The Story Of Rodney Alcala, The Charming 'Dating Game Killer'
Rodney Alcala, the "Dating Game killer," is known to many as the killer who appeared on The Dating Game. Unfortunately, there's much more to the story -- Alcala is one of the deadliest serial killers in American history, and the Dating Game appearance is really just a footnote to a gruesome legacy. When he appeared on The Dating Game, Alcala had been sought by the FBI, arrested numerous times for violent crimes against women, and had actually served jail time in California. The fact that he was able to get onto a game show is a chilling reminder of how difficult it was to track truly dangerous individuals before criminal records were digitally stored and networked.
Rodney Alcala had already killed four people -- at least four people -- when he appeared on The Dating Game. He was a handsome, charming guy who posed as a fashion photographer. No one knows for sure how many people Alcala killed, but authorities estimate the number to be 130.
The Warning Signs
The specifics of Alcala’s childhood are unknown. He was born in 1943 in Texas and his given name was Rodrigo Jacques Alcala Buquor. When he was very young, the family moved to Mexico. When Alcala was eleven-years-old, his father abandoned the family and his mother moved the family to Los Angeles. At 17 years old, Alcala enlisted in the Army and performed the services of a clerk for four years when he went AWOL and surprised his mother with his appearance at her home in L.A. During his time in the Army, Alcala had been accused of sexual misconduct. He was examined by a military psychologist who diagnosed him with an antisocial personality disorder and was discharged on medical grounds.
The First Victim: The One That Survived
The first known crime committed by Rodney Alcala occurred in 1968 in Hollywood, California. Tali Shapiro, an eight-year-old girl, was walking to school when Alcala spotted her and lured her into his car. At one of Alcala’s trials, Shapiro recounted what she could remember. She said she was suspicious of him at first but he said that he was a friend of her parents and wanted to show her a picture. Once she got in his car, he took her to his apartment. Shapiro doesn’t remember the actual attack, which is fortunate for her. Thankfully someone saw her get into the car and became concerned that the car had no license plates. The witness followed the car and called the police to give them the location.
When the police arrived, they were horrified. Alcala was still at the apartment when the officers knocked on the door. Alcala stalled but the officers kicked in the door. They saw Tali Shapiro lying naked in a pool of blood. Officer Chris Camacho said, “I will always remember that face at that door, very evil face.” Alcala had raped and beaten Tali with a metal bar. He escaped out the back door. Shapiro recovered from her attack and remains the only victim to survive. Because Alcala escaped, the Shapiro family were afraid he would come back, so they moved out of the country.
The FBI’s Most Wanted List
After the attack of Tali Shapiro, Rodney Alcala was put on the FBI’s most wanted list. Unbeknownst to authorities, Alcala left California for the east coast and changed his name to John Berger. It was much easier to do something like this in the seventies, as background checks were limited. Alcala was able to live as John Berger for years. As John Berger, Alcala went to NYU film school and studied under Roman Polanski. It was in Manhattan that he committed his first known murder.
In 1971, Cornelia Crilley was found in her apartment, strangled to death. This case would go unsolved for almost 40 years. A fingerprint found at the scene was positively matched to Alcala in 2010. After he murdered Crilley, he moved to New Hampshire and began working as a counselor at a summer camp. Three years after he attacked Tali Shapiro, someone recognized him. Two of the girls at the camp saw the FBI wanted poster at the post office and turned Alcala in. He was arrested and sent back to California. Alcala would now be prosecuted for the attack of Shapiro. The prosecution was at a disadvantage because the Shapiro family had moved to Mexico and Tali’s parents refused to allow their daughter to testify. Without her, the prosecution was finding it difficult to get him convicted of attempted murder.
Alcala pleaded guilty to assault and served just under two years before he was paroled. Two months after his release, Alcala raped a thirteen-year-old on her way to school. He was caught and sent back to prison for another two years when he was paroled again.
'The Dating Game'
Alcala worked for a time at the Los Angeles Times as a typesetter, and claimed to be a photographer. He used his photography business to lure victims back to his home to "model" for him. He took thousands of pictures, many nudes, all of women and teen boys and girls.
In 1978, Alcala appeared on the television show The Dating Game. He already had a record of rape and assault right there in California, so it is astounding to think they put him on the show. He was quite charming, though, and no one ever checked his background -- and he actually won the game. The bachelorette was Cheryl Bradshaw, and though he won her over while they were on camera, she never actually went out with him.
Once the cameras were off, his true personality showed through. When Bradshaw spoke with him backstage, she found him “creepy” and refused to go on the date. One of the other bachelors who appeared with Alcala, Jed Mills, has recalled that Alcala was, “very obnoxious and creepy. He became very unlikeable and rude as though he was trying to intimidate. He was a standout creepy guy in my life.”
The Law Finally Catches Up
Alcala's Dating Game appearance had occurred i 1978; in 1979, he was on the beach in Huntington Beach, California, when he approached 12-year-old Robin Samsoe and her friend Bridgette. Alcala ran off when a neighbor walked over to see what was going on. When Robin left her friend to go to dance class, it was the last time she was seen alive. She never made it to dance class. Her body was found twelve days after she disappeared, forty miles away.
Samsoe’s friend was able to give a description of the strange man who had approached them at the beach. The drawing was sent out to police stations, Alcala’s parole officer saw it and recognized him, and Alcala was arrested. While he was in jail, Alcala’s sister came to visit. Police were listening in on the conversation when Alcala asked his sister to clear out a locker he had in Seattle.
The police got there before she did and found a cache of photos he had taken over the years. The photos were graphic and disturbing. They also found a bag of women’s earrings. Samsoe’s mother identified one of the pairs of earrings as the ones her daughter was wearing on the day she disappeared. Alcala was found guilty of Samsoe’s murder and sentenced to death.
The Wheels Of Justice Turn Slowly
Rodney Alcala appealed the conviction and won. The California Supreme Court sided with Alcala ruling that the jurors had been influenced by his earlier crimes. Alcala went on trial for the second time and was again convicted of the murder of Robin Samsoe. He was sentenced to death, again. And again, Alcala appealed and he won his appeal. It was now 2001, twenty-two years since he murdered Samsoe. The Samsoe family was gearing up for another trial when there was a development in the case. Alcala’s DNA was a positive match for four murders that occurred in the seventies. A judge granted the prosecution's motion to merge all five cases into one trial.
Justice Finally Served
Alcala’s third trial began in 2010. This time, the prosecution had DNA proof to link him to the victims. They were also able to show a pattern to his killing. The prosecutors said that Alcala played with his victims, almost killing them several times before raping them and finally strangling them. He also posed his victims in disgusting positions and he kept ‘trophies’ of his victims -- the bag of earrings authorities found in his Seattle locker. Alcala represented himself at the trial. He questioned himself for five hours, using a different voice when asking questions. He called the mother of Robin Samsoe to the stand trying to make her look bad to the jurors. Samsoe’s mother called this interaction, "one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life." Rodney Alcala was once and for all found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. Alcala’s first known victim, Tali Shapiro testified at this trial.
While Alcala is in prison awaiting execution, his story is still not over. DNA technology has connected him to more murders. Alcala pleaded guilty to the murders of Cornelia Crilley and Ellen Hoover, the women he killed in Manhattan. Using the photographs Alcala took, authorities are sure more victims will be linked to him.