Police Directed to Evidence in Actress’ Death
Acting on information reportedly provided by murder suspect Robert John Bardo, Los Angeles authorities Thursday recovered a yellow shirt, a gun holster and a paperback copy of the novel “The Catcher in the Rye” only blocks from the Fairfax District apartment where actress Rebecca Schaeffer was shot to death earlier this week.
The discoveries came as new details emerged about Bardo’s obsession with the 21-year-old actress, who co-starred in the television series “My Sister Sam.”
For the last two years, Bardo sent a stream of letters to Schaeffer through her agents in New York and Los Angeles. They were characterized by law enforcement officials as “typical fan letters.”
In a “very recent” letter, however, Bardo’s obsession turned ominous, authorities said.
Writing to his sister in Knoxville, Tenn., Los Angeles County prosecutors said, Bardo implied that if he could not have the actress, no one would.
Tennessee Officer Notified L.A.
The sister, who was not immediately identified, provided information to a Tennessee Highway Patrol officer, a neighbor who, in turn, notified Los Angeles police. She told investigators that, just before Tuesday morning’s shooting, Bardo had telephoned her and said he was within 1 1/2 blocks of Schaeffer’s residence.
While Los Angeles police launched a search locally for Bardo, the suspect was arrested coincidentally Wednesday morning in Tucson after he was found wandering on a highway in the downtown area. Tucson police said he appeared to be disoriented and attempting to commit suicide by running toward oncoming cars.
Bardo allegedly made statements to Tucson police officers about the Schaeffer killing and they relayed the information to Los Angeles police.
Included in Bardo’s statements, authorities said, were directions on where they could find items he discarded in Los Angeles, LAPD Detective David Escoto said.
The long-sleeved yellow shirt with a button-down collar was found on the roof of a building occupied by Target Cleaners and Stroud’s Linen at Crescent Heights and Beverly boulevards, about four blocks from the murder scene.
Witnesses said they had seen Schaeffer’s assailant fleeing the scene in a yellow shirt, jeans and floppy sandals. When Bardo was arrested in Tucson, he was wearing a T-shirt, jeans and sandals.
A red paperback copy of “The Catcher in the Rye” was found on the roof of the Beverly Palms Rehabilitation Center on Beverly Boulevard.
“He (Bardo) indicated that he threw a red-covered paperback book entitled ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ in the alley while he was running,” said Escoto.
The discovery of the book harked back to the 1981 shooting of former Beatle John Lennon by one-time mental patient Mark David Chapman in New York City.
After the obsessed fan shot the rock singer, he calmly took out a copy of the J. D. Salinger novel and was reading it when police arrived.
Escoto said the holster was found on a rooftop about a block west of where the book was discovered. “We don’t know if the holster is related at all,” the detective said.
Late Thursday, Los Angeles police were still searching for the gun used to kill Schaeffer.
$1 Million Bail
As investigators were making these discoveries Thursday, Bardo, 19, was ordered held in lieu of $1 million bail in Tucson, where he appeared in connection with a murder warrant filed by the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, which wants him extradited to California. He also faces a misdemeanor charge of obstructing traffic in Tucson.
Bardo, who did not enter a plea, appeared sullen and unshaven on closed-circuit television, which was beamed into a Tucson courtroom from the Pima County Jail, where he is under a suicide watch.
The suspect--a straight-A junior high school student who dropped out of school in the ninth grade--sat in front of a video camera with a somewhat glazed look on his face. He nodded when his name was announced in court.
At the end of the hearing, Assistant Public Defender Lori Lefferts was appointed to represent him. As he was about to get up, Lefferts said, “Robert, don’t talk to anybody about your case, OK?” Bardo, who had worked at several Tucson-area fast-food outlets until recently, leaned into the microphone and said, “OK.”
After the hearing, Lefferts met with Bardo for about 45 minutes.
“He is fighting extradition because I think it’s in his best interests,” she told reporters.
Began Writing 2 Years Ago
In an interview with the Portland Oregonian, Schaeffer’s parents said Bardo had first written their daughter two years ago.
“It seemed like he was just another strange kid who wanted someone to pay attention to him,” said Benson Schaeffer, a Portland psychologist. “He wanted to make an impression on somebody. They weren’t bad letters or anything.”
The victim’s mother, Danna Schaeffer, said she held no resentment toward Bardo but expressed anger that people can easily obtain guns in this country.
“I’m angry at the system that allows things like this to happen, that allows a deranged person to get his hands on a deadly weapon,” she said.
The couple indicated that they may get involved with groups lobbying for stricter handgun regulations.
Cause of Death
The Los Angeles County coroner’s office Thursday said Schaeffer’s death was caused by “a penetrating gunshot wound to the chest.”
Funeral services were scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday in Portland.
Los Angeles police released new details Thursday about Bardo’s movements before the shooting. Detective Dan Andrews said there were indications that the suspect often visited Los Angeles, “but had no real roots here.”
He said Bardo took a Greyhound bus from Tucson that arrived in Los Angeles either late Monday or early Tuesday morning. After the shooting, the detective said, Bardo returned to Tucson on another bus.
Andrews said that Bardo’s previous letters to Schaeffer had not aroused her suspicions because they were “typical fan letters--descriptions of himself, questions about her. Questions or comments about acting or whatever.”
Andrews said that, in addition to sending letters to Schaeffer through her agents in both New York and Los Angeles, Bardo also called them but made no threats.
“They were the same as the letters, they were just inquisitive,” the detective said.
But in a “very recent” letter to a woman in Tennessee, Bardo made a more ominous statement.
Andrews did not identify the letter recipient as Bardo’s sister. He would only paraphrase the contents of the letter, saying it said “something to the effect of, ‘If I can’t have her, nobody will.’ ”
Deputy Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Marcia Clark also paraphrased Bardo’s letter. She said the suspect sent it to his sister in Knoxville and it read in part: “I have an obsession with the unattainable and I have to eliminate (something) that I cannot attain.”
Clark said the phrase Bardo used did not explicitly refer to Schaeffer.
Call From Tennessee
Los Angeles police said the first break in the case came at 2 a.m. Wednesday, when detectives received the phone call from Knoxville alerting them that Bardo might be involved in Schaeffer’s murder.
According to Deputy Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Robert Savitt, Bardo’s sister informed police that he had telephoned her minutes before the shooting Tuesday morning and indicated he was in the vicinity of Schaeffer’s Los Angeles residence.
But Bardo, police said, did not say he intended to kill the actress.
“He said he was within a block and a half of the Schaeffer residence and was not specific about his intent,” Andrews said.
Times staff writers George Ramos in Tucson and Robert Welkos in Los Angeles also contributed to this story.