Robert John Bardo took a seat in the office as he waited for an investigator to become available. Clutching a photograph tightly, he shifted nervously in his chair, watching the figures around going about their business, oblivious to his presence. Eventually, the office manager gestured him over to a partitioned cubicle and greeted him with a firm handshake, before taking his position behind the desk and pausing to allow the young man to introduce himself. At nineteen, Bardo seemed harmless, although perhaps a little out-of-place at a company that usually dealt with older clientele. He presented the large, glossy picture of an attractive woman and announced that he wanted to contact ‘an old friend.’ The black-and-white image was a publicity shot from a film studio, and below the girl’s face was her autograph. ‘He said he knew her from some Hollywood studios,’ recalled William Johnson, one of the investigators present that day at the Anthony Agency. For Anthony Zinkus, the man sat across from him holding the photo seemed genuine, if a little awkward. ‘He said he wanted to send her a gift,’ explained the manager. ‘He said that she might be somewhere in the L.A. area, and that she had connections with the television business.’
Rebecca Schaeffer had awoken knowing that her life was about to change. Today was the day that all her dedication would finally pay off and that she’d reap the rewards of her hard work. As she stepped out of the shower, she was aware that the morning was escaping from her, and in less than an hour she was to meet the man that could make her dream a reality. She had the chance to win the most coveted of film roles, a part in a highly-anticipated motion picture, one that could transform her into a movie star. She had already been blessed with a starring role in a popular television series, but that had come to an end, and now she was ready to take the next big step. ‘I think she was optimistic, upbeat, and very excited about what her future held,’ claimed Dyan Cannon, who had directed the young actress on her most recent project. And any moment now a screenplay was to appear, one that she so desperately craved, and when the silence was disturbed by a loud bang on her front door, Rebecca thought it had finally arrived.
The gunshot echoed through the neighbourhood. The few that were home that quiet Tuesday morning were unsure on what exactly they had heard. ‘I was on the phone near the window when I heard the scream,’ reported one neighbour, Francois Lesloud, who witnessed the perpetrator running from the scene of the crime. It was shortly after 10am on a beautiful July morning when Rebecca Schaeffer fell to the ground in the doorway of her Hollywood apartment. ‘The door shuck, the wall shuck,’ explained Lynne Marta, a fellow resident of the luxurious complex. ‘She was still screaming while I was dialling 911. By the time I got to the door, she was wailing. I opened the small hatch in my door. There was a smell of gunfire.’ Thirty minutes later, Rebecca Schaeffer lay dead on an operating table in a nearby emergency room, the victim of a seemingly random act of violence. She had never met her attacker before that day and he offered no clear motive for his actions, yet in a single moment he had claimed the life of a twenty-one-year-old woman with her whole future ahead of her. But once the identity of her killer was revealed, so too was the fear that this could happen to anyone.
The murder of Rebecca Schaeffer was less random than authorities had first believed. The world had already been exposed to the dangers of stalkers almost a decade earlier with the death of musician John Lennon, and as the eighties progressed, other celebrities found themselves the targets of unhinged fans, whose devotion to their favourite artists would eventually lead to violence. Bardo had developed a fascination with Schaeffer over the course of three years, regularly watching episodes of her cancelled sitcom from his collection of videocassettes, and in his mind the two of them were kindred spirits. It is not uncommon for a fan to see themselves in their favourite film star or singer, but this imagined connection can occasionally turn deadly when a fan turns fanatical. ‘Stalking is a relatively new phenomenon. Even though all fifty states now have laws addressing it, this has not always been the case,’ detailed author Gregory K. Moffatt in his 2000 book Blind-Sided: Homicide Where It is Least Expected. ‘Stalkers themselves are a diverse group. They are male and female, old and young, from varied races, and from varied socioeconomic classes. Despite their diversity, stalkers share some characteristics. One study has shown that stalkers are most often white, have stalked others in the past, and range in age from eighteen to fifty, and that more than half have a mental illness.’
He was a quiet man. This is often the description given by neighbours and colleagues when asked what kind of person an assailant was before they had committed a crime. This is most commonly used to summarise perpetrators of mass murders, such as public shootings and suicide bombings. After Stephen Paddock opened fire on fifty-eight people at a Las Vegas concert in 2017, before turning the gun on himself, his girlfriend described him as ‘a kind, caring, quiet man.’ Later that year, in the Australian city of Melbourne, a radicalised man called Ali Khalic Shire Ali was arrested after police discovered that he intended on massacring a New Year’s Eve party with an AK-47 assault rifle. Following his arrest, The Age revealed that ‘the suspect’s a quiet young man, part of a beautiful family, with a father who tirelessly drove a taxi, so that he and his brothers and sister could get a private education and move from their commission house.’ As recently as April 2020, following a mass shooting in Nova Scotia by fifty-one-year-old Gabriel Wortman, the killer was referred to by a former girlfriend as a ‘good person, he works hard, people liked him.’
Bardo fit the characteristics associated with those responsible for random acts of extreme violence. He was young, white, and by all accounts a loner; a man with no friends or meaningful relationships, who had turned to celebrities for meaning in an otherwise empty existence. He had moved through life inconsequentially, almost invisible to those around him, only attracting attention when he caused a disturbance around his neighbourhood. He was just nineteen-years-old at the time he brought Schaeffer’s life to an end, just two years younger than his victim, and with one bullet he destroyed both of their lives. One would die, the other destined to spend the remainder of their life behind bars. But what could have brought a lonely young man to take the life of an innocent woman whom he had never met before that fateful day, and what was it about Rebecca Schaeffer that led him to obsession? ‘How do we discriminate between those who are simply fixated on a public figure, and those who will inappropriately communicate and approach? Can we identify the factors that predict an attack upon a public figure?’ posed J. Reid Meloy, Jens Hoffmann, and Lorraine Sheridan in 2018’s Stalking, Threatening, and Attacking Public Figures. ‘The basis for a fixation may be a ‘narcissistic linking fantasy,’ a conscious belief that one has a special and idealised relationship with another person or object. Such fantasies, in turn, may compensate for an actual life that is blighted and forlorn, and the feelings that adhere to it.’
While Lennon had been shot dead by an obsessed fan, and President Ronald Reagan was almost assassinated in an attempt to impress a Hollywood actress, it was the shocking murder of Rebecca Schaeffer that first brought the dangers of stalking to the public consciousness. ‘Stalking, in the sense of systematic harassment, was formally defined only recently,’ wrote author Brad Nicol. ‘Stalking is defined by forensic psychologists, those who have done most research into the phenomenon, as ‘a constellation of behaviours in which one individual inflicts on another repeated, unwanted intrusions and communications.’ More precise definitions are difficult to produce because stalking doesn’t come down to a single act. It involves a multitude of acts, not all of which are illegal in themselves (an obscene phone call is; sending an email, or standing outside a house, is not). Nonetheless, as the authors of a recent study say, ‘As far as the general public is concerned, it may be that stalking is like great art: they cannot define it, but they know it when they see it.’’ The behaviour of Bardo prior to the murder could have been perceived as harmless fandom, but as his later actions revealed, affection that is not reciprocated can lead to frustration, which in turn could manifest itself physically.
The murder of Schaeffer would take place during the same summer that a young Hollywood star took a fan to court after their behaviour had begun to encroach on his personal life. Twenty-six-year-old Michael J. Fox first become a household name with the popular sitcom Family Ties in the early eighties, but following the success of both Back to the Future and Teen Wolf, his face adorned the walls of teenage girls across America. Having started a relationship with his television co-star Tracy Jo Pollan three years earlier, Fox tied the knot in 1988. A year later, on 17 July, 1989, Tina Marie Ledbetter, a shipping clerk from Westlake Village in Los Angeles, declared her innocence during an arraignment after being accused of sending the actor more than five-thousand death threats. The barrage of hate mail, which were received by employees at Paramount Studios and his publicist, came as a result of Fox’s marriage to Pollan. ‘Michael, I will kill you,’ she declared in one letter. ‘I will kill you if you don’t divorce her. I will kill your unborn baby.’ In December 1989, Ledbetter was ordered to undergo psychological counselling while on probation after finally pleading guilty to the changes. While the defendant would agree to the demands of the judge, seven years later Ledbetter found herself returning to court after Quantum Leap star Scott Bakula filed charges due to threatening letters he had received following his separation from his wife, during which time he had begun a relationship with actress Chelsea Field.
The first time he saw Rebecca Schaeffer, he felt that he had fallen in love. It was 1 October, 1986 and sixteen-year-old Robert John Bardo was sat watching L.A., the season seven premiere of the long-running television series Magnum P.I., which had returned to CBS after a six-month absence. During one of the commercial breaks, an advert came on for an upcoming sitcom starring Pam Dawber, an actress best known to audiences as the sidekick to Robin Williams on the hit show Mork & Mindy. In the four years since its conclusion, Dawber had appeared in an episode of The Twilight Zone and a succession of made-for-TV feature films, but now she was set to make a regular return with My Sister Sam. The show, which told of a freelance photographer whose life is turned upside down when her younger sister comes to live with her, would make its debut five days later. The clip featured both Dawber and Schaeffer, and with the latter just four weeks shy of her nineteenth birthday, she was presented as the wholesome girl-next-door. It was this innocence and everyday quality that immediately appealed to Bardo. ‘That’s what got me curious about her,’ he later admitted. ‘But then I’d watch the show, and she’s very outgoing, and bubbly, and everything.’
It was this purity that first fascinated her killer, but if he was infatuated with that innocence, then what brought him to shoot her in cold blood without provocation? If he was in love with her like he had claimed, why would he travel almost five hundred miles to Los Angeles in order to gun her down on her own doorstep? In the weeks following her death, the tabloids revealed that Rebecca Schaeffer was not the first girl he had developed an obsession with, and that with each of his fixations, he had travelled across the country in an effort to meet them. He had attempted it once before with Schaeffer, but he had also tried and failed to meet other female celebrities. But he felt a true connection with Schaeffer, who had also grown up on the West Coast of America, with neither having any connection to the bright lights of Hollywood until Schaeffer made her way to California in the summer of 1986. But this is where the similarities ended, because whereas Schaeffer was raised in a stable and loving home, Bardo was the youngest of seven children and was denied the affection and nurturing that any child deserves from their parents. While he was never physically or sexually abused, emotional neglect is another common characteristic that many violent offenders share, from serial killers to mass murderers. After his crime was committed, his backstory sounded all-too-familiar to the detectives investigating his life.
Stability was never something that Robert John Bardo had been able to take for granted. Growing up an army brat, he spent the first few years of his life moving from place to place, until his parents finally settled the family in Tucson, a major city in Arizona. His father, Phillip Bardo, was an uncommissioned Air Force officer, and while stationed at the Yokota Air Base near Tokyo, he met and fell in love with June, a Korean-born Japanese civilian. Returning to the United States with his new bride, the couple would have seven children together, with the last, Robert, born shortly after New Year 1970. Although he was considered a straight-A student, Bardo was referred to by one teacher at Pueblo High School as ‘a time bomb waiting to explode,’ and would regularly harass another with letters in which he threatened to kill her, with which he signed his name as either Scarface, Dirty Harry, or James Bond. Among the letters that he sent to his teachers included one in which he claimed he would take his own life. As his behaviour grew increasingly erratic, he lost interest in his studies and finally turned his back on school while in the ninth grade. ‘My mistake was dropping out of high school,’ he later admitted. ‘I was isolated. I didn’t have any friends, never had a girlfriend.’
By the time he abandoned high school, Bardo had already developed his first obsession with a public figure. While he would later become fixated on pop singers and television stars, his first fascination was with a high school student who had been thrust under the spotlight following her correspondents with a world leader. In the early eighties, the United States and the Soviet Union were still in a state of Cold War, and American citizens feared Communism and the supposed nuclear terror that their enemies represented. In the winter of 1982, ten-year-old Samantha Smith wrote a letter to Soviet politician Yuri Andropov regarding her concerns over the increased tensions between the two countries. ‘‘Why do you want to conquer the world, or at least the U.S.?’ she had asked the Soviet leader. Andropov assured Samantha, whom he described as ‘a courageous and honest girl, resembling in some ways Becky, Tom Sawyer’s friend from the well-known book,’ that Moscow wanted a relationship of peace, trade, and cooperation with ‘such a great country as the United States of America,’’ wrote Time in 1983. ‘Samantha said that Andropov’s reply read like ‘a letter from a friend,’ and that the Soviet leader did not seem as grim as she had imagined.’
Perhaps sensing the innocence and kindness that he would later find so appealing with Rebecca Schaeffer, Bardo soon developed an obsession with Smith and decided to travel to her home state of Maine in an effort to meet the young Ambassador. His visit was unsuccessful and his chance of talking to her in person was destroyed when, on 25 August, 1985, a plane carrying Smith and her father crashed as it approached the runway of the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport, killing all the passengers on board. ‘Jane Smith, Samantha’s mother, said she was waiting for her husband and their only child at the Augusta airport when airline officials told her of the crash,’ reported the Chicago Tribune. ‘Mrs. Smith said she later visited the crash site. ‘It’s just a pile of ashes,’ she said.’ More than a year would pass before Bardo first saw the commercial for My Sister Sam, by which point Samantha Smith had faded from his memory and his latest obsession had begun to take root. But unlike his interest in Smith, his fascination with the sitcom star would eventually lead to murder.
While he may have become convinced that he and Schaeffer were one and the same, the truth was that the two were from completely different worlds, having experienced childhoods that had very little in common with one another. Whereas Bardo came from a large family and lacked a close connection to his parents and siblings, Rebecca Lucile Schaeffer was the first and only child of two loving parents. Benson Schaeffer was a respected child psychologist in the Oregon city of Eugene, and together with his wife, Danna, the two welcomed their daughter into the world on 6 December, 1967. From an early age, Rebecca was a responsible and intelligent child, and throughout high school it was clear that she enjoyed being the centre of attention. ‘She was interested in drama, and so had the lead in Witness for the Prosecution,’ recalled her father in 2019. ‘She really wanted to be an actress.’ In 1980, the family relocated from Eugene to Portland, and at the age of fourteen, following a suggestion from her hair stylist, Schaeffer tried her hand at modelling. Despite her earlier ambition of becoming either a lawyer or a doctor, she signed with the Troutman Profile Inc., and in 1984 made her way to New York City.
By this point, much like Bardo, she had turned her back on high school, but for Schaeffer this was because she was determined to land her big break in the entertainment industry. With the help of her early mentor, Nannette Troutman, she gained an internship with the Elite Model Management, and soon found herself sharing an apartment with five other young models in Manhattan. Despite the harsh realities of living in the city, Schaeffer impressed her new friends with her no-nonsense attitude and, determined to advance in the industry, enrolled at the Professional Children’s School in August 1984. Due to her height being just below the industry standard, she was often overlooked for modelling positions, and in an effort to gain further experience, spent some time in Japan, modelling for magazines and appearing in television commercials. Returning to the United States, Schaeffer turned her attention back to performing, now even more determined than ever to become an actress. ‘I saw myself in theatre,’ she told The Day in 1987. ‘But in New York now, you have to have a big name to do much in theatre. A lot of people do film or TV to gain attention. That sounds calculating, but you have to make the right career move.’
For Schaeffer, her time in New York may have been a gruelling experience, but it was one which she would make the most of as she worked as a waitress in between auditions. ‘When Rebecca and I were in New York together she was sixteen, and that is so young,’ explained Barbara Lusch, the actress that Troutman had entrusted to protect her client. ‘This was a big adventure for her and things were going well.’ Having trained under renowned acting teacher Robert Modica, whose other students have included Rachel Ward and David Duchovny, Schaeffer finally made her acting debut in 1985 with One Life to Live. Based around the turbulent personal lives of the Lord family, the show was first broadcast on ABC in July 1966 and would remain one of the longest-running soap operas in American history, eventually coming to an end in 2013 after forty-seven years on air. Schaeffer’s recurring role as Annie Barnes would bear little impact on the overall story arc of the series, but her performance gained acclaim from her co-stars. ‘She was remarkably good for somebody of that age,’ declared Erika Slezak, who would star as the family’s matriarch throughout the history of the show. ‘She had a certain presence and confidence that exudes on screen.’ While her appearance would fail to bring her the exposure she craved, it afforded her the focus and determination she needed to take the next step in her career.
In July 1984, NBC-TV and Amblin Entertainment, the production company owned by Hollywood filmmaker Steven Spielberg, announced a new television series entitled Amazing Stories. An anthology of horror and fantasy tales, many adapted from the magazine of the same name, the show was revealed just two months after the release of Spielberg’s latest motion picture, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Making its debut on 29 September, 1985, the show was only a minor critical success but would resonate with young audiences, showcasing the imagination of such filmmakers as Clint Eastwood, Joe Dante, and Martin Scorsese. The second season made it to the small screen in the autumn of 1986, with its second episode, Miscalculation, broadcast on the anniversary of the pilot. Directed by Tom Holland, fresh from his success with the horror comedy Fright Night, the episode starred Pretty in Pink actor Jon Cryer as an awkward teenager who uses mysterious chemicals to bring the women from his pornography magazines to life with disastrous consequences. Schaeffer would appear in only one scene, but all these minor roles eventually brought her to the attention of Warner Bros.
Her luck would change when Schaeffer returned to her apartment one evening to find a note taped to the door, inviting her to an audition in Los Angeles. ‘I had no phone, and I didn’t even have enough money for the bus. I ran twenty blocks to find my agent,’ she told The Messenger following the broadcast of the first season of My Sister Sam. ‘I was never frightened. I wasn’t nervous. I knew I could do it, and all I felt was happiness at getting the chance.’ While a sitcom had never been a consideration for the young actress, her minor work had caught the eye of executives at CBS, and the following day she made her way from New York to California to audition for the show. According to a 1988 article published by Spy, the concept for the show had first been conceived by an elusive figure called Roy Licerio and pitched to Scott Kaufer, a high-ranking figure at the network. This would soon find its way onto the desk of Diane English, a rising writer and producer who had already tried and failed to launch a sitcom with Foley Square. Having signed a deal with Warner Bros. to create original concepts, English and her husband, Joel Shukovsky, had struggled through a variety of forgettable projects before the studio approached them with their latest sitcom. ‘We never, under this three-year deal, had an opportunity to really get any of our own ideas on the air. It was one of those deals they make with you just to keep you on the lot,’ she recalled decades later. ‘I don’t think they ever really expected us to come up with anything. They just really wanted to keep us on My Sister Sam.’
Created by Stephen Fischer and developed by Susan Beavers, who would later receive three Emmy nominations for her work on Two and a Half Men, My Sister Sam told of a twenty-something freelance photographer whose younger sister comes to live with her, bringing her independent lifestyle to an end. For CBS, this show was a potential vehicle for Pam Dawber. ‘I had a development deal with CBS, but it turned out I spent three-and-a-half years futilely trying to put together a series,’ she explained. ‘Finally, we pitched this idea about a single photographer living with her teenage sister, and at that very moment CBS happened to be in need of a comedy, because both Mary Tyler Moore’s new show and Foley Square had failed. We got the pilot together by the skin of our teeth.’ Yet while the network had high hopes for the concept, the first episode would prove to be a disaster, forcing Warner Bros. Television and Dawber’s own company, Pony Productions, to rework the tone and characters before the network pulled the plug.
‘We’ve made some changes since the pilot episode,’ she confessed to the Kentucky New Era one week before its debut. ‘I felt the character was too one-dimensional. It was too cartoony. We’re not doing a joke show. The new scripts are funny. But it’s a less obvious kind of show. I think the humour is stronger because it’s real. The concept’s still the same, but we don’t want to fall into the trap of, ‘What’s Patti doing this week to screw up Sam’s life?’ Patti will be strong some weeks, but it’s going to centre more on my life.’ For English, she too recognised the challenges that developing a new show would bring. ‘When you start a series, you kind of have to keep your fingers crossed. We do our homework before we cast anybody, and we check them out pretty thoroughly to make sure there are no troublemakers, no drug problems, you name it,’ she told the Washington Post in 1993. ‘One bad apple and the whole thing is in turmoil. The same thing with the crew. And then we almost cast our writing team the same way. I’ve always said that you wind up casting a character as close to the real person as possible, because that’s ultimately what you’re going to get.’
While the character of Patti had been developed without a specific actress in mind, the producers were immediately impressed with both Rebeccca Schaeffer’s audition and her approach to the role. Boasting the same naïvety and youthful energy as her character, she was the perfect choice to portray Sam’s younger sibling. But the chemistry between the two sisters would go beyond the show as Pam Dawber, upon discovering that her co-star had nowhere to live in Los Angeles, invited her to stay with both herself and her partner, actor Mark Harmon, while she found a place of her own. For Dawber, whose younger sister had passed away during open-heart surgery a decade earlier, Schaeffer almost represented a surrogate sister. ‘We just kind of fell into this sisterly thing,’ she told ABC in 2019. ‘Because I’d had a sister. My sister passed away when she was twenty-two and I was twenty-five. And so having another young girl in the house was something I was very comfortable with. It was good for us.’ For Schaeffer, the bond was mutual. ‘This will sound corny, but she’s really like my big sister,’ she explained. ‘She has given me good advice about a lot of things. She’s so level-headed. She made it so easy for me when I first came out here.’
With the cast in place, My Sister Sam made its debut on Monday, 6 October, 1986, sandwiched in between the hit shows Kate & Allie and Newhart. As a result, it became an immediate success, transforming Schaeffer into a minor star and allowing Dawber her first successful role in four years. Reviews were often negative, but audiences could not get enough of Sam and Patti Russell. The first season came to an end in May 1987, during which time Schaeffer would make a small appearance in the Woody Allen comedy Radio Days, but when the show returned for its second run, CBS decided to move it from its prominent Monday night slot to Saturday evening, the least-watched day of the week. The viewer ratings soon fell and after just six episodes the show was place on a hiatus. Reluctantly, the network continued the season four months later, this time having moved the show to Tuesday night, but by this point audiences had lost interest. In March 1988, CBS announced that My Sister Sam was cancelled, and opted not to broadcast the remaining twelve episodes. Yet despite the failure of the show, Rebecca Schaeffer had one fan that had fallen in love with her character, and by this point Robert John Bardo had already attempted to meet his favourite television star.
One beautiful morning in June 1987, Schaeffer and her co-stars were hard at work filming scenes for My Sister Sam, when a young man brandishing flowers and a large cuddly toy arrived at the cast and crew entrance to Soundstage 29 at the Warner Bros. studio in Burbank. Bardo had travelled from Tucson with gifts in-hand, determined to meet the object of his affection. It was not uncommon for enthusiastic fans to try and talk their way on-set, and so there was nothing about the seventeen-year-old that was a cause for alarm. But security knew better than to grant access to the public and so Bardo, like many before him, was turned away. But he refused to take no for an answer and insisted that he should be allowed to meet the actress. ‘I thought he was just lovesick, which I think he was,’ claimed Jack Egger, a former Beverly Hills police captain who, during the eighties, was chief of security at the studio. ‘He was terribly insistent on being let in. ‘Rebecca Schaeffer’ was every other word. ‘I gotta see her. I love her. If I could just see her for a minute.’ He seemed to be an intelligent kid; no raving lunatic, no dumbbell, but something was definitely wrong, mentally. There was something haywire going on, but I didn’t perceive it as potentially violent.’
However, Bardo remained insistent that he be allowed to speak with Schaeffer, and so Egger took the young fan to his office to discuss the matter further. ‘He was one of the most lucid and intelligent types of people that I’ve dealt with,’ explained Egger. ‘He proceeded to tell me how much he was in love with Rebecca Schaeffer, and he just wanted to see her and give her the flowers and the teddy bear. I let him know firmly that he wouldn’t get in.’ For Mimi Weber, one of the leading executives on the show, the initial confrontation with Bardo seemed inconsequential at the time. ‘So a fan tried to get on the lot? So what? Who’s going to think he’s a potential murderer?’ she declared. ‘It would have seemed harmless, another young kid who’s star-struck. We have tons of those. Lots are loveable, some are crazy. But who’s to know?’ After a long discussion, Egger drove Bardo back to his cheap Hollywood motel. ‘I dropped him off and told him the best thing would be for him to go back to Tucson. He said, ‘I’m going to do that.’ All in all, it was a pleasant encounter. I felt I’d accomplished something.’
For Bardo, however, being turned away from the studio was a rejection he was unable to process. ‘I was frustrated and it hit me hard, because I wasn’t expecting that,’ he confessed. ‘I didn’t understand it. It made me feel bad.’ For some time, Bardo had been writing long letters to Schaeffer, where he felt he was able to express his true feelings to someone who could truly understand him. ‘I’m a sensitive guy,’ he told her in one correspondent. ‘I’m harmless. You could hurt me.’ But when My Sister Sam was suddenly cancelled in the spring of 1988, Bardo’s attention began to wane, and he soon turned to other popular teen stars such as Tiffany and Debbie Gibson, even travelling to New York in an attempt to meet the latter. Tiffany had become the teen sensation of the year with her number one rendition of I Think We’re Alone Now, while Gibson’s debut album, Out of the Blue, had achieved multi-Platinum status. Both had become regular fixtures of television shows and magazine covers around the country, and their record labels had marketed them as the girls-next-door, with Tiffany just fifteen-years-old when she first found success. But somewhere in his fractured mind, his fascination with Schaeffer still remained.
Following the demise of My Sister Sam, Schaeffer was once again auditioning for film and television roles, although this time her meetings would take place in Hollywood. Her first project was the pilot for another television series, Out of Time, a science-fiction thriller in which a police officer travels back in time from the late twenty-first century, in an attempt to stop a nefarious criminal from obtaining a radical new medicine that could eradicate most known diseases. In the role of the villainous Richard Marcus was Adam Ant, a leading figure in the British new romantic scene of the early eighties. ‘Intended as a pilot for a possible series for stand-up comedian Bill Maher, it also included Bruce Abbot, who’d starred in Re-Animator,’ detailed Ant in his memoir Stand and Deliver. ‘Abbott plays a cop from the future, who goes back in time to help his [great] grandfather fight crime in present-day Los Angeles. I, again, played the bad guy. I was beginning to worry that I was being typecast.’ While Maher would portray Abbott’s great-grandfather in twentieth century California, Schaeffer was cast as the assistant to the scientist that had developed the medicine, and thus mankind’s last hope against such deadly diseases as AIDS and cancer.
Out of Time would be rejected as a series and was instead released on home video as a made-for-television film, earning negative reviews and poor sales. Schaeffer’s next project was only a minor role, but in a high-profile project directed by Paul Bartel, the man responsible for the critically-acclaimed Eating Raoul. The story of two rich households seen through the eyes of their male servants, the central concept of Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills focused on Juan, the dogsbody for the widowed Clare Lipkin, making a wager with Frank, the next-door-neighbour’s chauffer, that he can sleep with Frank’s employer before Frank can bed Clare. If Juan wins then his gambling debts will be cleared, but if Frank wins then he finally has the chance of taking the handsome Juan to bed. ‘My one regret about that movie is that the gay relationship was predicated on a bet, and the straight guy was obliged to go through with it without particularly wanting to,’ revealed Bartel to The Advocate in 1998. ‘On the other hand, what I’m proud of is the scene the next morning, where it’s clear he doesn’t think it was any big deal, and possibly even enjoyed it. I’m very interested in building bridges between gay people and straight people, allowing for sexual interchange of experience and, above all, acceptance and understanding.’
Having spent two years as the star of a sitcom, Schaeffer was desperate to try her hand at more dramatic roles, and with her next project she joined the ensemble cast of a three-hour mini-series that dramatised the terrorist hijacking of the Achille Lauro, a large vessel overtaken by four Palestinian radicals in 1985, resulting in the brutal murder of sixty-nine-year-old Leon Klinghoffer. ‘The hijackers of the Achille Luro selected a group of Americans and other passengers, and they shuffled their passports to compose a ‘death list’ of those who would be executed,’ reported the New York Times. ‘‘They numbered them like cattle,’ said Nicholas A. Veliotes, the United States Ambassador to Egypt, who interviewed many passengers. ‘They said to him, ‘You’re number one, you’re number two, number three, number four, number five.’ Mr. Klinghoffer, the wheelchair-bound owner of an appliance manufacturing company in New York, was eventually shot in the forehead, and his body thrown overboard. There are several reports that the hijackers may have ordered the ship’s barber, and another crew member, to push Klinghoffer and his wheelchair into the waters off Tartus, Syria.’
Leading the cast of Voyage of Terror: The Achille Lauro Affair were screen legends Burt Lancaster and Eva Marie Saint, as Klinghoffer and his wife, Marilyn, with Schaeffer in another supporting role as one of the passengers fearing for their lives. Lancaster had been a star for over half a century, and despite numerous health issues, had recently appeared as ageing baseball star Moonlight Graham in the fantasy Field of Dreams. ‘In June, he went to Italy to film Voyage of Terror: The Achille Lauro Affair for the new Tribune Premiere Network, to be aired in May 1990,’ wrote Lancaster biographer Kate Buford. ‘It was the second television recreation of the tragic October 1985 Mediterranean cruise, during which Palestine hijackers shot American Jewish passenger Leon Klinghoffer, paralysed on his right side by an earlier stroke and wheelchair-bound, and threw him overboard. This production’s claim to authenticity was that, except for some scenes shot at Cinecittà, most of the story was filmed aboard the original ship, which retraced the voyage’s route from Geneo to Alexandria, and Port Said, Egypt.’
Schaeffer’s final role would come with The Age of Innocence, Dyan Cannon’s semi-autobiographical account of her adolescence that saw Schaeffer portraying the director as a teenager. ‘It’s a movie about a woman who keeps giving herself away to everyone in her life; her parents, she does everything her parents’ way, her boyfriend’s way. She doesn’t have any relationships that work,’ Cannon told chat-show host David Letterman in 1990. ‘From the time I started the writing of it to the time I have finished publicising it, it will be a three-year project. It’s not my life, but all the feelings that I understand are in the movie, and I wanted all the creative control. So I went to Carol Little, who’s a girlfriend of mine, a dress designer. She gave me a million-and-a-half, she and her husband, because that’s what the line producer told me it would cost to make. I believed him, but it ran over. It ran to three-and-a-half million, so I sold my house to pay for it.’
In the year since the cancellation of My Sister Sam, Schaeffer had appeared in both forgettable television movies and acclaimed dramas, but she was determined to escape from supporting roles and embrace something with more substance. And on 18 July, 1989, she awaited the arrival of a screenplay entitled The Godfather Part III, the long-awaited closing instalment of Francis Ford Coppola’s epic story of Mafia family Corleone and the rise of their patriarch, Michael. For the closing chapter, the film introduced the protagonist’s daughter, Mary Corleone, a role that every young actress in Hollywood was determine to win. Schaeffer was set to audition for the part with Coppola on the day of her murder, but the role would ultimately go to Winona Ryder. Following her screen debut with Lucas in 1986, the teenager had become an icon through her roles in such cult classics as Beetlejuice and Heathers, but having worked nonstop since her big break, Ryder had failed to take time off between projects, and by the time that principal photography on Mermaids came to an end in December 1989, she collapsed due to exhaustion. As a result, Ryder backed out of The Godfather Part III, leading to speculations in the tabloids.
‘I’m really burnt out defending myself, because the truth is so simple,’ Ryder told writer Holly George-Warren in 1997. ‘I was sick, physically, and exhausted. That’s what happened. It’s amazing how people want things to be as complicated and nasty as possible. I think maybe some people are waiting for me to fuck up, because I hadn’t really fucked up yet. Obviously, I would have loved to have worked with those wonderful actors and a great director. But it wasn’t a choice. It wasn’t like, ‘Well, I’m not feeling too well today. Maybe I won’t do this movie.’ The doctor was there, and he said, ‘You have an upper-respiratory infection. You can’t do it.’ My leaving the movie was disappointing to everybody, especially to me.’ While Madonna had been rejected for being too old for the role, Coppola’s second choice, Julia Roberts, was committed to Joel Schumacher’s Flatliners, and so the director was forced to cast his own daughter as Mary Corleone. ‘When my father was writing the script, he based a lot of the character on me,’ Sofia Coppola told Entertainment Weekly. ‘I even did read-throughs of the script before they cast Winona Ryder. But when I got it, I was worried. Did I just get it because I’m his daughter?’
The last film to be released during Schaeffer’s lifetime was Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills, which would make its debut barely six weeks before her death. During a montage near the end of the picture, each of the principal characters awoke the next morning in bed with their respective lover, and when Bardo saw Schaeffer lying under the covers with co-star Ray Sharkey, he allegedly became enraged, considering her just ‘another Hollywood whore.’ The role had required no nudity, with only lead actress Jacqueline Bisset baring her breasts, but seeing the girl of his dreams in bed with another man filled him with anger. By this point, he had already obtained Schaeffer’s address from the Anthony Agency in Tucson, who had sought her personal details through the Department of Motor Vehicles. But the agency believed the young man posed no threat to the young actress. ‘Rebecca Schaeffer was a low-risk victim. Although she was becoming famous, she lived a low-key lifestyle in an average, relatively safe neighbourhood. According to her friends and co-workers, she was well-liked, and her talent was greatly respected,’ wrote Joen E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker in their 1998 book Obsession. ‘Bardo was more resourceful and focused on the mission to kill Schaeffer than he had been with anything else in his life. In Arizona, you had to be twenty-one to purchase a firearm, so Bardo got an older brother to buy one for him. He wanted to make sure his attempt wasn’t a failure, so he got hollow-point cartridges, designed to expand as they penetrate.’
Robert John Bardo collected the Manila envelope from off his bed and then carefully concealed the handgun, checking his appearance in the mirror before making his way to the nearby bus station. Purchasing a return ticket to Los Angeles, he quietly took a seat and stared out of the window at the world he felt was passing him by. Taking care to keep his weapon from view, he spent the long journey to California daydreaming about what he would say when he came face-to-face with Rebecca Schaeffer and, more importantly, what she might say when she greeted him at the door. Finally disembarking from the Greyhound bus, he travelled to the Fairfax District of the city, where he soon found himself on North Sweetzer Avenue. But despite having the address he had procured from the investigators, he was unfamiliar with the neighbourhood, and so sought directions from a variety of locals, eventually arriving at her door at approximately 8am one Tuesday morning. Despite being shocked and uncomfortable at his decision to visit her home, Schaeffer remained calm and courteous, even bidding farewell to the stranger with, ‘Please take care.’
But Bardo had forgotten to present her with his gift, and so two hours later he returned to the door and knocked once again. ‘She was in a bathrobe and I was thinking this is the wrong time, she’s taking a shower,’ he would later recall, with Schaeffer believing her screenplay was finally being delivered. ‘She said, ‘You came to my door again.’ It was like I was bothering her again. ‘Hurry up, I don’t have much time.’ I thought that was very callous to say to a fan.’ Angered by what he had perceived as a rejection, he revealed his handgun and opened fire, shooting her point-blank in the chest. ‘She was going, ‘Why, why?’ I was still fumbling around, thinking I should blow my head off and fall on her.’ The residents of this quiet suburban neighbourhood suddenly became alerted to the sound of gunfire. ‘I was in the kitchen making coffee, and I heard what sounded like a car backfiring,’ writer Richard Goldman told the tabloids. ‘After the pop, there were two bloodcurdling screams. I looked out the window and I saw a guy in a yellow shirt jogging at a fair clip.’
Bardo fled the scene and hastily made his way back towards the bus station, discarding any criminal evidence as he ran from witnesses. Within minutes, police officers and paramedics had arrived at the apartment building, with Schaeffer transported to a nearby hospital as the authorities questioned neighbours for clues. Due to the nature of the bullet and the close proximity of the shooter, doctors had little chance of saving her from her wounds, and at approximately 10:45am, twenty-one-year-old Rebecca Schaeffer was pronounced dead. News of her murder soon reached her parents, who had remained in Portland while she pursued her dream of becoming an actress. Her mother, Danna, was working on a new play when the phone rang downstairs, but being engrossed with her writing, she allowed it to go to voicemail. Sometime later, she decided to take a break, and upon checking her messages was greeted with an exasperated voice that insisted she return the call. When the stranger answered, he declared, ‘Mrs. Schaeffer, I have terrible news for you.’ Her daughter, she was informed, had been seriously injured. Phoning the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, she received the news that would tear her world apart. ‘She would only say a woman had been admitted and died,’ she recalled two years later. ‘And at that point I kind of knew. Then the detectives called. And it was all over.’
When news of her murder reached the media that afternoon, the authorities confessed that they had little in the way of leads, but that the culprit was most likely an obsessed fan. In a statement to the press, Los Angeles homicide detective Dan Andrews revealed, ‘It smacks of the classic sick fan. The killer was apparently in the neighbourhood earlier that morning with a photograph of the victim, and asked a pedestrian if she had seen the victim. This, again, is a fan, not a boyfriend.’ But with no evidence that placed Bardo at the scene of the crime, it would seem that the killer had escaped justice. But no matter how premeditated a crime, sometimes the perpetrator is haunted by a guilty conscience, and in less than twenty-four hours he had confessed to his crime. ‘On Wednesday morning, police in Tucson began receiving calls about a man behaving bizarrely and disrupting traffic at a major intersection,’ revealed People. ‘They arrived and found Bardo, a troubled and unemployed young man, who last worked as a janitor at a Jack in the Box.’
Andrews’ predications of the ‘sick fan’ tragically proved real as the motives behind Bardo’s actions gradually came to light. The violence that can occur at the hands of a stalker were first revealed in the 1971 thriller Play Misty for Me, in which a late-night radio host becomes the target of a jilted lover who calls his station every night demanding he play her favourite song. A precursor to the blockbuster Fatal Attraction, the movie was released just one year after the demise of The Beatles, a band whose phenomenal success – dubbed Beatlemania – saw them chased and even abused by their hysterical teenage fans. But the real-life fear that a stalker could find their way into the home of a celebrity came to fruition during the eighties, and this would culminate with the murder of Rebecca Schaeffer. ‘There was nothing in Bardo’s life that had ever approached the stuff of celebrity. Until last week, the closest he ever came to connecting with that special magic, apparently, was when he received a glossy photograph of Schaeffer, with vague words of encouragement scrawled on the back. Such replies to fan letters are not uncommon,’ reported the Los Angeles Times. ‘Tucson police said that Bardo was arrested three times in the last eighteen months. In the most recent episode, he pleaded no contest to charges of disorderly conduct and domestic violence, and he was sentenced to an unsupervised counselling programme in which he never enrolled, Pima County Court records indicate.’
Bardo was taken into custody and questioned by local police, but when he finally confessed to his crime, they immediately contacted the LAPD to corroborate his claims. Held on bail to the sum of $1m, authorities in California sought to extradict the suspect to stand trial in Los Angeles. Bardo soon began to reveal details on not only how he had planned the murder, but also his attempts to discard the incriminating evidence. ‘Acting on information reportedly provided by the murder suspect, Robert John Bardo, Los Angeles authorities recovered a yellow shirt, a gun holster, and a paperback copy of The Catcher in the Rye, only blocks from the Fairfax District apartment,’ revealed the Los Angeles Times. ‘Included in Bardo’s statements, authorities said, were directions on where they could find items he discarded in Los Angeles, LAPD Detective David Escoto said. The long-sleeved yellow shirt with a button-down collar was found on the roof of a building occupied by Target Cleaners and Stroud’s Linen, at Crescent Heights and Beverly boulevards, almost four blocks from the murder scene. Witnesses said they had seen Schaeffer’s assailant fleeing the scene in a yellow shirt, jeans, and floppy sandals. When Bardo was arrested in Tucson, he was wearing a T-shirt, jeans, and sandals. A red paperback copy of The Catcher in the Rye was found on the roof of the Beverly Palms Rehabilitation Center on Beverly Boulevard.’
The Catcher in the Rye, the iconic tale of alienation and teenage rebellion from J.D. Salinger, would prove significant as the novel had already played a small role in a murder almost a decade earlier, one that first brought the danger of celebrity stalkers to the attention of the world. On 8 December, 1980, John Lennon, who had become a pop star and icon through his work in The Beatles during the sixties, was shot dead outside his New York home by twenty-five-year-old fan Mark David Chapman. Following years of drug abuse, Chapman had rediscovered his faith, and had begun to rebuff anything he felt was morally corruptive or offensive. ‘He carried a notebook inscribed Jesus, and turned vociferously against rock ‘n’ roll,’ documented People the following summer. ‘In doing so, Mark turned against John Lennon, in particular. Most Americans had taken Lennon’s remark about Jesus as offhandedly as it had been intended, but the South had not. There had been a wave of Anti-Beatles demonstrations, Beatles albums were burned in community bonfires, and no fewer than thirty-five radio stations observed a boycott of Beatles music.’ After opening fire on Lennon, Chapman was found by police a few minutes later, reading a copy of The Catcher in the Rye, something that would leave a considerable impression on Bardo.
On the afternoon of 30 March, 1981, President Ronald Reagan concluded his speech before members of the AFL–CIO at the luxurious Washington Hilton in the nation’s capital and followed his Secret Service agents to the flock of awaiting reporters outside. It had barely been two months since the former actor had been sworn into office, and he had yet to fulfil any of the promises he made during his campaign to bring the country back from the economic and social crisis of the seventies. Less than six years earlier, one of his predecessors, Gerald Ford, had survived two assassination attempts, and so security had since been heightened for public events. But as he casually passed the photographers and made his way towards his limousine, one figure standing patiently behind a rope barrier was present for a more incendiary purpose. ‘I was almost to the car when I heard what sounded like two or three firecrackers over to my left: just a small fluttering sound; pop, pop, pop. I turned around and said, ‘What the hell’s that?’’ wrote Reagan. ‘Just then, Jerry Parr, the head of our Secret Service unit, grabbed me by the waist and literally hurled me into the back of the limousine. I landed on my face atop the armrest across the backseat, and Jerry jumped on top of me. When he landed, I felt a pain in my upper back that was unbearable. It was the most excruciating pain I had ever felt.’
It had all happened in the blink of an eye, but as the shots filled the air, James Brady, Reagan’s press secretary, was struck above the left eye. Another shot hit a police officer in the neck. Reagan was rushed from the scene, but as agents began to inspect his body, they realised that the President had been wounded. As the suspected shooter, twenty-five-year-old John Hinckley, Jr., was taken into custody, the limousine was redirected to the George Washington University Hospital. ‘Around me, the hospital was bedlam. I still wake up remembering that scene; confusion, voices, sirens, reporters, doctors, nurses, technicians, the President’s men, the Secret Service with their walkie-talkies,’ recalled the First Lady, Nancy Reagan. ‘As my mind raced, I flashed to scenes of Parkland Memorial Hospital in Texas, and the day President Kennedy was shot. I had been driving down San Vicente Boulevard in Los Angeles when a bulletin came over the car radio. Now, more than seventeen years later, I prayed that history would not be repeated, that Washington would not become another Dallas. That my husband would live. With three shooting victims to take care of – the fourth, Officer Thomas Delahanty, had been taken to another hospital – the doctors were working frantically. Nurses kept coming in with new reports, and the news they brought was increasingly alarming.’
The eighties had promised to be a decade of optimism following the political scandals and recession that had plagued the seventies, but now the United States waited with bated breath to see if their new Commander-in-Chief was to join Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley, and John F. Kennedy as Presidents who were assassinated incumbent. ‘I was told he’d plotted to kill Jimmy Carter, and had actually stalked him, taking his gun to where Carter was going to be. But he never got the chance, so he shot me instead,’ explained Reagan in his memoir. ‘He was a mixed-up young man from a fine family. That day, I asked the Lord to heal him, and to this day, I still do.’ Despite the fear that the American people were feeling, on 2 April, the news they had been waiting for was finally announced. ‘President Reagan is safe,’ declared one newspaper. ‘Within days, the White House was bursting with gifts of jelly beans, chocolates, and enough flowers to fill a meadow,’ said Nancy Reagan. ‘The nurses and the doctors all lined up to say goodbye. They had come to know Ronnie, and they obviously admired him. All I remember about the ride back is that it was raining, and that Ronnie and I were together, finally, going home.’
In the days and weeks that followed, it was revealed that Hinckley had shot the President as a way to declare his love for Jodie Foster. The eighteen-year-old actress had first come to the attention of Hinckley following her portrayal of a teenage prostitute in the 1976 drama Taxi Driver. The film depicted a Vietnam War veteran who spends each night driving around the dark streets of New York City, his only company being his passengers and the occasional interactions with his fellow drivers. He soon develops an obsession with a young woman serving on a campaign for a Presidential candidate, but when she ultimately declines his advances, he attempts to assassinate the politician. The film was a critical success upon its release, but for Hinckley, it was Foster that made the biggest impression on him. ‘Jodie has hurt me more than I’ve hurt her,’ he would claim a year later. ‘She killed me first. For the past fifteen months, I’ve died a little each day, and I’m sure the future will be no easier.’ As with Robert John Bardo eight years later, Hinckley’s obsession with a young actress drove him to violence, and while he chose to assassinate a government figure, echoing the events of Taxi Driver, in an effort to impress his obsession, both failed to gain the reciprocated love of their targets.
Jodie Foster first came to the attention of audiences when she took a supporting role in an earlier Scorsese drama called Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Just eleven-years-old at the time of filming, her celebrated performance was soon followed by roles in the musical Bugsy Malone and the horror film The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, but it would be Taxi Driver that earned her an Academy Award nomination. ‘I never thought of myself as a child actress,’ she told After Dark in 1980. ‘Because people interpret that as ‘tiny’ or ‘small,’ or ‘not grown up.’ I always thought I had something else. I could always relate very well to adults, because I was in the business since I was very young. It helped me assimilate good and bad, true and false, because I was exposed to it very early on.’ By the dawn of the eighties, Foster had transcended from child to adolescent roles, appearing in such audience favourites as Foxes and Carny. ‘I don’t know why people think child actresses, in particular, are screwed up,’ she said. ‘I see kids everywhere who are totally bored. I’ve never been bored a day in my life.’ By the time Hinckley pulled the trigger in March 1981, Foster was a freshman at Yale University, allowing her film career to take a backseat until she had completed her studies.
Arguably the biggest influence on Bardo would be the attempted murder of Theresa Saldana. Another veteran of Scorsese, the twenty-seven-year-old actress was attacked by a Scottish drifter outside of her West Hollywood apartment and stabbed ten times in what he had declared a divine mission. Salanda, best known for her supporting role in the acclaimed boxing drama Raging Bull, had become the unknowing object of Arthur Jackson’s obsession, and he vowed to take the ‘countess angel’ to heaven. Her attacker had a history of mental illness, and in a journal obtained by the authorities, he had expressed deep feelings for his victim, declaring, ‘…love at first sight, experience, show some geniality, an interest, were I to speak to her and ask her for a date, instead of launching into a homicidal attack without delay.’ Many had believed that the murder of John Lennon in 1980 had been an isolated incident, but in truth it appeared to be ground zero for a disturbing new cultural phenomenon called the celebrity stalker. ‘He developed something of a fixation over her, reminiscent of John Hinckley Jr.’s obsession over actress Jodie Foster, and began trying to locate her,’ detailed the Washington Post.
According to biographers Donald Markman and Ron Labrecque, mental illness ran in the Jackson family, with his younger sister committed to a mental institution on the outskirts of Aberdeen in Scotland. ‘Jackson’s mother, Jean, who was thirty-two-years-old when Arthur was born, displayed characteristics of schizophrenia, but was never diagnosed or treated by her doctors,’ they wrote in Obsessed: The Stalking of Theresa Saldana. ‘She lived on the fringes of normalcy, subsisting on government welfare payments and maintaining few relationships with others. She appears to have been a pathologically self-centred person, overwhelmed by the demands of marriage and motherhood, and emotionally ill-equipped to cope with them. Because she was undoubtedly someone preoccupied with her own difficulties, her ability to relate to, or communicate with, others was severely impaired.’ As studies on various serial killers has proven, emotional neglect can manifest itself in a variety of negative ways in children, the most significant of which are the inability to form close bonds with family or friends, a disregard for the value of human life, and a penchant for inflicting pain on others.
In 1981, Jackson had watched a neo noir thriller starring Jan-Michael Vincent called Defiance, but it was his co-star, Theresa Saldana, that had caught his attention, and by the time the film had come to an end, he decided he wanted to kill her. ‘Theresa, to go ahead first, then I would join you in a few months via ‘the little green room at San Quentin,’’ he later wrote. ‘I swear on the ashes of my dead mother, and on the scars of Theresa Saldana, that neither God nor I will rest in peace until this special request, and my solemn petition, has been granted.’ For some time, Jackson had travelled across America, documenting his adventures in a journal while attempting to obtain a weapon which he would use to kill Saldana. Eventually arriving in California on 26 February, 1982, he searched tirelessly through public records in an effort to locate personal information on his intended target. But when all efforts failed, he found himself in the offices of an investigation agency called Mr. Keane. One hundred dollars later, he had located her place of residence on North Hayworth Avenue in Hollywood, and after struggling to purchase a firearm, he instead settled on hunting knife and hammer. From there, he began to survey her apartment building, patiently waiting for the moment to come.
It was around 10am on 15 March, 1982 that she walked from the front door of her Hollywood apartment, and as she approached her vehicle she heard a voice from behind ask, ‘Are you Theresa Saldana?’ Before she had chance to react, Jackson revealed his knife and began thrusting the blade deep into her flesh, stabbing her chest and thigh until a stranger, twenty-six-year-old delivery man Jeff Fenn, came to her rescue. ‘I was fighting with him. I was screaming, ‘He’s killing me! He’s killing me! He’s killing me!’’ she explained shortly after the attack. ‘I just kept screaming, because if I just screamed, ‘Help!’ maybe no one would come.’ Jackson was immediately taken into custody and decided not to enter a plea of insanity, but during the subsequent trial it was argued that he lacked the mental capacity to justify a charge of first-degree murder. Psychiatrists were enlisted to provide expert testimonies on his state of mind following the attack, with the diagnosis being that the defendant suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. ‘I will never forget the searing, ghastly pain, the grotesque and devastating experience of this person nearly butchering me to death, or the bone-chilling sight of my own blood splattered everywhere,’ she confessed during the trial. Jackson was convicted of first-degree murder and grievous bodily harm, but even as he faced a long prison sentence the nightmare was far from over.
Six years had passed when, in 1988, Saldana began receiving letters of a threatening nature from Jackson. He vowed to complete his mission, and even though he was still a resident of the state, he was due for parole the following year. ‘My life is in jeopardy,’ she insisted during the second trial, which would take place during the same summer that Schaeffer would lose her life. ‘That is what motivates me. I’m not saying to kill this person. I’m not saying that. And I’m not saying that the reason for further detainment is punishment, not at all. I believe that we have an obligation to protect the public’s safety.’ In December 1990, Jackson was once again found guilty, and faced the possibility of spending a further fourteen years behind bars. ‘I’m absolutely thrilled that he’s been found guilty,’ she confessed once the sentence had been handed down. In 1996, Jackson was sent to England to face charges relating to a 1966 robbery that had resulted in two bank tellers receiving serious injuries, but Saldana remained in fear of his return until her death in 2016. ‘After her recovery, Ms. Saldana formed Victims for Victims, an organisation devoted to helping others who had suffered violent attacks, and to campaign for anti-stalker laws,’ wrote the New York Times in their obituary. ‘Mr. Jackson, after serving fifteen years in prison, was extradited to Britain for trial in connection with a 1966 robbery and homicide. He was sent to a psychiatric hospital, where he died in 2004.’
For one of the few times during the trial, Robert John Bardo appeared visibly distressed as the district attorney laid out the facts as she saw them to the presiding judge who listened intently. Both lawyers had fought hard to state their case: the defence relied on establishing that while he had confessed to the shooting, his mental state would exclude him from first-degree murder for reasons of insanity; while the prosecution served to prove that his actions were premeditated, and thus cold and calculating. ‘The defendant’s true intention in returning a second time becomes even more crystal clear,’ insisted Marcia Clark, who was tasked by the state to lead the prosecution. ‘He loaded the empty chamber, put the gun in his waistband, went to the door, rang the buzzer, stepped back and waited until Rebecca Schaeffer came out onto the porch, grabbed her arm, grabbed his gun from behind him, and fired.’ More than two years had passed since the death of Schaeffer when Superior Court Judge Dino Fulgoni handed down his verdict to the accused. Bardo had agreed to forfeit his right to trial by jury in exchange for Clark not pursuing the death penalty, but throughout the proceedings he remained somewhat detached from the events around him. In the decade since she had passed the Bar to become a public defender, Clark had earned a reputation among her peers for her relentless tenacity in pursuing justice, and in Schaeffer she saw a young woman who had become the object of a dangerous man’s obsession.
Stephen Galindo, the lawyer tasked with defending Bardo, had attempted to convince the court that his client was as much a victim as the woman he had killed, and his entire case rested on his ability to prove that the mental capacity of the culprit was compromised, and thus he could not take full responsibility for his actions. Yet the facts were simple: Bardo had travelled from Tucson to Los Angeles, with a gun in his possession, had located her place of residence, and then opened fire on her. This could not be considered an impulsive crime as too much planning had taken place before Bardo had arrived at her front door. His previous fixation with celebrities, and his past attempts to meet them, showed a clear pattern of obsession with famous figures, and while the security at Warner Bros. had succeeded in turning him away from the studio when he visited two years before the murder, Bardo had obtained Schaeffer’s address through the assistance of a private investigation firm, all of which is tangible to stalking. But this was the burden of Clark’s to prove, and with Bardo and Schaeffer clearly the perpetrator and victim, respectively, Clark was determined to see justice for his crime. At the centre of any trial is the truth, but this often becomes obscured through misdirection as each side attempts to shift the focus to a single point that best serves their needs. Galindo challenged every point made by the prosecution in order to absolve his client of responsibility, but with Clark having remained undefeated, if anybody was going to bring Bardo to justice then it would be the headstrong and resilient woman standing before him.
While neither Bardo nor Schaeffer were natives of Calfornia, Marcia Rachel Kleks was born on 31 August, 1953 in the city of Berkeley, overlooking San Francisco Bay. The epicentre for the counterculture radicalism of the sixties, Fran Francisco was thriving with a blend of students and hippies indulging in the rhetoric of acid gurus and protest against the injustices of racism, sexism, and the Vietnam War. The patriarch of her household was an Israeli immigrant, a scientist that demanded intelligence and ambition from his children, and during her time at Susan E. Wagner High School she excelled at her studies. Often appearing more mature than her teenage years, Clark would stand out as she walked through the halls of her campus. ‘I remember shawls and scarves. She had an eccentric, dramatic flair about her,’ recalled classmate Suzanne Devlin to the Washington Post. ‘What struck me about her, being a local girl from Staten Island, was Marcia, at fourteen, was a sophisticated person.’ Despite having aspirations of theatre, it was while studying at the University of California, Los Angeles that Clark met the man she would soon call her husband. A fellow student and professional backgammon player, the pair wed in 1976, and almost twenty years later, during what critics would call the ‘trial of the century,’ her former mother-in-law leaked topless photos from a vacation in Saint-Tropez. When their marriage came to an abrupt end, she soon tied the knot with a younger man called Gordon Tolls Clark, and it was around this time that she took her first steps into the world of law.
Having been admitted to the State Bar of California on 29 November, 1979, Clark was recruited as a junior attorney at Brodey and Price, a law firm situated on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills, where she would study her more experienced colleagues in the ways of the American legal system. ‘She was put to work learning and dealing with the basics of the business, busying herself with the mind-numbing mounds of paperwork, briefs, motions, writs, bail requests, depositions, and all the other minutia that goes with the territory,’ wrote biographer Clifford Linedecker. ‘There were incessant telephone calls, interviews to conduct, and conferences to attend. It wasn’t unusual for her to be at her desk, burning the midnight oil, and littering an ashtray with cigarette butts, long after most Angelenos had left their offices and other workplaces, and were already jamming the streets and highways in their homebound vehicles.’ But eventually Clark’s hard work and determination paid off. ‘I was assigned to the Juvenile Division where, early on, I volunteered for the ‘county run.’ That meant travelling an exhausting circuit of county court offices, some of them in neighbourhoods so dangerous no one even went out for lunch,’ explained Clark. ‘Anyway, in 1984, the district attorney, Ire Reiner, made it a policy to scout out rising stars and apprentice them to veteran prosecutors. I was one of those who came to his attention.’
Guided under the tutelage of Harvey Giss, who would later be elevated to Superior Court Judge, Clark learned the act of trial law from the seasoned professional and landed her first significant case, a man locals had christened a ‘good Samaritan’ for his shooting of an alleged mugger. After two long years of cross-examinations and conflicts with their judge, Giss handed over the responsibility of presenting the closing argument to Clark. Having gained confidence in her abilities after winning the case, Clark had proven to everyone that she could command a courtroom. ‘Marcia, in trial, was somebody I used to avoid,’ joked her former supervisor, John Lynch. ‘Marcia was in a business coming up that was dominated clearly by men. She was one of those who she was going to do what she needed to do, without anybody changing the rules or lowering the basket. I think she may have overcompensated to show she could be as tough as anybody else.’ Described by Johnnie Cochran, her opposition on the trial of O. J. Simpson in the mid-nineties, as ‘a passionate and zealous advocate,’ Clark was a formidable presence as she interrogated her witnesses and fought for a prosecution verdict against the defendants. And in 1991, her latest target was Robert John Bardo. ‘Rebecca was killed Tuesday morning, 18 July, 1989, and my husband and I flew down that afternoon,’ recalled Rebecca Schaeffer’s mother, Danna. ‘The next morning, we went into Wilshire Homicide, and she was sitting there in a pink suit looking very beautiful and serious. And she said, ‘My name is Marcia Clark, and I’m going to be your prosecutor.’’
Bardo was extradited in August 1989, the same month in which Schaeffer’s co-stars from My Sister Sam – Paw Dawber, David Naughton, Joel Brooks, and Jenny O’Hara – filmed a public service announcement in support of gun control. ‘The general public does not understand that we are just people who got lucky and happen to be on television,’ said Dawber in a press statement. ‘This was our friend.’ The trial of the People vs. Robert Bardo began in September 1991, more than two years after the death of Schaeffer, with Dino Fulgoni presiding. Described by author Joseph Wambaugh as ‘a short, muscular, craggy man,’ Fulgoni first came to national attention during the sixties as a chief prosecutor on the infamous ‘Onion Fields’ case, in which two officers from the Los Angeles Police Department were kidnapped by two armed robbers. When one of the victims was shot dead, his partner was able to escape and find refuge in a nearby farmhouse. The case was later depicted in Wambaugh’s bestseller The Onion Field, and their successful conviction brought Fulgoni significant praise. After more than twenty-five years of practicing law, he was appointed Superior Court Judge in October 1989. With Bardo having wavered his right to a jury, the trial would not be the media spectacle that Clark was forced to endure during the People vs. Orenthal James Simpson. But the trial would still launch her into the spotlight.
‘When Bardo landed on my desk, I’d never really had any experience with the press. To me, the attention this case attracted only created annoying complications,’ explained Clark in her memoir Without a Doubt. ‘The real problem began when TV and print reporters ‘interviewed’ witnesses, causing several to drop out of sight before we could get to them. Journalists invariably wound up telling their sources things about the case, which meant that the integrity of the witnesses’ memory was compromised. Only after I sat down with each of them and did a careful remedial interview was I able to get clean statements, unencumbered by hearsay. It was my job to convict Bardo of the heinous crime of murder while ‘lying in wait,’ one of several ‘special circumstances’ that can put a defendant in line for the death penalty. Bardo was claiming he suffered from a peculiar, if convenient, mental deficiency that precluded premeditation. Had he made this argument fly, he would have avoided the special circumstances sanction. The defence hired Park Dietz, a psychiatrist of national renown, to examine Bardo. Then it submitted two hours of videotaped interviews between the two, offered as proof that the defendant could not have premeditated his gruesome crimes.’
On the second day of the trial, Warner Bros.’s head of security, Jack Effer, was called to testify regarding the incident that had taken place in the summer of 1987, in which Bardo had attempted to meet Schaeffer during the filming of My Sister Sam. ‘On 2 June, 1987, our guard at the ranch called my secretary first, and said, ‘There’s a fellow here that’s been here lots of times, who has a large bouquet, and a five-foot teddy bear. He’s left it with us, and he wants us to deliver it to Rebecca. What should we do?’’ he explained. Egger then detailed how Bardo was taken to his office so that the two could talk in private. ‘I proceeded to tell him that the best thing for him to do would be to stay away from the studio, and not try to get near Rebecca Schaeffer. I said, ‘How did you get out here today from Hollywood?’ And I said, ‘Well, I don’t want to see you go back on the bus with that five-foot teddy bear, and all those flowers, so how would it be if I drove you back to Hollywood to your place?’ And he said, ‘Great, would you?’ And I said, ‘Yes, I would.’ And I proceeded to put him in my company vehicle that I drove, and I drove him back to his place on Whitley Street in Hollywood, [and] dropped him off. I had an additional conversation in the car with him…I told him I thought the best thing he could do would be to go back to Tucson, where he came from. I tried to talk to him like a friend, or an uncle, because he was a young fellow.’
Following Egger’s statement, and that of executive Mimi Weber, the next witness called forth by the state was Anthony Zinkus, the man that Bardo had hired to locate personal information on Rebecca Schaeffer. All owners of automobiles have to register their demographics with the Department of Motor Vehicles, and for just a small fee any curious party could obtain the home address of the person of their choice. This would be how Zinkus was able to fulfil the request of Bardo. Taking the stand, he was asked by the prosecution a series of questions in order to depict the defendant’s mental state at the time. Keeping his responses brief and direct, he seemed reluctant to provide any information that could inadvertently compromise both himself and his company, the Anthony Agency. Another witness that remained cautious during his examination was Edward Bardo, the older brother of the defendant, and the one who had provided the .357 magnum that would take her life. Clark had questioned him on Robert John Bardo’s decision to take the gun, which he had allegedly purchased for target practice, across state lines to California. But then the defence raised the issue that Bardo had previously been assaulted and allegedly robbed in Los Angeles, and so the gun was taken purely as a means of self-defence.
While crimes of passion, such as adultery, could at least be justified as murders committed in the heat of the moment, Bardo was accused of stalking and killing his victim in a predatory fashion, which could not be excused in the ways that the defence had suggested. ‘Stalking is amongst the most cowardly of crimes. When practiced over a period of months or years, this form of remote-controlled sadism can wound more deeply than any physical weapon, and leave its victims scarred forever,’ said Colin Evans in Super Lawyers. ‘Bardo was a man who took stalking seriously, reading everything he could about the subject. It was from one such magazine article that he learned how a fellow stalker, who had attacked his victim, had hired a private investigator to find out the victim’s address…Bardo’s campaign soon entered a more sinister phase. He wrote his sister in Knoxville, Tennesse, saying that if he could not have Schaeffer then nobody would.’ The trial of Bardo had courted controversy from the very beginning, when his public defender in Tucson had filed an incorrect motion, prompting Clark’s superior, Ira Reiner, to relocate the case to California. While his new lawyer had claimed that the charges should be dropped due to Bardo being illegally extradited from Arizona, and his Tucsom defender accusing the authorities of a cover-up, Bardo was finally brought before the state. But, demonstrating an attempt at misdirection that is often brought into murder cases, his defence insisted that their client had been brainwashed by a rock band, thus relinquishing him of the responsibility of murder.
Ever since agreeing to take on the case in 1989, Stephen Galindo was determined to establish some kind of narrative that proved Robert John Bardo was not responsible for his actions on the morning of 18 July, 1989, when he pulled the trigger that would end the life of twenty-one-year-old Rebecca Schaeffer. He had attempted various strategies to avoid a first-degree murder conviction, including challenging the state’s decision to try the defendant in California, but all had failed. Throughout the trial, as he cross-examined each of the witnesses, he had questioned the expertise of the person on the stand, and insisted that his client had showed no premeditation and, perhaps most astonishingly, was also a victim. Schaeffer had been laid to rest at the Ahavai Sholom Cemetery in Portland on 23 July, 1989, during which her rabbi had described her as an ‘amazing, special young lady.’ Her life had been cut short, but now, more than two years later, Galindo was justifying his actions to both the judge and media. But Bardo had used every means at his disposal. ‘If a person is inquisitive enough, a trail can be found,’ explained LAPD’s Dan Andrews. But on 8 October, 1991, Galindo played his next hand: Robert John Bardo had been influenced to commit murder by U2.
‘A hand in the pocket, fingering the steel. The pistol weighed heavy, and his heart he could feel was beating,’ crooned Bono on Exit, a track first released on the band’s 1987 album The Joshua Tree. The song had been inspired by The Executioner’s Song, a true crime novel from American author Norman Mailer that depicted the death of convicted criminal Gary Gilmore. ‘You could say this is forbidden ground for U2, because we’re the ‘optimistic’ group,’’ admitted the frontman. ‘But to be an optimist, you mustn’t be blind or deaf to the world around you. Exit, I don’t even know what the fact is in that song. Some see it as a murder, others suicide.’ It would not be until Galindo played the song for the court that Bardo appeared engaged. ‘He sat motionless throughout the trial,’ the Associated Press reported. ‘Bardo sprang to life, grinned, bobbed to the music, and mouthed the lyrics when the song was played in court,’ wrote The I. ‘His legal team admitted that he had shot Schaeffer. But they argued he was suffering from schizophrenia, and ‘the very sick man’ had been inspired to kill her by Exit, the penultimate song on U2’s album. A psychiatrist testified that Bardo ‘interpreted parts of the lyrics as references to himself and Schaeffer.’’ But if Bardo was as sick as Galindo had claimed, then why would his brother have purchased the handgun he would use to commit the crime, and why would his father have driven him to the bus station? If he was an emotionally-unbalanced and potentially dangerous man in possession of a firearm, then would it not have been the responsibility of his family to at least attempt to keep him from travelling to Los Angeles, when all evidence had pointed to his intention to commit a violent crime?
But just how clear are the signs that such violence exists within a person? ‘In none of these letters or notes I received was any mention, reference, or implication ever made as to violent acts against anyone,’ insisted Jodie Foster following the attempted assassination of President Reagan by an obsessed fan. Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation considered Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver as the inspiration for his actions, due to its depiction of a deranged loner who targets a presidential candidate. ‘The notes were considered harmless, and in themselves did not present any violation of local or Federal law,’ insisted a spokesperson. Despite his arrest and subsequent conviction, John Hinckley, Jr. maintained his devotion to Foster. ‘My actions on 30 March, 1981 have given special meaning to my life, and no amount of imprisonment or hospitalisation can tarnish my historic deed,’ he claimed in a letter to the New York Times the following year. ‘The shooting outside the Washington Hilton hotel was the greatest love offering in the history of the world. I sacrificed myself and committed the ultimate crime in hope of winning the heart of a girl. It was an unprecedented demonstration of love. But does the American public appreciate what I’ve done? Does Jodie Foster appreciate what I’ve done? Doesn’t anyone understand?’
‘That the defendant deluded himself into believing that maybe someday Rebecca might be his friend? Well, then haven’t we all been guilty of being delusional at some point in our lives?’ posed Marcia Clark to the court when detailing how the U2 song could not have inspired Bardo to commit murder. ‘So we might conclude that the defendant was a dreamer, but as the doctor admitted, he testified in the Hinckley case, ‘Having hopes and dreams does not mean that one has a serious mental disorder.’ Finding a song very significant, believing a song relates to you, or something you felt in your life, is not evidence of psychosis. It is not evidence of delusional or referential thinking. These songs, as I could determine from the doctor’s testimony, impelled this defendant to do nothing. Rather, he found it comforting to listen to them when he felt animosity for Rebecca Schaeffer. He said he could relate to the lyrics. How many millions of teenagers would say this? The bottom line about these songs that the defendant found significant, or that he could relate to, is that he chose them. Who chose these song? I posed this question to Dr. Dietz. Who chose The Joshua Tree tape? Who chose Exit? Who chose With or Without You? On each occasion, the doctor said the defendant did. ‘Did voices compel him to do so?’ I asked. No, the defendant chose to do that on his own. The defendant chose these songs because he had an affinity for them, like all the rest of us do.’
As a result of the controversy caused by the murder trial, U2 would retire Exit from their live set until 2017, when the band performed The Joshua Tree in its entirety in celebration of its thirtieth anniversary. ‘I just want to wash it off my skin,’ admitted frontman Bono in an interview with Hot Press in 1993. ‘And I broke my shoulder and did unearth a lot of shit from within myself, doing the song on stage. It’s also a song somebody used in a murder. It came out later that the guy claimed the song made him do it. That’s what I mean about not wanting to fuck with the devil. That sounded to me like a good lawyer at work for his client. But I still feel you have to go down those streets in your music. If that’s where the subject is taking you, you have to follow. At least in the imagination. I’m not sure if I want to get down there to live. I’ll take a walk occasionally, and have a drink with the devil, but I’m not moving in with him.’ When U2 performed Exit once again, Bono admitted he had reservations about returning to the song. ‘I was very glad not to play it for many years,’ he told Rolling Stone. ‘I’d rather not step back into that song, but I found a way by thinking of where it came from, going back to the books I was reading at the time. I realised the real influence was probably Flannery O’Connor, so I developed this character called the Shadow Man, without any self-harm.’
A key component for the defence was the recruitment of Dr. Park Dietz. A graduate of Cornell University in New York, and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, Dietz served as Chief Fellow in Forensic Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania. He also offered his expertise to both Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Department of Correction, and was revered by other specialists in his field. In the mid-eighties, he was appointed to the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography, and also gained considerable acclaim as a published author. ‘Psychiatric opinion as to a defendant’s criminal responsibility is divided far less often than press coverage suggests. Evaluations are influenced by the settings in which they occur, the ideology and qualifications of the examiner, and the techniques of interviewing, investigation, and decision-making used,’ he wrote in The Insanity Defence. ‘If the insanity defence is as important a foundation of the criminal law as legal commentators argue, it is important to improve psychiatric evaluations by improving evaluative settings, the qualifications of evaluators, and the resources devoted to investigation and other elements of evaluations. These improvements would not, however, eliminate disagreement, which would still arise as an inevitable consequence of heterogeneity in the theories, methods, and interpretations of psychiatrists evaluating defendants.’
According to an article published by John Hopkins Magazine, Dietz was an avid collector of serial killer trading cars, rare first-edition texts on forensic science and criminology, and even a human skull. A veteran of countless criminal cases, it was a rarity that he would represent the defence, as throughout his career he has often been considered a star witness for the prosecution. And yet despite his revered status, Dietz was remained reluctant to discuss his life or work in interviews. ‘Dr. Park Dietz has an uneasy relationship with publicity, and it’s not just because of his deep, abiding familiarity with the psychological make-up of serial killers, sexual deviants, stalkers, and mass murderers,’ claimed a 2006 article by The Independent. ‘For years, America’s foremost criminal proﬁler – who has testiﬁed at the trials of such criminals as John Hinckley Jr., Jeﬀrey Dahmer, and Andrea Yates – would not let reporters give details of his home or oﬃce. He did not want his photograph in newspapers or magazines. The reason, which he is now happy to reveal from his harbour-front oﬃce in Newport Beach, is a stalker was after him; a man who switched obsessions from a prominent British performer (whom Dietz declines to name) after seeing Dietz’s name twice in the media, and deciding they shared some bond. The stalker was arrested a few years ago and imprisoned on other charges, which has given Dietz at least a few years breathing room.’
During his examination of the suspect, Dr. Dietz realised that Bardo was not only obsessed with Schaeffer but also various other celebrity stalkers, with his devotion to Chapman resulting in his reading of The Catcher in the Rye. ‘He said he had read it twice and still couldn’t ﬁgure it out,’ the psychiatrist revealed to the court. ‘I told him I had read it and I couldn’t ﬁgure it out either.’ Dietz also claimed that Bardo had confessed that, during his time visiting the set of My Sister Sam, had he come face-to-face with the young actress, he would ‘have done to her what Arthur Jackson did to Theresa Saldana.’ The doctor said that Bardo was both fascinated and intimidated by her beauty and innocence. ‘He wanted to be with her,’ insisted Dietz. ‘On the other hand, he was terriﬁed to approach her because something bad might happen.’ His conflicted emotions towards the twenty-one-year-old would be manifested in other ways during his interviews with his doctor. ‘He talked about Guns N’ Roses,’ continued Dietz, ‘saying he liked them because their name reﬂected his shifting emotions towards Schaeffer.’
During her cross-examining of Dietz, Clark was determined to show the court without a shadow of doubt that Bardo was a disturbed young man, and thus a danger to society. Yet the doctor was convinced that his patient was not in full control of his actions and that he suffered from schizophrenia. ‘Taken as a whole, this is a sick young man,’ insisted Dietz. ‘A normal person would not repetitively threaten to commit mass murders: kill the mayor, kill your teacher…’ Dietz also revealed that Bardo had visited New York to see the site where Chapman had shot Lennon. ‘As a pursuer of public figures, that is a landmark for him,’ he continued. ‘He saw Chapman as similar to himself.’ In his summary, he also noted that, much like Samantha Smith, Schaeffer had responded to his letters, which had only served to further fuel his obsession towards her. But unlike Schaeffer, Smith was two years younger than Bardo, and was only thirteen at the time of her death, which would make his obsession with her all the more disturbing.
‘Over the two years I worked on that case, I got to know Rebecca Schaeffer’s parents – particularly her mother, Danna – extremely well,’ recalled Clark. ‘If anything will remind you that the practice of law is not just an intellectual exercise, it’s observing the effects of a homicide upon those who loved the victim. Misery spreads out from a murder in ripples, blighting everything it touches. Some survivors are too damaged to be helpful. Others are so driven by the desire for revenge that they can actually obstruct a prosecutor’s efforts. The Schaeffers were neither. They managed their grief with patience and dignity. I was always happy to take Danna Schaeffer’s calls. Sometimes we talked about the legal aspect of the case. Sometimes we’d just want to talk about Rebecca. On a couple of occasions, I sent her letters to express thoughts too painful to convey in person. ‘Even as I’m writing this, I’m crying again,’ I wrote her on one occasion…After receiving that letter, Danna actually called to comfort me. So was so intelligent, so sensitive and caring – the kind of mother everyone should have.’
‘I don’t take issue with the stance that this defendant was not a normal thirteen-year-old. Nor with the notion that he was not a normal nineteen-year-old. A normal person doesn’t stalk and murder a celebrity he’s never met,’ declared Marcia Clark in her closing argument to Superior Court Judge Dino Fulgoni. It was at this point that she detailed the precise actions that Robert John Bardo took on 18 July, 1989 when he murdered Rebecca Lucile Schaeffer in cold blood. Clark explained, step-by-step, how Bardo had grabbed Schaeffer’s arm, pulled his gun out from the back of his waistband, and then opened fire, point-blank, into his victim’s chest. It was at this point that Fulgoni was ready to cast his verdict. ‘If you look at this case at the standpoint of the physical facts, and the physical facts alone, I think it is very clear that this is a killing by lying in wait,’ he told the court. ‘We have a young lady who answers the door to her apartment house, the [intercom] doesn’t work, she goes to the apartment door, and she is shot. The circumstances, as testified by Miss [Lynne] Marta are that she heard a buzzer – that’s her testimony now at the preliminary hearing – that she heard the victim leave her apartment, walk past her apartment, that she walked to the front door of the apartment house, that very, very shortly after she heard the last step, she said a second – or a split second; at the preliminary hearing, [it] was a second or a second-and-a-half; something of that nature – there was a shot. Clearly not enough time for any conversation to occur. It implies that somebody rang the bell for the purpose of luring her out of her apartment so that she could be killed.’
The trial finally came to an end on 29 October, 1991, when Robert John Bardo was found guilty of murder in the first degree for the death of Schaeffer. The judge agreed to remove the death sentence if Bardo would wave his rights to a jury trial, and two months later, on 21 December, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. ‘This is a man who hounded someone, and tried to kill her on at least one previous occasion,’ said Fulgoni. ‘This is a man who was inspired to use a gun by another man who shot and killed five schoolchildren in a schoolyard.’ Bardo’s lawyer, Stephen Galdino, had attempted to depict his client as a victim, shifting the blame for the murder to a society that had failed him. ‘Rebecca Schaeffer is the victim in the true sense of the word, and did nothing to deserve what happened to her,’ Galdino told the Los Angeles Times. ‘Robert Bardo, too, is a victim.’ But for Clark, it was imperative that Bardo remained behind bars, where he would be unable to hurt another innocent person. ‘I’m relieved that Bardo is locked up,’ she admitted decades later. ‘But I don’t think of myself as proud in any way of the verdict. Good things came of it, but none of those things bring Rebecca back.’
For more than two years, Danna and Benson Schaeffer had sought justice for the murder of their only child, a bright, kind, and beautiful young woman who seemed on the brink of stardom. ‘She was so fresh,’ said Louise Roberts, who had been her friend during her stay in New York in the mid-eighties. ‘She had a sparkle in her eye.’ But all of this had come to an end with a single bullet. And now, after more than two years of suffering, the parents of Rebecca Schaeffer finally saw her killer convicted for her death. ‘As he was led away from the courtroom, Rebecca’s mother, Danna, leaned against the railing and said to the convicted youth, ‘Have a nice life. Have a good time in jail,’’ claimed Suzanne Chandler in Children of Babylon: The Untold Stories of Hollywood’s Youngest and Brightest Stars. ‘To onlookers she said, ‘Rebecca is never going to come back. Given that, I’m satisfied that justice is going to be served.’ With that, she burst into tears. She was led away, still weeping, as the door leading to the waiting cell slammed behind Bardo.’
The first positive change to come from the trial was the introduction of the Brady Bill, named after Reagan’s press secretary, James Brady, who had been seriously injured during Hinckley’s assassination attempt in 1981. Schaeffer’s mother, Danna, became a key activist in the fight against gun crimes in America, leading an organisation called Oregon’s Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, and was a major supporter of the new bill. ‘Arguing against the Brady Bill is like arguing against yourself,’ claimed Schaeffer. Even more significantly, the Driver’s Privacy Protection was passed following the revelation that a private detective had obtained Rebecca Schaeffer’s home address through the records of the Department of Motor Vehicles. ‘At the time the Act was passed, it was common practice among states to routinely sell personal data from motor vehicle records to individuals and businesses, including direct mail companies, and legislatures became concerned that such data might be misused or abused,’ wrote Jacqueline Klosek in Data Privacy in the Information Age. ‘Most states require a large amount of personal information to be included on a driver’s license. Normally, the personal information on a driver’s licence includes the driver’s name, address, telephone number, age, height, weight and, in some cases, medical data. Under the Act, states are prohibited from any unauthorised disclosures of such information.’
Even more than the death of John Lennon, or the attempted assassination of President Reagan, the murder of Rebecca Schaeffer brought into light the dangers of stalkers, particularly those that target celebrities. ‘Stalking is often an invisible crime until violence breaks out. One study showed that the time from the beginning of stalking to the occurrence of violence was five years,’ claimed Robert I. Simon in Bad Men Do What Good Men Dream. ‘Stalkers are motivated by myriad reasons. In cases where celebrities are stalked, mentally-disordered people desperately seek contact in search of identity, love, power, and relief from their personal problems. Some stalkers even seek contact with total strangers to redress perceived or real grievances or wrongs. Statistics reveal that of all the victims of stalkers, thirty-eight per cent are ordinary people, mostly women; seventeen per cent are high-profile celebrities; and thirty-two per cent are lesser-known celebrities. Of the remainder, eleven percent are corporate executives stalked by current or former employees; and two per cent are people such as supervisors stalked by disgruntled subordinates, and psychotherapists stalked by current or former patients. Stalking has always existed. It is rooted in the ancient concept that women are chattel or property. By wielding power over a man or woman, the stalker is asserting that he or she will be part of the victim’s life, whether the victim likes it or not.’
In the decades since the murder of Rebecca Schaeffer, celebrities have continued to find themselves the target of obsessed stalkers, something that has become even more commonplace due to such social media platforms as Instagram and Twitter. Now actors, singers, and even politicians can awaken to find abusive messages in their inbox, sent by an anonymous nuisance from the privacy of their home. Meanwhile, those close to Schaeffer have dealt with the grief of her death in different ways, with some even turning their pain into art. ‘About a year and a half ago, I wrote a memoir,’ revealed Danna Schaeffer to Fox News in 2018. ‘A friend read it and said, ‘You only mention Rebecca in the last chapter. The whole book should really be about Rebecca.’ And somehow, I don’t know, I just didn’t feel like I could write it. I wanted to act it. I feel like I can do that now.’ The result was You in Midair, a ninety-minute one-woman show, adapted from an earlier concept called My Little Jezebel, that finally allowed her to process her sadness and loss in a cathartic way. ‘People loved it and responded very positively and powerfully,’ she later claimed. Brad Silberling, Schaeffer’s boyfriend at the time of her death, had already directed a film entitled Moonlight Mile, that drew inspiration from the aftermath of her death. ‘It stopped me cold in my tracks,’ he told the Guardian in 2003.
Stalking can destroy lives; not only those of the victims, but also the perpetrators. It is an invasive action that can have lasting consequences, and in the case of Schaeffer this irreversible moment came with her death at the age of twenty-one. While Bardo has expressed no remorse for his actions, other stalkers and murderers have come to terms with the lives that they have ruined. ‘I am ashamed,’ admitted Mark David Chapman to a parole board in 2008, twenty-eight years after he shot and killed John Lennon. ‘I am sorry for what I did. That twenty-five-year-old man, I don’t think he appreciated the life he was taking, that this was a human being. I feel now, at fifty-three, that I have grown into a deeper understanding of what a human life is. I have changed a lot. I had been going through some problems and was very confused, and was feeling like a big nothing and a nobody. It was more about me and not him, I was probably mad at myself for my failures. I just saw his face [on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band], and it seemed like it all came together; the solution to my problem of being confused and feeling like a nobody. And I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be something if I killed this individual? I would become famous, I would be something other than a nobody.’ And that was my reasoning at the time.’
Having survived a knife attack from a fellow inmate in 2007, Robert John Bardo continues to serve a life sentence at Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, California, for the murder of Schaeffer, but the crime he committed more than thirty years ago has left a lasting impact not only on Hollywood but the laws that protect American citizens. ‘As a result of this crime, and the physical attack on actress Theresa Saldana by drifter Arthur Jackson several years earlier, in 1990 the California legislature passed the first anti-stalking law in the United States, effective 1 January, 1991,’ wrote J. Reid Meloy in The Psychology of Stalking. ‘By 1992, staking and harassment laws were enacted in thirty other states. The District of Columbia and all the remaining states, with the exception of Maine, passed stalking laws in 1993. Stalking is a continuous crime, and all stalking statutes require at least two or more incidents to constitute the crime. In Illinois, the stalking statute requires a threat and relevant conduct in furtherance of the threat. Other states, including California, require a ‘continuity of purpose.’ In most states, the crime of stalking requires a credible threat, direct or implied, that places the victim in reasonable fear.’
According to legal documents filed in 2012, Bardo’s obsession with Schaeffer did not end with her murder or the subsequent trial, and even more than two decades later he remained fixated on the young actress. ‘This lawsuit involves plaintiff’s possession of images of his murder victim. Plaintiff alleges that on 24 February, 2009, defendant Lockhart, while working in the prison mailroom, confiscated two envelopes addressed to plaintiff that contained various internet printouts of Ms. Schaeffer,’ detailed the report. ‘Plaintiff also claims that on 25 February, 2009, defendants Lockhart, Butcher, and Ramos searched plaintiff’s cell in retaliation for plaintiff filing a federal civil rights lawsuit. According to plaintiff, defendants confiscated ‘non-contraband’ property, including additional printouts of Ms. Schaeffer. Plaintiff alleges defendants confiscated his property pursuant to California Code of Regulations, title fifteen, section 3270, which plaintiff contends is unconstitutionally overbroad, and vague. Plaintiff claims the defendants have violated his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments… Regulations which permit the confiscation of the murder victim’s images ‘further an important or substantial governmental interest unrelated to the suppression of expression.’ Plaintiff argues he should be allowed to possess his victim’s images as long as they do not contain frontal nudity. The question of nudity is simply irrelevant. It had nothing to do with the defendant’s stated reasons for confiscating the images, and whether the images contain nudity has no bearing on whether plaintiff’s possession of the images is contrary to the rehabilitative process, or poses a threat to institutional safety.’
On 18 July, 1989, the life of twenty-one-year-old Rebecca Lucile Schaeffer was tragically cut short in a moment of senseless violence, committed by a disturbed individual who had developed an unhealthy obsession with her over the course of three years. He had sent her letters and had attempted to visit her at her place of work, before finally appearing on her doorstep one summer morning with a gun in-hand, firing a single shot into her chest. Half an hour later she was dead. While her murder would ultimately bring about changes in the law that would save other celebrities, as well as members of the public that had become the target of stalkers, the fact remained that an innocent young woman was killed. ‘Rebecca cannot be forgotten,’ insisted Marcia Clark in 2017. ‘I took one look at her and fell in love with her,’ admitted Nannette Troutman, the one who had ‘discovered’ her. ‘Rebecca was just a beaming ray of light,’ declared Jenny O’Hara, her co-star on My Sister Sam. But all this was brought to an end with a single bullet, an obsession that had been fuelled by a photograph, given as a token of appreciation to a fan, that had been signed, ‘Love, Rebecca.’