The day looked promising for Rebecca Schaeffer. Her spirits were still high from the birthday party she had thrown the night before for her 71-year-old grandfather. And in less than an hour, the sweet-faced, 21-year-old actress from Portland, Ore., who from 1986 to ’88 had costarred as Pam Dawber’s kid sister, Patti, in the CBS sitcom My Sister Sam, was to meet with director Francis Ford Coppola about a role in The Godfather Part III. Around 10:15 on that morning of July 18, 1989, the buzzer rang at her apartment in L.A.’s pleasant, middle-class Fairfax district. The intercom was broken, so Schaeffer, still in her bathrobe, went down to answer the door. On the other side was 19-year-old Robert John Bardo, an unemployed fast-food worker who for three years had been trying to contact his idol. Bardo pulled a .357 Magnum from a plastic bag and shot Schaeffer once in the chest with a hollow-point cartridge. A half hour later, she was dead on arrival at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Bardo, who carried a copy of The Catcher in the Rye — the same novel Mark David Chapman had with him when he killed John Lennon — took a bus back home to Tucson, Ariz.
The murder of the up-and-coming actress brought home to Hollywood just how frighteningly vulnerable its celebrated residents had become. Bardo had read accounts of how a stalker had easily obtained the address of actress Theresa Saldana (The Commish) before stabbing and nearly killing her in ’82, so Bardo paid a Tucson detective $250 to find Schaeffer. A month before the murder, the private eye got the actress’ address from the California Department of Motor Vehicles for a fee of $4. ”I have an obsession with the unattainable,” Bardo had written in a letter to his older sister before the crime. ”I have to eliminate [what] I cannot attain.”
In the fall of 1991, Bardo was prosecuted by L.A. deputy district attorney Marcia Clark, now lead prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Bardo was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
His shocking act had a few positive results: In 1990, California became the first state to pass an antistalking bill; today, every state but Maine has a similar law. That same year, the LAPD created the nation’s only unit solely assigned to investigating stalking cases, and California lawmakers greatly restricted public access to motor-vehicle records.
”I was a fan of hers and I may have carried it too far,” Bardo said after the murder. ”[But] I loved her…. If it wasn’t for my obsession, I’d be law-abiding. But Hollywood is a very seductive place. There are a lot of lonely people out there seduced by the glamour.” He’s now serving his sentence in the California Medical Facility, a state prison in Vacaville.
July 18, 1989
Michael Keaton suited up as Batman on the big screen, as Simply Red rose on the charts with ”If You Don’t Know Me By Now.” John le Carre’s The Russia House stood atop the fiction list, and TV viewers related to thirtysomething.