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Actress Rebecca Schaeffer Fatally Shot at Apartment

July 19, 1989|DARRELL DAWSEY and ERIC MALNIC | Times Staff Writers

Rebecca Schaeffer, an actress who co-starred in the television sitcom "My Sister Sam" and appeared in the recent movie "Scenes From the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills," was shot to death Tuesday morning by an unidentified man at her apartment house in the Fairfax District.

Police said the man shot the 21-year-old Schaeffer in the chest, probably with a pistol, as she opened the glass security door at the front of the apartment complex in the 100 block of North Sweetzer Avenue.

The man probably had rung Schaeffer's doorbell to summon her, investigators said.

"We can assume she may have known him, or maybe she was just a trusting person," Los Angeles Police Detective Dan Andrews said. ". . . Another possibility is (that) he might have stepped to the side . . . out of the view of the door. The third possibility is that she merely was going outside to leave or pick up a paper or whatever and was confronted by the suspect."

Schaeffer was rushed to nearby Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead on arrival.

Detectives said they knew of no motive for the fatal attack on the actress, who lived alone.

The assailant, who reportedly had been loitering near the apartment house before the shooting, ran from the scene after the attack, and investigators said they had made no arrests.

A former boyfriend of the actress was questioned, police said, but he was not considered a suspect.

"We have no record of her ever having called for assistance or being a victim of anything, or being harassed," Andrews said.

"She didn't have an enemy in the world," her agent, Jonathan Howard, said Tuesday afternoon. "She was one of the nicest people I've ever known--sincere, honest and kind.

"She was a very successful young actress, on the ascent, getting job after job," Howard said. "I can't believe this has happened."

Richard Goldman, who lives across the street from the eight-unit apartment complex where Schaeffer resided, said he was in his kitchen about 10:15 a.m., making a pot of coffee, when he heard a gunshot.

"After the shot, there were two screams. Two loud screams," Goldman said. "I put on a shirt and ran across the street. . . . There was a man with a yellow shirt, short, kinky hair, trotting up the block."

Kenneth Newell, who lives in the building next door, said he, too, heard the shot and screams and ran to help, but by the time he arrived there was little he could do.

"She was lying on the ground . . . wearing nothing but a little black bathrobe," Newell said. " . . . Her eyes were open, staring. It looked to me as though she was already dead."

Goldman said he did not notice whether the man who fled up Sweetzer Avenue and into an alley was carrying a gun. He said other residents of the area told him they had seen the man loitering by Schaeffer's apartment building earlier in the morning.

Police said the gunman was believed to be white, between 20 and 30 years old and between 5 feet, 7 inches and 6 feet tall. They said his hair was believed to be brown. In addition to the yellow shirt, they said, he was wearing blue denim pants and floppy sandals.

Schaeffer, who grew up in Portland, Ore., was a 14-year-old student at Lincoln High School there when she went on a "cattle call" at a local modeling agency. Less than two years later, after appearing in a number of Portland-area publications, she went to New York to pursue her modeling career.

"From my standpoint, it seemed very natural," she told an interviewer for a Portland newspaper a couple of years later. "But I know my parents went through hell."

Soon, she appeared in Seventeen magazine, then went to Japan for more modeling assignments. But she told the interviewer that she was uncomfortable in Japan, so she returned to New York. There, a few months later, Schaeffer landed a small part in the television soap opera "One Life to Live," did a few commercials and finished up high school at New York's Professional Children's School.

Then, in 1986, after a series of auditions in New York and Los Angeles, she was selected for a lead role in the new CBS sitcom "My Sister Sam."

"That was her big break," Howard said Tuesday.

Schaeffer played a 16-year-old would-be rock star who invades the comfortable life of her elder sister, a 29-year-old San Francisco free-lance photographer, played by actress Pam Dawber. The show, which opened to mixed reviews in October, 1986, ran through that season and in parts of the next. The last episode aired in April, 1988.

"Words cannot express the grief and rage that I feel," Dawber said in a statement from New York on Tuesday night. "My question is, why? My heart and sorrow go to her mother and father for losing such a beautiful child."

Schaeffer currently can be seen in the film "Scenes From the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills," a risque sex farce that is showing across the country after opening to generally good reviews in June. The actress played a supporting role as the daughter of a recently widowed sitcom queen, played by actress Jacqueline Bisset.

According to Howard, Schaeffer recently completed work on a new film, "One Point of View," that stars and was directed by Dyan Cannon. In the film, which has yet to be released, Schaeffer plays the Cannon character in her teen-age years.

Howard said Schaeffer returned here a few weeks ago from Italy, where she had played a supporting role in an upcoming television miniseries about the tragedy aboard the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro.

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