A Crime Without End : Theresa Saldana’s Nightmare Is Real: Her Attacker May Be Free in 13 Days

Times Staff Writer

Actress Theresa Saldana, six months pregnant, is frightened.

Her dark eyes seem sheathed in glass. She stares into the unknown.

“This man is going to kill me if somebody doesn’t help,” she says quietly, with conviction. “That is the truth.”

This man is Arthur Richard Jackson, the deranged Scottish drifter who seven years ago tried and miraculously failed to kill Saldana by stabbing her 10 times. He is scheduled to be paroled from state prison on June 15.


In several letters and phone calls to journalists during his imprisonment, Jackson has threatened to complete his “divine mission.” He is “the benevolent angel of death,” Jackson says. He will take Saldana, “the countess angel,” to heaven.

But such are only words, prison officials say. And the law has tied their hands.

For Good Behavior

Because he has had no serious disciplinary problems while imprisoned, Jackson’s 12-year sentence for attempted murder and inflicting great bodily harm--at the time, the maximum under California law--has been reduced for good behavior.

Moreover, earlier this year, the courts overturned as unconstitutional a 1985 state law that would have kept him incarcerated beyond that date on a year-by-year basis if state psychiatrists determined he was still dangerous.

So what that means for Saldana, 34, who portrayed herself in a 1984 movie chronicling her battle back from death and the founding of her victims’ advocacy group, Victims for Victims, is a reluctant, yet desperate public plea for what she calls “logic, decency and common sense.”

“What can I say?” Saldana asks, her eyes widening with incredulity. “This is my life. And I stand for other people as well. . . . It’s so late, and you know, along the years, I always believed that something would be passed. There seemed to be so many people working on various things. And I kept the faith and believed that a law would be passed, and then a law was passed, and so recently that was repealed. . . .

“And then even when I got the letter about the repeal, they said they weren’t going to take the repeal as the final thing. That would be appealed. But in the last couple weeks, all we got were very very tacit and very, very specific and serious words to the effect of ‘Prepare yourself because he is coming out June 15th. And there is nothing we can do.’ ”

On the face of it, that scenario may not be far wrong.

Emergency legislation being shepherded through the state legislature by Sen. Dan McCorquodale (D-San Jose) attempts to address the court’s concern over the so-called Mentally Disordered Offender Program, under which Jackson was to have been certified for involuntary confinement.

But even if Jackson were kept in jail long enough for that legislation to pass--at the earliest mid-August--he would be ineligible for further confinement under the program because the courts have ruled that only crimes committed after Jan. 1, 1986, may be considered.

Intervention Not Possible

And a spokesman for Gov. George Deukmejian adds that although Saldana’s case is regrettable, the governor has no authority to intervene.

As such, Jackson, 53, a man with a history of mental illness dating to childhood, will be released from the California Medical Facility at Vacaville within 180 days of his June 15 release date into the custody of the Immigration and Naturalization Service for proceedings to deport him to Great Britain.

The possible extension stems from a disciplinary hearing that Jackson is scheduled to face June 13 on charges of destroying state property and resisting prison staff. The maximum extension of prison time for that offense is 180 days.

But the case of Arthur Jackson, which points up the shortcomings of several government agencies, is more bizarre still. Wherever he has encountered a crack, Jackson appears to have slipped through.

Dr. Victoria Meenakshi, chief psychiatrist at the Vacaville prison, considers her patient Arthur Jackson extremely dangerous, capable of murder, and someone, who, on his own, would have no difficulty using guile to attain what he wants.

“He is still psychotic, still delusional,” she says. “He is still elaborately involved with Theresa Saldana, with Gregory Peck, Charlton Heston and Charles Bronson.”

But Meenakshi says that although she strongly believes Jackson should remain behind bars, hers is an opinion that holds no weight with the parole board.

“What I think doesn’t matter,” she says. “They’ll do what they think is right. Their rules are different.”

A Shared Frustration

And it is a frustration that others in the system share as well.

“This has been a problem for a number of years,” says Karen Bowles, assistant regional administrator in the parole and community services division of the Department of Corrections.

Systemwide, she says, more than 100 other mentally ill violent offenders already have been released from custody since the state Supreme Court let stand the appellate decision that overturned the Mentally Disordered Offender Program.

“The law ties our hands on our ability to act on this,” Bowles says. “We can’t make an assumption that just because someone says they will do something, they will.”

But Saldana, and those close to her, say that in the case of Jackson, it is the only assumption one can make.

He is a man obsessed with his sick vision of reality and someone used to waiting, a meticulous planner who, according to Meenakshi, deeply regrets his botched murder attempt. He had wanted so much to kill her.

An Extraordinary Letter

In an extraordinary 89-page letter begun shortly after his arrest, addressed to “My dear and fondest Theresa” and written in longhand scroll so small that reading it without a magnifying glass is difficult, Jackson explained his reasons for wanting to murder Saldana.

It was, he said in the 1982 letter, a “torturous love sickness in my soul for you combined with a desperate desire to escape into a beautiful world I have always dreamed of (the palaces of gardens of sweet paradise), whereby the plan was for you, Theresa, to go ahead first, then I would join you in a few months via ‘the little green room’ (execution chamber) at San Quentin.”

And later, he added, “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.”

Since that time, Jackson repeatedly has made reference to his mission, writing several letters to a television producer in which he said, “I am capable of alternating between sentiment and savagery, romance and reality. . . . Also, police or FBI protection for T. S. won’t stop the hit squad, murder contract men nor will bullet-proof vests.”

In March, during a string of collect calls from prison to Ellen Grehan, a free-lance reporter in Los Angeles for Scotland’s Daily Record newspaper, Jackson discussed his delusion that Charlton Heston, Charles Bronson and Gregory Peck were working for his early release from prison.

But Jackson “wasn’t like a lunatic” during the calls, Grehan says. “He spoke very intelligently. He clearly was not thinking rationally, but he expressed himself in a very rational way. . . . And, of course, he is just totally obsessed with Theresa. What was alarming to me, too, was that he seemed to have also developed an obsession with her mother.”

Such threats, and there are more, chill Saldana. She hasn’t even read the letters. Over the years, she says, that has helped her put her fear “in kind of a box of its own.”

‘The Tragedy Queen’

She has wanted to get on with life, devote her energy to her career--"I got so over-identified with the issues and the cause. I became Theresa Saldana: the girl who got stabbed. . . . The tragedy queen"--and her family.

In March, she married actor Phil Peters, 41. Their baby--the sonogram says it’s a girl--is due in the first week of September. She is close to her relatives and her friends. The attack, she says, is something that just doesn’t come up.

“It’s not really me to have all this depressing stuff circling around me,” Saldana says. “You know, 99% of my life is to smile and 1% of my life is this miserable situation.

“Obviously, when I’m talking about this to a degree, I feel pensive, but there is a part of me that feels really overjoyed to even be alive, to even be here to try and keep this person in jail.”

But as uncertainty over Jackson’s status grows, Saldana’s fear is escaping its prescribed boundaries.

“What are we left with?” her husband snaps. “I am trying to stay reasonably calm here. But this is an absurd situation getting more absurd by the minute.”

Emotions are something that Gavin de Becker, a prominent Los Angeles security consultant, tries to hold at bay when he “assesses the threat” that Jackson poses to Saldana, a client he took on free of charge in 1983.

And that threat, he says, is very potent.

“If somebody says, ‘I’m ordered by God to do this and this is my destiny,’ there is not a lot they can say to me later on to lessen the likelihood that they will do it again,” De Becker says.

Like John Hinckley’s obsession with actress Jody Foster, Jackson’s is a classic case of public-figure attack in the modern media age. The difference, however, is that after he tried to kill President Ronald Reagan, Hinckley pleaded innocent by reason of insanity and was confined to a mental institution.

Eligible for Parole

Despite ample evidence of his mental illness and the fact that 23 people witnessed his attack on Saldana, Jackson insisted on pleading not guilty. That made him eligible for parole under the Department of Corrections.

And just like any other inmate released from state prison, Jackson will be issued the standard parole conditions that he not carry a weapon or violate any law.

In his case, however, two other conditions have been added: that he attend outpatient psychiatric counseling--treatment that he has refused even while in prison--and that he not have any contact whatsoever with Saldana.

But even if Jackson were willing to comply with those conditions, the intention of the INS to deport him as an illegal alien might make that impossible, and according to De Becker, just as dangerous for Saldana.

What, if any, supervision Jackson would have in England is unclear.

While in custody in California, he confessed to murdering a man during a London bank robbery two decades ago. Although the FBI, and later a London detective, interviewed Jackson about the killing, no charges have been filed against him.

Prosecution remains uncertain. The only apparent evidence in the 20-year-old case is the confession of a mentally disturbed man.

‘We Get No Comfort’

“England is not Mars,” De Becker adds. “We get no comfort from the idea that he is 8,000 miles away. And we are talking about a man who has traveled to Casablanca, Tangier, Brussels, Amsterdam, Hamburg, West Berlin, Vienna, Lisbon, Rio de Janeiro, Santiago, Buenos Aires, Barcelona, Nice, Rome, Venice, and through 14 states in the United States trying to find a gun to kill Theresa. . . . The world is not big enough to give us any comfort about Arthur Jackson in that regard.”

Then there is Jackson’s amazing history with the U.S. government.

Despite having been confined to a mental institution in his native Scotland, Jackson was able to obtain permanent U.S. residency in 1955. No one, it seems, bothered to verify his application. He had simply lied when asked if he had been treated for mental illness.

According to his INS file, Jackson also served in the U.S. Army, from June, 1955, through November, 1956, when he was granted a disability discharge.

In 1961, after the Secret Service detained him for making threats against President John F. Kennedy, he was deported to Great Britain for lying on the application for his immigrant visa in 1955.

But Jackson, whose passport lists his occupation as “technical adviser, scenario and music,” re-entered the United States yet again, this time through Miami in 1966 after he was given a standard six-month visitor’s visa. He was deported, for the second time, later that year for over-staying that visa.

Then, on New Year’s Day, 1982, Jackson entered the country illegally for a third time, through New York, after being given a one-month visa.

It was less than three months later that he finally met up with Saldana, then 27, outside her West Hollywood apartment house, and where, were it not for the intervention of water deliveryman Jeff Fenn, he surely would have killed her.

Jackson plunged his hunting knife into Saldana’s chest with such fury that it bent under the pressure.

Saldana seems wearied with recounting the fear and pain she has finally put behind her. She seems annoyed, too, when asked to respond to suggestions that she is over-reacting or simply motivated by revenge.

“My life is in jeopardy,” she says, her eyes flashing with anger. “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.”

Saldana says she would prefer never again to utter or hear the name Arthur Jackson. And even during the interview, she mentions that name only once. Jackson is simply “this person” and “this man.”

Peters has even less tolerance. Listening to the interview, his anger boiled over and he left to walk outside the front gate of De Becker’s home and office compound in Studio City.

“You know,” Saldana says, “it was so grisly, and it has taken so long to get this well, to feel so well, to have everything going well. The career is back on track, the husband’s gorgeous and helpful and supportive. The baby’s on the way. . . . It’s like, ‘Thank God. You can battle back from anything.’

“I really, really want a happy ending. I just think so much has gone on. So much pain. So much pain on the part of my mom, all of these friends, loved ones. . . . Just, so much. He has done so much already. It’s enough. It’s just enough.”