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When death came to town: How Aberdeen killer Arthur Jackson tried to murder Hollywood actress Theresa Saldana

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“She is an angel. She doesn’t belong in the crazy world of showbusiness. If she were dead, she would be with the angels.”

Arthur Jackson wrote the chilling diary entry before leaving Aberdeen to embark on a murderous mission to slay Hollywood actress Theresa Saldana.

The brutal knife attack shocked the world 40 years ago.

How did a poor boy who grew up in a shabby tenement in Claremont Street become Aberdeen’s most notorious criminal?

The only child of an alcoholic father and mother Jean – diagnosed with an obsessive mental illness – the young Arthur developed a fear he had inherited his mother’s illness.

A quiet boy with few friends at Ashley Road Primary, Jackson’s classmates thought there was something strange about the tallest lad in the class.

They all knew him as a silent loner with no friends.

Aberdeen movie night

But every Saturday morning he would walk to the Odeon Cinema to escape into the fantasy world of film.

His favourites were the gangster movies of Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney and Edward G Robinson.

Around the age of 14, Jackson became convinced his mother was trying to cast evil spells on him and moved into a homeless shelter in East North Street.

Jackson grew up to be a brooding adult who spent his days at cinemas in Aberdeen or researching films and their stars in local libraries.

People who saw him remember him being smartly dressed, clutching a briefcase and filling jotters full of notes in tiny writing.

Arthur Jackson in court.
Arthur Jackson is Aberdeen’s most notorious criminal.

One past librarian recalled: “He used to put books and coats on the chairs so no one could sit close to him.

“He’d pile books on the table round him like a wall.

“But it’s his eyes I remember most, something really strange about them. Creepy.”

Twice Jackson attempted to emigrate to his beloved United States and twice he was deported when his visas ran out – in 1961 and 1965.

During one of his spells there he was drafted into the US Air Force, only to be discharged when doctors discovered the extent of his paranoia.

Murder in Chelsea

In 1967 and back in Aberdeen, Jackson hatched a bizarre plan to get cash for another trip across the Atlantic.

He staged a hold-up on a bank in London’s Chelsea, only for one of the assistants to raise the alarm.

Jackson fled and hid in a doorway but minutes later he was spotted by a passer-by who tried to tackle him.

The Aberdonian shot Tony Fletcher, a 33-year-old father-of-two, at point blank range.

He died instantly.

Jackson managed to escape the huge police dragnet and fled back to Aberdeen with his haul of just £130.

For nearly 30 years the killing was to remain unsolved.

At the beginning of the 1980s Jackson developed his obsession with Theresa Saldana, whom he had first seen in Defiance at Aberdeen’s Queen’s Cinema.

The Queen’s Cinema in 1981.

The film-obsessed amateur scriptwriter claimed Hollywood moguls ripped off his ideas when they made Defiance and cast Saldana in a leading role.

Slowly, Jackson concocted his evil plan – to slaughter the 27-year-old actress, who played Joe Pesci’s fiery wife in Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning film Raging Bull, then die himself in the electric chair for her murder.

On New Year’s Day 1982, using money he hadn’t used for his rent on a council flat at 9 School Drive, Jackson flew to New York then stalked Saldana to Los Angeles.

He called her agent and various studios to try to find her address.

He called Saldana’s mother and posed as Scorsese’s assistant, saying he needed the actress’s residential address in order to contact her about a film role in Europe.

On the morning of Monday March 15 1982, Jackson pounced as the actress walked to her car, pumping a Korean jungle knife deep into her body several times.

The attack was so fierce that the knife bent.

Saldana would almost certainly have died had a delivery man not managed to wrestle Jackson to the ground.

While waiting for the police, a witness asked Jackson why he had stabbed Saldana.

Jackson replied that it would all be explained by the contents of his black satchel, which lay in the street.

The satchel contained a document entitled “Death Sentence Petition” and a diary inscribed with Jackson’s name that was marked: “Care of the office of Michael, the archangel and vice-president of heaven”.

Aberdeen loner Arthur Jackson’s kill-list

Doctors battled to save Saldana, using 26 pints of blood.

She pulled through, but was still physically and emotionally scarred.

After the attack Jackson said he was disappointed about using a knife because, “a gun would have given me a better chance of reunion with you in heaven”.

When police searched Jackson’s possessions, they found a list of other people he vowed to kill if he failed in his “mission” to kill Saldana.

Jackson is escorted out of a West Hollywood sheriff's department substation following the attempted murder.
Jackson is escorted out of a West Hollywood sheriff’s department substation following the attempted murder.

Top of the list was an Aberdeen woman, known only as Nancy, who was involved in Jackson’s only known violent incident in his home town.

Nancy worked in the Model Lodging House in East North Street, which Jackson had moved into as a teenager.

Apparently he argued with Nancy over a slice of bread then Jackson attacked her with a long-bladed knife pulled from his pocket.

Staff wrestled the knife off him and police were never called.

Sentenced to 12 years

Saldana was able to attend Jackson’s trial in a wheelchair in October 1982.

He begged the judge to give him a gun to kill himself and also pleaded to be locked up at the abandoned Alcatraz prison in San Francisco.

Jackson was jailed for 12 years.

Theresa Saldana speaks to reporters after being stabbed multiple times by Jackson in 1982.
Theresa Saldana speaks to reporters after being stabbed multiple times by Jackson in 1982.

Yet he was later to resume his campaign of terror against the young actress, sending out a flurry of death threats.

She said the letters terrified her to the point of causing her insomnia, nightmares, numb feet and hands, and required her to be hospitalised for six weeks.

Shortly before he was due for parole in 1987 – when he had written from jail he was resolved to return to Aberdeen with a mission to kill a policeman – Jackson was sentenced to another five years for the threats.

Determined to be extradited back to Britain, he began writing to police in London confessing to a bank robbery and killing a passer-by in Chelsea.

At last detectives linked Jackson to their unsolved murder in 1967.

However, extradition attempts were bedevilled by red tape until 1996 when Jackson was finally brought home in handcuffs.

Paranoid plots

Jackson explained why he tried to murder Saldana in a string of letters he sent to the Evening Express while he was on remand in England.

His letters rambled from one point to another, from paranoid plots to moments of clarity.

At one stage he spoke of the US Army and the CIA carrying out mind experiments which he claimed ultimately provoked his obsession with Saldana.

He also listed the names of his old pals from Aberdeen and the dates and names of countless films he had watched over the years.

At the Old Bailey in January the next year he admitted the manslaughter of Tony Fletcher on the grounds of diminished responsibility and was sentenced to be locked away in a high-security hospital without limit of time.

He was convicted of manslaughter and sent to Broadmoor Hospital before transferring to Carstairs State Hospital.

If and when he was every released, he said he wanted to return to live in Aberdeen.

He died in 2004, aged 69.

Saldana went on to found a support and lobbying group, Victims for Victims, and played herself in the 1984 TV movie Victims For Victims: The Theresa Saldana Story.

Jackson’s attack was the first celebrity stalker case of its type and fundamentally changed how the courts dealt with stalkers, thanks to Saldana’s efforts.

She died in 2016 at the age of 61.

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