Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Serial Killer Spotlight: Rodney Alcala

Also known as The Dating Game Killer, because of his 1978 appearance on the popular TV show, Rodney James Alcala, was born Rodrigo Jacques Alcala Buquor, in San Antonio, Texas on August 23, 1943. He was in the Army, briefly, when he was 17, but had a nervous breakdown and was discharged in 1964 after being diagnosed with an anti-social personality. He then went to UCLA, where he did very well, receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1968. He later attended classes at NYU while on the run under the alias John Berger or Burger, and took a film class taught by Roman Polanski. He worked as a freelance photographer and a typesetter for the Los Angeles Times.

The faces of Rodney Alcala

The faces of Rodney Alcala

When exactly and why Alcala began preying on women and children is unclear. He is a convicted serial strangler, who sexually assaulted his victims, bludgeoned and strangled them with his hands, at first. Often he would torture his victims by reviving them, and repeating the stragulation several times, finally strangling them to death with an object like a trouser leg or shoelace. He posed the bodies, took pictures, and took their earrings or jewelry as trophies. The smart, funny, serial killer has been compared to Ted Bundy, not only because of his personality, but his intelligence. He claims to have a genius level IQ of 160. In fact, he acted as his own attorney at his third trial.

Not unlike Ted Bundy, Alcala used his smarts and his charisma to lure his innocent, unsuspecting victims into his car, often to have their photo taken. In fact when he was on the The Dating Game he was the winning bachelor. Though she chose Alcala to go on a date, after meeting him, “bachelorette” Cheryl Bradshaw ultimately let her intuition guide her and did not go out with him. She later described him as “creepy,” as did “bachelor number two” Seinfeld Actor Jed Mills.

The following clip posted on Youtube.com shows the relevant portions of the episode, and shows Alcala at his charming best.

He has been convicted of killing five of his victims: Robin Samsoe, 12, Jill Barcomb, 18, Georgia Wixted, 27, Charlotte Lamb, 31, and Jill Parenteau, 21. He is suspected in the Seattle murders of Antoinette Wittaker, 13, and Joyce Gaunt, 17. He has admitted to killing 35 women, and police believe there may be as many as 100 more. Police base this number of a large cache of photos found in a Shoreline, Washington, storage locker Alcala rented just after Samsoe’s murder. Many of the photos have been made public in an attempt to identify more victims, living or missing.

One of Rodney Alcala's photos, unknown subject.

One of Rodney Alcala's photos, unknown subject.

What is most remarkable about the case against Alcala is that he has been in prison for 32 years, but the legal battle surrounding his case has been an ongoing circus. He was first convicted of murder in the case of Robin Samsoe in California in 1980, and sentenced to death. That conviction was overturned in 1984 by the California Supreme Court that ruled that the jury was improperly informed of Alcala’s past criminal record. Also, the two inmates who testified against Alcala perjured themselves, according to the judges. A second trial in 1986 again convicted Alcala in the murder, and again he was sentenced to death, but this time jurors were not informed of his past criminal record. Alcala successfully argued in 2001 to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that a witness had not been allowed to support Alcala’s contention that investigators had “hypnotized” the park ranger that found Samsoe’s remains, and that the prosecution had mishandled that ranger’s testimony. The court ruled to overturn the conviction.

Rodney Alcala, in court 2010

Rodney Alcala, in court 2010

He sued the California penal system twice, once for failing to provide him with a law-fat diet, and once for a slip-and-fall accident. He has spoken out against routine DNA testing, now standard operating procedure, and also, incidentally what linked him to the four other murders. He even wrote a book about the Samsoe Case called You, the Jury, in which he presents the case for his innocence. In 2010 he was tried for all five murders and convicted a third time, and sentenced to death a third time. He appeared in court in New York to face murder charges, and pleaded not guilty in 2012. Though he could be extradited to stand trial, it seems that New York is satisfied with his being on death row in California, though that could change if Alcala files and wins another appeal.

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