Resentful, delusional, predatory, or pathologically
infatuated—stalkers of the famous and the powerful live in a world of
And they have been recognized long enough that forensic specialists have
developed a unique nomenclature to classify the types of individuals who
obsessively follow, intrude upon, and sometimes take the lives of the
celebrated, said Robert T.M. Phillips, M.D., Ph.D., president-elect of the
American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law.
Phillips presented a broad overview of the colorful, if disturbing, history
of celebrity stalkers and presidential assassins at APA's 56th Institute on
Psychiatric Services last month in Atlanta.
While describing in detail the unique quirks and idiosyncratic fantasies of
stalkers over the years, he outlined a specialized system of classification to
encompass them all.
"It is important to recognize that celebrity stalkers don't fit
neatly into existing typologies," Phillips said. "When you attempt
to categorize the unique behaviors manifested by those who persistently follow
and intrude upon the lives of the famous, a slight modification of
nomenclature is necessary."
He is an adjunct associate professor of psychiatry at the University of
Maryland schools of medicine and law, Baltimore, and serves as a consultant to
the Protective Intelligence Division of the United States Secret Service. He
is a member of the AMA House of Delegates and a former deputy medical director
Stalking itself is relatively straightforward, involving actions that are
unwelcome and intrusive to—and induce fear and concern in—a"
target" individual. Such actions can include following,
loitering, and approaching the target repeatedly; they can also include such
technological intrusions as repeated telephoning, faxing, or e-mailing.
"Any way in which an individual can make an unwelcome contact with
the target can form the foundation for a legal case of stalking,"
Drawing on terminology developed by Paul Mullen, M.B., D.Sc, of the
Victorian Forensic Psychiatry Services in Australia, Phillips examined a long
line of celebrity and presidential stalkers, sorting them into one of several
categories: pathologically infatuated stalkers, predatory stalkers, intimacy
seekers, and rejected stalkers.
John Hinckley, morbidly obsessed with movie star Jodie Foster, is perhaps
the most famous example of the pathologically infatuated celebrity stalker.
Phillips described how Hinckley's fascination with Foster long predated his
1981 shooting of President Ronald Reagan and persisted even as Hinckley was
engaged in long-term psychotherapeutic treatment.
"It is not uncommon for individuals to be engaged in these [obsessive
stalking] activities while they are engaged in long, well-developed
therapeutic relationships," said Phillips. "The issue simply never
comes up. They are very, very good at making sure that information is
Somewhat less well known are the predatory stalkers William Tagger, who
assaulted newsman Dan Rather and later murdered an NBC employee, and Jonathan
Norman, who stalked filmmaker Steven Spielberg.
Intimacy seekers are those possessed of a delusion of reciprocated love,
and they have not always required the incessant spotlight of television to
fuel their morbid fascination—a fact made evident in the case of Ruth
Ann Steinhagen, who in 1949 shot Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Eddie
Waitkus. It was Waitkus who inspired the movie "The Natural,"
starring Robert Redford.
Phillips described how Steinhagen, of Chicago, first saw Waitkus on the
field when he played for the Chicago Cubs. She became romantically obsessed
with him and papered her room with clippings and pictures of the ballplayer.
Frequently, she set a place for him at the family dinner table, Phillips
In 1949 Waitkus was traded to Philadelphia, which "upset"
Steinhagen, Phillips said. When she learned that the Philadelphia team would
be in Chicago in June of that year, she made reservations at the Edgewater
Hotel under an assumed name.
"On the 14th she went to the game, then went back to her hotel, had a
daiquiri and two whiskey sours, and paid a bellhop to deliver a note to Eddie
Waitkus's room," Phillips said.
The note read: "It is extremely important that I see you as soon as
possible. We are not acquainted, but I have something of importance to speak
to you about. I think it would be to your advantage to let me explain it to
Waitkus met Steinhagen, who shot him in the chest with a .22 caliber rifle,
reportedly telling him that if she couldn't have him, then no one could.
Waitkus recovered from the shooting and returned to baseball, but did not
return to his old form.
Similar cases of intimacy seekers described by Phillips included Margaret
Ray, who stalked late-night television comedian David Letterman, and Athena
Rolando, who stalked movie star Brad Pitt.
The rejected stalker is typified by the individual whose fantasies include
the delusion that he or she has been rejected or slighted by the target of an
obsession. In 1989 Robert Bardo shot actress Rebecca Schaeffer, with whom he
had become infatuated after the actress made the mistake of responding to a
fan letter from Bardo with a handwritten, personal note.
Hiring a detective to track down her address through the local division of
motor vehicles, Bardo visited the actress where she lived and engaged her in
conversation on her doorstep. When she rebuffed him, Bardo shot her, saying
later that her behavior was "callous" and that he "expected
more of someone like her," Phillips said.
In all of these cases, Phillips emphasized the deeply rooted, nearly
intransigent nature of stalkers' fantasies.
"When assessing this cohort, you have to truly put yourselves where
they are," Phillips said. "When you confront them with your
reality, they will say, `That is only your reality, because you really don't