He was tall, tanned and handsome, with perfect hair, a winning smile, and killer charm and charisma. He seemed so normal, this veteran and graduate of UCLA, who had studied film with Roman Polanski. In 1978, he was the winning bachelor on The Dating Game. Meet Rodney Alcala, a vicious serial killer, a man police compare to Ted Bundy and call a “killing machine.” How many women and children did he lure into his orbit with his charm, and then kill? Estimates vary between 50 and 130. Yet, unlike Ted Bundy, Alcala has thus far eluded execution. How? His native intelligence, his charming ways, plus good lawyers and judicial cock-ups. Twice, his convictions for a 1979 murder were overturned. Unbelievably, it took 30 long years for five California murder convictions finally to stick in 2010. So, Alcala sits on death row in California, writing the odd book, and suing the State of California for not providing him with a low fat diet. It’s been nearly 50 years since his first known r*pe and attempted murder and there he sits, as his lawyers launch seemingly endless appeals to save his, some say, worthless life. These days, Alcala is old and sick and largely forgotten. But for ten years in the 1960’s and 1970’s, he was r*ping and torturing and was an ultimate killing machine. Here are 15 chilling and creepy facts about Rodney Alcala that’ll probably scare you to death.
15. Hello Little Girl, I Am Rod
Let’s look at the facts. He was smart, near genius. He was good-looking. He had a Fine Arts Degree from UCLA and he was charming…ever so charming, with a winning smile and don’t forget that perfect-for-the-1970’s hair. He had everything going for him. But when he suffered a nervous breakdown and went AWOL from the Army in the 1960’s, the psychiatrists started nosing around his head, using words like antisocial personality disorder. But when he was in control, that charm usually won the day. People trusted him on first acquaintance. Little girls got into his car when he offered them a ride. If they emerged alive, they had usually been r*ped and assaulted. Heck, it was the 1970’s, in the days before computerized records. So, his assaults and r*pes were not easily accessible and, incredibly, at one point, the guy got a job in a summer camp for kids!
14. Smile For The Camera
As we have seen, sometimes he offered little girls rides to school. But, more often, he appeared with that handsome face and winning smile and told young beauties he was a professional photographer. And they went off with him willingly and usually ended up getting r*ped and strangled. He usually told enough of the truth to convince them he was a regular guy. Some people found him a bit “odd” but most thought him a great guy. He had friends, girlfriends who never suspected…or so they say. But, like Ted Bundy, once his randomly chosen victims were in his clutches, the charm disappeared and the vicious, sadistic r*pist took center stage. The world may never know how many lives he snuffed out. He probably lost count long ago. With the advent of DNA testing, there may be more to come.
13. 1968: It All Begins
As far as we know, Alcala first killed in 1971. This is Cornelia Crilley. But his first run-in with the law came in 1968 when he lured an 8-year-old, Tali Shapiro, to his Los Angeles apartment and beat her with a lead pipe before r*ping her. A witness had spotted the pair on the street and alerted police. And when they arrived, a smiling topless Alcala stuck his head out the window and said he’d be right there. He beat a hasty retreat out the back door, traveled cross country and started a new life in the artsy haunts of New York City, calling himself John Berger. It was three years and many murders later before California caught up with him. By that time, Cornelia Crilley, the pretty TWA flight attendant, was dead.
12. Of Murder And Film School
Everybody liked John Berger. His equipment was impressive. His camera and his lenses are, of course, what we mean. He enrolled in New York University and studied film under director Roman Polanski, the year before Polanski’s pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, was murdered by the Manson Family. In 1971, after r*ping and strangling TWA flight attendant Cornial Crilley in her New York apartment, he got a job as a counselor in a children’s summer art camp in New Hampshire. But, back in California, a rather persistent cop by the name of Steve Hodel had been assigned to the Tali Shapiro case and wouldn’t let it or Alcala go. He lobbied hard and got the r*pist elevated to the FBI’s Most Wanted List. When campers spotted his picture on the wanted poster, the gig was up. For a time, anyway. And Alcala was shipped back to California in 1971 to stand trial.
11. Working The System – And Walking Free
The unsmiling face of a killer. By the time the law caught up with him and he was banged up in California awaiting his trial for r*ping Tali Shapiro, the affluent Shapiro family had up and relocated to Mexico. Thinking they were protecting Tali, they refused to let her testify. So what happened? Well, Alcala, who had beaten the 8-year-old with a lead pipe in addition to r*ping her, got tried for assault. Oh, he was sent to prison…but only for less than three years. He took self-improvement courses and convinced the powers that he was a reformed man. By 1974, he was a free man…a free man with a car who offered 13-year-old “Julie J” a ride to school before assaulting her. Now back to prison, where he got “reformed” again. By 1977, he was free AGAIN. The California penal system has a lot to answer for.
10. And The Dating Game
Boy, Alcala was one busy dude after he was freed. He was back in New York as John Berger for a time. There he killed Dean Martin‘s goddaughter, heiress Ellen Hover. Nipping back to sunny California, he got to work, killing (at least) six more women before pausing for breath and to appear on ABC’s The Dating Game. Never mind that the briefest of checks would have revealed he was a convicted r*pist and registered s*x offender, he was Bachelor Number One and was introduced as a successful professional photographer who also enjoyed skydiving and motorcycling. Now, he was indeed taking pictures of women and little boys, but, as colleagues at the Los Angeles Times later testified, it was more p*rn than anything else. They, and his fellow bachelors on the show, thought that the guy was weird. Little did they know how weird he could be.
9. The Bachelorette: Shove Off Creep And Her Fifteen Of Fame
In 1978, Cheryl Bradshaw was on The Dating Game (she says repeatedly) to find love. Rodney Alcala turned on the charm big time, telling her they were going to have a “great time.” He won the day and the couple won tennis lessons and a trip to Magic Mountain. They smiled, standing together, for the cameras. Then backstage, Cheryl began getting bad vibes. He was weird, she said. He gave her the creeps. So, probably very wisely, she refused to go anywhere with the guy. Shove off, she said. Not one to let go of her fifteen of fame, she has since occasionally popped up to grant interviews and bask in the limelight of his evil deeds. The one who got away kind of thing. And Alcala? He was well and truly totally p*ssed off at the rejection. Within a year, three more women were dead.
8. Those Haunting Trophy Pictures
Believe it or not, Alcala was only finally convicted and sentenced to death in 2010 and 2011, and for only seven of what some say could be 100 or more murders. Why so many? Seems that back in 1979, police found a cache of pictures taken by Alcala in a lockup in Seattle, Washington. A while back, they set up a website to showcase the pictures. But after years of publicity and research, the cops have been unable to identify 100 or more women and young boys shown in the pictures. Indeed, some of the pictures are so s*xually explicit that the police cannot release them. What happened to them all? Are there more bodies out there lying buried and undiscovered? Or are there more Jane Doe murder victims waiting to be identified? In a word, YES.
7. One Jane Doe Gets A Name
Men, women, and children disappear all the time. Some turn up. Others don’t, leaving their families in a hellish limbo of uncertainty. Kathy Thornton never stopped looking for clues to the whereabouts of her of her sister, Christine Thornton, who vanished without a trace in 1977. Over in Wyoming, they had an unidentified Jane Doe corpse. Then the police posted Alcala’s trophy pictures and Kathy searched the site and found a picture of Christine. DNA tests proved that the Jane Doe was indeed Christine Thornton. Turns out, the picture was taken near where her now identified body was found. In September of 2016, Alcala was charged with her murder, nearly 40 years after her death. And Kathy brought the bones of her sister home for burial.
6. The One That Got Away
Some might say Tali Shapiro is lucky. WTF? Even though her life was wrecked by being assaulted and beaten when she was only 8 years old, she, at least, survived after a fashion. She is now a stylish 50-something woman, a woman who testified to the jury who, in 2010, were deciding whether Alcala would get life imprisonment or be sentenced to death. And the jury were riveted by what she had to say. She was living in the swank Chateau Marmont hotel when one day, as she walked to school, Alcala stopped her and asked her if she wanted a ride. He said he knew her family and wasn’t a stranger. He said he had a pretty picture he wanted to show her. Mercifully, she remembers little of what happened after that. When alerted by a witness, the police rolled up to the apartment and kicked the door in. They found Tali near death on the floor. Alcala had vanished out the back door. By the way, he got sentenced to death in that 2010 trial.
5. One Who Didn’t Get Away
23-year-old heiress, Ellen Hover, had been brought up in swank Beverley Hills and was living in New York when she met a handsome young photographer called John Berger. He told her the truth, that he had a fine arts degree and that he had studied film with Roman Polanski. He failed to mention Tali Shapiro and the fact that his real name was Rodney Alcala. Ellen noted some of his details in her address book. In a Marie Claire article, her cousin recalls the handsome young man inviting Ellen to lunch. She, at first, said no. But he continued to press. He looked so nice and, well, normal. So in the end, she went off with him. She was never seen again. A year later, her decomposed body was found buried in the Rockefeller Estate. It was 1977.
4. Of Near Genius IQ, Funny Voices, And Apologies
Rodney Alcala has spent decades in jails and prisons, and for much of that time, he has busied himself writing books and suing the State of California over the inadequacies of his prison diet. And, he’s also spent lots of time studying the law. He considers himself a genius and with a 135 IQ, he’s pretty close to becoming one. So, why not act as his own defense counsel? Why not, indeed. There have been occasions where he adopted different voices for Rodney “the defendant” and Rodney “the lawyer” and questioned himself. It was as amusing as the guy gets. Then in 2010, when Tali Shapiro testified in his sentencing hearing, he was a stringy-haired shadow of his handsome self and still acting as his own attorney. And what does Rodney do? He apologized to Tali. She didn’t have much, if anything, to say to that one.
3. Strangle, Revive, Strangle, Revive
One of Alcala’s prized pictures. Let’s go back to the 1970’s. Alcala is moving between New York and California, with road trips to Washington State and Wyoming, taking pictures and killing women. He had already been in and out of prison twice and was a supposedly “reformed” man when, in 1977, he killed six women, including Ellen Hover and Christine Thornton. That same year, he was questioned by the FBI regarding Hover’s murder. Details of how he went about murdering his victims are chilling. Alcala was prone to savoring his murders, prolonging the agony of his victims by strangling them until they were unconscious and then waiting for them to revive before doing it all over again. It gave him pleasure to inflict pain on the terrified women he abducted. And after their death? Well, they became trophies.
2. Comedy Of Outrageous Stupidity
The California courts and penal system are, in part, to blame for Alcala’s long murder spree. We already know that he did very little jail time for the attacks on Tali Shapiro and “Julie J.” Unbelievably, he was considered “reformed.” Then, in 1979, Alcala approached 12-year-old Robin Samsoe and a friend, taking some pictures of them before a neighbor intervened. But later, he nabbed Samsoe and brutally killed her before taking her gold earrings as a trophy. They were found in that locker in Seattle nestled among his prized pictures. In 1980, Alcala was convicted of her murder and sentenced to death. Incredibly, that conviction was overturned because the jury had been told about his previous s*x convictions. He was tried and convicted again, but that second conviction was also overturned on a technicality! A comedy or tragedy of outrageous stupidity. Finally, in 2010, California managed to finally get it right, convicting him of Samsoe’s and four other murders and once again, sentencing him to death.
1. The Beginning Of The End: Robin Samsoe
In 1979, Robin Samsoe was, at first, just a missing person. Police artist did a composite of the curly-haired young man seen talking to Samsoe and her friend. So, seeing that picture in circulation, Alcala straightens his hair. Then, saying he had spilled gasoline on it, he changes the carpet in his car. Meanwhile, a detective starts connecting the curly-haired photography with the Rodney Alcala in the Tali Shapiro case and, coincidentally seeing Alcala’s The Dating Game episode, gets a copy of the program and starts connecting the dots. Meanwhile, Alcala is telling his girlfriend (yes, girlfriend!) that he is going to move to Texas to further his “career.” He never made it. Samsoe’s remains are found and he is nabbed. While it took California 30 years to get a conviction to stick, at least they did succeed in taking the sadistic killer/r*pist off the street. About bloody time, I must say.