Obsessive fans are part of being a celebrity, but they can become dangerous when their admiration turns into a vicious obsession. This has happened to far too many stars, including the beautiful and innocent Rebecca Schaeffer from My Sister Sam.
Opening the door for a desperate fan turned out to be a deadly mistake when he brought out a handgun. Her death was a tragedy, but it led to important legislation that’s saved other men and women from facing a similar fate.
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Rebecca Schaeffer and Her Career
Rebecca Shaeffer was born in Eugene, Oregon to parents Danna and Benson on November 6, 1967. Her family raised her in the Jewish faith and she initially considered becoming a Rabbi.
When she was 14, Rebecca’s hairdresser Rick Putro referred her to a talent agency called Troutman Profiles Inc. She earned several modeling gigs for department store catalogs.
Rebecca’s internship in New York City ended when she was 16 in August 1984. She decided to stay in the city instead of returning to Portland to finish high school. She instead attended the Professional Children’s School and earned a role in the soap opera One Life to Live.
Rebecca’s height of 5’7 made her 2 inches shorter than most fashion models. She struggled to find modeling jobs, and a trip to Japan didn’t help.
She returned to New York after this unsuccessful stint to focus on acting. She received a few small roles, such as an appearance in Woody Allen’s Radio Days, but found her breakout role in the comedy series My Sister Sam. The part required a move to LA which she wasn’t thrilled about, but it worked out in her favor. The show was an immediate hit when it aired in October of 1986, and Rebecca was featured on the March 1987 issue of Seventeen magazine.
She was excited about all of the new attention. Judy Crown, the hairstylist on set, had reservations and warned her not to respond to any fanmail or gifts she received.
My Sister Sam lasted for 2 seasons and aired its final episode on April 12, 1988. Rebecca found a new role that same year in Scenes From the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills. The black comedy took her in a new direction and made her more popular than ever. She also earned roles in The End of Innocence and Out of Time and became the spokeswoman for the charity Thursday’s Child
The success allowed her to settle down in an apartment in the Fairfax District of West Los Angeles.
Robert John Bardo
Robert John Bardo had a history of becoming obsessed with famous women. The first case was with a 10-year-old schoolgirl and peace activist named Samantha Smith. He went to find Samantha in her home state of Maine, but she had already died in an airplane crash on August 25, 1985.
His next object of fixation was Rebecca Shaeffer. He became entranced by her the first time he saw her on TV in My Sister Sam. He began to write her a series of letters telling of how he was a sensitive guy who related to her character.
Rebecca responded to one of his letters and said it was one of the nicest she ever received. He became convinced that she felt the same way about him that he did about her.
Robert flew from Burbank to Tuscon in 1987 with a bouquet and oversized teddy bear and showed up at the Warner Brothers Studios. Security Chief Jack Egger pitied him but refused to let him in despite his pleading. Instead, he gave him a ride back to his hotel. They talked during the ride and Jack cautioned Robert not to return. He agreed but showed up at the studio again a month later, this time clutching a knife.
Robert got angry after watching Rebecca in Scenes From the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills. He couldn’t stand to see her in bed with another man, even if it was only on-screen. He went to the Anthony Agency, a private investigator firm in Tuscon, with a photo of Rebecca. He claimed to be her old friend and said he needed her address to send her a gift.
Robert only had to pay the firm $300 in exchange for the information he wanted. They asked the California DMV for her home address. It was a legal transaction because driver’s license information was made public at the time.
Robert wasn’t able to buy a gun because of his history of mental illness. His brother Edward said he would buy one for him as long as he promised they would only use it together for target practice.
Soon after, Robert wrote an ominous letter to his sister in Knoxville, Tennesse. He told her that he had an obsession with the unattainable and must eliminate what he cannot attain. He didn’t mention Rebecca by name, but it was the first hint towards the tragedy that was about to occur.
The morning of July 19, 1989, started like any other day for Rebecca Shaeffer. She was awaiting the script for The Godfather III that she would use to audition for the part of Mary Corleone.
The doorbell rang all of a sudden, but Robert showed up instead of the delivery man she was expecting. He was carrying a bag and a copy of The Catcher in the Rye, an autographed photo of Rebecca, and her favorable response to one of his letters.
Rebecca smiled at him when he asked about the letter she sent him, even though she didn’t remember it. She told him she had to get ready for an appointment, shook his hand, said “please take care,” and closed the door.
Robert went to a nearby diner for breakfast but realized he forgot two gifts for the object of his obsession; a CD and a letter. He decided to return to her apartment.
Rebecca was visibly annoyed by this point, telling him to hurry up because she didn’t have much time. He told her he had something for her, pulled out a .357 Magnum handgun, shot her in the chest, and ran away.
A neighbor who heard the shot and Rebecca’s screams called an ambulance right away, but it didn’t arrive quickly enough. She was declared dead after reaching the hospital 30 minutes later.
Like and subscribe to FactsVerse for more on the most well-known celebrity murder cases of all time. Keep watching to learn about how Rebecca’s killer was arrested and the impact the case had on the world as a whole.
Robert’s Arrest and Trial
Robert’s strange behavior continued after the murder. He was found the next day back in Tuscon, Arizona. He attempted suicide by darting in and out of traffic and yelled that he’d killed Rebecca Shaeffer to no one in particular.
His rantings were enough to count as a confession, and he was arrested and held on a $1 million bail. The authorities in Tuscon also contacted the LAPD and faxed them his photo. They showed it to witnesses who said he was the same man who’d asked them where Rebecca lived the day of her murder.
Crucial pieces of evidence in the case included a yellow shirt, gun holster, and a copy of Catcher in the Rye. The Tennesse Highway Patrol Officer also helped the LAPD’s case. They informed them that Robert’s sister received a phone call from him the morning of the murder where he told her he was 1 and ½ blocks away from Rebecca’s apartment.
Robert was assigned a public defender named Stephen Galindo who argued his client was incapable of planning the murder due to mental illness. Robert’s brother Edward also testified he’d spent time in a psychiatric hospital.
A forensic psychiatrist named Dr. Park Dietz interviewed Robert who told him that there was “something special about Rebecca” and that he “couldn’t let go of her.” He admitted to identifying with Mark David Chapman who murdered John Lennon. They were both carrying a copy of The Catcher in the Rye during the murders. The song Exit by U2 allegedly gave him the idea to kill Rebecca, and he began to sing along and dance to it when his defender played it during the trial.
Dr. Park testified that Robert had schizophrenia since childhood. The prosecutor, Marcia Clark, argued against the insanity defense because Robert had enough mental clarity to stalk Rebecca for 2 years before the murder.
Judge Dino Fulgoni sided with the prosecution. On October 29, 1991, he convicted Robert of first-degree murder with a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Rebecca Shaeffer’s killer still sits in Avenal State Prison in California. He spends his time drawing celebrities, and you can buy his art online.
Rebecca Shaeffer’s Legal Legacy
Victims of stalking have been instrumental in passing new laws to prevent the tragic event from ever happening again. Actress Theresa Saldana survived a stabbing from an obsessed fan named Arthur Jackson who found her address through the DMV. After that, she started lobbying for anti-stalking legislation for years. The Screen Actors Guild also worked to prevent personal information from the DMV from getting into the wrong hands.
Rebecca’s murder was the push that the world needed to work towards preventing similar tragedies. It helped lead to the creation of the anti-stalking coiling known as the Threat Management Unit in 1989.
The first anti-stalking law in California was passed in 1990 and officially made it a crime. The Driver’s Privacy Protection Act in 1994 required all other states to follow California’s lead in restricting driver’s license information Now it’s illegal for anyone to pay a measly $300 to find out another person’s address. Rebecca Shaeffer was both a talented actress and a kind human being. She’ll be remembered for her talent and for the impact she had on anti-stalking legislation that’s saved several other women and men from meeting the same tragic fate she suffered.
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