A Vicious Crime Blossoms into Victim Advocacy: The Story of Actress Theresa Saldana 

Theresa Saldana

Theresa Saldana

I had the luxury of a little extra time over the weekend and happened upon the “notable deaths” of the year. I perused person after person according to  the calendar date for 2016. Some people were unfamiliar. It made me sad, but in a strange kind of way, I was intrigued when I came to Theresa Saldana. We are very similar in age, and yet she was taken so quickly after surviving a horrible crime!

Theresa was best known to audiences as a New York Actress performing opposite Joe Pesci in the Movie “Raging Bull” and her long-standing TV role as the wife on “The Commish.”

Had Theresa not experienced a shoulder injury, she might have been a Broadway dancer. Rather, she began acting classes at 12. A talent scout sought her out   while performing in an Off Broadway musical called The New York City Street Show in 1977.Following that, she was cast in the 1978 film Nunzio. In 1980, she starred in the movie Defiance about a suspended young seaman (Jan-Michael Vincent) who takes up temporary housing in a neighborhood overrun by a gang while waiting for his next orders to ship out. She played a nice girl in this “revenge thriller movie” as contrasted to the sister-in-law of boxer Jack LaMotta (Robert De Niro).

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Theresa Saldana and Joe Pesci in a scene from “Raging Bull,” from 1980. Credit United Artists, via Photofest (NY Times)

Reportedly, these two movies served to form an obsession in the warped mind of stalker and would be murderer, Arthur Jackson. He stalked Ms. Saldana for 18 months unbeknownst to her. He was described as  a drifter from Scotland who, it is rumored saved up his welfare money to come to the U.S. Jackson supposedly entered the United States illegally and tracked her down with the help of a private detective! (How did a drifter afford to hire a PI? I guess sob stories work wonders for criminals!)

In his diary, Jackson’s delusional writing said he intended to win Ms. Saldana by “sending her that he regretted using a knife on her because “a gun would have given me a better chance of reunion with you in heaven.”

With shades of the Kitty Genovese murder looming, I was horrified to learn that just one person, a passing delivery man heard he screams after she was stabbed 10 times outside her West Hollywood apartment on March 15, 1982.  It was described as such in the Inquisitor – (Had it not been for)”deliveryman Jeff Fenn, she may well have died from her injuries. As it was, her situation was precarious; Jackson had stabbed Theresa Saldana so ferociously that the blade bent. By the time Fenn wrestled the knife away from Jackson and Theresa Saldana had gotten to the hospital, thanks to some paramedics who quickly arrived on scene, a great deal of the blood had drained from her body and her heart had stopped.”

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She spent the next three and a half months hospitalized,  recovering from her near fatal wounds.

In her victim impact statement of 1984, she related to the judge: “I will never forget the searing, ghastly pain, the grotesque and devastating experience of this person nearly butchering me to death, or the bone-chilling sight of my own blood splattered everywhere.

The perpetrator served 15 years in prion in the U.S. and then was extradited to Great Britain for trial involving a 1966 robbery and homicide.  (Just unbelievable that he was not captured for these crimes sooner!) According to the New York Times article, he was sent to a psychiatric hospital, where he died in 2004.

After her recovery, Theresa  founded the Victims for Victims organization that fought for anti-stalking laws then played herself in the 1984 TV movie “Victims for Victims: The Teresa Saldana Story.”

How disconcerting it must have been to play yourself in this movie… Perhaps it was part of her healing process. I so respect her for trying to use her craft to educate others.  The movie was not widely reviewed – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088349/

She continued her acting career appearing in several dramatic and comedies into the 1990s. Theresa retired from acting 12 years ago but was a tireless victims’ advocate up until her death on June 6, 2016 at age 61. She was well aware of the importance of advocacy for victims of crime.

Sources reported that she was influential in the passage of two pieces of legislation -two pieces of legislation — 1990’s anti-stalking law and 1994’s Driver’s Privacy Protection Act- part of the Title XXX Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act – a federal statute governing the privacy and disclosure of personal information gathered by state Departments of Motor Vehicles.

 Sad, Angry, Interesting PostScript:

The cause of Theresa Saldana’s death was revealed as pneumonia. I am speculating that all of her chest wounds left irreparable damage and that she may have been very prone to infections after her attack. Yet another impact of a crazed killer – compromising a person’s immune system such that they can’t fight infection… but she fought in other important ways.

Finally, one source I read reported that this violent scenario inspired a copy cat  killer and was used as a “blueprint “ to  stalk and murder  My Sister Sam  sitcom star Rebecca Schaeffer in 1989.

 

 

References – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theresa_Saldana

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/09/arts/television/theresa-saldana-actress-and-attack-survivor-dies-at-61.html?_r=0

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/06/08/481234857/actress-victims-advocate-theresa-saldana-dead-at-61

http://variety.com/2016/film/news/theresa-saldana-dead-dies-raging-bull-the-commish-1201790703/

http://www.inquisitr.com/3179645/theresa-saldana-best-known-for-the-commish-victims-advocacy-dies-at-61/

A Cry for Help in the Middle of the Night

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The job of a crime victim advocate is by no means a 9 to 5 existence.  Fragile human beings often can’t adhere to time schedules.  Their lives have spun out of control.

Those who are paid advocates answer the phone during business hours, leave an 800 number or advice to call 911 during off hours.  But, the trouble is trauma and life and death situations just don’t conform.

A person may be actively grieving, in physical, emotional or psychological pain. They may be terrified of some event in their life, not realizing why they remain helpless. Past decisions often place them in circumstances they could never foresee.

Armchair critics can easily point fingers and pass judgement regarding the complexities of people’s lives, not realizing that their own situations can change in a New York minute if the Gods foretell.

In the many years I have worked with victims, each is unique in some way, and yet there is a constant familiar ring to their personal stories, their desperation, the longer you listen.

Examples – (Frequently Intimate Partner Violence in nature)

“Please reply before he kills me”  “He ignored the restraining order”  I went to the police, but they did nothing.  I have no money.  I’m afraid for my children. The system in the State of ____ is totally against me.   I can’t escape him as he watches my every move” “I don’t have a phone.”

In a previous blog post, Homicide as a Steady Diet, I discussed the fact that I am at risk of being typecast as a homicide expert with nothing else to offer. Regardless of people’s reading habits or radio listening preferences, I fight against this image, as it is just not true.

Insatiable appetite for violence or not, I will not be painted as a one trick pony. At the other end of the spectrum are the indiscriminate victims reaching out to anyone and everyone. There are two groups of people I worry about:

1)  The truly terrorized, as in intimate partner violence victims and,

2) Those who perceive injustices to themselves. Their pervasive victimization as so great, having been worn down by the system so badly, that they lash out at everyone and become truly toxic in their words and actions. It is a poison that no one can alleviate.

If you read between the lines, the former group may want to be helped and truly lack the resources, the support, the resiliency, and the know how. Fear may have immobilized them. They actually say, “I am going to die and don’t know where to turn.”  Imagine their burdens, but try to imagine the responsibility and the burden it also imposes on the receiving end of compassionate, helpful, well intentioned people.  

The second group of people may say they want help, but their account is so vile, the blame towards others so pervasive, without taking any personal responsibility, that they just want a stage upon which to vent their rage. 

Why is the distinction of these two groups important? It is important to me as you have to think quickly on your feet as it can sincerely be a matter of life and death.

Lucky for me, these desperate cries for help do not come as a steady diet, but they do come to my website, particularly related to intimate partner violence. I do not invite them. They are indiscriminate. They are supposed to leave information about victim impact statement inquiries and they ignore the instructions.

For the record, I do have a working knowledge of IPV, thanks to Susan Murphy Milano and many other colleagues over the years. However, this does not qualify me as an expert, nor do I necessarily want to take on these issues as my own.  It appears that the Tracey Thurman blog post has created a monster of sorts in this area.  I suspect that my well researched, carefully written and wildly popular blog of this historic Connecticut case is the culprit here.   I gratefully accept the exposure it has given me, but it can be a double edged sword.

Readers, please do not confuse my God given talent as a superior writer to tell a story with expertise in every subject matter pertaining to crime!

Just a couple of weeks ago on a December night when I had gone to bed, my phone lit up and “whooshed” a message.  A response was sent by a colleague to a true life or death IPV victim who wrote to me in desperation. I so appreciated her rapid response, for intuitively, we both know it was very serious.

It matters not that this victim did not follow the rules and used my personal website as a call for help.  It only matters that good and useful information was provided at a moment’s notice when needed. I only hope that the women chose to follow through with the information.  Bless you, my friend for helping. Much love to you for caring in my place. You just may have saved a life.  CALL IT GRACE…..

 

 

The Bell Tolled with Reverence 137 Times

Connecticut Police Chiefs’ Law Enforcement Memorial

Connecticut Police Chiefs’ Law Enforcement Memorial

Former Meriden CT Police Chief, Robert Kosienski led the bittersweet day of honor on Thursday, May 21, 2015. For the 27th time, a sea of law enforcement, family members and State of Connecticut dignitaries paid homage to officers killed in the line of duty. Chief Kosienski performed his duties and Chairperson and Master of Ceremonies for the Connecticut Police Chiefs’ Law Enforcement Memorial Foundation with dignity and unwavering commitment.

Connecticut has yet another first ever distinction regarding the first law enforcement memorial of its kind in the country (although not without some who dispute it). The Connect State Police Force is also the oldest in the U.S.

The history of this beautiful monument has to be seen to truly be appreciated. Through private donations over a period of several years, it finally came to fruition in October 1989. Encased in a portico like structure, surrounded by a winding brick way and floral arrangements, the pyramid-shaped monument with etched names of the 137 killed, represents a time span currently from 1855 to 2010!   

Connecticut Police Chiefs’ Law Enforcement Memorial

Connecticut Police Chiefs’ Law Enforcement Memorial

Respect and ceremonial protocol dictated as state, local, federal officials, cadets in training, the Connecticut Honor Guard, the Waterbury Police Fife and Drum Corps, the Bridgeport & Hartford Police Mounted (Horse) Units, a rifle salute and taps all took their rightful honored place in the ceremony.  However, time appeared to stand still, just as if God took a deep breath, when the 137 names and associated towns were read with officers standing at attention, followed by a solemn single “dong” of the bell after each name.

To be able to tour the lively memorial from afar and up close, to tactically feel the etched names and interact with some of the officer’s family members at the site and at a luncheon was an opportunity I will not forget!

Connecticut Police Chiefs’ Law Enforcement Memorial

Connecticut Police Chiefs’ Law Enforcement Memorial

In particular, I was able to talk with Debbie Agusto, relative to Officer Jorge Agosto, who was struck and killed while assisting another trooper at a traffic stop on Thanksgiving in November 1989, after two years on the job.  This man was the victim of a diabetic impaired driver, which we featured as a groundbreaking topic on a previous Shattered Lives Radio show!

I also met Carol Bagshaw, widow of Trooper Russell Badshaw. Trooper Bagshaw was shot and killed on June 5, 1991 after 4.5 years on the job.  In the course of his patrol duties, he interrupted a burglary at a sporting goods store. He was shot while still inside of his patrol car. He died of a single gunshot wound to the chest.

 

For More Information about Connecticut Police Chiefs’ Law Enforcement Memorial Foundation and to Make a Donation Refer to: http://www.ctneverforget.org/

The Bell Tolled with Reverence 137 Times

Fallen Officers

Fallen Officers

Fallen Officers

Fallen Officers

Victims’ Wish List

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On Saturday, May 9, 2015, it wasn’t a case of “too many cooks spoil the broth” on Shattered Lives Radio– it was “many cooks make the broth” when crime victim advocate put their heads’ together on behalf of the public!

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It was really a “meeting of great minds.”  The groundbreaking show can best be described covering a very unusual parole reversal case, combined with victims’ rights policy and the honoring of a fallen police officer who became the victim of a ruthless homicide.

Toward the end of the show, a “wish list” of sorts was created by guest contributors Attorney and former CT State Victim Advocate, Michelle S. Cruz, CT Survivors of Homicide Advocate, Jessica Norton- Pizzano and Plainville, CT Chief of Police Matt Catania.

“How much time do I have? “was Michelle’s question.

Michelle Cruz’s Ideas for Reform:

  1. Devise a checklist of locations to search for family members (for notification purposes)  based upon their former geographic locations,  employment, other known affiliations, special interests etc.  It is high time that Board of Pardons and Parole and Victim Advocates “think out of the box” in an attempt to reach out in every possible way for this important purpose.  In addition to the usual social media,  I’ll add Ancestry.com as a possibility!
  2. Alter the notification period currently from the standard 35 days to at least six months to a year!  Revolutionary? Yes, but in view of how long it takes for state agencies to do their work and the knowledge that attorneys assisting seldom have the flexibility to alter their calendars in 30 days in the midst of court trials etc, this is a realistic time frame.

As seen in the Robert Holcomb parole hearing, relying on outdated documentation and “not going the extra mile” to locate family members for parole hearings, made for an intolerable situation!

  1. “Put some teeth” into the system In other words,  if any one of the many constitutional rights of a crime victim is violated, no matter the reason or the person committing the violation, build in real consequences! What might those consequences be, you ask? I offer: docking someone’s pay, suspension from work, remuneration to the victim from “the party who failed to act.”

Jessica Norton-Pizzano’s Ideas  (via the CT Victim Rights’ Enforcement Advisory Council )

  1. Create a central place to compile, and display victims’ rights information from all agencies  in all court settings including Survivors of Homicide, (SOH), Mother’s Against Drunk Drivers,  (MADD), Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services (CONNSACS), Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CCADV), The Office of Victim Services, (OVS) ,and The Office of the Victim Advocate (OVA).  This could include information desks, special kiosks etc.
  2. Establish a long-term notification system , in particular including minor children, as they will be the  future representatives for cases in which parents and other relatives pass on over time.
  3. Utilize the full capacities of SAVIN.  Include another box on the form that would provide for in person notification if the family chooses.  Refer to one of my former blog posts:  The Most Important “Head’s Up EVER! The Victim Information Notification System (VINE)

Police Chief Matt Catania’s Ideas

  1. It is vital to keep the human touch in the process versus relying on “paper and  electronic methods” as we continue to serve victims of crime.

It should be noted that it was Matt’s valiant efforts to unearth the true nature of the injustices done to the Robert Holcomb family, to strategically work collaboratively  and with sensitivity for family members using uncompromising standards so  that  justice was done for both families!

“Nothing can replace the power of human contact and compassion.”  LadyJustice

PLEASE listen to this podcast and share.

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