The Murder of Actress Rebecca Schaeffer

Lori Johnston
7 min readJun 11, 2020

I am so wise, to think love will prevail. I am so wise.

Rebecca Schaeffer, 1989

In July of 1989, a month before the killings of Jose and Kitty Menendez shocked L.A. and took over the airwaves and newspapers, a young actress named Rebecca Schaeffer was stalked and killed by an overzealous fan.

Rebecca was a lovely girl who had started her career modeling for local department store catalogs and commercials and then wholesome outlets like Seventeen magazine, the Bible for adolescent girls in the ‘70s and ‘80s. In an era and an industry that worshipped blue-eyed blondes, her curly auburn hair and brown eyes made her a standout. Also a standout was her sweet demeanor, kind nature and intelligence.

Roles on the ABC daytime soap One Life to Live and the Woody Allen film Radio Days followed (although her Radio Days role would end up on the cutting room floor.) Rebecca was bitten by the acting bug and Hollywood came calling, with a role on a new sitcom called My Sister Sam. Her role as Patti gave her greater exposure and a fan base. She was known for personally responding to all her fan mail herself. One of those fans who wrote her was Robert John Bardo.

Bardo was a high school dropout working as a fast food restaurant janitor from Tucson, Arizona who had been institutionalized at fifteen for emotional problems, following a childhood of abuse and problems including at least one threat of suicide. Unfortunately for Rebecca, his early and ongoing problems were never fully identified or resolved.

He had become obsessed with peace activist and actress Samantha Smith, all of thirteen years old, stalking her in earnest before she was killed in a plane crash in 1985. Her death left an opening in Bardo’s fevered mind, one that he was able to replace with Rebecca when My Sister Sam premiered in 1986.

The sitcom was nothing groundbreaking and very ‘80s. Rebecca, however, shined. Her Patti was representative of what every teen girl was or wanted to be in the mid to late 1980s. She had a wonderful chemistry with costar Pam Dawber (late of Mork & Mindy fame); so much so that Rebecca would live with Dawber and her soon to be husband Mark Harmon before moving into her own apartment on Sweetzer Avenue in West Hollywood.

My Sister Sam ran for only two full seasons but during that time Bardo travelled to L.A. and attempted to get on to the Warner Bros. set with gifts to meet Rebecca. He was motivated in part by a response that she had sent him after receiving a fan letter. He was denied access to her and returned home, where he…

Lori Johnston

Writer, reader, margarita drinker. Currently looking for a “dare to be great” situation.