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Beyond the Maps to Stars' Homes

January 22, 1995|Nancy Spiller

You may have seen them in the back of such magazines as Premiere, TV Guide, Us and the National Enquirer, lists of thousands of celebrity home addresses for under $30. Many of the entries are nothing more than the offices of agents, managers or a post office box, and maybe they're for "stars" who haven't shown since the silent movies, but a surprising number list the private residences of very famous faces, leaving some celebrities feeling highly vulnerable to obsessed fans and potential stalkers.

"They're definitely a danger," says Philip Little of West Coast Detective, a Los Angeles-based agency specializing in stalking cases for celebrity clients. "Even though many of the addresses are outdated, a lot of them are accurate. A lot of our problems have come from those address lists. We get hundreds of (stalking) cases every year and that's the top of our security concerns. If we could close those holes completely we could go a long way to solve the celebrity stalking problem. Let's at least make it difficult for them."

Unfortunately, once any address becomes public information, it remains so. "This is a commerce situation where someone has a profit center," says Little. "It becomes a question of freedom of speech and constitutional rights. It's not something you can easily stop when it's a matter of the free market."

Stalking officially became a crime in California after the 1989 murder of actress Rebecca Schaeffer. The co-star of the television sitcom "My Sister Sam" was shot to death on her doorstep by an obsessed fan. Her killer, Robert John Bardo, had gotten her home address, with the help of a private detective, from the California State Department of Motor Vehicles.

Since the Schaeffer killing, it has been more difficult, though not impossible, to obtain home addresses from DMV files. But the DMV is just one source of such private information available to resourceful businesses or obsessed fans.

"If I were on the lists, I'd be concerned," says Lieut. John Lane, head of LAPD's Threat Management Unit, a department formed in response to Schaeffer's murder. Lane is also founding president of ATAP, the Assn. of Threat Assessment Professionals. "It would make the lives of all those people safer if it were not available. I've been amazed at the names I've seen on the lists and the accuracy of the information. It potentially exposes those people to become the focus of attention that could . . . pose a risk to them."

Stalking of both average citizens and celebrities "is and will contin ue to be on the rise," Lane says. He credits the media obsession with the private lives of public people for the increasing threat to the famous. Such television shows as "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" and "Entertainment Tonight" and videos that allow infinite reruns of favorite personalities foster an illusion of intimacy.

"That encourages people suffering certain mental disorders to imagine a relationship with their favorite newscaster or star," Lane says. "They think that they can really write and have lunch with them and start a relationship. Or, in some cases, they think they do have a relationship, they believe they're married to them, have children with them. It's related to the fact they see them so much, they're so much in the public eye."

As it happens, "Entertainment Tonight" and "Hard Copy," as well as the Hollywood Reporter, Variety and a large number of charitable groups seeking celebrity contributions are among the clients of ACS, a Glendale-based distributor of celebrity address lists. Most of ACS's business, however, comes from the general public--fan-letter writers and serious autograph seekers. According to ACS founder Tom Thompson, the company gets from 700 to 1,000 requests a month for the $28 list of nearly 10,000 celebrity addresses.

ACS began as a custom letter-writing business in 1968 with one Robotyper automatic typewriter and Thompson's talent as a forger. Nonprofit groups would come with their star-studded mailing lists for celebrity-signed invitations and donation appeals that could pass for personal. In the summer of 1973, Thompson signed Ronald Reagan's signature to some 80,000 "personal" fund-raising letters for the Republican Party.

Thompson kept track of the mailing lists and added to them through voter registration records, the Academy Players Directory, SAG, county property listings, the Real Estate section of the Los Angeles Times and lists from professional autograph collectors. He takes pride in his product.

"Ours is the quality list. We include Xeroxed updates of the latest change in addresses." But even Thompson remains at the mercy of the marketplace. "Others resell our list, as is, just blocking off the ACS at the top and advertise it in the tabloids. We can't do anything about it because it's public property. We can't copyright our list."

Anyone wishing to be dropped from the internationally advertised and distributed offering need only write ACS, says Thompson, who closely guards the business' phone number. "If a celebrity contacts us and asks to have their address changed or removed completely, we do so. We're completely willing to be cooperative."

ACS's list is now available on computer disc, as well as booklet form. Will there soon be a 900 number to dial-a-famous-abode?

"We've thought about it," Thompson says, "but we just haven't had the time to investigate it."

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