It was seven years ago that Arthur Richard Jackson first made himself known to Theresa Saldana, the 27-year-old actress with whom he had become obsessed. On the morning of March 15, 1982, the wild-eyed Scottish drifter was waiting near Theresa’s West Hollywood apartment house as she rushed out to a music class at Los Angeles City College. When Saldana paused to unlock her car, Jackson approached.
“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. Convicted of attempted murder and inflicting great bodily injury, her attacker was given the maximum sentence: 12 years in prison. At the time, Saldana was dismayed that a longer sentence was not possible. Now, seven years later, her dismay has turned to outrage. On June 15, after having served only seven years, Jackson is scheduled to be paroled, despite the fact that prison officials consider him “dangerous” and “psychotic,” and that Jackson, now 53, has repeatedly vowed to kill Saldana once he gets out. “[The authorities] say, ‘We wish there was something we could do, and we know this is a very bad situation,’ ” says Saldana. “And it’s not as if they don’t care. It’s that there’s nothing in the system to address this very, very real situation. I’ve asked everyone—the district attorney, prosecutors, judges, lawyers. There are absolutely no plans to protect me. Period. Period. Period. And there will be none. None at all.”
At 34, Theresa Saldana is a bright, attractive woman who has everything to live for. The scars on her arms and torso are fading, and years of surgery, physical therapy and counseling have helped her put the brutal attack behind her. Six months pregnant with her first child, she lives with Phil Peters, the 41-year-old actor whom she married in March, in a spacious apartment in Southern California. Her career is once again in gear; recently, she completed a role in a political romance called Of Men and Angels, and another in an action film, Angel Town. “I’m very happy,” she says. “Newly married, having a baby—my mom’s first grandchild. We have a lot of exciting things happening. I don’t live my life thinking about Arthur Jackson. I really don’t.”
But some things are difficult to ignore. 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.”
Experts familiar with the case take his threats seriously. After Jackson was given a psychiatric evaluation last year at Atascadero State Hospital, Clinical and Medical Director Dr. Gordon W. Gritter described him as a “very dangerous man.” Says Michael E. Knight, the Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney who prosecuted Jackson: “He may be mentally disturbed, but he’s not stupid. He tracked down Theresa in a very logical manner. He can do it again.” Adds Dr. V. Meenakshi, chief psychiatrist at the Vacaville state prison, where Jackson is incarcerated: “He’s well-behaved, but he’s crazy. I’m uncomfortable about releasing him because he’s still psychotic and still paranoid.”
Jackson owes his impending release to dumb luck and, some would say, dumb law. Since his conviction, the maximum sentence in California for attempted murder and inflicting great bodily injury has been extended to life imprisonment. The change, of course, is not retroactive, so it doesn’t help Saldana. A new law that would have allowed authorities to keep dangerous psychotics beyond their maximum sentences, if they posed a present danger to their victims, was recently ruled unconstitutional, on a technicality. The legislation is being rewritten and may become law by fall. That, of course, will also be too late to help Saldana.
Jackson’s early release is the result of a law giving prisoners automatic time-off credit, according to a specific formula, for presentencing time served and for good behavior. No one disputes that, except for threatening to kill Saldana, Jackson has been a model convict. “Threats are not considered grounds to keep a person in prison,” says Knight. “You have to act on the threats.” Saldana finds that logic unfathomable. “I understand that to threaten to kill someone is not in itself a criminal act,” she says. “But to do something of that nature inside a prison certainly should be considered [a serious infraction]….If he threw his food against the wall or used curse words to guards, that would count as bad behavior. But threatening Theresa Saldana or the Queen of England doesn’t count.”
By all accounts, Arthur Jackson is a man who has always been ruled by his obsessions. Born in Aberdeen to an alcoholic father and a mother whom investigators believe may have been a schizophrenic, he was an odd and fanatical child who often became lost in fantasy. He has written in an 89-page autobiographical letter that at 10 he became fixated on a neighbor girl called Fiona. At 13, he wrote, he had a sexual encounter with an older boy. At 17, after a tortured series of unrequited attachments, he suffered his first nervous breakdown.
It was a full year before Jackson was released from the Scottish psychiatric hospital where he sought treatment. After his release, he embarked on a lonely, aimless odyssey—working in London as a kitchen porter, in Toronto as a zoo helper, in New York as a jack-of-all-menial-trades. He joined the U.S. Army in 1955, developed an unrequited love for a fellow soldier and suffered another nervous breakdown. Sent to Washington, D.C.’s Walter Reed hospital for psychiatric treatment, he was given a weekend pass in honor of his 21st birthday. Private Jackson celebrated the occasion by going to New York, where he attempted to kill himself with an overdose of sleeping pills.
Discharged from the Army, he continued to wander like a mote in the void. In 1961, after the U.S. Secret Service arrested Jackson for threatening President John F. Kennedy, he was deported to Scotland. And while he lived occasionally with his mother, who was widowed in 1974, he seldom stayed in one place for more than a few months. By 1979, when he sat in an Aberdeen theater and watched Theresa Saldana in a film about Beatlemania called I Wanna Hold Your Hand, he was a suicidal vagrant on the dole, for whom movies were the only reality. He had conceived mad passions for women whom he thought of as stars, including Austrian actress Senta Berger and Spanish singer Teresa Berganza.
Two years later he saw Saldana in Defiance, in which she plays a girl trying to make a life for herself in a crime-ridden slum. Jackson, who had by then taken to keeping a meticulous diary of his every movement and thought, wrote in his journal that he had found in the dark-haired, fair-skinned Saldana the girl of his dreams. When her co-star Jan-Michael Vincent was attacked in the movie by a street gang, the scene triggered vivid memories for Jackson of a blood-spattered emergency-room scene that he had witnessed after his 1956 suicide attempt. Focusing his macabre excitement on Theresa, Jackson convinced himself, according to his diaries, that he could win the actress by “sending her into eternity.”
He began tracking his quarry in early 1982, and would eventually travel more than 8,000 miles in single-minded pursuit. That year he entered the U.S. illegally and drifted into New York City. Pretending to be an agent with a hot script, he tried to contact Saldana’s relatives and business associates, with little result. A trip to Los Angeles yielded nothing. Only after he had returned to New York did he manage to trick one of Saldana’s relatives into telling him the actress lived in Hollywood. On his cross-country bus trips, Jackson made repeated attempts to purchase a gun, which he felt would be “more humane” than his hunting knife. But he was prevented from buying a gun by state laws requiring at least a driver’s license as identification, and so he was left with his knife. On reaching Hollywood again, he hired a private detective who eventually delivered Saldana’s address. After the attack, police detectives asked him why he had tried to kill Saldana. Pointing to his knapsack, he said, “Read my diary. It’s all in there.”
For the moment it is unclear just where Jackson will go if he is paroled on June 15. He has confessed to murdering two people during a London bank holdup 20 years ago, and may be deported or extradited to London. Making such a case stick, however, is no simple matter. “I sometimes can’t find witnesses for an eight-month-old traffic accident,” says security expert Gavin de Becker, who is working with Theresa. “There is a high likelihood of no conviction in a 20-year-old murder.” Jackson will be a free man if he is found not guilty or simply released by British authorities. And once he is out of the jurisdiction of the California parole board, there will be no way to keep track of his movements—or any legal basis for monitoring him.
Saldana knows that the chances of keeping Jackson off the streets are slim, and going public about her dilemma is. in part, a last-ditch plea for help. “All these years, I’ve never met anyone who has been able to say, “Here’s a way that this can be helped, some piece of law,’ ” she says. “The problem is someone wants to kill me. There is someone who says he is going to carry out a murder and they’re letting him out. What does that mean for the rest of your life? How does a child go to school? What,” she asks, “are we supposed to do?”