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Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Actress/Model Rebecca Schaeffer murdered

The Stalking and Murder of Rebecca Schaeffer

Actress Rebecca Schaeffer had a starring role in the sitcom My Sister Sam and a bright future ahead of her. But all that promise came to a devastating halt when a deranged fan, Robert Bardo, began writing letters and stalking the young woman. Bardo, who had also targeted other fresh-faced young entertainers, tracked Schaeffer to her apartment, rang her door and shot her to death. Bardo got her address through the Department of Motor Vehicles. Following her death, the Screen Actors Guild got the DMV to restrict access to records in hopes of preventing further such incidents.

What You Don't Know:
• Rebecca Schaeffer had a short stint on the soap opera One Life to Live.
• Schaeffer lived with costar Pam Dawber and Dawber's actor husband, Mark Harmon, in Los Angeles after landing the role of Patti Russell on My Sister Sam.
• Three years before the murder, Robert Bardo began writing letters to Schaeffer.
• Bardo also attempted to meet singers Debbie Gibson and Tiffany, but says he was most obsessed with Schaeffer. He once tried to sneak on to the studio lot to give her a stuffed teddy bear.
• Rebecca's last film was titled The End of Innocence.
• Schaeffer was scheduled to audition for The Godfather: Part III the morning she was murdered.

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Rebecca's stalking/murder shed light on the horrors that celebrities often face with deranged fans turned stalkers. Since her stalker was able to find out so much personal information about her, enough to devise the plan to murder her (he disguised himself as a flower delivery man and gained entry into her home); laws have been established to protect celebrities' private information.

Schaeffer's killer Robert Bardo was tried and convicted by prosecutor Marcia Clark, who would later become most famous for her unsuccessful attempts to prosecute O.J. Simpson.

Because Bardo had simply managed to locate Schaeffer's home address at a branch of the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), laws were subsequently enacted to deter such similar stalking incidents.

As with John Lennon's killer Mark David Chapman before him, Bardo, was found to have in his possession a copy of J.D. Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye" at the time of his arrest.

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The Stalking Death that Changed the Law
Rebecca Shaeffer Never Lived to Realize Her Success


In the late 1980s, a young actress named Rebecca Lucile Shaeffer was struggling to find her big break into show business. Born in 1967, the only child of a psychologist and a writer, Rebecca was sleek, svelte and beautiful. Her beauty landed her on the cover of Seventeen magazine.

She was at the beginning of a promising career as an actress when an unemployed Tucson, Ariz., fast-food worker, who had developed an obsession with her, struck her down in 1989.

She couldn’t even afford a phone when her agent tacked a note on her apartment door telling her to report to the set of My Sister Sam, her breakthrough starring opposite Pam Dawber of Mork and Mindy fame. She moved from New York to California and rented an apartment in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles, in a Tudor style building at 120 N. Sweetzer. She lived a quiet life, alone.

The show was a success, but Rebecca would never live to enjoy it.

Robert John Bardo was the youngest of seven siblings, son of a former Air Force officer. He grew up in Tucson, Arizona, the object of much physical and mental abuse.

According to one of his teachers, Bardo was "a time bomb on the verge of exploding." When he was 13, Bardo took a bus to Maine in search of Samantha Smith, the child that became famous for sending a letter to Mikhail Gorbachov.

The authorities found him and returned him to Tucson.

Bardo became a good student, but wrote his teachers threatening letters. He was hospitalized two times because of "severe emotional damages."

At 16, while working as a janitor for a fast food restaurant, he found a better reality in television. In the fall of 1986, he became a fan of My Sister Sam.

In particular, Bardo began to be obsessed with the character "Patti," played by Rebecca Schaeffer. He built a shrine to her in his bedroom.

"She came into my life in the right moment. She was brilliant, pretty, outrageous, her innocence impressed me. She turned into a goddess for me, an idol. Since then, I turned an atheist, I only adored her."
- Robert John Bardo

Like millions of fans, Bardo started to write letters to her. Rebecca responded, writing that his letter was "the most beautiful" that she had ever received. On her letter, she drew a peace sign, a heart, and signed it: "With love from Rebecca." The day Bardo received the letter he wrote in his diary: When I think of her, I would like to become famous to impress her.

In June 1987, Bardo arrived at the Burbank Studio gates where My Sister Sam was produced, carrying a teddy bear and a bouquet of roses for Rebecca. The guard didn't let him in. Bardo returned a month later with a knife, but didn't gain entrance then either. In his diary, he wrote: "I don't lose. Period."

Bardo returned to Tucson. Later on, he saw her new film Class Struggle in Beverly Hills. In the movie, Rebecca had a bed scene with a male actor. This upset Bardo. He couldn't envision his innocent young girl being an adult woman. To him, she had become "one more of the bitches of Hollywood." Bardo decided Rebecca had to be punished for her immorality. He drew a diagram of her body and marked spots where he planned to shoot her. He asked his older brother, Edgar, to buy him a gun.

Robert Bardo, 21, bombarded Rebecca with swarms of love letters. He collected videos of Rebecca’s TV shows: Amazing Stories, My Sister Sam, One Life to Live. He bedecked his room with dozens of glossy publicity photos of the girl he lusted for. He mailed an ominous-sounding letter to his sister in Tennessee, telling her if he couldn’t have Rebecca, no one else would. He hopped a Hollywood-bound bus in Tucson, hell-bent on tracking her down.

On July 17, 1989, he called her agent’s office and tried to find out where she lived. Refused this information, he relentlessly roamed the streets, flashing her photo and asking passersby if they knew her address. He needlessly paid a private detective $250 to find her. For as little as $1, a person can go into any of California’s DMV offices, fill out Form 70 stating who they are, what person they want information on, the reason, and how they intend to use it. Even if they lie, the information is delivered on the spot.

Armed with this information, on July 18 1989, Bardo, dressed in a yellow Polo shirt, rang Shaeffer's doorbell. The intercom wasn't working, so she came downstairs to the apartment building's front door. She saw Bardo, and basically ignored his attention. He waited another hour and rang the bell again. Still in her housecoat, she returned to the front door, turned the handle and opened it.

Bardo's own account of the incident: "She had this kid voice…sounded like a little brat or something…said I was wasting her time! …Wasting her time! No matter what, I thought that was a very callous thing to say to a fan, you know…I grabbed the door…guns still in the bag…I grab it by the trigger…I come around, and kapow, and she's like screaming… aaahhh…screaming…why, aaahhh … and it's like, oh God…"

A neighbor named Richard Goldman heard the two gunshots and two bloodcurdling screams and rushed to her door and found Schaeffer’s body clad in a black robe, twitching in the building’s foyer. He checked her pulse, but found none. Her arms were akimbo and her feet were wedged between the door and its frame. Witnesses saw a young man in a yellow shirt jogging up the Hollywood block. He turned into an alley and disappeared.

Sirens screaming, Rebecca was rushed to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. She lingered for 30 minutes before she died.

The next day, back in Tucson, several motorists called 911 to report a man running around in traffic on Interstate 10. It looked like he was trying to get hit. He confessed immediately to the murder. Arizona police faxed his photo to LA, and witnesses confirm his identity. In court, he appeared dazed and confused. "I could probably tell you what I did after I killed her, how I got sick and all...but I don’t feel like it," he said.

Rebecca's body was shipped back to her native Oregon, for burial.

A year after the slaying, Bardo gave an interview in which he stated, "I was a fan of hers and I may have carried it too far. But a lot of things have appeared in the press to make me out to be a monster. If I had one wish where if it was to ever come true it would be for Rebecca Schaeffer to be alive today."

When Bardo's sister heard about the murder, she contacted the police about her brother. He was extradited to California. Bardo defense attorneys pleaded he had an unstable mental condition due to childhood abuse.

Bardo was tried and convicted by prosecutor Marcia Clark, who would later become most famous for her unsuccessful attempts to prosecute O.J. Simpson.

Convicted of capital murder in a non-jury courtroom, Bardo was sentenced to life without parole by Superior Court Judge Dino Fulgoni on Dec. 20, 1991. Eyes flashing like Satanic neons, Bardo told the judge: "The idea I killed her for fame is totally ridiculous. I do realize the magnitude of what I’ve done. I don’t think it needs to be compounded by a bunch of lies because she’s an actress."

Schaeffer's murder and the Teresa Saldana assault case provoked Governor George Deukmejian to sign a law that prohibited the DMV from releasing addresses and inspired the Los Angeles Police Department to create the first Threat Management Team. The California law was passed in 1990 and became effective on the first day of 1991. The law was the first of its kind and later helped to convict Jonathan Norman, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison for attempting to carry out threats against director Steven Spielberg.

According to the legislation, a stalker is defined as "someone who willfully, maliciously and repeatedly follows or harasses another victim and who makes a credible threat with the intent to place the victim or victim's immediate family in fear of their safety." There must be at least two incidents to constitute the crime and show a "continuity of purpose" or credible threat.
By 1993, all states, as well as Canada, put anti-stalking laws into effect.

Be happy in jail!
- Dana Schaeffer, Rebecca's mother, to Bardo.

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Rebecca lay dead on the pavement in front of her new apartment in Hollywood, having been shot to death by a paranoid schizophrenic man around her age, who came to her apartment with a gun, most likely to save her from whatever delusions he had.

Unfortunately, after signing an autograph for him twenty minutes earlier, she abruptly told him she was busy, he, in a fit of irrational anger, took the gun from the brown bag where he had carried it and shot her once in the chest.

Rebecca screamed out, "Why?" then hit the walkway and, a few moments later, died on the scene.

The killer fled, aghast at his own act and strode onto the freeway, walking blindly, hoping to be hit and killed by some car or truck.

He was subsequently arrested and plea-bargained for a life sentence without the possiblity of parole with a then young assistant district attorney named Marcia Clark, who later became famous for her bungled attempt to convict O.J. Simpson of murder.

There was never any trial in the Rebecca Schaeffer case.

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