Stars are safer because of Rebecca Schaeffer's murder

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Stars are safer because of Rebecca Schaeffer's murder
LOS ANGELES - JANUARY 1: MY SISTER SAM cast members (from left) Jenny O'Hara as Dixie Randazzo, Rebecca Schaeffer as Patti Russell and Pam Dawber as Samantha 'Sam' Russell. Image dated 1986. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)
Robert John Bardo, 19, is shown in this police handout photo, July 1989. Bardo is being held in connection with the shooting death of actress Rebecca Schaeffer in Los Angeles, California. In Dec. 1991, Bardo was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. (AP Photo)
American actress Rebecca Schaeffer (1967 - 1989) on the set of the TV comedy series 'My Sister Sam,' 1987. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)
Robert Bardo the obsessed fan who followed and killed actress Rebecca Schaeffer, pleads for a lesser sentence to Superior Court judge Dino Fulgoni, prior to being sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole on Friday Dec 21,1991 in a Los Angeles courtroom. Bardo admitted killing Schaeffer and said he was not proud of it. (AP Photo/Kevork Pjansezian)
Studio portrait of American actresses Rebecca Schaeffer (1967 - 1989) (left) and Pam Dawber, cast members of the TV comedy series 'My Sister Sam,' 1987. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)
Obsessed fan Robert Bardo sits in a courtroom on Tuesday Oct. 29, 1991 in Los Angeles when he was convicted of first degree murder and the special circumstance of lying in wait in the 1989 slaying of actress Rebecca Schaeffer. Bardo, who will be sentenced Nov. 25, automatically gets life in prison without parole due to the special circumstance. (AP Photo/ Bob Galbraith)
Studio portrait of American actress Rebecca Schaeffer (1967 - 1989) holding a rose, 1987. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)
British actress Jacqueline Bisset, American actresses Rebecca Schaeffer and Mary Woronov and American actor and director Paul Bartel acting in Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills. USA, 1989 (Photo by Mondadori Portfolio by Getty Images)
American actresses Rebecca Schaeffer (1967 - 1989) (left) and Pam Dawber in the episode 'Aunt Elsie Crisis' of the TV comedy series 'My Sister Sam,' Burbank, California, October 24, 1986. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)
Benson and Danna Schaeffex parents of slain actress Rebecca Schaeffer who was killed by an obsessed fan, Robert Bardo, wait for Superior Court Judge Dino Fulgoni’s sentence Friday, Dec. 20, 1991 in Los Angeles. Bardo, was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)
LOS ANGELES - JANUARY 1: MY SISTER SAM cast member Rebecca Schaeffer, seen here out of character. Image dated 1987. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)
Robert Bardo, the man accused of killing actress Rebecca Schaeffer, stands in court in Los Angeles Friday August 11, 1989. Bardo's arraignment is postponed for a week to allow his lawyer time to prepare his case and look into the Brado's extradition. (AP Photo)
American actresses Rebecca Schaeffer (1967 - 1989) and Pam Dawber face off in a scene from the television series 'My Sister Sam,' 1986. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - JANUARY 1: MY SISTER SAM cast members (clockwise from top) David Naughton as Jack Kincaid, Jenny O'Hara as Dixie Randazzo, Rebecca Schaeffer as Patti Russell, Joel Brooks as J.D. Lucas and Pam Dawber as Samantha 'Sam' Russell. (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES (AP) - They've shown up in Selena Gomez's guest house, outside Halle Berry's kitchen door and inside Sandra Bullock's home, despite gates, tall fences and guards meant to keep the stars safe.

Celebrity stalkers continue to be one of stardom's most troubling downsides. Many instances involve serious cases of mental illness, making it difficult for private security, police and prosecutors to anticipate those intent on harassing and possibly harming some of the entertainment industry's biggest names.

Yet today's celebrities have greater protections from stalkers due in large part to the murder 25 years ago of actress-model Rebecca Schaeffer.

At 21-years-old, Schaeffer was shot to death at the door of her Los Angeles apartment on July 19, 1989, by obsessed fan Robert Bardo. The Arizona native, who had written Schaeffer letters and tried to meet her at a studio where she worked, tracked the "My Sister Sam" actress down after paying a private investigator to obtain her home address from state motor vehicle records.

Bardo remains in prison, serving a life sentence without possibility of parole.

The legacy of Schaeffer's death is evident multiple times a year in Los Angeles courtrooms when celebrities such as Madonna, Steven Spielberg, Ryan Seacrest, Paris Hilton and others become stalking victims.

Protections created after Schaeffer's death include laws that make stalking a crime, restrictions on public access to address information from driving records in California, and a specialized Los Angeles police unit that works with prosecutors, celebrity attorneys and security details to keep obsessed fans a safe distance away. Criminal penalties for stalking have also been adopted in other states.

The protections don't eliminate the various ways celebrity stalkers can torment their victims, from unsolicited love letters to threatening tweets, break-ins and kidnapping plots. But they can eventually put a stop to the threats.

Stalkers can make celebrities "a prisoner," said Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Wendy Segall, who has prosecuted celebrity stalking cases for the past six years. "They never know when this person is going to show up."

Many of Segall's cases end with stalking convictions and sentences that require the defendant to get psychological counseling. The sentences, Segall said, allow stalking victims to again feel safer.

Men who stalked Gomez and Berry have been convicted and ordered to undergo psychological counseling. Joshua Corbett, who was arrested last month after breaking in to Bullock's home, has pleaded not guilty and remains in a Los Angeles jail. A search of Corbett's home turned up an arsenal of illegal firearms, including machine guns, although he did not have any weapons at the time of his arrest.

In felony stalking cases, victims can obtain a 10-year restraining order - far longer than the three-year stay-away order that can be obtained from a civil judge.

"Arrest and conviction is only one part. It's not a solution. We recognize that intervention is really what we're going for," said Chuck Tobin, the president of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals, a 1,200 member organization of law enforcement and private security officers who protect celebrities, politicians and other dignitaries.

Tobin said the Los Angeles Police Department's Threat Management Unit has been a leader in the field. Detectives in the unit routinely testify against suspected stalkers in criminal and civil courts, and are increasingly searching social media and online sites for evidence of stalking.

Retired Los Angeles Police Detective Paul Coulter's first homicide case was investigating Schaeffer's death and retracing her killer's steps.

Coulter said authorities knew of the problem with the release of driving records before Schaeffer's death, because an obsessed fan had stabbed and seriously injured actress Theresa Saldana years earlier. Yet it wasn't until Schaeffer's death that policies changed.

He said it was up to policymakers to determine if more changes are needed now, with celebrity access, including home addresses, increasingly available online. The veteran detective is fairly certain however that no matter what deterrents are in place, some people will continue to develop unhealthy obsessions with the famous.

"I don't think it's ever going to change," Coulter said. "You're always going to have people fascinated with the celebrities."

The Internet may have made sending messages to celebrities easier, but stars have long had to contend with unsavory contact, including a 1949 case in which three obscene letters were sent to Elizabeth Taylor, then 17. Despite painstaking comparisons with other threatening letters, no suspect was ever identified, according to FBI files, although in 1952 a man was arrested on suspicion of harassing Taylor and falsely identifying himself as an FBI agent.

In the 21st century, stalkers' use of the Internet for harassing stars can leave digital fingerprints used by authorities and private security investigators to track suspects and strengthen cases against them.

Coulter said just as laws improved celebrity safety after Schaeffer's death, stars will learn how to use social media without putting themselves in danger. "It's just a new problem that they have to deal with," he said.

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