On July 18, 1989, 21-year-old Hollywood starlet Rebecca Schaeffer was preparing for the most important audition of her life: a role in The Godfather Part III.
A courier was scheduled to deliver her script ahead of a meeting with Francis Ford Coppola later that day, so when a strange man—no script in tow—rang the doorbell to her Los Angeles apartment, Schaeffer was surprised. His name was Robert John Bardo and he had traveled all the way from Arizona to see her. He’d even hired a private investigator to track down her address.
Bardo shot the budding young actress right in the heart at point-blank range. She died in the doorway, and he fled down an alleyway.
A new ABC 20/20 special about the tragic murder will air on April 12 at 9 P.M. ET. In a clip provided exclusively to ELLE.com, which you can watch above, Rebecca’s father, Benson Schaeffer, says he and his wife, Danna “cried and sobbed together for a very long time.”
“I was in a state of shock,” he says. “The entire world was just unbelievable to me.”
Benson, a child psychiatrist, was driven home from work by a friend after receiving the news. When he met Danna at their Portland, Oregon, home, she could tell he was hopeful everything was simply a terrible misunderstanding.
“It’s true, it’s true!” she told him. Within an hour, they were on a flight to Los Angeles.
“The tops of houses and buildings would at times shimmer and sway as if things were fantasy,” Benson says in the new ABC special. “It was horrible.”
“I would at times see Rebecca when she wasn’t there,” he adds.
Police apprehended Bardo in Tucson, Arizona, the day after Schaeffer’s murder. He was reportedly running down streets admitting he’d killed her. He even had a photograph of her in his pocket.
According to Entertainment Weekly, Bardo had “exhibited an abnormal fixation on female celebrities from an early age.”
“Bardo was obsessed with several celebrities,” Dr. Park Dietz, a forensic psychiatrist who interviewed Bardo extensively, told the magazine. “Hate mail, interestingly, is not as dangerous a sign as obsessive love mail.”
Bardo was convicted of first degree murder and received life in prison, without the possibility of parole.
The new ABC special examines how Schaeffer’s murder led to a national anti-stalking movement, which is still in existence today. It also includes interviews with Pam Dawber, Rebecca’s co-star in My Sister Sam; director Brad Silberling, Rebecca’s boyfriend at the time of her death; and Marcia Clark, the former Los Angeles prosecutor who successfully prosecuted Bardo for Rebecca’s murder.
Clark, who later prosecuted O.J. Simpson in the 1995 murder trial, says Bardo was one of her greatest courtroom victories. “I’m relieved that Bardo is locked up,” she told Entertainment Weekly. “But I don’t think of myself as proud in any way of getting the verdict. Good things came of it, but none of those things bring Rebecca back.”