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True crime. Casually done.

Rodney Alcala The Dating Game Killer

How’s your love life? Good, I hope — but if not, hang in there, it’ll all work out some day. I know it’s not easy to be single in the 21st century, especially for women. The modern dating scene can be a nightmare of unsolicited aubergine emojis and obnoxious “pick-up artist” tactics. Whatever happened to the good old fashioned days of chivalrous, silver-tongued gentlemen? 

Well, let’s not be so naive. Fans of true crime are well aware that romance in days gone by was just as much a minefield of creeps and freaks. We know that stranger danger has always existed, and no matter how much you might trust someone, you can never really be sure you know them. 

That kind of risk is multiplied when you’re not hidden behind a phone screen, safely swiping away all the cannibals and kidnappers of the world. Singles in decades past had to take radical steps, like leaving their houses, and interacting with other humans in person. Sounds awful.

After I talk you through today’s case, I’m sure you’ll agree; you’ll be praying that you get to stay curled up at home, safe and alone forever. The story starts in the 1970s, in California: the stomping ground of a young fashion photographer who was reportedly a big hit with the ladies. His objective, however, was never to find love — this Romeo had some far darker motives in mind.

The reason his story stands out against the rest is that, unlike the others, we can actually watch this silver-tongued sociopath at work. I mean, for obvious reasons we don’t have Ted Bundy’s Tinder profile, or Dahmer’s Plenty of Fish chat logs. 

For today’s case though, we have a media relic from a long-forgotten format: the primetime TV dating show. That piece of vintage TV is our entry point to the horrific story of Rodney Alcala: The Dating Game Killer.

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The Dating Game Scene

[Audio clip: “From Hollywood, the dating capital of the world, it’s The Dating Game! Here’s the star of our show and your host, Jim Lange!” *fade out on the applause*]

Dating game scene of Rodney Alcala.
Dating game scene

Let me set the scene for you: sparkling curtains open to reveal a gaudy orange and white TV set plastered with retro flower patterns — the whole thing is so 1970s, it makes me sick. So begins tonight’s prime time episode of The Dating Game; a campy game show in which a single woman has the choice of three bachelors for an all expenses paid date.

The catch is that she can’t see what they look like. All she has to go on are their answers to three questions, chosen by her. If that sounds familiar to our UK listeners, you’re probably thinking of Blind Date: the syndicated UK version hosted by Cilla Black (long may she rest in peace).

The US version featured the same sometimes cheeky, sometimes cringey interactions. Those with a weak tolerance for social discomfort should probably give any repeats a miss — especially this episode, aired September 17th 1978.

That’s because this one was different; it lives on in infamy because of Bachelor Number 1, whose answers to the innuendo-laced questions are retrospectively much more sinister than any viewers would have guessed at the time. 

Rodney Alcala, Bachelor number one. The Dating Game Killer.

When the stage rotated to reveal the three contestants to the audience, all they saw on the first chair was a normal enough guy: quite tall, tanned, looking a bit like a poor man’s Weird Al Yankovich. Honestly, I’m not quite sure why he’s often described as handsome — the hippy hair and beady eyes really aren’t really doing it for me. 

Host Jim Lange introduced him as a successful photographer, and a fan of extreme sports, but this bachelor had a few more major interests which he never disclosed to the production staff. We’ll be going plenty in depth on those over the next hour or so.

It’s information with I’m sure bachelorette Cheryl Bradshaw wishes she had when she stepped on stage ready to choose her date. But all she had to go on were these three questions. Let’s have a listen:

[Audio clip:

Cheryl: “Bachelor Number 1, what’s your best time?”

Alcala: “The best time is at night — night time.”

Cheryl: “Why do you say that?”

Alcala: “Because that’s the only time there is.”

Cheryl: “The only time? What’s wrong with the morning? Afternoon?”

Alcala: “Well they’re okay, but that’s when it really gets good.” ]

Okay, bit of an awkward start, but that’s to be expected when two total strangers have to start flirting with each other in front of an audience of millions. The next question, though, is when things start to get really uncomfortable, for… multiple reasons.

[Audio clip:

Cheryl: “I’m a drama teacher, and I’m going to audition each of you for my… private class. Bachelor Number 1 — you’re a dirty old man. Take it!”

Alcala: “Ooh come on over here —“ *breathy grunting sound*

Cheryl: “Oh honey, we oughta go out and boogie!” ]

Okay, this show hasn’t aged particularly well. You can hear the audience laughing, because the tinge of retro sex pest awfulness in the answer was par for the course back then. But, looking back, it’s a bit… not on. Given the wider context, it’s a hundred times worse. Before I elaborate on that, there’s just one more answer we have to listen to. Brace yourselves:

[Audio clip:

Cheryl: “Bachelor Number 1, I’m serving you for dinner. What are you called, and what do you look like?”

Alcala: “I’m called the banana, and I look really good.”

Cheryl: “Can you be a little more descriptive?”

Alcala: “Peel me.” ]

Jesus. Call me a prude but that is just not my cup of tea: it’s the [Carry On Camping/primetime TV] equivalent of a dick pic! Let’s take a second to deconstruct that little exchange. Okay, bananas are phallic, very clever Number 1. But… peel me? That’s the sort of chat up line that only a serial killer could find arousing…

Amazingly though, Bachelor Number 1’s banana-based patter won Cheryl over — I guess the bar was pretty low back then — and the stage rotated to reveal Rodney Alcala. Tall, dark, and supposedly handsome, she was thrilled with her pick. Then the two listened as the host revealed the date they’d be sharing: a tennis lesson, followed by a trip to the Magic Mountain theme park.

Source: bizarrepedia.com

Another perfect match made — job well done. Once the couple were clear of the cameras and spotlights, however, things started to sour. Backstage, Alcala began giving off some decidedly creepy vibes. It got so bad, tat Cheryl started to come round to my way of thinking — she had actually made a severely bad decision. 

Bachelor Number 1 had made a similar impression upon the producers of the show a few weeks prior, but against their better judgement, they decided to put him on air anyway. Cheryl wasn’t quite so nonchalant with her safety — she decided to opt out of the date altogether, and never saw her jilted would-be lover ever again.

It was probably the best choice she ever made in her life…

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2010 Court Scene Snapshot

See, Bachelor Number One would have plenty more airtime over the following decades, but for very different reasons. Fast forward 32 years, and we see him again. His trademark long, wavy — somewhat pubic — hair is now even more scraggly and grayed. He’s wearing an orange jumpsuit, with his hands cuffed behind his back.

Rodney Alcala at the court at 2021
Source: nytimes.com

It’s not a cheeky, camp game show this time round; this is courthouse TV, and Rodney Alcala isn’t having quite the same success here as back in 1978 In fact. He’s being sentenced to death. The judge gives an impassioned condemnation of the man while onlookers weep and quietly celebrate the impending end of this his life.

So what had he done to deserve their hatred (besides his cringey chat up lines)? To answer that, we’ll go right back to the start of his story: one of the bloodiest and most depressing true crime tales in American history. 

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Background

Rodney Alcala was born in San Antonio, Texas, in August 1943. When the boy was about 8 years old, the Alcalas relocated to Mexico, where Mr Alcala decided to go out for a pack of cigarettes and never returned. After that, Alcala, his siblings, and their mother decided to head back to America and settle down in LA.

At just 17 years old, he decided to enter military service with the army. This was well into the early years of the Vietnam War, but Alcala wasn’t off hunting down Charlie from a chopper— he served as an administrative clerk in the States, safe and sound.

Just short of 5 years into his service, he had a nervous breakdown, presumably from all that intense stamping and filing (you weren’t there man!). Alcala went AWOL from his base, and hitchhiked all the way back to his family home. That was, of course, the first place the army went looking for him.

He managed to avoid any severe punishments for abandoning his post, because a psychological evaluation resulted in a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder. He was discharged on medical grounds, and found himself out of work. So he did the only thing someone with [limited prospects and] antisocial tendencies can do: he went to art school. I’m only joking, please don’t flood my inbox.

Alcala studied fine arts at the University of California, Los Angeles, graduating in 1968. He’s known to have repeatedly boasted about his genius IQ throughout his life, although by the time we’re finished that’ll seem pretty dubious. Keep it in mind as we go along. 

After graduating, he decided it was time for a change — a very fast, out-of-the-blue change of coasts. He relocated to New York, and enrolled at New York University. During his time there, he took film classes taught by Roman Polanski, who is basically the poster boy of 1970s sex crime terribleness. Consider that a touch of foreshadowing.

But when Polanski — future fugitive pedophile (let’s call him what he is) — looked at his class register, he wouldn’t have seen the name Rodney Alcala listed. That’s because the subject of today’s story was actually enrolled under a false name: John Berger.

Why might that have been?

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First Known Crime

Well, let’s jump back to California, just a few weeks earlier. A man was driving down a street in Hollywood, when he witnessed something that sent his alarm bells ringing like hell: a wavy-haired man with decidedly bad vibes was speaking to a young girl on the sidewalk. She was 8-year-old Tali Shapiro, and he was… I’m sure you can guess. 

The driver watched as the man beckoned the girl into his car, and decided to follow. When he saw the pair step out and head into an apartment, he wisely chose to call the police. Patting his pockets for his cell phone, he realized they wouldn’t really be a thing for like a decade yet, so he drove to the nearest payphone.

Chris Comacho was the responding officer that day. He approached the front door of the apartment and announced himself. Alcala leaned out of a side window and said he was in the middle of showering. Comacho gave him 10 seconds to open the door, before kicking it in and rushing through.

Tali Shapiro lay on the kitchen floor, beaten and bloodied. She had been raped, and hit repeatedly with a steel bar, which now lay across her neck. At first, Comacho believed she was dead; the amount of blood loss seemed more than any little girl could possibly survive. As he later put it:

“The image will be with me forever. We could see in the kitchen there was a body on the floor, a lot of blood. We all thought she was dead.”

But Tali was a fighter, it seems. She suddenly coughed, and Officer Comacho did everything he could to stabilize her. Thankfully, he was successful. Tali was transported to hospital in a comatose state, but made a full recovery over the next few days. She claimed to have no memory of her time inside the apartment, which is probably for the best, all things considered.

But what about Alcala? Well, he had used that ten-second warning to make a break for it out the back of the house. Detectives found his university ID inside, and the FBI issued a warrant for his arrest. It took a further 3 years before he made the leap onto their most-wanted list, by which point he was safe and sound on the opposite side of the country. 

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So how did Alcala pass the time during his new life on the lam? Well, we already know he was enrolled in film school, but his other activities will probably make you feel extremely uncomfortable, given that last development. 

During his summer break, Alcala, now in his mid twenties, landed a job as counsellor at an all-girls arts camp in New Hampshire. Apparently the guys running background checks back in those days just made the new-hires pinky promise they weren’t psychopaths, and left it at that. The lack of any national criminal register didn’t exactly help matters.

Again, the name Alcala used to get the gig wasn’t his own, and it wasn’t John Berger either. He decided to invent another fake identity in case he needed to flee from here as well. This new alias was John Burger. There’s that genius-level IQ at play for sure.

Despite such masterstrokes of deception, Alcala’s time as a free man was running out. One day, a couple of the children he was charged to protect noticed nice Mr Burger’s face on an FBI wanted poster. Hardly what you need when you’re stranded in the middle of a forest with the guy. The feds promptly showed up before Alcala could strike again, and dragged him off to jail. 

Now, looking at the time bar on this episode, you might have been expecting another lucky escape for Alcala just then. Surely this must be the end of the story, right? The guy was caught red handed trying to kill a kid, for Christ’s sake.

But unfortunately, Alcala never felt the full weight of all the charges stacked up against him. Namely rape, attempted murder, and child molestation: the whole scumbag bingo card. In the end only the last of these charges stuck. The reason was that Tali’s family had since relocated to Mexico, and refused to let their daughter testify in an attempt to protect her from the trauma. 

Without that key testimony, the prosecution’s case was looking a lot shakier than they would have liked. Rather than risk a not-guilty verdict, they gave Alcala a plea deal, allowing him to go down on only a child molestation conviction. This meant only a fraction of the punishment he was really due. 

In prison, he made an effort to put on a show of rehabilitation, attending educational programs, reading studiously, and being an all-round model prisoner. 

That led to his parole in August 1974, after only 36 months…

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If that has you worked up, I have to warn you, it doesn’t get any prettier from here. Despite Alcala’s efforts to prove his reformation in prison, he didn’t display quite the same progress on the outside. Within two months of regaining his freedom, he had violated his parole — and not some minor technical violation either.

Alcala was caught giving marajuana — or “the ganja” as us cool kids call it — to a 13 year old girl. When the park ranger who caught him in the act interviewed the girl, she told them Alcala had kidnapped her. That was never proven, but the parole violation was undeniable; giving weed to teens is very highly illegal, in case you’re not aware.

He went back to prison for a further two years after less than 8 weeks outside.

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AFTER PRISON

So we know that Alcala wasn’t at all interested in turning over a new leaf. Any chance he had at gaining a sliver of sympathy from us is long gone. Astonishingly though, his dark past had very little effect on his life after getting out of prison.

We already know that 1970s background checks were basically non-existent, which is how he was able to become a typesetter with the LA Times in 1977. To his credit, his resumé was connected to headline news, but in all the wrong ways. I mean, the paper he worked at was knee deep in coverage of the exact sort of crimes he had previously committed.

This was the gruesome heyday of serial killers. The Hillside Strangler was running amok in California, while the Son of Sam plied his trade on the east coast, and the nation watched as Ted Bundy’s trial began to unfold in Colorado. For a young serial killer at the start of his career, times were good. 

Amazingly, Alcala was even interviewed as a potential suspect for the Hillside Strangler, while he was working at the paper. Really though, those crimes were committed by cousins Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Bouno Jr. By the way, that may be a spoiler for a future episode, so please forget what I just said instantly. All that matters is that it wasn’t Alcala.

That’s not to say that our guy wasn’t strangling people on hillsides, however — he just wasn’t that particular hillside strangler. And yes, I did say that this was still the start of his criminal career, because unfortunately, by the mid 70s, the bulk of Alcala’s misdeeds were yet to come. 

It was during this time that he established the modus operandi which would cement his dubious reputation as a repulsive Romeo. Using his artsy credentials, he convinced women that he was a big time fashion photographer who could help them be recognized by the modeling industry. 

He would charm his marks with that silver tongue of his  (“I’m called the banana… peel me.”) and tell them he wanted some photos of them for a competition. He did this to hundreds of young women, but it’s worth mentioning that this didn’t necessarily mean they all met a horrible end. 

We’ll never know exactly how many of the women in Alcala’s portfolio died at his hands, but there are a few we can verify beyond all doubt…

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ELLEN HOVER

In the summer of 1977, Rodney Alcala got the urge to do a bit of traveling. There was a problem though, under the conditions of his parole he wasn’t allowed to leave the state of California. He unsuccessfully appealed to his parole officer, asking that he be allowed to take a trip back to New York to advance his photography career. 

Parole officers aren’t quite as naive as summer camp HR staff, so his request was quickly shot down. However, Alcala was able to convince his minder to let him visit family in the state. Because apparently there were still some members of the Alcala clan who were quite happy to keep in contact with their child predator relative. Back in his old stomping ground, free of all the stress of parole officers and criminal records, Alcala could finally be himself again — his terrible, murderous self…

Not long after his grand return, a woman by the name of Ellen Hover was reported missing. Her father was the owner of the famous nightclub Ciro’s in LA, and so the story broke onto the front page of newspapers on both coasts.

As detectives went through her personal effects to find out where she might have gotten to, they came across a diary. On the day of her disappearance, she had timetabled in an appointment with a photographer. His name? John Berger.

Yep, the genius Alcala used the exact same alias he was living under when he was busted by the FBI just a few years earlier. See! This is what happens when you let narcissists dictate the record on their own intelligence: they lie! 

Still, being a liar is far from his worst flaw. The detectives who made the link were more set on proving him as a murderer. They asked Alcala to take a polygraph, which he obviously refused to do, and so he was free to go. At this point there was nothing but some circumstantial evidence to connect him to the case. 

It would be just short of another year before Ellen Hover’s remains were found. Her body was abandoned near the Rockefeller Estate north of New York City. There was nothing there which could pin the blame on Alcala, but another New York model later came forward to tell detectives that he had taken her to that very same spot for a photoshoot, not long before Hover’s body was left there…

Barcomb, Wixted, Lamb, and Parenteau

To say that Bachelor Number 1 had raised some red flags would by this point be a massive understatement. So far we know that he’s raped at least two people, beaten one, killed another, and attempted to kidnap one more. That last victim, however, seemed to have been something of a watershed moment in Alcala’s grizzly career…

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In late 1977, Jill Barcomb, an 18 year old from New York State, was busy planning the rest of her life. She had recently graduated from high school, and like many young people at the time, she saw her future on the sun-soaked California coast. That’s why she decided to run away to LA at the end of the year.

Not long into her new life, things ended in disaster. Jill was found beaten and strangled to death, not far from the iconic Hollywood sign. Her body was in a crouching position, with her knees tucked up against her chest. Nearby were a pair of blue pants, which had evidently been used as the murder weapon. 

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Also in December 1977, police entered a home in Malibu, California to find the occupant dead. She had been raped, beaten, then strangled to death. This was Georgia Wixted, a 27 yearly nurse at Centinela Hospital in Inglewoood.

Georgia Wixted, victim of Rodney Alcala
Georgia Wixted

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Six months later, the body of 32 year old Charlotte Lamb was found in the laundry room of her apartment building in El Segundo, California. She had been raped, and strangled with a shoelace.

Charlotte Lamb, victim of Rodney Alcala
Charlotte Lamb

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Almost a year to the day after that, on June 14th 1979, a woman named Jill Marie Parenteau was strangled to death in her Burbank apartment. One of the most unsettling parts of this series of killings is that often the bodies were found in carefully arranged poses, as if the photography session hadn’t ended when the victims had died…

Jill Marie Parenteau, victim of Rodney Alcala
Jill Marie Parenteau

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All of these women were reportedly drawn in by Alcala’s charms and looks — which as I’ve previously stated, were not all that in my opinion. In the end, it probably came down to his skill for manipulation; this was a fully-fledged predator, capable of easily gaining the trust of the people he met.

In the same year as the murder of Jill Parenteau, another woman was fortunate enough to have missed her photography appointment with Alcala. She later recounted: “He was so easy to trust. He had a way of talking to people that really put them at ease.”

Significantly, it was somewhere between the last and second last killings which we’ve mentioned so far, that Alcala made his definitive TV appearance on The Dating Game. Judging purely form that, I can confirm that the way he speaks does nothing to put me at ease..

His co-contestants felt the same. One of his fellow bachelors, Jed Mills, described him as “a very strange guy” with “bizarre opinions”. He reportedly told Mills in the green room, “I always get my girl”. In hindsight, that is pretty damn chilling. But as we know, he never got his girl this time.

As I mentioned before, bachelorette Cheryl Bradshaw was so off-put by Alcala backstage that she refused to go on the date with him, and it’s thought that this rejection deeply affected him, influencing his crimes to come. Violent egomaniacs typically don’t do well with having their delusions shattered. 

Now, if you have the stomach for it, consider scrolling back to the audio clips from earlier, and listening to Alcala’s answers again, knowing what you know now. I’ll wait here… Okay, good to go? Let’s continue.

Before we move on, I feel like I should say that I understand it might feel a bit disrespectful to dedicate so little time to each of the aforementioned victims whose lives were tragically short. But the fact of the matter is that Alcala’s list of victims is too long to dedicate a full section to each on this show. 

The story of his next crime, however, warrants a deeper exploration. This one would prove to be his undoing for good…

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His Last Victim

Before we head into the Rodney Alcala endgame phase, I should warn you: if the story of his first brush with the law was distressing for you, expect more of the same here. Because, less than a week after the murder of Jill Marie Parenteau, Alcala once again set his sights on a minor. 

This was Robin Samsoe, a 12 year old girl from Huntington Beach. On June 20th, she was on her way to ballet class, riding a yellow bicycle. Her ballet instructor must have assumed that Robin was sick that evening, because she never arrived. More worryingly, she never arrived home afterwards either.

Her parents already had cause for concern; earlier in the same day Robin and her friend Bridget had been sitting by a cliffside near the beach, when they were approached by a strange man with wild, wavy hair. He was asking to photograph them. One of their neighbors had spotted the odd interaction, and came out to challenge the creepy stranger. 

As soon as she got near, the man rushed off and disappeared. The neighbor, Jacquelyn Young, walked the girls back to Bridget’s house. After Young explained what had happened to Bridget’s parents, Robin borrowed her friend’s bicycle and rode off for ballet practice. 

After Robin was reported missing, it was Bridget who provided a description for the police, creating a photo fit which was released to the public. Any hopes of finding the girl, however, would prove to be in vain. Robin was already dead.

On the day of her disappearance, a forestry worker named Dana Crappa was driving down a road which ran off Santa Anita Canyon on the forested outskirts of LA. By the side of the road, she noticed a parked car — a blue Datsun F10 — and nearby she saw a man with long, wavy air pushing a young girl towards a creek. Later she traveled back on the same road, and saw the same man. He was now alone, back against a rock, his clothes covered in dirt. 

This is the point where you expect Dana to call the police, but I’m afraid you’ve got far too much faith in her. It was another 5 days before she did anything, returning to the scene to investigate by herself. She found the beaten body of Robin Samsoe lying in the dry bed of the creek. And then she called the police, right? 

Nope! Like I said, you’ve got far too much faith in Dana Crappa. She actually never reported her findings at all. It wasn’t until 12 days after Robin’s disappearance, when one of Dana’s coworkers came across the remains by chance, that the police finally got brought to the scene. The lesson here is that, if you’re ever unlucky enough to find some evidence of a horrible crime, don’t do a Dana.

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His Arrest

It was perhaps her negligence that meant Rodney Alcala had time to get in contact with yet another young girl just a few short weeks after the death of Samsoe. By this point, Rodney had gone through a bit of a panic phase. After the slapdash nature of his last crime, in which he was spotted both before and after, he decided it might be time to flee.

He told his girlfriend he was suddenly dead set on moving to Texas, and cut the long curly hair which had been his signature look for decades. He ended up driving up to Seattle where he rented a storage locker, giving conflicting stories to his friends and girlfriend. 

Alcala’s Texas dreams were never to come true, however; when the police sketch was released to the public, his parole officer recognized him instantly, and the game was up. The young girl who he had been talking to at the time was Cynthia Libby, a 16 year old. On their last date, Alcala had told her “I could do anything to you, and no one would know.”

That wasn’t enough to put Cynthia off, but before their next arranged meeting, her mother informed her that her oddball Prince Charming was in the papers. He had been arrested for murder. Had he not been caught when he was, it’s very likely he would have followed through on his threat…

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And so the police searched Alcala’s house, finding the receipt for the storage unit he had rented a few days before. After copying down the data from it, they were able to get a warrant to travel to Seattle and open it up. Using a key found in Alcala’s impounded car, they opened the rolling door, and were shocked at what they found inside.

Here was the “portfolio” Alcala had been building up over the years: reportedly over a thousand photographs of women, teen boys, and young girls, often nude and in sexual poses. Most worryingly of all, there were many unknown people represented in the images. Did this mean that Alcala had claimed dozens more victims than even we had suspected?

A full investigation into that angle would follow, but for now the detectives had something more immediately pertinent to focus on. Inside the locker were a pair of old earrings which had belonged to Robin Samsoe. Her mother confirmed that she had been wearing them on the day of her disappearance. 

With that, the police had more than enough evidence to go through with a trial.

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Court Cases in the 80s and 90s

The whole thing seems pretty clear cut to me, and not just because I’ve already read 100 articles on the case in its entirety. All of that evidence was also plenty to convince a California jury, who in 1980 convicted Alcala of the killing Robin Samsoe. It wasn’t a particularly lengthy trial, due in part to a bizarre choice on the part of the defendant.

Despite the overwhelming evidence against him, Bachelor Number 1 chose to represent himself at the trial. Needless to say, his supposedly giant intellect did him little good in a room full of proper, well-adjusted adults. In fact, he kind of just embarrassed himself throughout.

Consider, for example, his coup de gras — arguing that the park ranger Dana Crappa, who had now finally come forward to support the case against him, had actually coerced by the police ino giving a false story while hypnotized. Now, I admit, I didn’t go to law school, but I’m 99.9% sure they don’t teach hypnotism as a legitimate defense. Atticus Finch, he was not.

When you defend yourself so flimsily, you can expect the worst sentencing possible, and that’s exactly what Alcala received: the death penalty. He was bundled in the back of a police van, and unceremoniously delivered to death row, where I’m sure many of you out there believe he very much belonged.

After over a decade of death-dealing, Bachelor Number 1 would now find himself on the receiving end. Or so everyone thought…

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As it turned out, the conviction was overturned just four years later. Alcala had launched several appeals to prove that his conviction was unlawful, as the jury had been improperly informed of his past criminal record during the trial. It seems strange to me that past convictions for assaulting and kidnapping children shouldn’t be judged pertinent to the kidnapping and murder of a child, but again, not a lawyer. 

Regardless, it would be another couple of years before a retrial could take place. This was another complete walkover, and Alcala once again found himself on death row. It seemed like he was headed to the gas chamber for sure this time. But amazingly, this one never stuck either! 

It was partly because Alcala spent much of his time behind bars furiously studying to find a way out of the mess he had got himself in. Along the way, he wrote a book entitled You, the Jury which was supposed to prove his innocence. To which I reply: shut up Rodney you scrotum, you’re as guilty as they come. 

The second conviction held up all the way until 2001, 15 years after it was handed out, when it was overturned on a technicality related to withheld evidence — partially down to the court’s refusal to admit the alleged psychic hypnosis as evidence. Yes, I’m serious.

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2003-2010 Trial

Alcala would therefore get his day in court for a third time. Who knows what kind of legal masterstroke he had planned for this run. Whatever new nonsense he had up his sleeve, the California prosecutor’s office had a whole lot more.

Unfortunately for Alcala, technology had far overtaken his limited wits by the point. Not only was he now being retried for the original murder, but a host of DNA evidence — discovered via major advances in forensics throughout the 90s and 2000s — had now definitively tied him the other California murders we mentioned before: Jill Barcomb, Georgia Wixted, Charlotte Lamb, and Jill Parenteau. 

In 2003, a motion was filed to lump all five murder charges together into one bumper package which would surely see Rodney finally convicted for good. It took several years for the motion to pass, taking us all the way to 2006, and it was a further three years before the first day of the trial commenced.

Unsurprisingly, Alcala acted as his own attorney once again, and prison had done nothing to sharpen his legal skills. Some highlights included: claiming he was at the theme park Knott’s Berry Farm when Samsoe was killed (without any proof, of course); spicing up his closing argument with a snippet from the song Alice’s Restaurant by Ario Guthrie; delivering bizarre Q&A sessions with himself using two different voices like a deranged ventriloquist; and presenting his own memoirs as evidence.

Ever the narcissist, Alcala even couldn’t resist playing clips from his reality TV appearance on The Dating Game to prove that he had worn the gold earrings found in his locker at the time. Take a look at the video when you get time: his hair is so long and bushy that his ears are totally concealed. Hardly a smoking gun.

As for the other four murder charges, he barely even tried to contest them. Alcala just said he couldn’t remember killing the women. He probably hadn’t quite expected to ever have to account for them, so his years of planning this mad performance were pretty much focussed solely on Samsoe. Still, are you convinced by his legal pantomime? 

I didn’t think so, but just in case let me quickly summarize the prosecution’s side of things. As we already know, the DNA evidence collected against Alcala was substantial, and there was no shortage of witnesses who had seen him acting extremely suspiciously on the day of Samsoe’s murder. Shockingly, none of the sightings were at a theme park.

What’s more, the autopsy reports revealed that Alcala had taken joy out of toying with his victims — strangling them unconscious over and over just for the thrill of it, before finally killing them. All of these diabolical developments led to convictions on all five counts, but the most surprising part was yet to come. 

When the court moved on to the next phase of the trial — deciding whether to hand out the death sentence — the prosecution summoned a surprise witness: Tali Shapiro. Now a grown woman, Alcala’s first known victim was able to take things into her own hands, and finally face the man who attempted to kill her all those years ago. 

He must have seemed much less terrifying in person than in her memories — just a scraggly old idiot putting on a sock puppet show in place of a legal defense. 

Shapiro’s testimony contributed to the overwhelmingly strong case for the death penalty, and Alcala was sent back to death row in March 2010.

________________________

The Pictures and Scale of His Crimes

That essentially ends the main section of the story of Bachelor Number 1, but I’m afraid there’s a gristly epilogue yet to come. See, when you look at the sheer rate that Alcala was committing murders in the late 70s, it casts a bit of suspicion on his years of relative inactivity. Surely such a prolific predator has many more skeletons in the closet, right?

Well, we do actually have a pretty good idea of how many. Rather than skeletons in the closet, we found the photographs in the storage locker. I told you earlier on that there were boxes upon boxes of pictures, but you might not have processed the full implications of that at the time. See, these weren’t just images of the known victims; well over a hundred women, girls, and boys were featured in them.

This was his life’s work — his so-called portfolio with which he lured trusting victims, promising this charming, successful stranger could turn them into a fashion model. He even had the gall to share some of the explicit pictures with his coworkers at the LA Times, claiming that the mothers of the girls had asked him to take the pictures. Please, please, if you ever find yourself in that situation at work, just call the police, for Christ’s sake.

In an attempt to work out the exact scale of Alcala’s crimes, the authorities released parts of the photographs to the public in 2010. The aim was to link them to both survivors and cold-cases across America. Of course, they came up with quite a few hits.

One was the case of Christine Ruth Thornton in Wyoming, who was strangled to death in 1977. Her sister recognized Christine in the images, but her body wasn’t identified properly until 2015. A year later, Alcala was charged with the crime. He’s yet to face trial for it, as he’s reportedly too sick to travel to Wyoming for the proceedings.

A woman named Monique Hoyt also came forward to report she had been knocked out and sexually assaulted by Alcala during a photoshoot which featured in the boxes. Alcala himself has bragged about an additional 30 victims in the 1970, one of whom was probably Pamela Lambson, She was assaulted and killed in the Bay Area, although the DNA evidence gathered was too degraded to make a clear match to Alcala.

It was also alleged that while studying in New York in the early 70s, he spotted Cornelia Crilley — a 23 year old flight attendant with Trans World Airlines — who was in the process of moving into her new apartment in the Upper East Side. Not long after, Cornelia was found in that same apartment. She had been raped, and strangled with her own tights. 

In 2011, Alcala faced trial for this murder and that of Ellen Hover, his other New York victim from earlier. Apparently sick of being slaughtered in court, he decided to just plead guilty and get it all over with. This tacked an extra 25 years onto his death sentence — a largely symbolic move.

With all of the photos still left unidentified, all of the cold-case links, and all of the new convictions rolling out over the years, it’s possible to make a decent guess at the scale of Alcala’s crimes. The number arrived at by various authorities involved in the case put it somewhere between 50 and 130 killings, placing him among the worst serial killers in American history.

________________________

Wrap-up

If you’re a bit jaded and desensitized after all that, I don’t blame you. When someone has racked up this many horrible killings throughout their life, it all kind of blurs together into one big awful mess. All that’s left to talk about now, is how that terrible life is likely to end.

Well, we know that it probably won’t be due to the death penalty — California is currently under a moratorium on all executions, issued in 2019, while the state looks at potentially outlawing the practice. Alcala is currently 77 years old, meaning that in any case he’ll probably be left to die of old age, after a miserable and lonely retirement behind bars.

Although plenty of people happily call him a ladykiller (both figuratively and literally), or a criminal mastermind, I’d rather not give him the satisfaction of those big impressive labels. Instead, I demand a retrial in the court of public opinion. Charge number one: Alcala is not an intelligent man, 2: he is not a charming man, and number 3: he is far from a perfect 10.

I mean, there’s no accounting for taste, but I’m pretty sure if there wasn’t a screen between the bachelorette and the contestants, Bachelor Number 1 would have been booted off The Dating Game within the first few minutes. As for his intelligence and charms, those embarrassing performances in court, reports of his ultra-creepy demeanor, and godawful chat up lines say plenty. 

So let’s bring it on home with my closing argument. AlI I ask is that we dampen the mythology we weave around these kinds of people. Drop the word genius, drop all the celebratory language in fact, and call these serial killers what they are — narcissistic, violent trash. 

At the end of the day, they’re the absolute worst of us, so why not treat them accordingly. Right?

Dismembered Appendices

1. A perennial moaner, Alcala has been hard at work throughout his incarceration to exploit any legal technicality that might defer his death sentence and regain him the limelight he clearly craves. He’s even tried to sue the prison system in California for not providing him with a low-fat diet. #JusticeForRodney.

2. This wasn’t the last time that a US dating show had issues with dodgy contestants. In 2018, the show The Bachelorette featured a contestant named Lincoln Adim, who was convicted just days before the premiere of groping a woman on a cruise ship. A year later, a contestant was booted off the same show when his past violent offenses against women surfaced. Two words people: background — checks!

Credits

https://onedio.com

https://murderpedia.org

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