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Stars are safer because of Rebecca Schaeffer's murder

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.

Join the discussion

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chuzzlawit July 14 2014 at 11:05 AM

I remember this case so many years ago. It was a shame that this poor girl died because of some nutcase. We need to strengthen our gun control laws now, so this kind of thing doesn't continue to happen!

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9 replies
brainslug July 14 2014 at 11:51 AM

It's important to remember that celebrities are not the only victims of stalking. To me it is puzzling that we as a society turned a blind eye to it for so long.

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1 reply
Joebudgie brainslug July 14 2014 at 4:02 PM

You are ignoring the fact that most murders happen in states with the toughest laws controling fireamrs or have an outright ban on ownership and possession. PEOPLE WHO KILL ARE THE PROBLEM, NOT THE GUNS THEY USE.

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2 replies
chuzzlawit Joebudgie July 14 2014 at 4:19 PM

Where do you get that little Factoid? Faux News? I assure you, you are incorrect. Gun Murders happen more in states that allow unrestricted access to guns, or happen in places like Chicago, where people bring in guns from those places and sell them illegally. Why don't you stop repeating the NRA's propaganda, and try telling the truth for once!!!

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Trish Smith Joebudgie July 14 2014 at 8:58 PM

A lot less people would die if a nut goes on a stabbing rampage as opposed to a shooting. It seems like people like U need to feel the pain of others b4 ur able to understand the impact of this issue. SMH

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Buckingham's July 14 2014 at 11:29 AM

What a terrible tragedy. What a terrible loss of beauty and talent in Rebecca Schaeffer.

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1 reply
jchowell3657 Buckingham's July 14 2014 at 2:21 PM

Agreed, and thanks for the comment. With all the hair-pulling about gun control, it's easy to forget that a talented lady lost her life.

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SIBERIAX July 14 2014 at 12:39 PM

Too bad they don't provide the same protection at women' health clinics, as to gun control, how many more mass killings do YOU need to convince you something needs to be done. Hope it never happens to some one you care about, Have a good day.

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2 replies
jchowell3657 SIBERIAX July 14 2014 at 2:18 PM

Are you willing to give up your right to protest at a gun store?

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peteswarr SIBERIAX July 14 2014 at 2:18 PM

More people should be carrying guns. That is the only solution. I noticed on my last rrip through Georgia, other drivers were much more curtious than on previous trips now that open carry is the law. They don't know who might be having a bad day and don't want to be the last person that they agravagate.

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Velocity105 July 14 2014 at 11:24 AM

I wonder if anyone has ever considered having someone stalk the stalker? Maybe after a taste of their own medicine they will think twice about coming back.

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2 replies
Dan Velocity105 July 14 2014 at 12:06 PM

I bet Big Bad Bubba has done more than stalk this creepazoid in prison. Sad tho that a PI helped the creep find the lady. The PI should've cooperated with police and realized that his customer's intention was not normal. Hey! Nothing wrong with sending polite fan letters to celebs but crossing the line from fan to stalker or harrasser is unacceptable. ♣

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superiorshredder Velocity105 July 14 2014 at 9:17 PM

super clever!

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Pat July 14 2014 at 12:21 PM

stalking does not DISCRIMINATE ...

it happens in ALL walks of life !!!

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buhroto July 14 2014 at 1:41 PM

Oh stop with your gun control bullshit. Maybe, just maybe, this lunatic was tormented by too much television viewing and too many stupid movies.
Maybe we should just ban naughty ideas? Or maybe we should just eliminate famous people?
People like to go back and say, 'what would are forefather's say"
Well i ask you, what would Thomas Jefferson say about your silly gun-control to protect celebrities. And what would Mr. Jefferson say about 'Avril Lavigne' charhing her dumb fans $400 for a stand-close bun don't don't touch photo op?

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1 reply
chuzzlawit buhroto July 14 2014 at 4:21 PM

I hope you don't own a gun. You sound a little paranoid.

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wjamesr July 14 2014 at 12:30 PM

Nobody's any safer. That poor kid. It is amazing that someone can sit at their computer and cook this crap up and make pretend it is journalism. It isn't even an amusing little article it is just garbage hitching a ride on the loss of a talented kids life. You are remembered Rebecca Schaffer. Good Kid!

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1 reply
Larkosh&Jackson wjamesr July 14 2014 at 3:38 PM

I agree. The teaser says her death "saved celebrities lives" and the headline tones it down a notch and says the murder made celebrities "safer." Both claims are pure speculation. Yes, the author "cooked crap up" and indeed this "article" doesn't meet journalistic standards.

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ectullis July 14 2014 at 3:55 PM

Are celebrities lives worth more than yours?

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Steve-a-rino July 14 2014 at 12:42 PM

We could end celebrity stalking by doing away with celebrities. All they do is provide entertainment. Do we REALLY need movies, video and "reality" shows? We got along without them for tens of thousands of years. Here's an idea: Read a book! Study something! Volunteer! Do something constructive, helpful or useful. If we did away with Hollywood it would not be missed by the second generation. And then all these celebrity stalking issues would be resolved. If not, then just learn to live with it because no one is willing to make the necessary changes.

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4 replies
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