Los Angeles, CA

The Murder of a Mini Hollywood Starlet

Josie Klakström

Best known for her role as Ducky in The Land Before Time, the little girl was killed by her father.

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Judith Barsi was best known as Ducky in The Land Before TimeWikimedia Commons

The daughter of Hungarian immigrants, Judith grew up in Los Angeles, California. Born in 1978, the little girl began her on-screen career at the tender age of five years old.

Managed by Ruth Hansen, Judith picked up minor roles on television, and she appeared in numerous commercials. Her prominent roles, as Thea Brody in Jaws: The Revenge and in Fatal Attraction, made her an up-and-coming star, but her cute voice saw her step perfectly into the role of Ducky in The Land Before Time in 1988.

As Judith began to make money from her acting, she was able to help her parents, József and Maria, buy a house in Los Angeles. As the success continued, her father began to drink heavily, and his anger increased, often with threats of violence and death towards his family.

His behaviour became odd, and he was arrested multiple times for driving while drunk. As the years went on, he became physically violent, and Judith would often tell friends about her father throwing objects at her, causing her scratches and bruises. In December 1986, Maria filed a police report stating her husband had choked her after hitting her in the face and had then threatened to kill her.

Judith had spent two months in the Bahamas, shooting Jaws, and when she returned home, the abuse continued. Judith’s weight began to increase, and she’d started to pull out her eyelashes as a coping mechanism. She eventually told her manager Ruth Hansen what was happening to her at home, and Ruth ordered Maria to take the little girl to get help from a professional.

Judith was seen by a child psychologist, who saw the results of the abuse she’d been faced with and reported the family to Child Protective Services. However, the investigation stopped when Maria told the CPS that she was planning to divorce her husband and move out of the house. Maria had rented an apartment to give her and Judith some respite from József, but it was too late.

On Wednesday the 28th of July 1988, just a few months after her initial session with the psychologist, Judith and her parents’ deaths were reported in the Los Angeles Times. The family’s neighbour called the police around 8.30 am after hearing a gunshot — likely that of the father, who was found in the garage. Speaking to the LA Times, she said that Barsi had told her “500 times he was going to kill his wife”.

The three were found dead in a murder-suicide, and gasoline had been poured on Judith and her mother’s bodies. All had been shot once in the head. It’s believed they’d died days before, as Judith was due to audition for a role with Hanna Barbera on the 25th of July. Maria was 48 years old, and Judith was just ten when they were murdered.

During her short life, Judith appeared in over 70 television commercials and nine movies. She appeared posthumously in The Land Before Time and All Dogs Go To Heaven, with the latter’s closing credits being dedicated to her life. The director later praised Judith as being ‘absolutely astonishing’, likening her to older actors of her time.

The Barsi’s home appeared on Murder House Flip, when the family who’d bought the property 19 years earlier wanted to get rid of the cold spots and a ‘dark presence’ around the house. After finding out about the murders, the family contacted the show, and the production team was brought in to update the home.

Judith now rests in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles, next to her mother. The famous “Yep! Yep! Yep!” line from The Land Before Time was inscribed on her gravestone.

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Josie Klakström is a true crime writer. Follow her at truecrimeedition.com

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