In the early 1980s, actor Theresa Saldana’s star was on the rise. Her roles in Defiance and Raging Bull brought her fame—but also the attention of mentally unstable man who believed he was “the benevolent angel of death.” In 1982, his pursuit of her turned violent.
Saldana’s deranged “fan” was a Scottish man named Arthur Richard Jackson. He waited for her outside of her West Hollywood apartment building. When she appeared, he walked right up to her, his politeness masking his intentions:
“Excuse me,” he asked. “Are you Theresa Saldana?”
“Yes,” she replied.
Her identity confirmed, Jackson began stabbing Saldana with a hunting knife. He stabbed and slashed her so hard, and so often, that the knife bent. Hearing Saldana’s screams, Jeff Fenn, a deliveryman, rushed to her aid and wrested the weapon from Jackson. By the time paramedics got Saldana to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, most of the blood had drained from her body and her heart had stopped. Fenn’s heroism, heart-lung surgery and 26 pints of blood saved Saldana’s life, but barely.
Saldana recovered from her injuries and soon resumed her career; in the 1990s, she co-starred alongside Michael Chiklis on cop dramedy The Commish. (Fenn, the man who saved her, later switched careers from delivery driver to the job he’d always wanted: police officer.) But the attack, which Saldana revisited in a book, a made-for-TV movie (by the power of YouTube, you can watch it here), and an “inspired-by” episode of Hunter, changed her forever; she became a passionate, outspoken advocate for crime victims, working to raise awareness about stalking. In 1990—after the attack on Saldana and the 1989 murder of another actress by an obsessed follower, Rebecca Schaeffer—California passed the nation’s first anti-stalking law.
In 2004, Saldana spoke to Larry King about her ordeal, recalling how Jackson tracked her down by first contacting Saldana’s mother via her unlisted home phone number and pretending to be Raging Bull director Martin Scorsese’s assistant. Her mother, having no reason to disbelieve the caller, gave him Theresa’s address.
SALDANA: As soon as I got the call from my mom, my manager, Selma Rubin, called a moment later to tell me that she had been getting some odd calls. It appeared to be the same person.I called the police, but at that time, they didn’t have themselves on the alert for things like this. They thought it was just nothing. They thought it was a fan.
KING: Did this person then begin to stalk you?
SALDANA: Well, what we didn’t know at the time is that he had been stalking me for 18 months. I didn’t know anything about it. And in fact, for the week after I found out he had my address, I was very cautious and careful. But nothing happened.
KING: If he’d stalked you for 18 months, how’d he not know where you lived?
SALDANA: He got a private eye and he got a lot of information, but the fact that I was living in New York, he got as far as New York City. And he got a private eye to give him my mom’s number and very private information, but he didn’t manage to get L.A. And he unfortunately got it in this way.
Jackson was convicted of attempted murder and inflicting great bodily injury, and received a 12-year sentence (at the time, the maximum sentence for that crime in California; it now carries a penalty of life in prison). While he was in jail, he continued to make threats against Saldana:
In March 1988, Saldana learned that Jackson had sent a letter to Jonathan Felt, then a producer for Geraldo, outlining his plan to “assassinate” her. “I am capable of alternating between sentiment and savagery, romance and reality,” Jackson wrote. “Police or FBI protection for T.S. won’t stop the hit squad....” In another declaration written that month, Jackson also cites Saldana, “together with U.S. military personnel in Europe,” as targeted for death. He repeated his plans for Saldana in a March 20,1989 phone call to Ellen Greehan, an L.A.-based stringer for the Scottish Daily Record. “He threatened to kill Theresa,” says Greehan. “He also had some fantasy that Gregory Peck, Charlton Heston and Charles Bronson were going to get him out of prison earlier and had betrayed him.”
Fearing for her life, Saldana advocated against Jackson’s scheduled 1989 parole, a situation that drew attention to the legal system’s difficulties in caring for violent, mentally ill offenders. He ended up serving additional time for making death threats, and in 1996 was extradited to England to stand trial on an unrelated, 30-year-old murder charge. Though he was found not guilty, it was due to “diminished responsibility,” and he spent the rest of his life in a psychiatric hospital. He died in 2004.
Image credits from top: Saldana on March 30, 1982, two weeks after being attacked; AP Photo/Craig Molenhouse. Jackson in a Santa Monica court June 14, 1982; AP Photo/Wally Fong.