In last week’s blog, I told you about Wyatt Earp and the infamous Gunfight at the OK Corral. This week’s case is the case of Robert Bardo. In a sad and pointless crime, Bardo stalked and killed Rebecca Schaeffer, a young and promising actress, in 1989.
Robert Bardo was a military brat, the seventh child of a noncommissioned Air Force officer, and a Japanese mother. Young Robert did not enjoy a happy childhood, as the family often moved before they settled in Tucson, Arizona. Also, an older sibling abused Robert. At one point, Bardo threatened suicide, landing him in a foster home.
Mental illness ran in Bardo’s family. Doctors diagnosed Robert himself with bipolar disorder. At age fifteen, he spent a month in an institution for treatment for his emotional problems. Whatever the treatment, it didn’t help much. Bardo dropped out of high school in the ninth grade and worked as a janitor for a fast-food restaurant chain.
Three times between early 1988 and mid-1989, Robert found himself arrested for domestic violence and disorderly conduct. Neighbors complained about his strange and threatening behavior toward them.
Robert Bardo, Stalker
In 1986, Bardo began stalking actress Rebecca Schaeffer. At the time, Schaeffer starred with Pam Dawber in the hit CBS television series My Sister Sam. Bardo wrote many letters to Schaeffer and tried to gain access to the set where Warner Brothers filmed the show. He paid a Tucson detective agency $250 to obtain Schaeffer’s home address, which the agency obtained through Department of Motor Vehicles records.
On July 18, 1989, Bardo confronted Schaeffer at her West Hollywood apartment. He was angry she appeared in a sex scene in the film, Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills. In his eyes, this caused her to “lose her innocence” and become “another Hollywood whore.” But he didn’t say this when he encountered Schaeffer. Instead, he claimed to be a huge fan.
Robert Bardo Kills Rebecca Schaeffer
After his encounter with Schaeffer, Bardo went to a diner to eat breakfast. About an hour later, after eating, he returned to Schaeffer’s apartment and rang the bell. Bardo shot her in the chest when she opened the door, killing her.
Police arrested Bardo in Tucson, where they found him wandering in traffic.
Marcia Clark prosecuted Bardo’s case for the State of California. (Clark later became famous as the lead prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson murder trial). Bardo’s attorneys conceded he shot Schaeffer but argued he was mentally ill.
Juries don’t often accept an insanity defense, and they didn’t buy it in this case. The jurors found Bardo guilty of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Before stalking Schaeffer, Bardo stalked youth peace activist Samantha Smith until she died in a 1985 plane crash.
After Schaeffer’s murder, the U.S. Congress passed the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act, which prohibits state Departments of Motor Vehicles from disclosing home addresses. California also enacted the nation’s first anti-stalking law.
When he shot Shaeffer, Bardo carried a red paperback copy of Catcher in the Rye, the same book Mark Chapman brought with him when he murdered John Lennon. He tossed the book onto the roof of a building as he made his escape. Bardo claimed it was a coincidence and not an attempt to emulate Chapman. But Chapman later revealed Bardo sent him letters asking about living in prison.
Robert Bardo resides (2022) in the Avenal State Prison in Avenal, California, about halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
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