How Rebecca Schaeffer's Murder Led to Anti-Stalking Laws Across America

Rebecca Schaeffer was killed in 1989
CBS via Getty Images

On July 18, 1989, rising star Rebecca Schaeffer was getting ready to audition for a coveted role in "The Godfather III" when her doorbell rang.

She opened the door to find Robert John Bardo, a 19-year-old fan who'd been obsessed with the 21-year-old actress since her starring role in "My Sister Sam."

He'd sent her letters over the years — to which she had once responded, "Yours was one of the nicest I got" — and had even turned up at the Warner Bros. studio with a stuffed toy asking to see her before he was turned away.

Now face to face in her West Hollywood doorway, Schaeffer told Bardo she needed to get ready for her meeting, and he left, only to return a short while later. This time, when she opened the door, Bardo shot her once in the chest.

As Bardo fled — eventually traveling from California back to his home state of Arizona — Schaeffer was rushed to hospital but died.

"What the world really lost was an angel," Hollywood agent Jonathan Howard told ABC's "20/20," which is revisiting the case this Friday at 9 p.m. ET. "I lost a friend. ... Hollywood lost a rising star, and the world lost an angel."

The actress, who grew up in Oregon and started modeling at just 14, was on the cusp of an incredible career after stand-out roles in sitcoms and movies, including "The End of Innocence," which was released after her death.

But as well as her performances, her legacy would become one of improved laws against stalking.

When police caught up with the gunman in Tucson — after he reportedly ran down the street yelling "I killed Rebecca Schaeffer!" a day after her murder — they found a photograph of Schaeffer in his pocket and learned he'd traveled to California with the intention of finding and killing her.

While initially besotted with the actress from her "My Sister Sam" days, his obsession turned violent after he became incensed seeing her in bed with a male actor in "Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills," according to ABC News. He hired a private investigator to track down her address, procured a gun and jumped on a bus to Los Angeles.

"When I found out how Rebecca was murdered ... I was staggered because I don't think at that time we thought about stalking so much," Dyan Cannon, who had directed Shaeffer in "The End of Innocence," told "20/20." "'This guy followed her? This guy went to her condo and she opened the door and he shot her and killed her and she's dead?' ... In that time was unthinkable."

Her death marked the start of a national anti-stalking movement, and California passed the first anti-stalking law in 1990. It established stalking as a crime, and today, there are anti-stalking laws in every state. Stalking was established as a crime, and a new Los Angeles police unit focusing on stalking investigations was launched.

Bardo was ultimately convicted of first-degree murder and is serving life in prison without the possibility of parole.

RELATED STORIES

Man Who Pretended to Be Missing Boy Timmothy Pitzen Learned About Him on '20/20' Special

How a Serial Rapist Was Finally Caught Thanks to a Suitcase and an Eagle-Eyed Private Investigator

Elizabeth Holmes and the Downfall of Theranos