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Police Directed to Evidence in Actress' Death

July 21, 1989|DARRELL DAWSEY and PAUL FELDMAN | Times Staff Writers

Acting on information reportedly provided by murder suspect Robert John Bardo, Los Angeles authorities Thursday recovered a yellow shirt, a gun holster and a paperback copy of the novel "The Catcher in the Rye" only blocks from the Fairfax District apartment where actress Rebecca Schaeffer was shot to death earlier this week.

The discoveries came as new details emerged about Bardo's obsession with the 21-year-old actress, who co-starred in the television series "My Sister Sam."

For the last two years, Bardo sent a stream of letters to Schaeffer through her agents in New York and Los Angeles. They were characterized by law enforcement officials as "typical fan letters."

In a "very recent" letter, however, Bardo's obsession turned ominous, authorities said.

Writing to his sister in Knoxville, Tenn., Los Angeles County prosecutors said, Bardo implied that if he could not have the actress, no one would.

Tennessee Officer Notified L.A.

The sister, who was not immediately identified, provided information to a Tennessee Highway Patrol officer, a neighbor who, in turn, notified Los Angeles police. She told investigators that, just before Tuesday morning's shooting, Bardo had telephoned her and said he was within 1 1/2 blocks of Schaeffer's residence.

While Los Angeles police launched a search locally for Bardo, the suspect was arrested coincidentally Wednesday morning in Tucson after he was found wandering on a highway in the downtown area. Tucson police said he appeared to be disoriented and attempting to commit suicide by running toward oncoming cars.

Bardo allegedly made statements to Tucson police officers about the Schaeffer killing and they relayed the information to Los Angeles police.

Included in Bardo's statements, authorities said, were directions on where they could find items he discarded in Los Angeles, LAPD Detective David Escoto said.

The long-sleeved yellow shirt with a button-down collar was found on the roof of a building occupied by Target Cleaners and Stroud's Linen at Crescent Heights and Beverly boulevards, about four blocks from the murder scene.

Witnesses said they had seen Schaeffer's assailant fleeing the scene in a yellow shirt, jeans and floppy sandals. When Bardo was arrested in Tucson, he was wearing a T-shirt, jeans and sandals.

A red paperback copy of "The Catcher in the Rye" was found on the roof of the Beverly Palms Rehabilitation Center on Beverly Boulevard.

"He (Bardo) indicated that he threw a red-covered paperback book entitled 'The Catcher in the Rye' in the alley while he was running," said Escoto.

The discovery of the book harked back to the 1981 shooting of former Beatle John Lennon by one-time mental patient Mark David Chapman in New York City.

After the obsessed fan shot the rock singer, he calmly took out a copy of the J. D. Salinger novel and was reading it when police arrived.

Escoto said the holster was found on a rooftop about a block west of where the book was discovered. "We don't know if the holster is related at all," the detective said.

Late Thursday, Los Angeles police were still searching for the gun used to kill Schaeffer.

$1 Million Bail

As investigators were making these discoveries Thursday, Bardo, 19, was ordered held in lieu of $1 million bail in Tucson, where he appeared in connection with a murder warrant filed by the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, which wants him extradited to California. He also faces a misdemeanor charge of obstructing traffic in Tucson.

Bardo, who did not enter a plea, appeared sullen and unshaven on closed-circuit television, which was beamed into a Tucson courtroom from the Pima County Jail, where he is under a suicide watch.

The suspect--a straight-A junior high school student who dropped out of school in the ninth grade--sat in front of a video camera with a somewhat glazed look on his face. He nodded when his name was announced in court.

At the end of the hearing, Assistant Public Defender Lori Lefferts was appointed to represent him. As he was about to get up, Lefferts said, "Robert, don't talk to anybody about your case, OK?" Bardo, who had worked at several Tucson-area fast-food outlets until recently, leaned into the microphone and said, "OK."

After the hearing, Lefferts met with Bardo for about 45 minutes.

"He is fighting extradition because I think it's in his best interests," she told reporters.

Began Writing 2 Years Ago

In an interview with the Portland Oregonian, Schaeffer's parents said Bardo had first written their daughter two years ago.

"It seemed like he was just another strange kid who wanted someone to pay attention to him," said Benson Schaeffer, a Portland psychologist. "He wanted to make an impression on somebody. They weren't bad letters or anything."

The victim's mother, Danna Schaeffer, said she held no resentment toward Bardo but expressed anger that people can easily obtain guns in this country.

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