Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Rodney Alcala: Extreme Serial Killer

Cornelia Crilley

Under the name John Berger, Alcala balanced a playboy lifestyle with coursework at New York University, including a film class taught by future sex offender Roman Polanski. If NYPD investigators are right, Alcala also followed his crimes against Tali S. with another attack, this one deadly.

Roman Polanski
Roman Polanski

On June 12, 1971, someone raped Cornelia "Michael" Crilley and strangled her with her own nylon stockings, leaving her dead in her apartment at 427 E. 83rd Street. The 23-year-old TWA flight attendant had just moved to the block, back then famous among Manhattan singles for its unusually high concentration of stewardesses and secretaries. Perhaps it struck the attacker as a fertile hunting ground.

At the time of the discovery of the body, the NYPD initially suspected Crilley's boyfriend, Leon Borstein. They now believe that Rodney Alcala committed the crime, and say that saliva evidence ties him to the crime scene.

Borstein was then a Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney; he has since served as a chief special prosecutor for New York City. Borstein thinks Crilley met Alcala as she moved in to her new apartment. He speculates that the friendly young woman might have accepted Alcala's help in moving some furniture.

With the cops distracted by Borstein, Alcala slipped away again. Still using the John Berger alias, he took a job at a drama camp near New Hampshire's Lake Sunapee. When two teenage girls took shelter from a sudden summer storm in the post office of the tiny village of Georges Mills, they noticed that their camp counselor John Berger looked a lot like the Rodney Alcala pictured on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted poster. The authorities were seeking Alcala for the California assault on young Tali S. The campers alerted authorities, and in August of 1971 Alcala was arrested for that crime.

The Crilley case was still open, but Alcala was found guilty and sentenced for kidnapping and raping Tali S. Thanks to then-lenient California laws that emphasized rehabilitating sex offenders rather than putting them away, he served only 34 months, despite indications that the girl would have died from her injuries had the witness not led police to Alcala's apartment so quickly.

Rodney Alcala would soon be free to strike again.