Remembering The 'My Sister Sam' Celeb Stalker Murder Of Rebecca Schaeffer
The 1989 killing of the young TV star helped establish America's first anti-stalking laws.
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA — On July 18, 1989, someone rang the front doorbell of actress Rebecca Schaeffer's house. The 21-year-old up-and-comer was best known at that point for costarring with Pam Dawber on the CBS sitcom My Sister Sam, and on that day, she was reportedly waiting for a script to be delivered to her home.
Specifically, the screenplay was for The Godfather Part III, and Schaeffer reportedly had an audition set up with iconic filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola. A part of that caliber might have been a major milestone in her career.
When Schaeffer opened the door though, it wasn’t a studio courier. Instead, it was Robert John Bardo, a 19-year-old “fan” from Tucson.
Bardo had reportedly paid $250 for a Tucson detective agency to locate Schaeffer’s address by using public records from the California Department of Motor Vehicles. Once Bardo had that info, he allegedly crossed state lines to use it.
Prior to showing up at Schaeffer’s doorstep, Bardo is believed to have written her numerous “love” letters. In addition, he allegedly tried to gain access to the set of My Sister Sam. Following his failure to meet Schaeffer, Bardo is said to have returned to Arizona and shifted his obsession to other female celebrities.
Reportedly, though, Bardo became enraged after seeing Schaeffer get romantic with another actor in the film Scenes From the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills (1989), and he refocused his fixation on her — with homicidal intensity.
Once Schaeffer opened her front door that horribly fateful July day, Bardo reportedly said he was a great admirer of hers. It’s believed she wished him well and politely turned him away.
From there, Bardo reportedly grabbed breakfast at a nearby diner and, about an hour later, he rang Schaeffer’s doorbell again. This time, when she answered, authorities say Bardo produced a .357-caliber handgun and pumped a bullet into her chest.
Schaeffer allegedly screamed for help and, 30 minutes after being rushed to a hospital, the rising star was pronounced dead.
According to ABC News, authorities picked up Bardo in Arizona the next day, when he was allegedly spotted running alongside a freeway, yelling, “I killed Rebecca Schaeffer!”
While being questioned, investigators said they made two especially chilling discoveries. The first was that when Bardo shot Schaeffer, he had been carrying a copy of the novel The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger — the same book reportedly carried by Mark David Chapman in 1980 when he gunned down John Lennon.
The second was that Bardo allegedly told a psychiatrist he was inspired to kill Schaeffer in part by a 1982 attack on Raging Bull actress Theresa Saldana by a drifter who went to her apartment and stabbed her with near-fatal consequences.
Heading into trial, Bardo’s attorneys never denied that their client killed Schaeffer, but they maintained he was schizophrenic and should not be held responsible for murder.
Robert John Bardo was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
In the meantime, the shock and heartbreak of the so-called “My Sister Sam murder” is believed to have powerfully illuminated stalking as a crime that many said was not being properly addressed by existing laws.
As a result of public awareness and a widespread push for change, then, in 1990, California passed the first-ever anti-stalking law in the United States, which made it “a felony to cause another, or their family, to be in reasonable fear for their safety and carries a state prison sentence.”
In 2019, all 50 states have anti-stalking laws on the books and countless lives may have been saved by the changes that followed in the wake of Rebecca Schaeffer’s murder.
For more on this case, watch the "The Copycat Killer" episode of Investigation Discovery's 1980's: The Deadliest Decade on ID GO now!