Exclude Evidence; or
in the alternative,
For a Change of Venue to Baghdad
The people come before this court seeking to exclude at trial certain materials described by defense counsel as "evidence." Such evidence can generally be described as exculpatory and inflammatory.
The people have a circumstantial case only. And because our case is purely circumstantial, we will not be presenting evidence. To allow the other side to offer evidence when we have none would be grossly unfair and prejudicial.
Already, the defense has compiled a mountain of evidence showing that other persons beside the defendant may have killed the victim, Ms. Bonny Lee Bakley. We rely on precedent set in 1995 (People v. Orenthal James Simpson) when we argue a mountain of evidence is not necessarily an advantage. Therefore, it is not unduly burdensome to the defense to prohibit the introduction of evidence. We argue that circumstantial cases should be argued on the basis of theory and conjecture alone, and without the confusion and prejudice that is often created by the presentation of hard evidence to jurors.
The people also ask this court to exclude all testimony which may be prejudicial against the state's case. Specifically, we seek to have this court bar anything which may impeach the state's witnesses, or which could cause jurors to question the police work done in this case.
Clearly this matter has public policy implications. To undermine the credibility of the Los Angeles Police Department does not serve the public interest.
Further, we contend that information regarding the business activities of the deceased, Ms. Bakley, may inflame the jury. If jurors are told, for instance, that Ms. Bakley made a living in porn, prostitution, and extortion, they may wish to see evidence of the same. If they are told that she made numerous enemies as a result of her lifestyle, again the jurors may expect the supporting documents and evidence. And with the evidence excluded, the testimony becomes pointless.
Therefore, it is the state's request that all testimony be excluded, as well.
Change of Venue
In the alternative, we seek a delay in this trial in order that the venue can be changed to a place more suited to a speedy conviction.
We propose to this court that the venue be changed to Baghdad on the grounds that the publicity surrounding this case has caused the victim to be disliked by the public and the defendant to appear sympathetic. If the trial is held in an occupied territory under fire by the U.S. military, jurors are far more likely to respect the authority of the prosecution and less apt to arrive at a verdict that is at odds with the allegations of the state.
Shellie L. Samuels
Assistant District Attorney
08 December 2003
The Big 'Thank You'
To Shellie Samuels
Office of the District Attorney
Los Angeles, California
You goofed. In my previous letter - November 17 - I suggested that you adopt some appropriate courtroom theatrics to distract from the embarrassing reality that you have no evidence against Robert Blake. I stand by my advice. Which is not to say I want to see an innocent man convicted. No indeed! Rather, I think your strategy should be to lose with style and get that big publishing house paycheck at the end of the day.
Okay. You tried. Arguing in court that defense attorney Mesereau should say "thank you" to Detective Ito... well, it might have been a good idea, but it didn't work. Trust me. When that hearing was playing live on TV here, about half a dozen humans (and more than a dozen hamsters) were watching. And I heard snickers from all quarters. Yes, Shellie. You bombed.
Oh, you could have done it right. I think the real problem was that you lacked humor. You sounded like a crotchety old scold telling somebody else's kids, "remember your manners." Had you approached the matter of the thank you in a more light-hearted way, the public would have loved it. Here's a suggestion:
"Your honor, Detective Ito, not to mention the entire scientific unit, has spent countless hours rummaging though Ms. Bakley's tacky, cheap, soiled, bloody, putrified garments. And we've gotten not so much as a thank-you from this court - least of all from the defense attorney who now, to my amazement, says he wants to test them.
"What do I care if we get any thanks or not. We're paid by the taxpayers. We are professionals. We don't snipe about petty crap like that.
"But this much I will say: Thank you! Yes, thank you Mr. Defence Attorney! Thank you for offering to take those damned things off our hands! Yes, thank you Mr. Defence Attorney, thank you for clearing the air in the crime lab! Take the louse-infested clothes! Take all of them - and the sooner, the better! I've seen nicer stuff at the Salvation Army thirft shop! For gosh sakes, they've been stinking up the evidence locker for almost three freakin' years!
"Take the clothes, Mr. Mesereau. And thanks for the favor! Burn 'em. Sell 'em on eBay! Donate 'em to a junk museum! What do I care? Just take the infernal things and be done with it!"
Can you imagine how different the reaction would have been, dearest Shellie? People would have loved you! That kind of talk resonates, as they say, with common perceptions about this case. Yes, people say you have no evidence. But by asking to test the notorious Bakley clothing, the defense is at least conceding that there is evidence. Of course, it may not exactly be evidence against this defendant, but it's evidence.
And people don't like Ms. Bakley, either. So let the defense test the clothes. They might find enough ... how can I put this delicately? ... enough male DNA? .... to make Kobe Bryant's attorney blush - or go into shock, for that matter. Now why on earth would you want to hold on to that stuff?
You see, Shellie, you just need to have a sense of humor about this case. You really didn't expect Mesereau to apologize to the court for not saying "thank you," now did you? But you could have had great fun with the clothing matter. Not just about the defense getting the stuff ... but the whole question of evidence labeling, too. You could have raised profound legal questions, as well as generated some friendly press coverage, had you said something like this:
"Your Honor, the defense makes too much of the fact that he has no list of items from the crime lab, particularly where the Bakley clothes are concerned. But this highlights a real debate we have going over definitions. What exactly is an "item" of evidence? Your Honor, when these clothes came into the crime lab, they were a mess. Ms. Bakley's morals, were, well, not exactly Mother Theresa, if you know what I mean. And she was too busy writing letters to do her laundry. So what we had was a bunch of crusty garments - so crusty, in fact, that certain items actually peeled when the forensics people touched them.
"So what do we do? You have a bra with a big piece of snotty kleenex in it. Is that exhibit 25? Or exhibits 25 and 26? I don't know! I don't give a damn! Just dump it on the defense! And wait until they see those panty hose! Are crabs evidence, too? Away with the entire gruesome lot of it! I have nightmares about stuff crawling on me every time I think about those clothes! Take them Mr. Mesereau. And have fun!"
Oh, Shellie. How close you came to stardom! Had you not pushed for a "thank you" from the defense, and instead raised the debate to Constitutional proportions with the "what constitutes an item" theory, you'd have been the guest on Larry King Live for a whole week. You came so close, yet missed the mark by a mile.
Well, Shellie. I do thank you for your letter of November 27 in which you sought my further advice. But I do wish you had cleared your remarks about the evidence with me, first. It could have spared you some criticism. They're calling your tirade a case of extreme PMS on the Court TV discussion board.... as you probably already know.
But don't worry. We'll get it right. You, too, can lose a high-profile case with dignity and class. It's not as hard as it might seem. Looking forward to your reply.
Opus the Hamster
17 November 2003
Keep Your Eye
On The Book Deal
To Shellie Samuels
Office of the District Attorney
Los Angeles, California
I hope you don't mind my familiar greeting. I am not trying to be fresh. I am happily married and the father of sixteen grown offspring. Moreover, I am a rodent, and proud of it.
So let's get straight to the point. You're in a tough situation. I feel for you. The LA prosecutor thought he had a real winner with the Blake case. After all, Robert Blake has a reputation for being a wise guy. And the victim? Well, she was such that anyone who got tangled up with her probably at least gave a passing thought to murder.
"How could we possibly lose?" That's the question your bosses probably asked themselves as they went barrelling into that courtroom for the arraignment.
But then things turned messy. No evidence pointed toward the suspect. And, it appears, a lot of it points away from him. I can understand why Dixon backed out. But it's unfair he picked on you to take his place. He knows this will be another high-profile trial that goes down in flames for the prosecutor. And you're going to be remembered forever as "the prosecutor."
What can you do? It's a hard call, isn't it, dearest Shellie? You could quit and look for work elsewhere. But I doubt you will. You've gone on the record with CBS telling them all that stuff Dixon wrote down on index cards, just like you did at the last hearing. So let's find a better alternative for you.
Look at the entertainment potential of the trial. Okay, you don't have evidence against Blake. But you can make the accusations really newsworthy.
Perhaps your office still has those old gloves that didn't fit OJ. Try them on Mr. Blake. And do it late in the day so it makes prime time in the east. Okay, the gloves have nothing to do with the McBonny McBakley McMurder, but neither did the Earle Caldwell list or anything else you office has come up with so far.
Dare to ask who killed "Doctor" Laura's mother. Yes! People will sit up in their seats for that one. Was it Blake? Of course not. But the question deserves to be asked. And you, dearest Shellie, are the one in a position to do it.
How about that former California congressman, Gary Condit? Why don't you just give him a call and see if he can supply you with some little momentos of his, uh, platonic friendship with the murdered intern? You can just throw them into the mix -- Exhibit 1180, Exhibit 1181, Exhibit 1182, and so on. You don't have to talk about them. Just sit back and let the media speculate about what all that might mean. Sound like fun so far?
Now, think of the mileage you'll get out of the witnesses, if only you call the right ones. Take Christian "Son-of-a-Marlon" Brando. Trust me on this - the public wants to see more of him. Promise him immunity from prosecution if he pleads to something, and then put him on the stand. What he says under oath doesn't matter much. It's what he pleads to beforehand that counts. Maybe you can get him to confess that he used money Bakley gave him to supply radio talkman Rush Limp Hog with dope. Brando alone could get you hours of airtime on live TV.
Then there's the Margerry problem. I know you worry about that a lot. Witnesses who make up stuff as they go along can be a prosecutor's nightmare. But you could have a little fun with her, too. Ask her really simple questions that don't require any lying. Try this one: Who did clients prefer in bed, you or Bonny? You get the point. Subjective stuff. Margerry's good at that, even if she appears a bit weak on the facts.
And pre-trial strategy can be as important as the trial. Remember that ankle monitor you had the judge order Blake to wear? Blake's living nicely enough. I think he'll stay put. You need to put that thing on Ron Ito. Take my word for it. There's a lot of talk within the underground rodent community of Los Angeles that Ito's going to try to make a run for it before the trial even starts. Ito may not be your best witness, but jurors will get suspicious if you suddenly can't find him.
And you must be prepared in case things go really badly for you in court. You can always hold a press conference and shed a few tears as you explain that you never wanted this case because you knew all along that the real killer was ... ummmm .... Martha Stewart!
Finally, there's the matter of your future, dearest Shellie. I see a bright one for you if you just play your cards right. Lighten your hair just a bit, try some feminine curls, and put on sexy clothes. The glasses have absolutely got to go. Do get a nice tan. Remember, with the OJ glove trick and all the rest, the staff over at MTV is going to be taking a long, hard look at you. You may or may not get your own permanent show, but there are great possibilities there.
And let's not forget the guest-host slot on Saturday Night Live. As the prosecutor who nailed Mr. Limp Hog, they'll do anything to get you.
But your real break will definitely be the book deal, dearest Shellie. The more sensational the trial, the bigger the advance. Drop hints next time the National Enquirer comes calling that you are having an affair with Bill Clinton. Imagine how much more attention you'll get after that gets in print!
It's probably not too soon to start looking for publishers. Of course, they won't be mailing out fat checks as bait until after you have your day in the spotlight. But if you take my advice, you'll rake in millions.
So, my dear, I will sum up my advice to you quite simply. This is no routine case and you don't have to be a loser just because you can't get a conviction. Whatever you do, let the trial, and not the evidence, be the story. And above all....
Keep your eye on that book deal!
Opus the Hamster