“Not all serial killers are alike,” my father, Walter Dennis, a homicide detective on the San Antonio Police Department, told me. “There are many different types of serial killers, because behavior reflects personality, and not all serial killers kill the same, act the same, or are the same.”
Dad was good about teaching me such things and it helped immensely when years later I became a private investigator. Sometimes, if he was on duty, he would come check on me while I was performing surveillance for a case.
“Dad, what homicide cases bother you the most?” I asked one slow stormy night while we were listening to the police radio in his car.
“Besides children, I’d say serial killers bother me most,” he replied. “That Dating Game Killer was intriguing. Never could figure how they let him be on that show as a contestant.”
Dad was talking about Rodney Alcala, who was born as Rodrigo Jacques Alcala-Buquor in San Antonio on August 23, 1943. He moved to Mexico with his family when he was about 8 years old. His father abandoned them while they were in Mexico. Alcala, his siblings and mother later relocated to Los Angeles.
Here is a brief rundown of some of his known crimes and murders:
In Hollywood, California Alcala was a 25-year-old UCLA student when he lured 8-year-old Tali Shapiro into his car. At first Shapiro responded with “I don’t talk to strangers.”
Alcala said that he knew her parents. Later, Shapiro said that “I really didn’t want to get into the car but I was raised to respect my elders,” and so she got into the car. Alcala drove her to his apartment and proceeded to rape and beat her with an iron bar.
Fortunately, a motorist had seen Alcala pick Shapiro up, and after following them, had called the police. When police arrived, they found Shapiro “in a large puddle of blood and not breathing.” They began to search for Alcala in the apartment, but when one of the officers realized that Shapiro was still alive and struggling to breathe, all their focus turned onto her, and Alcala managed to escape. He moved to the East Coast.
He attended New York University from 1968 to 1971, working as a security guard to pay for his tuition.
Prior to his security guard work, Alcala found employment in the summer of 1969 as an arts counselor at a summer camp in Georges Mills, N.H. The director was so impressed with Alcala and how he “confidently demonstrated techniques of filmmaking and photography to the eager young campers,” that Alcala was invited to return the following year.
Alcala worked at Georges Mills again in the summer of 1970.
After graduating from NYU in June 1971, he returned for a third summer at Georges Mills after murdering 23-year-old Cornelia Michel Crilley. The case remained unsolved until 2011, when evidence linked Alcala to the murder.
In 1971 he was included on the FBI’s Most Wanted list when some girls at an arts camp recognized their counselor, who was using the name John Berger. They told the camp’s dean and Alcala was soon arrested, though he was able to plead to the lesser charge of child molestation and served just 34 months.
Note: It is often reported that Alcala studied film under Roman Polanski at NYU, but this highly unlikely since by 1968, Polanski had moved to Hollywood, Calif.
After spending three years behind bars, he soon spent another two years in prison for assaulting a 13-year-old girl. But authorities had regrettably allowed Alcala to travel to New York to “visit relatives.” Investigators now believe that within seven days of his arrival there, he killed a college student named Elaine Hover who was the daughter of a popular Hollywood nightclub owner and goddaughter of both Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin.
By now a legally registered sex offender, Alcala was hired to be a typesetter for The Los Angeles Times in September 1977.
He brutally killed Ellen Hover from New York and Christine Thornton went missing during a road trip that year, her remains only discovered outside of Granger, Wyoming five years later by a rancher.
California police questioned Alcala in March 1978 as a potential suspect in the Hillside Strangler killings, another set of serial murders that occurred in California in the 1970s. Alcala was cleared of those crimes, and police did not realize they had actually spoken with a another serial killer.
Just four months later, on Wednesday, September 13, 1978, Jim Lange, the host of a popular television program, The Dating Game, introduced Alcala as “Bachelor Number One.” He was a contestant vying against two other men, all hidden behind a wall, for a date with bachelorette Cheryl Bradshaw.
Lange described Contestant #1 as “a successful photographer, who got his start when his father found him in the darkroom at the age of 13, fully developed.”
When asked by Cheryl Bradshaw to describe what kind of meal he’d be, Alcala replied, “I’m called ‘The Banana’ and I look really good… Peel me.”
Bradshaw selected the man who would be known as “The Dating Game Killer.”
After their segment was completed, the two went backstage until they were called out at the end of the program to blow a farewell kiss to the audience.
When Acala offered her a date playing tennis and visiting Magic Mountain that she’d “never forget”, Bradshaw felt creeped out.
“I started to feel ill,” she explained years later. “He was acting really creepy. I turned down his offer. I didn’t want to see him again.”
On June 20, 1979, 12-year-old Robin Samsoe disappeared from Huntington Beach, California on her way to ballet class. Her friends said that a stranger approached them on the beach and asked if they’d want to do a photoshoot. They declined and Samsoe left, borrowing a friend’s bike to hurriedly get to ballet. At some point between the beach and class, Samsoe disappeared. Nearly 12 days later, a park ranger found her animal-ravaged bones in a forested area near the Pasadena foothills of the Sierra Madre.
Upon questioning Samsoe’s friends, a police sketch artist drew up a composite and Alcala’s former parole officer recognized the face. Between the sketch, Alcala’s criminal past, and the discovery of Samsoe’s earrings in Alcala’s Seattle storage locker, police felt confident he was the beast they were looking for.
Soon, after his arrest, investigators discovered hundreds of photographs in a Seattle storage locker that was rented by Alcala. Some of these pictures were eventually helpful with identifying victims.
One of the killer’s means for luring victims was telling them he wanted to photograph them.
Huntington Police decided to release the photos they found at the Seattle rented storage unit in 1979 to the public. Hopefully this could help identify the people pictured in an effort to identify more victims. It worked in the case of Christine Thornton, whose sister, Kathy had never stopped looking for her. She identified her sister in one of the photographs Alcala had kept in Seattle storage.
Alcala was ultimately charged with the killing, but prosecutors declined to extradite him from death row in California to stand trial in Wyoming.
It took several years, but Rodney Alcala was finally convicted of killing Samsoe and four other women women — 18-year-old Jill Barcomb and 27-year-old Georgia Wixted, both in 1977; 32-year-old Charlotte Lamb in 1978; and 21-year-old Jill Parenteau in 1979. He was sentenced to death row in 2010.
Alcala repeatedly appealed his death sentences. During his third trial, he acted as his own defense attorney, he “laughed and talked throughout.” He began asking himself questions in a deep voice and referring to himself as ‘Mr. Alcala’ before answering in his natural tone.
Part of the case against him was a pair of gold earrings linked to Samsoe that had been found in his Seattle storage locker. Alcala played clips from The Dating Game that he said proved he was already wearing gold earrings in 1978.
During his sentencing, he decided to play “Alice’s Restaurant,” by Arlo Guthrie, for the courtroom, with the lyrics: “Eat dead, burnt bodies. I mean kill, kill, kill, kill!”
The jury found Alcala guilty of first-degree murder and he received the death penalty. However, the California Supreme court overturned this verdict due to the jury being prejudiced, they felt, by learning of Alcala’s past sex crimes. It took six years to put him back on trial.
Alcala was convicted by New York courts of the brutal murders of two more women, Cornelia Crilley in 1971 and Ellen Jane Hover in 1977. He was sentenced to 25 years to life in 2013.
Alcala’s execution in California had been postponed indefinitely due to a moratorium on the death penalty instituted by the state in 2019.
Alcala, 77, died of natural causes at 1:43 a.m. Saturday July 23, 2021 at a hospital in the community near Corcoran State Prison, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said in a statement.
While Alcala was convicted of seven murders, he is believed to have killed anywhere from 50 to 140 women according to the Star Tribune and The East Bay Times. At least one more of those has been identified.
His “signatures” were beating, biting, raping, and strangling (often choking victims until the point of unconsciousness), then once they came to, he’d start the process over again.
When the Huntington Beach Police Department released the cache of photos taken by Alcala in 2010, there intent has been to identify the individuals in them to determine whether they may have been victimized by him.
Some people were alive and came forward. The photos aided in identifying Christine Thornton as one of Alcala’s victims.
If you have information about the identities of the people in the photographs, please contact the Huntington Beach Police Department at (714) 536-5947. Below are some of those photos. To see additional pictures of this cache, CLICK HERE.