Rebecca Schaeffer’s Cause of Death: Murder Detailed in Autopsy

rebecca schaeffer death autopsy

Find a Grave Rebecca Schaeffer's grave./Rebecca Schaeffer.

Rebecca Schaeffer’s death at the hands of a fan, Robert John Bardo, left a legacy through a monumental change in law. Her murder, in part, prompted legislation that made stalking a crime.

Schaeffer got her “big break” with her role on CBS TV show My Sister Sam, E! Online reported. She went on to land roles in movies including Scenes From the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills, Voyage of Terror: The Achille Lauro Affair and The End of Innocence, the article said.

Her budding career ended abruptly on July 18, 1989, at age 21 when she answered the door for a person she thought was delivering a script for The Godfather Part III to her West Hollywood home, the article said. She was 21.

Her life and death is being examined on an encore episode of ABC 20/20, which airs at 9 p.m. Eastern time Friday, August 20, 2021.

Here’s what you need to know:

Bardo Wrote in a Letter That He Had ‘An Obsession With the Unattainable’ & That He Had to ‘Eliminate’ What He Could Not Attain

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Bardo wrote letters to Schaeffer for about two years, but their content did not arouse suspicion, investigators told the Los Angeles Times in 1989. Detective Dan Andrews, an investigator at the time, said that the letters were “typical fan letters” including descriptions of himself, questions and comments about acting and questions about her. He also contacted her agents, but Andrews told the Times the content of their conversation was “the same as the letters” and “just inquisitive.”

Schaeffer herself thought the notes and gifts were “sweet,” E! Online reported. He mailed them to her at the studio lot where “My Sister Sam” was filmed, the article said.

However, a letter Bardo sent his sister in Knoxville, Tennessee shortly before the murder had a more “ominous” tone, the Times reported.

Marcia Clark, who was the Deputy Los Angeles County District Attorney at the time of the murder, paraphrased a portion of the letter for the Times as the murder investigation unfolded.

“I have an obsession with the unattainable and I have to eliminate (something) that I cannot attain,” the letter said, according to the Times.

Schaeffer’s Last Words Were ‘Why? Why,’ Bardo Told a Psychiatrist in a Jailhouse Interview

Bardo was unable to buy a gun himself after disclosing to a gun shop owner he had a history of mental illness, according to E! Online. His brother bought him the gun on the condition that they would only use it together for target practice, the article said. Bardo paid a private investigator $300 to find out where she lived, E! Online reported.

Bardo would later tell a jailhouse psychiatrist that the only words she said to him after he shot her were, “Why? Why?” the article said.

It was the second time Bardo had showed up at her door, the article said. She told him the first time that she needed to get ready for an interview. The second time, he described her as “rude.”

“I forgot to give you something,” he said before pulling the trigger, according to E! Online.

Anti-Stalking Laws Created After Schaeffer’s Murder Provided Recourse for Other Celebrities, Including Madonna, Jeri Ryan & David Letterman

Four women who had restraining orders against men who were harassing them were murdered in Orange County, California, the same year as Schaeffer’s murder, E! Online reported. The murders led to California passing the first anti-stalking laws in the United States, which soon became a crime in the rest of the country, the article said.

“We weren’t aware of the ripples going out right after Rebecca died. But it was an earthquake.” Schaeffer’s boyfriend, Brad Silberling, told the outlet.

Brad Pitt lived near Schaeffer at the time of her murder, the article said. He told Silberling, according to E! Online, “‘It’s no consolation, but the impact of her loss and the sense of awareness and safety for younger actors was huge.'”

Find a Grave noted that the change in law helped provide recourse to celebrities including Madonna, Jeri Ryan and David Letterman.

Schaeffer Was Killed By a Single Gunshot Wound to the Chest & Was Pronounced Dead at the Hospital

Schaeffer’s cause of death was a “penetrating gunshot wound” to the chest, her death certificate says. She died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles after she was gunned down at her own residence, the coroner wrote on the death certificate. Her full name was Rebecca Lucile Schaefer.

Her tombstone is engraved with the Star of David, according to photos of the tombstone on Find a Grave. She is buried in Ahavai Sholom Cemetery in Portland, Oregon, the website says.

Schaeffer’s grave is inscribed with one of her own quotes.

“I am so wise to think that love will prevail,” her headstone says. “I am so wise.”

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