The 1970s is often said to have been a Golden Age of Serial Killers, and among those that are thought of is a man known as the Dating Game Killer. Rodney Alcala, who appeared on the Dating Game television show in 1978, was an active serial killer during the 1970s with a possible victim count of more than 100 people. Alcala is serving time for the murder and abduction of a 12-year old girl, for which he was arrested in July of 1979. While he was given a death sentence, he is serving in California where all executions have been stalled (Kettler 2020).
While Alcala was born in San Antonio, Texas, in August 1943, he spent some of his childhood living in Mexico as well when he was eight (Kettler 2020). He returned to the United States later, with his mother and siblings after his father abandoned them, when he was only 12-years old (Bizarrepedia). There, at the age of 17, Alcala joined the army for a short time. In 1964, he was discharged with a diagnoses of antisocial personality disorder following a break down (Kettler 2020). Antisocial personality disorder is generally characterized by disregard for the rights of others, and sometimes even the blatant disregard for the rights of others (Bizarrepedia). Alcala attended three separate universities: California State, followed by UCLA (from which he graduated with a degree in fine arts in 1968) and, under the alias John Berger, New York University (Kettler 2020).
In 1968, Alcala fled to the east coast after attacking 8-year old Tali Shapiro (Kettler 2020). Shapiro was raped and beaten with a 10-pound steel pipe (Montaldo 2019). She was on her way home from school when he came across her. Using a promise of a cute picture, Alcala managed to get the girl into his car. He took her to his apartment where he committed his awful crimes against her, not knowing that someone had seen him abduct her. The person who saw the abduction had the presence of mind to follow Alcala’s car and call the police with the location. Alcala managed to flea through the back door by the time police arrived, but Shapiro was able to survive despite lasting mental scarring caused by the assault. The Shapiro family moved to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico after the attack, frightened by the brutality of it (Bizarrepedia). He worked at an art camp, under the alias John Burger (Bizarrepedia), but was recognized by some campers after he was placed on the FBI’s most wanted list. The campers alerted the dean of the camp and Alcala was arrested in 1971 and served 34 months in prison for the charge of child molestation (Kettler 2020). Due to the Shapiro family moving away, the police couldn’t rely on Tali Shapiro’s testimony and couldn’t convict him on the rape and attempted murder. It didn’t take long after he was released for Alcala to violate his parole. He was found giving a ride to a 13-year old known only as Julie J. and giving her marijuana. For this, he served a further two years in prison. He managed to get a job as a typesetter for the Los Angeles Times in 1978 (Bizarrepedia), despite being a registered sex offender, and was a suspect in the Hill Side Strangler murders. Police let him go when they found no connection, but were unaware that they had just let another serial killer out into the world (Kettler 2020). While working at the Los Angeles Times, Alcala was able to convince hundreds of people that he really was a fashion photographer and that he was building a portfolio of some kind. After his arrest, this portfolio would become infamous (Bizarrepedia).
Like many others killers, Alcala had this ruse – he was a fashion photographer. Usually, he claimed to be taking photos for some kind of contest, and with the intelligence (a reported IQ of 135, according to Bizarrepedia) and charm that Alcala exuded his victims found him to be an easy man to trust. A woman he was supposed to go on a date with before his arrest had even said such. He was good at drawing people in (Kettler 2020).
Cornelia Crilley was found in June 1977, raped and strangled in her own studio in Manhattan. Despite Alcala’s arrest in the next few years, Crilley’s murder was unsolved for 40 years. In July of that same year, the body was Ellen Hover was found in her New York apartment as well as18-year old Jill Barcomb that November. Barcomb brutalized, raped and sodomized by her attacker, strangled with a belt and some trousers, bitten repeatedly on her right breast, and finally killed with a rock (Bizarrepedia). Barcomb had moved to California, but was from New York state. Alcala left her body, posed on her knees with her face in the dirt, at the foothills near Hollywood (Montaldo 2019). A majority of Alcala’s victims ran the age range of eight years old to 31-years old, a wide range of ages for his victims. Most were raped or molested, sodomized, strangled with items like nylons, and beaten to death with blunt objects (Bizarrepedia). Many of his victims showed signs of having been strangled, revived, and strangled again (Kettler 2020). Sometimes he would repeat this horrific game over and over again, deriving some kind of pleasure from his horrific game. The victims were often found in careful poses, arranged specifically by Alcala, and he often took earrings from his victims as trophies. The official body count for Alcala is eight victims, but it is believed he could have killed as many as 130 people during his spree (Bizarrepedia).
There were three trials for Alcala. He was charged in the first two trials with the murder of 12-year old Robin Samsoe; 12 days after her disappearance her earrings were found in a locker Alcala rented in Seattle (Bizarrepedia). Alcala had met Samsoe and one of her friends, Bridget Wilvert, at Huntington Beach earlier on the day she went missing. He apparently approached them asking to take some photos, and after several were taken before a neighbor came to ask if everything was okay (Montaldo 2019). Samsoe left for her ballet class and she was taken by Alcala (Bizarrepedia). Alcala disposed of her remains at the foothills near Sierra Madre in the San Gabriel Mountains. Her remains were recovered on July 2, 1979, scavenged by animals and skeletal. It looked as if Alcala had knocked out her front teeth (Montaldo 2019). Alcala received the death sentence for this murder, but the verdict was overturned after it was learned that the jury had been informed of Alcala’s previous crimes before trial. DNA evidence was used in the third trial that linked Alcala to the murders of two women in Los Angeles and their earrings, just like Samsoe’s, were found in a locker of Alcala’s. The DNA matches resulted in more murder charges being brought against Alcala. He was charged with not only Robin Samsoe’s murder, but also the murders of Jill Barcomb, 27-year old Georgia Wixted, 31-year old Charlotte Lamb, and 21-year old Jill Parenteau (Bizarrepedia).
Georgie Wixted, a nurse, was raped and sodomized by Alcala in December of 1977. He used a hammer to abuse her sexually, then killed her by beating her to death with the claw end of the hammer’s head and strangled her with a nylon stocking. She was found in her Malibu apartment, posed by Alcala, on December 16, 1977. June 1979, Alcala murdered Charlotte Lamb by strangling her with a shoelace from one of her own shoes. Her body was left posed in the laundry room of an El Segundo apartment complex to be discovered on June 24, 1979. That same June, Jill Parenteau was raped and murdered by Alcala in her apartment in Burbank. She was strangled with a nylon cord. Alcala left through her window, where he cut himself and left blood and DNA evidence behind. Due to a semi-rare blood match, he was linked to her murder, but the charges were dismissed in her case (Montaldo 2019).
Like other narcissistic psychopaths, such as Ted Bundy, Alcala chose to act as his own lawyer at this final trial. During the trial, Alcala played both the witness and the lawyer while he was on the stand. He would refer to himself as Mr. Alcala when acting as the lawyer and would use a deeper voice when acting as his lawyer. This went on for five hours, during which time the star witness was also brought out. Tali Shapiro, his first victim, was there to testify against the man who had brutalized her years prior. Unfortunately for Alcala, but fortunately for any future victims he had planned, his attempts as being charming during the trial didn’t work for him the way it had in the past. He was found guilty of five charges of first-degree murder. At closing arguments, he chose to play a song, Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant.” He was sentenced to death for a third time in 2010 (Bizarrepedia). During the trial, Alcala attempted to defend himself by claiming that he was on Knotts Berry Farm the day that Samsoe disappeared, despite witnesses recognizing him as the man seen earlier taking photos of Samsoe and Wilvert (Montaldo 2019).
So, how did Alcala earn the name the Dating Game Killer? He was a registered sex offender, but the company that produced the Dating Game didn’t run background checks. When the game, which featured a single woman, in this case Cheryl Bradshaw, would ask questions to bachelors she could not see, accepted Alcala onto the show, no one knew who he truly was. The bigger surprise looking back is that Alcala was charming and managed to win the date with Bradshaw. The date never happened however, because once she met Alcala in person, Bradshaw found him to be creepy. It’s possible that the decision not to go on that date saved Bradshaw from an awful fate (Kettler 2020).
In the time since his arrest, trials, and sentencing, photos from him infamous portfolio have been released in hopes of victims being identified. It is possible that there are as many as 120 more victims out there, somewhere in the world, waiting to be identified (Montaldo 2019). If you or someone you know, knows of people, particularly women, who went missing during the time that Alcala was active, the photos of believed victims are available to be viewed on Bizarrepedia.
Kettler, S. (2020, May 28). Rodney Alcala. Retrieved August 30, 2020, from https://www.biography.com/crime-figure/rodney-alcala
Rodney Alcala: The Mother of All Serial Killers. (n.d.). Retrieved August 31, 2020, from https://www.bizarrepedia.com/rodney-alcala/
Montaldo, C. (2019, July 01). How the Dating Game Killer Evaded Justice for 40 Years. Retrieved August 31, 2020, from https://www.thoughtco.com/profile-of-serial-killer-rodney-alcala-973104