Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Star's death inspired stricter anti-stalking laws

  • Print

LOS ANGELES -- They've shown up in Selena Gomez's guest house, outside Halle Berry's kitchen door and inside Sandra Bullock's home, despite gates, tall fences and guards meant to keep the stars safe.

Celebrity stalkers continue to be one of stardom's most troubling downsides. Many instances involve serious cases of mental illness, making it difficult for private security, police and prosecutors to anticipate those intent on harassing and possibly harming some of the entertainment industry's biggest names.

Yet today's celebrities have greater protections from stalkers, owing in large part to the murder 25 years ago of actress-model Rebecca Schaeffer.

At 21 years old, Schaeffer was shot to death at the door of her Los Angeles apartment on July 19, 1989, by obsessed fan Robert Bardo. The Arizona native, who had written Schaeffer letters and tried to meet her at a studio where she worked, tracked the My Sister Sam actress down after paying a private investigator to obtain her home address from state motor vehicle records.

Bardo remains in prison, serving a life sentence without possibility of parole.

The legacy of Schaeffer's death is evident multiple times a year in Los Angeles courtrooms when celebrities such as Madonna, Steven Spielberg, Ryan Seacrest, Paris Hilton and others become stalking victims.

Protections created after Schaeffer's death include laws that make stalking a crime, restrictions on public access to address information from driving records in California, and a specialized Los Angeles police unit that works with prosecutors, celebrity attorneys and security details to keep obsessed fans a safe distance away. Criminal penalties for stalking have also been adopted in other states.

The protections don't eliminate the various ways celebrity stalkers can torment their victims, from unsolicited love letters to threatening tweets, break-ins and kidnapping plots. But they can eventually put a stop to the threats.

Stalkers can make celebrities "a prisoner," said Los Angeles deputy district attorney Wendy Segall, who has prosecuted celebrity stalking cases for the past six years. "They never know when this person is going to show up."

Many of Segall's cases end with stalking convictions and sentences that require the defendant to get psychological counselling. The sentences, Segall said, allow stalking victims to again feel safer.

Men who stalked Gomez and Berry have been convicted and ordered to undergo psychological counselling. Joshua Corbett, who was arrested last month after breaking in to Bullock's home, has pleaded not guilty and remains in a Los Angeles jail. A search of Corbett's home turned up an arsenal of illegal firearms, including machine guns, although he did not have any weapons at the time of his arrest.

In felony stalking cases, victims can obtain a 10-year restraining order -- far longer than the three-year stay-away order that can be obtained from a civil judge.

"Arrest and conviction is only one part. It's not a solution. We recognize that intervention is really what we're going for," said Chuck Tobin, the president of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals, a 1,200-member organization of law enforcement and private security officers who protect celebrities, politicians and other dignitaries.

Tobin said the Los Angeles Police Department's threat management unit has been a leader in the field. Detectives in the unit routinely testify against suspected stalkers in criminal and civil courts, and are increasingly searching social media and online sites for evidence of stalking.

Retired Los Angeles Police Det. Paul Coulter's first homicide case was investigating Schaeffer's death and retracing her killer's steps.

Coulter said authorities knew of the problem with the release of driving records before Schaeffer's death, because an obsessed fan had stabbed and seriously injured actress Theresa Saldana years earlier. Yet it wasn't until Schaeffer's death that policies changed.

He said it was up to policymakers to determine if more changes are needed now, with celebrity access, including home addresses, increasingly available online. The detective is fairly certain, however, that no matter what deterrents are in place, some people will continue to develop unhealthy obsessions with the famous.

"I don't think it's ever going to change," Coulter said. "You're always going to have people fascinated with the celebrities."

The Internet may have made sending messages to celebrities easier, but stars have long had to contend with unsavoury contact, including a 1949 case in which three obscene letters were sent to Elizabeth Taylor, then 17. Despite painstaking comparisons with other threatening letters, no suspect was ever identified, according to FBI files, although in 1952 a man was arrested on suspicion of harassing Taylor and falsely identifying himself as an FBI agent.

In the 21st century, stalkers' use of the Internet for harassing stars can leave digital fingerprints used by authorities and private security investigators to track suspects and strengthen cases against them.

Coulter said just as laws improved celebrity safety after Schaeffer's death, stars will learn how to use social media without putting themselves in danger. "It's just a new problem that they have to deal with," he said.

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 15, 2014 C3

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Gail Asper says museum honours her father’s vision

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Two Canada geese fly Wednesday afternoon at Oak Hammock Marsh- Front bird is banded for identification- Goose Challenge Day 3- - Apr 30, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • Ruth Bonneville Winnipeg Free Press January 18, 2011 Local Standup -

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Do you think food-security issues are an important topic to address during this mayoral campaign?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google