Rodney Alcala, ‘The Dating Game’ Serial Killer, Dies

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A longhaired photographer who lured women by offering to take their picture, Mr. Alcala, 77, had been convicted of five murders in Orange County, Calif., and two in New York, all in the 1970s.

Rodney Alcala at Manhattan Supreme Court in 2012.
Credit...Pool photo by Jefferson Siegel

July 24, 2021, 8:28 p.m. ET

Rodney Alcala, who was known as “The Dating Game Killer” and was convicted in the murders of six women and one girl in the 1970s, died on Saturday at a hospital in Kings County, Calif. He was 77.

Mr. Alcala, who was on California’s death row, died of natural causes, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

A longhaired photographer who lured women by offering to take their pictures, Mr. Alcala was convicted of killing a 12-year-old girl and four women in Orange County, Calif., and two women in New York, all between 1971 and 1979, the authorities said.

Investigators had also suspected him of, or had linked him to, other murders in Los Angeles, Seattle, Arizona, New Hampshire and Marin County, Calif., the department said.

In 2016, prosecutors in Wyoming charged Mr. Alcala with the murder of Christine Ruth Thornton, 28, who disappeared in 1978 and whose body was found in 1982, the department said. She had been six months pregnant. Prosecutors ultimately decided that Mr. Alcala was too ill to be extradited to Wyoming to face the charge.

Many of Mr. Alcala’s victims were sexually assaulted and strangled or beaten to death.

“The planet is a better place without him, that’s for sure,” said Tali Shapiro, 61, of Palm Springs, Calif., who was 8 years old in September 1968, when she was beaten and sexually assaulted by Mr. Alcala.

Ms. Shapiro said she had been walking to school on a sunny day in Los Angeles when Mr. Alcala lured her into his car and took her to his apartment, where the authorities would later find her nude and covered in blood.

“I know it’s awful what happened to me, but I’ve never identified with it,” Ms. Shapiro said in an interview on Saturday. “I’ve moved on with my life, so this doesn’t really affect me. It’s a long time coming, but he’s got his karma.”

Jeff Sheaman, an investigator with the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office in Wyoming, interviewed Mr. Alcala while working on a cold case in 2013 regarding the disappearance of Ms. Thornton.

“He’s where he needs to be, and I’m sure that’s in hell,” Mr. Sheaman said in an interview on Saturday. “When I interviewed him back in 2016, he was the most cold person. Everything about that guy just gives me the creeps.”

During his interviews with the police, Mr. Alcala would pretend to be asleep and trace his index finger along photographs of the victims, trying to irritate investigators, Mr. Sheaman recalled.

He said it was difficult to know how many other murders Mr. Alcala might be linked to, adding: “Hell, there might be a ton of other victims out there. I have no idea.”

In 1978, six years after he was convicted of molesting Ms. Shapiro, Mr. Alcala appeared in a brown bell-bottom suit and a shirt with a butterfly collar as “Bachelor No. 1” on an episode of “The Dating Game.”

The host described him as “a successful photographer,” according to a YouTube video. “Between takes, you might find him sky-diving or motorcycling.”

Mr. Alcala won the contest, charming the bachelorette with sexual innuendo. The woman later decided not to go on a date with him because she found him disturbing, according to several news reports.

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Credit...ABC

Mr. Alcala became a camp counselor in New Hampshire but was arrested after someone noticed his picture on a flyer at a post office, indicating that he was wanted by law enforcement officials. He was turned over to the police in Los Angeles, and was convicted of molesting Ms. Shapiro in 1972. He was paroled after 34 months.

In 1980, Mr. Alcala was sentenced to death in Orange County, Calif., for kidnapping and murdering Robin Samsoe, a 12-year-old girl who had disappeared in 1979 while riding her bike to a ballet lesson. A forest service worker had found Robin’s body in a remote mountain ravine. A kitchen knife was found nearby.

Mr. Alcala’s conviction was reversed in 1984 by the California Supreme Court. The court said the case had been tainted by evidence of Mr. Alcala’s prior crimes, which had been introduced at trial. Mr. Alcala was granted a new trial.

In 1986, Mr. Alcala was sentenced to death again for Robin’s murder before a federal appeals court overturned the sentence in 2003, and granted Mr. Alcala another new trial, the department said.

Investigators eventually used DNA to link Mr. Alcala to four other homicides, which led to charges that he had murdered Jill Barcomb, 18, and Georgia Wixted, 27, in 1977; Charlotte Lamb, 32, in 1978; and Jill Parenteau, 21, in 1979.

In 2010, an Orange County jury convicted Mr. Alcala of murdering those four women, and Robin.

At some point, the cold-case squads from the New York Police Department and the Manhattan district attorney’s office began looking into connections between Mr. Alcala and the decades-old killings of two 23-year-old women.

Cornelia M. Crilley, a Trans World Airlines flight attendant, had been raped and strangled in her Upper East Side apartment in 1971. Ellen Jane Hover was an aspiring orchestra conductor whose remains were found in Westchester County nearly a year after she disappeared in 1977.

New York City investigators learned that Mr. Alcala had used the name John Berger as an alias when he was living in New York. They later found that name in the file folder for Ms. Hover’s case.

In 2010, the police released dozens of photographs of young women that had been found in a storage locker that Mr. Alcala kept in Seattle in 1979. Several women came forward, claiming that a photographer named John Berger had taken their picture in New York in the 1970s.

In 2012, Mr. Alcala was extradited to New York, where he pleaded guilty to murdering Ms. Hover and Ms. Crilley, and in 2013 was sentenced to 25 years to life.

At the sentencing in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan, Justice Bonnie G. Wittner sobbed as Mr. Alcala’s violent crimes were recounted.

“This kind of case is something I’ve never experienced, hope to never again,” she said.

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