In 1978, Rodney Alcala appeared on The Dating Game — the popular game show in which three eligible bachelors vied for a date with a bachelorette.
The show was heavy on innuendo. The host introduced Alcala as a “successful photographer who got his start when his father found him in the darkroom at the age of 13, fully developed.”
Throughout the show, Alcala enthusiastically responded to the bachelorette’s suggestive questions: likening himself to a banana, saying that nighttime is when he “really gets good” and acting out the part of a dirty old man.
He was charming enough that the woman, Cheryl Bradshaw, chose him for a date.
But what Bradshaw — and the viewing audience — didn’t know was that Alcala was a serial killer who was in the midst of a rampage. He had already murdered at least two women in Southern California. Previously, he had served 34 months in prison for the brutal rape and beating of an 8-year-old girl. He had briefly been put on the FBI’s Most Wanted list.
Bradshaw was selected by the show because he was tall, handsome and charming. Producers did not conduct a background check.
Bradshaw, if not for a healthy jolt of women’s intuition, would almost certainly be remembered today as one of Alcala’s victims. Instead, after the show ended, she conversed with Alcala backstage. He offered her a date she’d never forget, but Bradshaw got the feeling that her handsome potential suitor was a little off.
“I started to feel ill,” Bradshaw told the Sydney Telegraph in 2012. “He was acting really creepy. I turned down his offer. I didn’t want to see him again.”
Rodney Alcala was born in San Antonio, Texas in 1943. His father moved the family to Mexico when Alcala was eight years old, only to abandoned them there three years later. His mother then moved Alcala and his sister to suburban Los Angeles.
At age 17, Alcala entered the Army as a clerk, but after a nervous breakdown, he was medically discharged due to mental health issues. Then, the intelligent young man with an IQ of 135 went on to attend UCLA. But he wouldn’t stay on the straight and narrow for long.
Alcala committed his first known crime in 1968: A motorist in Los Angeles called police after watching him lure an eight-year-old girl named Tali Shapiro into his Hollywood apartment. The girl was found alive, raped and beaten with a steel bar, but Alcala had fled.To evade the resulting arrest warrant he left the state and enrolled in the NYU film school, under the famous film director and producer Roman Polanski. using the name “John Berger”.
In 1971 he also obtained a counseling job at a New Hampshire arts camp for children using a slightly different alias, “John Burger”.
Later that summer, two children at the same camp where Alcala worked noticed an FBI most-wanted poster at the post office and notified the camp directors. The FBI made a quick arrest, but Shapiro’s family had already relocated across the border to Mexico to forget the horror they had to live through. Without the testimony, prosecutors were not able to convict Alcala of rape and attempted murder. Alcala pled guilty to a lesser charge of assault and was paroled after 34 months.
In June 1971, Cornelia Michel Crilley, a 23-year-old Trans World Airlines flight attendant, was found raped and strangled in her Manhattan apartment. Her murder went unsolved until it was connected to Alcala in 2011.
Decades after Alcala’s horrific crimes, the victims’ families are still grappling with the pain that he inflicted. Robin Samsoe was just 12 years old when Alcala saw her riding her bike to ballet class in 1979. Her mother, Marianne Connelly, recalls what happened when Robin didn’t return home from ballet class that evening.
“I called the police and said my daughter’s missing,” Connelly tells the show. “They told me they couldn’t take a report for 24 hours. By the next morning, they declared it a kidnapping.”
About 12 days later, her decomposed remains had been found, scavenged by animals.
Connelly recalls what happened when the authorities arrived at her house. “The sergeant says, ‘We found Robin,’ ” she recalls “I grabbed my purse and said ‘OK, let’s go.’ He said, ‘where do you think you’re going?’ I said ‘to go see Robin.’ ”
The sergeant told Connelly that she couldn’t identify the body because it took three days to identify her remains.
“I got so mad,” recalls Connelly. “I said ‘three days? How many little girls with long blonde hair disappear in California?’ And he said, ‘there was no hair.’ ”
This was the case that would finally break Acala’s killing spree
Alcala had three trials and numerous appeals. At the first two trials, Alcala was charged with the murder of Robin Samsoe, a 12-year-old who disappeared between the beach and her ballet class on June 20, 1979. 12 days later her remains, and subsequently her earrings, were discovered in a Seattle locker rented by Alcala. Despite the fact Alcala was convicted and sentenced to death, the verdict was overturned by the supreme court because the jurors were informed of Alcala’s sex crimes prior to the trial.
While preparing for the third trial, advances in DNA science helped match semen left at the crime scenes of two women in Los Angeles. Again, a pair of earrings belonging to a victim were found in the locker rented by Alcala. DNA matches led to Alcala’s indictment for the murders of four additional women: Jill Barcomb (18), Georgia Wixted (27), Charlotte Lamb (31), Jill Parenteau (21).
At the final trial, Alcala decided to act as his own attorney, just like Ted Bundy and many other narcissistic psychopaths. The star and surprise witness was Tali Shapiro, Alcala’s first victim who survived the brutal rape and beating, finally ready to face the devil. For five long hours, Alcala played the roles of both interrogator and witness. He addressed himself as Mr. Alacala, asking questions in a deeper voice than when answering them. The theatrics of “The Dating Game Killer” didn’t work. The charm that entrapped so many girls didn’t convince the jurors or the judge and Alcala was found guilty on all five counts of first-degree murder. When it was time for the closing argument, he decided to play the Arlo Guthrie song “Alice’s Restaurant”.
In March 2010, Alcala was sentenced to death for the third time. The death penalty has not been carried out as of yet
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