Murder Suspect’s ‘Obsession’ Foretold in Studio Visit
Carrying a huge teddy bear and a bouquet of flowers, the man accused of killing actress Rebecca Schaeffer appeared at the studio where she was taping a television show two years ago and begged to see her.
But security guards, one of whom would later describe “something haywire” about Robert John Bardo, removed him from the lot and talked him into returning home to Arizona.
The incident, recalled this week by Jack Egger, chief of security for The Burbank Studios, provided one more glimpse into what authorities maintain became Bardo’s fatal obsession with the 21-year-old actress, who was shot to death July 18 when she opened the security door of the Fairfax District apartment building where she lived.
Egger, a former Beverly Hills police captain, said he followed standard procedure in informing Schaeffer’s production unit of what happened that June afternoon in 1987. But whether anyone alerted Schaeffer to Bardo’s appearance remains unclear.
People who were present remember hearing about a persistent fan trying to gain access to the set but are unsure whether Schaeffer was told. Two producers of the television series segment Schaeffer was taping, thought to be the people most likely to have advised her, did not return The Times’ phone calls.
What is clear is that it may not have made much difference whether she was notified. The young actress already had received apparently normal fan letters from Bardo.
In retrospect, it seems that she should have been warned; in reality, few gave a second thought to the lovesick youth with the teddy bear.
“So a fan tried to get on the lot. So what? Who’s going to think he’s a potential murderer?” asked Mimi Weber, vice president of the production company for “My Sister Sam,” the 1986-88 sitcom that featured Schaeffer. “It would have seemed harmless: another young kid who’s star-struck. We have tons of those. Lots are lovable; some are crazy. But who’s to know?”
In the wake of the Schaeffer shooting, security is being tightened at the studio lot where Warner Bros. Television, co-producer of “My Sister Sam,” operates, according to spokesmen. They declined to provide details, but said part of the reenforced security will focus on audiences that attend live tapings.
Warner Bros. Television says its policy has always been to inform actors of potential threats from fans or other people who stalk sets, make provocative phone calls or are otherwise perceived as being dangerous.
But studio executives concede that the incident involving Bardo two years ago may have seemed too insignificant, too run-of-the-mill to have aroused unusual suspicion.
“Actors are apprised when the situation is considered threatening,” Warner spokesman Doug Duitsman said, adding that he did not recall the Bardo studio incident.
Police in Tucson, Bardo’s hometown, where he was arrested July 19 and charged with Schaeffer’s murder, said interviews with the suspect’s family confirmed his trip to the studio.
And, Tucson Police Capt. Michael Ulichny said, Bardo over the last five years also traveled to Maine, apparently to seek out Samantha Smith, the schoolgirl who became pen pal to then-Soviet Premier Yuri Andropov, and to New York as part of a fascination with pop music stars Tiffany and Debbie Gibson.
In describing his meeting with Bardo, then 17, Egger recalled that the “obsessed” youth first made numerous telephone calls to the production office, asking to speak to Schaeffer.
Then, on June 2, Bardo arrived at the lot, a facility known as The Ranch, where “My Sister Sam” was taping and insisted on seeing the actress to give her the flowers and teddy bear.
“I thought he was just lovesick, which I think he was,” said Egger, 62. “He was terribly insistent on being let in. ‘Rebecca Schaeffer’ was every other word. ‘I gotta see her. I love her. If I could just see her for a minute.’ ”
Egger said his security guards escorted Bardo from The Ranch to Egger’s office so the two could chat. The security chief told the youth that he could not interrupt the taping of the television show. He said he finally persuaded Bardo to give up and go home.
Egger said he drove Bardo to the run-down motel in Hollywood where the youth was staying. He said Bardo promised to return to Tucson soon. And Bardo called Egger the next day, saying he was about to board the bus.
‘No Raving Lunatic’
“He seemed to be an intelligent kid, no raving lunatic, no dumbbell, but something was definitely wrong, mentally,” Egger said. “There was something haywire going on, but I didn’t perceive it as potentially violent.”
Egger, the studio’s security chief for 10 years, said that his staff is always in tune to potentially dangerous fans and that he felt the Bardo problem had been taken care of.
After sending Bardo home, he informed the production company of what had happened and alerted his staff to be on the lookout in case the man returned. He said he could not have had Bardo arrested because he had not committed a crime; he had not even trespassed.
“We get 100 (cases) in a year, people trying to get in, fans writing letters,” the security chief said. “What more could I have done?”
Bardo’s appearance at the studio came at a time that Schaeffer’s co-star, actress Pam Dawber, had been receiving threatening telegrams, Egger recalled. Those were reported to the FBI.
Sue Cameron, Schaeffer’s agent at the time, said she felt sure the young actress had been notified that an overly persistent fan had tried to get onto the lot. But security had “taken care of it,” the incident had passed and it was forgotten.
Such casualness is changing, the agent said. She now urges all of her clients to obtain post office boxes as a way to remain more anonymous and less accessible and to take extra precautions when answering their doorbells.
In the past, she said, “we have treated these things too cavalierly.”
In response to the Schaeffer slaying, a state legislator Tuesday announced legislation to restrict public access to information held by the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Bardo was allegedly able to locate Schaeffer through a private investigator’s routine check with the DMV, which makes home addresses available to any state resident for a small fee.
Assemblyman Mike Roos (D-Los Angeles) said he will introduce a bill that will allow drivers to list a business or agent’s address or a post office box. Access to home addresses would be restricted to law enforcement agencies, insurance companies and others deemed “appropriate,” he said.
“Anyone with $1 to $5 can fill out (a DMV form) . . . and in a short time, get the home address of their favorite anchor person, favorite movie star, favorite Dodger or favorite politician,” Roos told a press conference.
He said the DMV received 16 million such inquiries last year.
Times staff writer Paul Feldman contributed to this story.